Featured Architect: William F. Cody

While William Francis Cody (1916-1978) simply defined his impeccable style of architecture as “contemporary”, E. Stewart Williams paid this tribute: “He was the best designer of all of us.” Williams went further: “Cody brought 5th Avenue into the desert. He used elegant materials like teak and marble.” Cody’s brother John, who worked with him for many years, said “It was not austere, it was lush.”

But while Cody was a fanatic about details – he always wanted the structure of a building to show, so the execution had to be perfect – it was his mastery of perspective which made his work most memorable. “Bill had the best eye,” said John Cody. “He understood proportion better than anyone, and could just look at something and tell if it wasn’t right.” Again, from Stewart Williams: “Cody had a sense of beautiful proportion. He utilized slender columns, thin slabs, and the lines of patios and outdoor pools led to the house. His outdoor spaces were almost as big as the interiors.”

Cody came from an artistic background – his mother was a graduate of the Pennsylvania School of Art, and a successful interior designer in her own right - and he was conversant with concepts of form, symmetry, and the uses of positive and negative space from a very early age: his brother recalls Cody being able to readily identify architectural styles even in childhood. Cody’s father was a successful clothier, with thriving stores in multiple states, but after a business trip to southern California, he decided to sell his business and relocate the family to Los Angeles. They eventually settled in Westwood, in a house designed and built by Cody’s mother, Anna. All the beams above the doors in the house were hand-carved by mother and son.

Needless to say, Cody was an energetic and prodigious entrepreneur as well. Once he set his sights on becoming an architect, and enrolled at USC, Cody quickly formed a strong relationship with the famed designer and homebuilder Cliff May. May’s homes – and therefore, his name – were as prestigious in their day, as they are now. Cody was easily able to recruit fellow USC architecture students to work as draftsmen on May’s designs.

Upon graduation from USC in 1942, Cody enlisted in the Navy and received a commission. However, due to asthma, he received a medical discharge after only four months. Immediately following, Cody opened a small office in West Los Angeles, working on a variety of commissions, including homes and a Kaiser Aluminum plant, commissioned by Bechtel Corporation. Between 1944 and 1946, he served as head designer for the firm of March, Smith, and Powell, primarily designing schools. Two of his school designs – Suva Elementary, and Corona del Mar Elementary – won American Institute of Architecture (A.I.A) awards.

But the pivotal point in his career came in 1946, when Cody was hired as the staff architect for The Desert Inn, in Palm Springs. The dry desert air proved beneficial to his asthma, and the open desert landscape provided the perfect background for his visionary designs. But his design for a sleek, contemporary, two-story ranch addition to The Desert Inn was never built.

Instead, Cody’s first major individual work in the desert was the Del Marcos Hotel, built in 1946. With an all wood-frame structure, and abundant use of stone and glass, the hotel is contemporary in design, but the influence of Cliff May – with its vertical redwood siding and stone work - is very evident. The Del Marcos earned Cody a “Creative Mention” Award in 1949 from the Southern California chapter of the A.I.A., as an example of new resort hotel architecture.

A boisterous, enthusiastic personality with an equivalent passion for aesthetics, the desert, and work, Cody was known to socialize energetically well into the evening, only to return to his office, and continue working through the night. Eventually Cody’s Palm Springs firm expanded to twenty employees, a large number even by today’s standards.

Fluent in every architectural vernacular, the Bauhaus influence of Modernism captivated Cody very early on; it would remain the dominant influence in his subsequent work. He was also devoted to the “Less Is More” philosophy of Mies Van Der Rohe. He became one of the very first of local Palm Springs architects to utilize steel, in his quest for minimalism. Cody’s own Palm Springs home, built in 1947 in the Sunrise Park neighborhood, was a steel-framed house. The structural elements are all exposed: steel beams, adobe, walls of glass. Everything is open, with the distinction between indoors and out blurred by use of window walls, atriums, and reflecting pools.

Cody’s legacy in the Coachella Valley is enormous, and it continues to be influential. Some of his beautiful projects, such as the Cameron Center, on South Palm Canyon Drive – anchored by the Huddle Springs Restaurant – in Palm Springs, are long lost. Others, such as the Spa Hotel and Resort – a work of collaboration with Wexler + Harrison that featured an entry colonnade of breathtaking but understated beauty, which quickly became internationally famous, and anchored a prominent corner of downtown Palm Springs for a half-century – were recently demolished, despite public outcry.

Still others, such as the clubhouses at Tamarisk, in Rancho Mirage, or Eldorado, in Indian Wells, have been insensitively remodeled, beyond recognition, over time.

But many examples of Cody’s elegant legacy remain. A brief list, separated by residential and commercial, or public, buildings, and with address and cross street, is shown below:

Residential Homes:

1. James Abernathy House, 611 N. Phillips Road (Granvia Valmonte), Palm Springs

2. William Cody House, 1950 Desert Palms Drive (between N. Saturmino Drive, and N. Cerritos Road), Palm Springs

3. Palm Springs Glass House, 755 Camino Norte (W. Stevens Road), Palm Springs

4. Stanley Goldberg House, 2340 Southridge Drive (Tiger Tail Lane), Palm Springs

4. Dr. Henry Jaffe House, 37-200 Palm View Road (Cobb Road), Tamarisk Country Club, Rancho Mirage

5. Earle Jorgensen/Paul Mavis House, 40-253 Club View Drive (Cypress Drive), Thunderbird Country Club, Rancho Mirage

6. Racquet Club West Cottages, 360 W. Cabrillo Road (Zanjero Road), Palm Springs

Commercial and Public Buildings:

7. Del Marcos Hotel, 225 W. Baristo Road (S. Belardo Road), Palm Springs

8. L’Horizon Hotel, 1050 E. Palm Canyon Drive (W. Deepwell Road), Palm Springs

9. Palm Springs Public Library, 300 S. Sunrise Way (E. Baristo Road), Palm Springs

10. Seven Lakes Country Club, 4100 E. Seven Lakes Drive (Cherokee Way), Palm Springs

11. St. Theresa Catholic Church, 2800 E. Ramon Road (Compadre Road), Palm Springs

12. El Dorado Country Club, 46000 E. El Dorado Drive (Fairway Drive), Indian Wells – remodeled beyond recognition*

13. Tamarisk Country Club, 70-240 Frank Sinatra Drive (Palm View Road), Rancho Mirage – remodeled beyond recognition*

For more information about local architecture and architects, builders and developers, design and real estate - both the history in our area, and our recent and current real estate market, please contact me: 760-641-9416, daleswanson@bhhscaproperties.com.

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