With such a rich Western history, Modernism might seem out of place in the remote desert. The Hollywood attention in the area brought some of the big-city trends with the high-profile visitors. Two houses stand out in the rocky hills along the Happy Trails highway. After the steep hike up Newt Bass’ driveway, it’s clear there are no better views of the High Desert. Countless sunrises, sunsets and stars have been on full display through the iconic glass walls of those modern Apple Valley hill houses for decades.
Historic Apple Valley Inn
Predicting a shift in the housing market in the 40s, Bernard “Bud” Westlund and Newton “Newt” Bass bought thousands of acres of remote desert land in California. After Architect Hugh Gibbs planned out the future 6,000-acre community of Apple Valley Ranchos, he was ready for the next project. Newt and Bud needed a glamorous hub to impress potential buyers and entertain special guests. Designed by architect Hugh Gibbs and decorated by Albert Parvin, the Apple Valley Inn became a resort-style Old Western rancho. Both Gibbs and Parvin emphasized the Western theme while incorporating sleek Modern details. They wanted to offer luxury, comfort and style in the rugged setting. Exposed Nevada railway trestles on the ceiling met modern walls of glass and massive rock fireplaces. With two cocktail lounges and a state-of-the-art kitchen inside, guests could watch the parties by the pool or admire the spectacular desert landscapes.
Apple Valley Hill House
Invested in the community’s long-term growth, Newt Bass built a house on the rocky hill just above his Apple Valley Inn. Hand-picked by Newt, Architect Francisco Artigas was already well known for his work in Mexico. He chose to move to Apple Valley for the job so he could get to know the area. The modern house on the hill looked down on Newt’s 6,000-acre development below, with a long driveway to the top. Artigas designed the house around the existing terrain. To bring the landscape in, boulders were used inside the living/dining room and modern skylights opened the house further. Three sides of the house were lined in glass, with unique features like an indoor/outdoor pool and a mirrored wall in the bathroom. From the glass-door double shower, he still had a view of his beloved town.
Maynard Parker’s Subject
Photos taken of the Hill House by architecture photographer Maynard L. Parker reflect the design significance of the time. Parker was one of the preferred photographers for Modernist architects, with work often featured on covers for the LA Times’ Home magazine. In 1967, a fire nearly destroyed the hill house. After restoration it was used as an office, later falling into disrepair. Despite the town’s hope that the eye-catching Hill House would be restored or added to the list of historic places, it may soon be demolished. Apple Valley plans to build an observation deck on the hill for the community to enjoy.
From 1920 to 1986, the Historic Apple Valley Inn was a hot spot for celebrities, later renamed the Roy Rogers’ Apple Valley Inn when Roy Rogers leased it. Currently, the Inn is available for select special events, and some of the guest rooms have been converted for local businesses. With the Apple Valley Museum nestled at the base of Newt’s Hill House, the Apple Valley Inn is still a gathering place for celebrating the local history. The businesses all have unique ties to Apple Valley history, and the local Simply Mid Century shop ties further into the vintage past.
Simply Mid Century
Starting out with an antique store in Riverside, owners Moe and Candy came across modern wooden furniture with incredible lines, finish and quality in construction. The purchase that started the journey was a set of solid walnut armchairs with avocado green vinyl upholstery. They began narrowing their focus and moved to Apple Valley, opening Simply Mid Century, the only Mid Century Modern store in the area at the base of the Hill House.
Finding special pieces to decorate their own home with has been a perk of the business. Truly passionate about the style, their home also has the modern look and feel. Through years of digging for unique and rare pieces, they’re most excited about wood furniture with distinct wood grain and colorful upholstery in shades like burnt orange, harvest gold, and avocado green. Moe and Candy opened their store to help others who share their passion. The quests to find these special pieces can take years. Taking great pride in any refurbishments, they have professional wood workers and upholsterers that also love what they do.
Apple Valley’s Flying Nun
Locals have nicknamed another Apple Valley home The Flying Nun or the Bat Wing house for the unique roof line. Built in 1966 for businesswoman Berneice Lynn, the house sat just above town in view of the Hill House. As women in business were rare at the time, she wanted her home to reflect her position in the community. Her modern hillside home let her watch over her investment the same way Newt Bass did. With Bonanza Airlines making regular flights from Los Angeles, the town grew around them. Brochures advertised the Apple Valley Inn with Newt’s caricature and modern houses with sleek lines. After the Hollywood buzz died down, the area settled into an established community. The Flying Nun changed hands again in 2021. Zillow still has photos of the listing if you’re curious about the view from those windows.
Apple Valley is part of California’s High Desert at 3,000 feet elevation. Check out Desert Modernism: Coachella Valley’s Favorite Style for a look at Modernism in the Low Desert. If Coachella is too hot to handle, the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway can take you up to a fresher 8,500 feet. Looking for more MCM inspiration from the desert and beyond? Don’t forget to follow us on Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest for more Atomic Ranch articles and ideas!