Word of Mouth: Palm Springs with Gerry McGovern

We tour the modernist oasis with Land Rover's head of design

Gerry McGovern, Land Rover’s Design Director and Chief Creative Officer, first visited Palm Springs 20 years ago and immediately fell in love with the modernist oasis in the Southern California desert. Last week, as guests of the brand, we toured Palm Springs with McGovern, learning about some of his favorite spots. Connecting cars to architecture he remarked, “We don’t need luxury vehicles or fabulous houses, but we want them. It’s an emotional connection. Design is the conduit to that connection.” Then bringing focus to Palm Springs itself, he added, “What inspires me [about Palm Springs] is the dedication or the awareness of design’s ability to lift one’s spirit, which might sound a bit profound, but you travel the world, you go into a lot of spaces and places where they’re just not design aware.”

With this in mind, we discussed several iconic properties designed by the Palm Springs modernist forefathers—Albert Frey, E. Stewart Williams, William Cody and Donald Wexler, plus references to the greats Richard Neutra and John Lautner. This list however is more focused on McGovern’s personal favorites among both civic and residential architecture with a bit of shopping and eating in the mix.


Palm Springs Art Museum: Architecture and Design Center

Kicking off at the central hub of art and design in the area, the Architecture and Design Center houses a collection worthy of the city’s tasteful reputation. Featuring community education programs, an ever-changing showcase of exhibitions as well as a growing permanent collection, the centrally located venue is a perfect first stop and gives context to much of the modernism on display in Palm Springs. Plus, the glass and steel building itself is a shining example of the moment, with sustainable desert landscaping and west-facing aluminum screens.


The Pod House

Located on the south side of Palm Springs on the famed Indian Canyons Gold Resort (at 2587 South Pequeño Circle), The Pod House is must-visit for fans of midcentury modern architecture. Designed by architect William Krisel and built in 1968, the house is composed of five interlocking octagon pods. Japanese-inspired stepping stones set in a pond lead to the low entrance which opens up into bright, loft-like spaces. The considered design gives each pod a distinct feel, yet a current of connectedness runs throughout. “The joy of mid-century in Palm Springs is the flow of space,” McGovern says of the house.


Boulevard Store

Inspired by the influential midcentury designs of Palm Springs, many visitors flock to the city’s interior stores, hoping to bring back a bit of the clean minimalism they fall in love with in the desert. Centrally located at 800 North Palm Canyon Drive, Boulevard balances new and vintage pieces with a carefully sourced collection that is sure to surprise even the most seasoned collectors. On our visit, McGovern came across a pair of brass Wildon desk lamps. He owns a pair in white but had never seen the iconic design done in gold.


Coachella Valley Savings and Loan

The combination of upside-down arches and a sub-level pool and fountain give the downtown Palm Springs Coachella Valley Savings and Loan the appearance of floating. Built in 1963 and designed by architect E. Stewart Williams (who also designed Frank Sinatra’s residence) the structure is now a Chase Bank, but the character of the structure is still well intact. The blend of organic arcs with geometry has long held the attention of architecture critics and passersby alike and the commitment to its preservation suggests the building will be enjoyed for decades to come.


Parker Hotel

In 2003, Jack Parker purchased what was then Merv Griffin’s Resort Hotel & Givenchy Spa. Parker hired famed designer Jonathan Adler to remodel The Parker, bringing a sense of contemporary chic without losing the original character. The result is a true oasis, with lush gardens to wile away the afternoon and a world-class spa. Villas and terraces make this one of McGovern’s go-to retreats in Palm Springs. Throw in the fun, relaxed vibe and impeccable service and checking out is as hard as leaving the pool on a sunny afternoon.


Johannes Restaurant

Austrian cuisine might not be the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks of Southern California, but Johannes Restaurant has earned its reputation as a Palm Springs institution. “I went there about 20 years ago when I first drove through Palm Springs, so obviously even then it was recommended,” McGovern says. “I go back every time I’m here.” Combining elements of fresh California cooking with hearty Austrian fare, the menu boasts perfectly grilled meats and seafoods and salads you’ll want to share.


Palm Springs Art Museum

Originally focused on the natural landscape, the Palm Springs Art Museum has expanded to include contemporary art, glass work, architecture, photography, Native American art and more. Architect E. Williams Scott designed the current structure, with a focus on simplicity and employing natural light. With visiting exhibitions from the likes of Ai Weiwei and some of the world’s premier contemporary glassmakers, curators at the museum explore global themes while incorporating work that is distinctly tied to Palm Springs. Check the museum’s event calendar for lectures and educational events.

Images by Josh Rubin