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Donald Wexler (1926-2015)

Donald_Wexler Born: Sioux Falls, South Dakota
Education: University of Minnesota, 1950
Best known for: Deep eaves and long overhangs, the folded plate roof, Dinah Shore’s house, and being the pioneering “Man of Steel.”

Logic, efficiency, meticulous details, and technical advancement: The post-and-beam world of Donald Wexler was pragmatic and well thought out. Every inch of every structure had its reason.

Raised in Minneapolis and trained in Los Angeles under Richard Neutra, Wexler has been called “an architect of the desert.” Both his career and the bulk of his work were planted on Coachella Valley land, rock, and sand. He arrived in the early 1950s to help William Cody work on Tamarisk Country Club. He hadn’t intended to stay but was bit hard by the desert bug, with its architectural climate challenges and natural beauty as inspiration. Wexler formed a partnership with Cody colleague Richard “Rick” Harrison that lasted from 1952 through 1961.

Wexler loved glass and concrete. But above all, he loved steel. His expertise with the inorganic material prompted the firm to adopt new approaches to steel-framed construction in many of the buildings they designed. The seven steel houses they built for the Alexander Construction Company are internationally recognized for their forward-thinking fusion of pre-fab components with standard construction methods. Each is a Class 1 historic site.

Drive a few minutes in any direction in Palm Springs and you’ll likely pass a Wexler. (If you prefer to fly, you’ll walk through the terminal of his design.) More than 100 schools, plus myriad commercial, institutional, public, and professional buildings in the area are Wexler’s or his and Harrison’s.

Wexler served in the Navy during World War II before launching his architectural career. He worked in some capacity into his final days and lived long enough to witness years of Modernism Week madness, sometimes to his surprise. He met with enthusiasts and consulted with homeowners and architects who sought to preserve his designs. Wexler earned his place on the Palm Springs Walk of Stars in 2008. In 2011, Palm Springs Art Museum recognized his 50-year career with a retrospective titled Steel and Shade: The Architecture of Donald Wexler. The same year, Palm Springs Preservation Foundation organized “Wexler Weekend” to coincide with his 84th birthday.

Other Notable Properties:

  • Palm Springs Spa Bath House and Colonnade (demolished), 1959
  • El Rancho Vista Estates, 1960
  • Royal Hawaiian Estates, 1960
  • Alexander Steel Houses, 1962
  • Canyon Country Club (Indian Canyons Golf Resort), 1963
  • Dinah Shore Residence, 1964
  • Palm Springs International Airport main terminal, 1965
  • Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith Building (Eisenhower Medical Center), 1971
  • Desert Water Agency, 1978
  • Hope Square Professional Park in Rancho Mirage, 1985
  • Larson Justice Center, 1996