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Palm Springs Modern: Wexler Steel Houses

Architect Donald Wexler was thinking prefab long before prefab was popular. One of Palm Springs's "big five" modernists—along with being William F. Cody, Albert Frey, William Krisel, and E. Stewart Williams—Wexler was born in 1926 in Minneapolis, and moved to Los Angeles to work for Richard Neutra after graduating from the University of Minnesota in 1950. He relocated to Palm Springs to join Cody's architecture firm and in the 1960s, developed a system of prefabricated steel houses.

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The houses were to be built by the Alexander Company, a large developer in the area who fabricated thousands of houses based on designs by architects such as William Krisel (another big five designer) and Charles Dubois. Wexler’s idea was that steel was the best material for building in a desert and pitched it to the Alexanders as an affordable housing solution. His design consisted of a concrete slab on which prefabricated kitchen and bath units were installed and the rest of the house built up around this center core. The whole house could be built in two days and sold at $14,000.

Unfortunately, Wexler’s great idea was stopped short due to the rise in steel prices. Seven of the steel houses were completed and all but one has been restored to its original condition and noted as a Class 1 historical site. While I was in Palm Springs to join in its Modernism Week, architecture tour guide Robert Imber gave us a peak inside one of these remaining Steel Houses.

 

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