When the Gands visited Palm Springs for the first time, they were largely disappointed in the highly anticipated modernist offerings (part 1). The dilapidated homes and loss of some of the era’s icons made the area pale in comparison to their own Chicago midcentury home, a Keck + Keck from 1955. However, looking for a modernist nest for the cold winter months, these snowbirds needed a place to let their midcentury style fly. Little did they know, an Alexander was in their future.
Firmly ensconced in their Chicago house for some 19 years, the Gands returned periodically to Palm Springs, including trips to the annual modernism shows in search of Italian glass. The Imber architecture tour they’d taken opened up their eyes to Alexander houses. “They were like the Keck + Keck of this area,” Joan says. “We recognized all of the similar features: post and beam, walls of glass, slab floors, single story, open floor plans. But we thought it was crazy that people were buying them if they weren’t going to live here year-round.”
“We came back for the third modernism show and Julius Shulman was staying next door to us at the Orbit In,” Gary says. “We’d been poring over his photos and ended up spending the morning with him; we were psyched.
“Our Chicago house’s furniture is based on Julius’ photos,” he further explains. “We had a conversation where Julius said, ‘You know, the places didn’t really look like that.’ I told him we’d styled our house to look like a Julius Shulman photo. We fell in love with Palm Springs through his eyes; now we understood the whole gestalt.”
The couple went to the modernism show’s open-house day to see more Alexander interiors in the Las Palmas area and discussed calling a realtor or two to kick some tires. Gary was vehemently opposed to vacation homes, but after spending a lot of time drooling over one of the updated models, Joan broached the possibility of buying one for themselves. It took him about 30 seconds to agree.
They initially concentrated on looking for a classic butterfly roof Alexander or something similar to their flat-roof Chicago house. “We didn’t know anything about the Swiss Misses—there are only 15 of them,” Joan says. “The vibe was so different when we walked into this house. Gary and I realized we could get something different instead of something the same as our Chicago place. We realized it was perfect because it fit into our collector’s mentality: We’d rather have one of an edition of 15 than one of 1,000.”
Part of a three-phase development called Mountain View Estates, the “executive Alexanders” sold for $40,000 to $50,000 and attracted celebrity buyers like Dean Martin and Dinah Shore. Architects Palmer and Krisel designed the majority of Alexander homes, with a couple of notable exceptions.
“The drawing card of the Alexanders was Bill Krisel,” Gary says. “We met him in San Diego and I asked him if he designed the Swiss Misses. He got so mad—he blew up. He said, ‘No! Some draftsman at the office did those crazy things!’”
Gary’s research has uncovered a newspaper ad crediting Charles Dubois as the Swiss Miss architect, but he hasn’t been able to authenticate that claim further, and their 1958 home’s design doesn’t appear in any of the catalogs. Most of the rest of the Swiss Misses have white Bermuda tile—“a marshmallow roof kind of Santa’s Village feel,” Gary says. Before they bought theirs from the contractor who was renovating it, the house had Spanish tile, wrought-iron gates and a formal rose garden—“it was Taco Bell-ized before we ever saw it,” says Joan.
Getting Acquainted with Alexander
Now that the Gands found their Swiss Miss, it was all about outfitting it for the modernist lifestyle. Check in for part 3 to find out just what pieces they collected and how they feel about preservation.