Discover the sacred places of Palm Springs during Modernism Week

Saint Theresa Catholic Church exterior view and entrance
An important church on the Modernism Week 'Sacred Places' tour is the Saint Theresa Catholic Church, designed by William Cody in 1968. During the day of the tour, a documentary about Cody’s work can be watched. Photography: Michael Kunkle
(Image credit: Michael Kunkle)

This self-driving tour of mid-century churches around Palm Springs, new to the 2018 programme of Modernism Week events, presents participants the chance to learn about the town’s most interesting church architecture.

Curated by Michael Kunkle, a Palm Springs local with a passion for mid-century modernism and his mother Ruth Ritter, who just moved to Palm Springs from South Carolina this year, the tour is a unique way to explore the town during Modernism Week.

The tour allowed Kunkle and Ritter to combine their knowledge in a creative way; mixing Kunkle’s architectural and design expertise with Ritter’s experience of churches and religion – and it was a way for the pair to spend time together and build Ritter’s new community network in Palm Springs.

‘In addition to the fantastic architecture, we have learned that the church history here in Coachella valley is colourful: Indians, earthquakes, hardships, cooperation, support and inclusion,’ says Kunkle.

First stop on the Sacred Places tour is the First Baptist Church Palm Springs, designed by architect Howard Lapham in 1963, a textured concrete building with a geometric stained glass window. Kunkle’s tour reveals details such as how materials for the church were donated and it was the congregation who worked on its construction. Lapham also designed ‘arguably the most famous Palm Springs nightclub “Chi Chi’” adds Kunkle.

Another impressive structure - this time constructed of poured concrete in thick curved sections, is the Palm Springs United Methodist church, designed by architect Hal Whittemore in 1965. Unique details include the cast metal cross at its spire designed by artist JB Thompson in 1965 and a plaque on the seat where Elvis Presley used to sit.

Other highlights include Albert Frey’s Desert Chapel, built in 1963, where the original phone system can be admired, as well as intricate geometric wood carvings and chandeliers; and a piercing red stained glass window by artist Gabriel Loire at the St Louis Catholic Cathedral City – designed by architect Joseph F Dameron in the 1960s.

The First Baptist Church on left, Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church on right

The First Baptist Church, designed by architect Howard Lapham in 1963 (left) and the concrete belltower of the Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church (architect unknown, built 1963) (right). Photography: Michael Kunkle

(Image credit: Michael Kunkle)

The United Methodist church exterior view

The United Methodist church, designed by architect Hal Whittemore in 1965. Photography: Michael Kunkle

(Image credit: Michael Kunkle)

Exterior design of Cathedral structure

Two details of the St Louis Catholic Cathedral City, designed by architect Joseph F. Dameron in the 1960s, with stained glass by artist Gabriel Loire

(Image credit: TBC)

Exterior view of Church and close up view of construction design on right

The Saint Theresa Catholic Church, designed by architect William Cody in 1968

(Image credit: TBC)

Patterned wall design of chapel

Patterned details at the Desert Chapel designed by architect Albert Frey in 1963. Photography: Michael Kunkle

(Image credit: Michael Kunkle)


The ‘Sacred Places’ tour runs on February 24, 2018. For event details visit the Modernism Week website.

Harriet Thorpe is a writer, journalist and editor covering architecture, design and culture, with particular interest in sustainability, 20th-century architecture and community. After studying History of Art at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) and Journalism at City University in London, she developed her interest in architecture working at Wallpaper* magazine and today contributes to Wallpaper*, The World of Interiors and Icon magazine, amongst other titles. She is author of The Sustainable City (2022, Hoxton Mini Press), a book about sustainable architecture in London, and the Modern Cambridge Map (2023, Blue Crow Media), a map of 20th-century architecture in Cambridge, the city where she grew up.