It was 1952, and Donald Wexler had spent the last few years working for architect Richard Neutra in Los Angeles. Deciding a change was in order, he moved to Palm Springs and began work with CalCor to design a steel panel system for school classrooms. The company U.S. Steel soon approached Wexler with the idea to apply his new steel system to residential housing, namely model homes in the California desert.
Thus, the Steel Development Homes project was born, and resulted in seven homes on the northern edge of Palm Springs. The idea was to create houses that could be mass-produced for middle-class families—the promotional materials advertised that assembly would only take three days, and that the homes would be resistant to heat, rotting, warping, swelling, termites, earthquakes and combustion.
“At the time we designed them, they were second homes not intended to be lived in at 110, 120 degrees,” Wexler said of his designs. “The Palm Springs area has since become a year-round community and if we were to do them now, we’d design them for more energy efficiency. There was very little air conditioning at all then, and the fact that we had air conditioning in the homes was a plus.”
The row of homes looks like each has a custom design, but all seven have the same basic floor plan, with minor variations such as three different roof lines: flat, zigzag (or folded plate) and an inverted U. Wexler also designed several non-load-bearing interior walls upstairs so the homeowners could remove them to reconfigure the bedrooms.
Of the seven model homes, the first three (including this one) broke ground in 1961 and opened for public viewing in March of 1962. The prices ranged from $13,000–$17,000, which were comparable to other new homes with more traditional wood frames. The original plan was to build a tract of 38 Wexler steel homes, but another company bought out CalCor and the price of steel components went up, making the profit margin unfeasible. After building the other four model homes, the company discontinued the project.
The seven homes have seen changes and remodels over the years. Stay tuned to find out more in part 2!