Featured Architect: Charles DuBois, A.I.A.


Although generally less well-know than many other mid-century architects, Charles E. DuBois (9 Apr 1903 - 29 Dec 1996) also left his lasting, indelible imprint upon modernist architecture in Palm Springs.

Born in Rochester, New York, DuBois relocated with his family to the Los Angeles area as a teenager, and graduated from Glendate High School in 1921. He then spent a year at UCLA, before transferring to MIT, when he attended intermittendtly between 1922 and 1930. During this time he became a draftman for the firms of Walker & Eisen (1923-1931); Gogerty & Weyl (1926-1929) and Horatio Bishop (1929), before opening his own firm, in Hollywood, in 1938.

DuBois was in fact a building designer who jointed the American Institute of Architects after receiving his state architectural license. Contrary to prior speculation, DuBois was in fact a full member of the A.I.A., having gone through written and in-person examinations in front of the review board. Subsequently, he was architect of record and later the supervising architect on many prominent Los Angeles area developments.

Among DuBois' credits were home designs at Hollywood Riviera Estates (1954); at Compton Estates (1954) and at Santa Anita Estates (1955), all in the Los Angeles area.


He also designed many homes for Deauville Estates in Tarzana, and the Woodland and Woodland West (not Woodside, as commonly cited) subdivisions, in Woodland Hills, through 1965. Ultimately the developers of Woodland West named DuBois Avenue after him, as a gesture of appreciation.

Towards the end of the 1950s, DuBois began work for the Alexander Company, in the Vista Las Palmas neighborhood of Palm Springs (he is generally credited with what are now often known as the "Swiss Miss' Chalet-style homes in that area).

The Alexander Company was then involved in a lengthy partnership with a longtime builder, J.C. ("Joe") Dunas - with whom they had previously collaborated on many apartment buildings and complexes in the Los Angeles area, before coming to the desert - on a Vista Las Palmas phase then known as "Summit Las Palmas". Dunas' insistence on less rigidly contemporary homes ("for those who don't like modernism") may have had something to do with DuBois' unusual Polynesian Tiki-Hut modernist hybrid designs, among the Palmer + Krisel 'butterfly', A-line, and 'flat-roof' designs.

According to Ryan Harris, Administrator for Chales E. DuBois, A.I.A. social media appreciation sites on Facebook and Instagram, "the 'Swiss Miss' homes were actually never intended to be chalet style...than mis-attribution seems to have come about during the late 70's and 80's through real estate ads, which began selling them as chalets. In actuality, they were all designed specifically to be Polynesian style, When new owners closed their deal, the Alexander's General Manager, "Aloha" Bob Payne, would hand over the keys in a lei ceremony (a photo of which was usually published in the Desert Sun)".

(Note: for the sake of context, during this period - the early to mid 1960s - there was in fact a brief, concurrent 'fad' for very specific Swiss or Chalet thematic design and architecture (including a Swiss Chalet restaurant, on South Palm Canyon Drive) in Palm Springs, that followed in the wake of the opening of the Palm Springs Aerial Tram, in September 1963).


A few years later, in the early 1970s, DuBois worked with developer Roy Fey, in designing Canyon Estates, in south Palm Springs, merging mid-century modernist lines and design features with postmodern decorative elements - Spanish, or Mediterranean, in this case - such as rough-coat stucco and wrought-iron gatework and lanterns.

DuBois - his designs, and his legacy - were not always met with universal acclaim, even at the time, by his contemporaries. William Krisel was blunt: the "Swiss Miss" homes, he said, simply weren't serious. "When you're doing Tiki and stuff like that, most architects wouldn't do that," he was quoted as saying, in the EichlerNetwork blog. "It's not really architecture. It's like Disneyland. All of them are totally inappropriate for the desert location. The Fiji Tiki belongs at the beach, and the Swiss Miss belongs in the mountains that have snow in the winter."

But with the huge resurgence in mid-century modernism - and all of the design elements of the period that came with it - DuBois' stature has slowly risen. In part, this is the result of a growing recognition among afficianados that - even during a period of design minimalism, 'less-is-more' theory, and strict functional formalism - playful decoration and references to other styles had created interesting hybrids (e.g., "Googie") that were an equal (or great) part of the American landscape and culture - especially in then-developing areas like southern California in general, and Palm Springs, in particular.


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