History and Context
3.11.13 The Royal Hawaiian Estates family is deeply saddened to learn of the sudden tragic death on March 10th, 2013 of Patrick McGrew. Patrick's passion for historic preservation is evident by his generous contributions to so many of us. He will always be remembered at the Royal Hawaiian for writing the History and Context for our Historic District application and speaking so many times on our behalf. Our community has lost a great leader, architect, spokesman, writer, advocate, and friend.
Figure 2 Illustrated above is the Bali Hai Restaurant in New Orleans. It illustrates the character-defining feature of the architectural style – a roof with a sloping ridge line. Variations on this roof form may be found almost universally in all Polynesian-themed Ameriacn architecture.
Events (or Patterns of Events) Associated with the Property: Polynesian culture in the United States (and to a lesser degree, around the world) refers to a 20th-century theme used in Polynesian-style restaurants, clubs and occasionally residential developments. Although inspired in part by vernacular Polynesian architecture, as well as carvings and mythology, the connection is loose and stylistic. Polynesian culture became the basis of a fad popularized in the United States beginning in 1934 with the opening of Don the Beachcomber, a Polynesian-themed bar and restaurant in Hollywood. The proprietor was Ernest Raymond Beaumont-Gantt, a young man from Louisiana who had sailed throughout the South Pacific; later he legally changed his name to Donn Beach. His restaurant featured Cantonese cuisine and exotic rum punches, with a decor of flaming torches, rattan furniture, flower leis, and brightly colored fabrics. Three years later, Victor Bergeron, better known as Trader Vic, adopted a Polynesian theme for his restaurant in Oakland, which eventually grew to become a worldwide chain.
When American soldiers returned home from World War II, they brought with them stories and souvenirs from the South Pacific. James Michener won the 1948 Pulitzer Prize for his collection of short stories, “Tales of the South Pacific”, which in turn was the basis for South Pacific, the 1949 musical by Rodgers and Hammerstein, also a Pulitzer Prize winner. Hawaiian Statehood further drove interest in the area and Americans fell in love with their romanticized version of an exotic culture. A further factor was the excitement surrounding the Kon-Tiki expedition. Kon-Tiki was the raft used by Norwegian explorer and writer Thor Heyerdahl in his 1947 expedition across the Pacific Ocean from South America to the Polynesian Islands. Polynesian design began to infuse aspects of the country's visual aesthetic, from home accessories to architecture. American pop-culture was influenced resulting is such disparate expressions as the “Tonga Room” in San Francisco’s Fairmont Hotel, to Honolulu’s “Hawaiian Village” hotel compound to the television series “Hawaii Five-O”
Persons associated with the property: In 1960 Phillip Short, a local real estate broker, commissioned the architectural firm of Wexler & Harrison to design the forty condominium units in South Palm Springs, suggesting that the design reflect a Polynesian theme. He named the development Royal Hawaiian Estates, and restricted the residents to Jewish adults, fifty-five or older. Short launched the project with an advertising media blitz that included a full-page ad in “Grace Line Magazine,” a cruise ship line publication that featured South American and Hawaiian Cruises, as well as many other local and national publications. The development’s first resident was Mildred Lupher. In time the development became the retirement home to former Hollywood agent Michael Levee (1891-1972), Oscar-winning cinematographer Milton R. Krasner (1901-1988) for Three Coins in a Fountain and the retired Broadway star George Jessel (1898-1981) of the Jazz Singer.
Architecture Associated with the Property: “During the 1930's and 40's Palm Springs became a haven for Hollywood celebrities and creative, moneyed people followed by a generation new young architects such as Lloyd Wright, John Porter Clark and Albert Frey. In the 1940s and 50, America underwent cataclysmic changes generated by both World War II and the Korean War that led thousands of young men to foreign shores. The returning veterans deserted the nation's large cities for suburbs as they developed an appetite for new sources of recreation and leisure. Dozens of novels and films that portrayed the romance of grass shacks and exotic, tropical settings captured America's emerging fascination with Polynesian culture that featured sunning at poolside and nights of love under the stars.
Some of the first generation of Palm Springs architects saw the opportunity to link the fantasies of Polynesia with indoor/outdoor living possibilities in Palm Springs. Among these was Donald Wexler (1926-present), a graduate of the University of Minnesota who came west and began his apprenticeship in Los Angeles with the famous International Style architect Richard Neutra whose work he admired. Later, curious about William F. Cody's Tamarisk Country Club Project in what is now Ranch Mirage, Wexler relocated to Palm Springs to work with Cody. Although he planned to stay only for one summer, Wexler ultimately relocated permanently to Palm Springs where, in 1953, he formed a partnership with Richard Harrison, a colleague from Cody's office. Their firm, Wexler & Harrison was very successful and lasted until 1961.
Shortly before the firm’s dissolution, Wexler & Harrison received a commission to design the subject property, a complex of 40 housing units located on a five-acre site. In the design of the Royal Hawaiian Estates, Wexler & Harrison make a statement that reflected the spirit of their times. Throughout their careers, both Wexler and Harrison shared ideas that have been single-mindedly directed toward the clean, modernist lines of the International Style adapted to the desert scenery and climate. Wexler’s apprenticeships with both Neutra and Cody guided this consistent vision of clean horizontal lines leading the eye to open vistas. At the Royal Hawaiian Estates, Wexler & Harrison’s aesthetic is expanded through the use of color and Polynesian-derived forms to enhance the recreational aspect of desert architecture.