Steve Jocz and Jessy Moss make the case that their 1960s home is a forgotten William F. Cody design.
No one would have blamed Jessy Moss and her husband, Steve Jocz, for putting the long-suffering 1961 house in Indian Wells, California, out of its misery. "Knock it over and build your Tuscan palace," Steve says, recalling the local sentiment toward the bank-owned eyesore, which had endured half a century of slapdash remodels, absentee landlords, and foreclosures.
Of course, at that time, no one had linked the low-slung, post-and-beam structure near Palm Springs to the legendary desert modernist William F. Cody.
When Jessy and Steve toured the property with their two sons in 2017, all they saw were exposed copper pipes, a pool that was green with algae, a garage that had been illegally converted into a rental, and floor-to-ceiling windows covered with plantation shutters and garbage bags.
Yet Jessy sensed something special about the home, designed in classic International Style, with two rectilinear volumes joined by an enclosed breezeway, and was determined to save it. "It would be ambitious," she says, "but we had to do it."
Luckily, she and Steve know a thing or two about houses, even if not long ago, Steve jokes, he "couldn’t hang a picture."
Jessy and Steve are former professional musicians who met in Los Angeles in the early 2000s. Steve was the drummer for the massively successful pop-punk band Sum 41, and Jessy was a singer signed to DreamWorks Records. They got married in 2008, and shortly after, bought a Meiselman tract house in Palm Springs that needed some work. "It had been ‘Santa Fauxed,’" Jessy says of its Spanish-style arches and tiles.
As the couple labored to restore the home to its prime, they discovered they had a passion for the clean-lined architecture of the 1950s and 1960s. Meanwhile, the two musicians were growing tired of the never-ending cycle of touring and recording, and were looking to settle down. Jessy gradually shifted gears to focus on interior design, her lifelong side gig, and in 2013, Steve left Sum 41 to pursue a second act as a realtor.
"The transition was almost accidental," Jessy muses. Steve adds, "As a drummer, I was basically responsible for counting to four over and over again. When I quit the band, the only other thing I knew was housing."
Through their new careers, Jessy and Steve have become immersed in the swanky midcentury residences that populate the Southern California desert. So when they encountered the run-down house in Indian Wells, they were able to recognize its value.
"The house required a lot of undoing bad revisions from different decades."
—Jessy Moss, resident and interior designer
Buying it, they enlisted architect Marc Pange, a veteran of their Palm Springs project, and general contractor Jason Oldenburg for a top-to-bottom restoration. The envelope of the 2,025-square-foot home stayed the same (with the exception of the garage’s recently added French windows, which were junked) and its floor plan was altered only slightly (a laundry room in the kitchen was converted into a bar), but the HVAC, electrical, and plumbing systems all had to be updated. They also replaced drafty windows with dual-pane glazing, slotting the new panes into replicas of the original wood stocks, and swapped incandescent lights with LEDs for code and environmental reasons.
Overall, Jessy and Steve strived to preserve as many original features as possible—including a curvaceous plaster fireplace that floats between a wall of glass in the living room, upper windows that flow into the kitchen counter, and louvered doors in the master bedroom—while undoing the retrofits that had been made when modernism fell out of fashion in the 1980s. Removing the egregious aquamarine tiles from the wood posts supporting the roof overhangs was a must. So was getting rid of the shutters, which were blocking base-to-peak views of Mount Eisenhower. "Because you have this entire panel of windows that leads to the pool, it feels like the outside is inside," Steve notes.
"These homes reminded me of James Bond movies. I started learning and got more and more into design."
—Steve Jocz, resident
Perhaps the worst holdover from the home’s past was the rock grotto that had been plopped in the backyard during a period in which the residence was used as a party pad. "It was like the Playboy mansion, only less classy," says Steve, who spent three days demolishing it with a jackhammer. In front, the couple unearthed another water feature with greater aesthetic merit: an original reflecting pool that had been covered up many years ago. They opted to have it refurbished, and today, its calming ripple greets visitors at the entrance.
As additions were stripped away and the dwelling’s bones came into focus, Jessy was dogged by a single question: Who designed this place? "It kept her up at night," says Steve.
Characterful details like recessed baseboards in the kitchen and circular concrete pavers in the driveway suggested a quality architect had been involved—someone big Jessy suspected—but the blueprints were nowhere to be found. Indian Wells didn’t exist as a municipality at the time the house was built, so the city didn’t have any records, and the county had lost much of its property information archive in a fire. Jessy plowed ahead all the same, searching online and making inquiries to university libraries and local historical societies. "I started piecing it together," she says.
"Jessy kept saying: ‘Somebody did this. This was designed by somebody.’"
The breakthrough came when she stumbled upon a permit application from 1968, the year after Indian Wells was formed, to build a golf cart garage on the property. It listed the home as part of an enclave of about two dozen properties called the Desert Bel Air Estates. The name, no longer in use, was totally unknown to her. "Then it clicked," Jessy recalls, "I’ve been searching the wrong thing."
She raced back to the archives and turned up a mountain of plans, newspaper clippings, invoices, and brochures related to the 1960s subdivision. Desert Bel Air Estates, she learned, was the brainchild of developer Filmore Crank—husband of Hollywood actress Beverly Garland—and builder Bob Higgins. Together they bought up land in the desert, erected a cluster of vacation homes, and leveraged Garland’s star power to help sell them. Then came the real "aha" moment: Higgins had tapped his longtime friend and collaborator, William F. Cody, to lead the design.
Cody, along with Albert Frey, Donald Wexler, William Krisel, and E. Stewart Williams, belonged to a group of master architects who arrived in Palm Springs around World War II and transformed the dusty crossroads into a mecca for midcentury modern design. Between 1945 and his death in 1978, he left his mark on the area in the form of club houses, hotels, a Catholic church, a library, and more, all of which were defined by their intimate dialogue with the desert.
"Jessy sent me an email with so many happy emojis," Steve remembers. As an added bonus, she also found newspaper articles and title records that indicate Crank and Garland lived in their very house right after it was built.
And while the smoking gun—a blueprint of the residence bearing Cody’s seal—never materialized, Jessy and Steve are all but certain he was the architect. They have studied almost a dozen verified Cody houses in their area, many of which share similar layouts, construction styles, and materials. What’s more, Catherine Cody, William’s daughter, visited the house last year to examine it in detail. Afterward, her opinion was almost unambiguous: "I’m 99.999 percent sure that the home is a Cody project," she states.
Jessy says the process of uncovering the home’s provenance, much like its restoration, has been challenging but rewarding: "Walking that path was frustrating and joyous."
For the most part, she and Steve are proud to have used their design acumen to rescue a midcentury gem that was once considered a goner. "People think when you’re working on a house you’re just putting up some drywall. But the whole thing ends up being like painting with materials," Steve says. Studying the house in the morning light, with the reflection of the swimming pool dancing across the living room ceiling, Jessy agrees: "It’s like living in art."
See the Before & After photos: A Run-Down Midcentury in Southern California Goes From Eyesore to Head Turner
Architect of Record: Marc Pange
General Contracting: Oldenburg Contracting
Interior Design: Jessy Moss
Landscape Design: The Backyard
Cabinetry: Dan Eckstrom Cabinets
Plumbing: Weeks Plumbing
Electric: Miguel Ramirez
Glazing: Henry’s Glazcon
Paint: Santiago Brito
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