Featured Architect: Hugh Kaptur

Hugh Michael Kaptur (b. 22 May 1931) designed his buildings to be occupied – and to last. “I came from Detroit, and all of our homes were heavily insulated,” Kaptur said. “So, we designed homes here so we could put insulation in. My designs had thicker rooflines. They were not as delicate. They kept the pitched roofs, using butterfly and slope designs, but they just had a thicker feel to them.”

“I’ve always felt disappointed that Palm Springs took after L.A. in terms of architectural styles, rather than Phoenix and Tucson,” Kaptur says. These were “desert communities, and that style of architecture is something I liked more for this region.”

His biggest influence, Kaptur says, is Frank Lloyd Wright, who designed many desert-style buildings, including the famous Taliesin West in Arizona. “I like form that is flowing and organic,” Kaptur says. “Organic,” of course, was one of the master’s favorite terms.

But Kaptur’s father was an automotive designer for Packard, and for GM, and before going into the service, Hugh studied architectural engineering at Detroit’s Lawrence Institute of Technology. During his service with the Marines in Southern California at Camp Pendleton, Kaptur met his first wife and designed a real estate office for his wife’s family, his first built project. After his honorable discharge from the Marines in 1954, Kaptur returned with his family to Detroit, where – like his father - he began working in GM’s styling division.

During a visit to Palm Springs in 1956, Kaptur decided to stay; he has remained in Palm Springs ever since. He first apprenticed in the offices of Wexler and Harrison. After being laid off in the spring of 1957, Kaptur set up shop on his own and designed several model homes for Noel Clarke’s Ranch Construction Company, selling the renderings for $150 each, with no residual fees.

See also: http://www.desertdreaming.com/ranch-club-estates-homes.html

In 1962, Kaptur formed a partnership with licensed architect Robert Ricciardi, so that he could get the commission for Palm Springs Fire Station #3. After that partnership broke up in 1964, Kaptur formed a company in 1965 with Larry Lapham, son of noted architect Howard Lapham. This partnership lasted through 1975. Kaptur’s last professional partnership was with James Cioffi, from 1982 until 1992, after which he went into semi-retirement.

Kaptur’s own first Palm Springs project was the Impala Lodge, now the Triangle Inn, in 1957-58. Other projects soon followed: the William Burgess Residence, the Pete Siva Residence (aka the Russell Residence), and the Robert Leaver Residence (now demolished) - all perched above Palisades Road on a rocky ledge with sweeping panoramic views of the valley floor.

Skilled at free-hand drawing, he made artist’s renderings of buildings for Wexler, Albert Frey, and others.

Business picked up in 1958, when homebuilders began developing Palm Springs on a large scale, and Kaptur found himself designing post-and-beam houses. “I was definitely influenced by Palmer & Krisel,” the firm that was instrumental in setting the trend for the post-and-beam style, notable for its clean lines, wood construction, and enormous windows.

Later, after opening his own office, the architect was known for an easygoing personality in a profession notable for uncertainty and frustration, according to Martha Edgeman, who worked 15 years as his secretary. “He was fun to work for,” she recalls. She also admires his design prowess. After the death of William Cody, Edgeman adds, “Hugh was the best designer in Palm Springs.”

Kaptur designed several notable residences, including those for Steve McQueen and William Holden, in the Southridge section of Palm Springs;

He also designed numerous municipal buildings, including Fire Station #3 and Fire Station #4 in Palm Springs; apartment and condominium complexes, including the Kauai Apartments complex, in the Warm Sands area, and the Villa Caballeros complex in central Palm Springs; as well as commercial hotels and office buildings, such as the Tahquitz Plaza complex at 700 E. Tahquitz Canyon Way, one of Kaptur’s most reknown and iconic projects (once threatened with demolition).

In addition to designing homes for builders who were constructing homes on spec in the Ranch Club (now Desert Park) Estates and Deepwell neighborhoods of Palm Springs, as well as homes in Palm Desert, Kaptur also built his own house on Belding Drive in Sunrise Park, Palm Springs, where he would live for the next 33 years. His home designs featured butterfly rooflines, concrete block screens, window walls of glass, post-and-beam construction methods, and naturalistic elements, like rock and wood.

“My home is like a cave with a glass box on the back of it,” said Matthew Burkholz of his Kaptur-designed Desert Park Estates house. “Everything is very thickly insulated, and much more substantive than a lot of the other early architect-designed tract homes here in Palm Springs.”

Many of those houses have now been restored by an enthusiastic new group of owners like Burkholz who extol their design virtues. “Hugh wasn’t drawn to Richard Nuetra and the Los Angeles school of coastal Modernist architecture, but looked much more to Frank Lloyd Wright and a sense of organic forms,” said Burkholz. “He looked east to Arizona and New Mexico for both adobe-style architecture and native indigenous habitats and cave environments. One of the most important tenets of his architecture was structural expressionism, meaning not concealing post and beam architecture, not concealing buttresses, [but] having everything stylized with thick geometry.”

During his brief partnership with architect Robert Ricciardi, the firm completed designs for Palm Springs Fire Station #3, and the Palm Springs (now Tahquitz Creek) Golf Course Clubhouse, finished and dedicated in 1967.

PS Golf Club

From 1965-1975 in partnership with Larry Lapham the firm designed lavish homes in the exclusive Thunderbird Country Club, in Rancho Mirage, and the Eldorado Country Club, in Indian Wells; other projects included the Tahquitz Plaza /Anderson Travel buildings, and Palm Springs Fire Station #4. Also during this period, Kaptur remodeled the Casa Blanca Hotel, on South Palm Canyon Drive, into its current iteration as the Musicland Hotel.

From 1982-1992, in partnership with James Cioffi, the firm completed several residential and commercial projects in Palm Springs including the Villa Caballeros condominiums and the Caballeros Plaza / Unified School District offices on Tahquitz Canyon Way.

Today, Kaptur continues to work on numerous projects. In total, his prolific portfolio includes more than 200 residences and 40-plus commercial projects in the Palm Springs area.

Kaptur’s accomplishments are vast across the Greater Palm Springs area. But the greatest abundance of his buildings sit on Tahquitz Canyon Way in Palm Springs, which could just as easily be renamed Hugh Kaptur Way.

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


1. Tahquitz Plaza 1 (1974) 600-650 E. Tahquitz Canyon Way, and Tahquitz Plaza 2 (1977) 700-750 E. Tahquitz Canyon Way.

2. Alan Ladd Building (now The Five Hundred, 1968). 500 S. Palm Canyon Drive.

3. Palm Springs Golf Club Clubhouse (now Tahquitz Creek Golf Resort, 1967). 1885 Golf Club Drive.

4. The Inn at Bermuda Dunes (now The Dunes Club, 1962). 42325 Adams Street, at Baracoa, Bermuda Dunes C.C.

5. Impala Lodge (now Triangle Inn, 1957). 555 E. San Lorenzo Road.

6. Casa Blanca Motor Lodge (now Musicland Hotel, 1967), 1342 S. Palm Canyon Drive


7. Kauai Apartments (1963). 623 S. Grenfall Road.

8. Villa Caballeros Condominiums (1989), 255 S. Avenida Caballeros, at Arenas.

9. Siva/Russell Residence (1959). 660 Palisades Drive.

10. William Holden Residence (1977). 2433 Southridge Drive.

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