Featured Architect: Howard Lapham

Howard Lapham (May 11, 1914 – April 16, 2008) was a modernist architect whose notable residences exist primarily in Southern California. Born in Oklahoma City, Lapham relocated to the Coachella Valley in the California desert east of Los Angeles in 1954 from Stamford, Connecticut. He was 40 at the time of the move.

Although he was a registered designer, Lapham intended on becoming a builder in his new desert home. Within a year, however, he was designing residences for wealthy and influential members of the Thunderbird Country Club along the Club’s fairways and up the slopes of what became known as "Thunderbird Heights".

These Lapham buildings appeared in Architectural Digest: Hyatt von Dehn Residence (1960, Thunderbird Heights), the Kiewit Residence (1960, Thunderbird Country Club), the Clarke Swanson Residence (1961, Thunderbird Country Club), the Morrow Residence (1961, Silver Spur Ranch, Palm Desert), and a remodel of the Thunderbird Country Club clubhouse (1961).

Lapham's early work included custom homes in Palm Springs's Deepwell Estates, including Manzanita House (1958, below) known for its asymmetrical lot position and glass-with-stone facade, located just southeast of downtown.

Originally commissioned and constructed as an apartment hotel, 1611 South Calle Palo Fiero - now the beautifully renovated Desert Star, a condo association - was designed by Lapham, and built in 1956.

Perhaps Lapham's most famous renovation was that of the famous Chi Chi nightclub in 1959. The Chi Chi facade was redone in "ultra-modern" style.

Lapham also designed the Rackstrom-Reid Building - a two-story structure with offices upstairs, and retail space on the street level - at 666 / 668 N. Palm Canyon Drive, in downtown Palm Springs, in 1961.

In 1970, Lapham built the Mayan-themed Cook House, known as Ichpa Mayapan, atop Thunderbird Heights. The Cook House is one of several homes chronicled in the independent film Desert Utopia: Mid-Century Architecture in Palm Springs. Lapham's signature placement of houses against carefully chosen flat-niches is characteristic of his desert homes.

Between 1959 and 1963 some of Lapham's Palm Springs buildings were designed with help from Haralamb H. Georgescu, a Romanian-born architect.

Lapham also designed Lord Fletcher’s English Pub in 1966 (above) on what became known as ‘restaurant row’ on Highway 111 in Rancho Mirage. Lapham also drew the initial plans for the Eisenhower Medical Center, although Edward D. Stone obtained the commission.

Lapham officially retired in the 1980s, although he continued to maintain an office in Palm Springs until his death at age 92 in 2008.

above: 650 Tachevah Drive, Palm Springs (1966)

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