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Borrego Springs Modern

By Bill Lawrence

On Saturday April 30th, some 200 fans of modern architecture converged on the San Diego desert community of Borrego Springs, for SOHO's Borrego Springs Modern, a mid-century architectural tour. This was an ambitious undertaking in many ways. First, it reaffirms SOHO's commitment to preservation issues throughout San Diego County. Second, it takes a lot of work and volunteers to mount a home tour, which was even more difficult due to the two-hour drive from San Diego. And finally, this was the first preservation oriented architectural tour in Borrego Springs. Would the community embrace such an event? The answer has been an unqualified yes.

(left to right) Elizabeth Rodriguez, Richard Stewart, Camille Miller; Bill Lawrence, Janet Gotch, Evonne Schulze, Pat Havens; Andy Spurlock, Bruce Coons, Christopher Pro


The idea for this tour came from the desire of the Modernism Committee to offer more frequent programming in addition to our landmark Modernism Weekend. Borrego Springs is an untapped resource of mid-century modern architecture and is now facing development issues that, like many other communities and neighborhoods in our county, threaten the community's historic fabric and character. Partnerships are an important component of preservation. In this case, SOHO partnered with the Borrego Springs Chamber of Commerce to help provide a "local voice" to the tour component. Gwenn Marie, Secretary of the Chamber, and Kurt Levins a Borrego Springs architect were critical members of our organizing committee and helped bridge the gaps with the community. Representing SOHO's SDMC was Alana Coons and Bill Lawrence. Also critical in locating property owners was Elsa Chambers, formerly the owner of Coldwell Banker Borrego Springs. We had a tight timeline; just about 90 days from conception to completion. Bill Lawrence and Todd Pittman handled research on the buildings and architects. Carmen Pauli provided a spectacular layout for the program and Sandé Lollis and Michael D-Ambrosia provided photographs. Alana Coons provided her usual superb guidance on every facet of the event and kept us on track with our tight deadlines.

Publicity is also a key to success. We received excellent coverage of our efforts from the Borrego Sun and the San Diego Union Tribune. Photographs accompanied both preview articles and the Borrego Sun has scheduled to run a post-event article as well.

(left to right) Helen & Andrew Halmay, Jeff & Renee Barenbaum; June & Jim Chapman, Doug & Stacey Paton, Chris & Gil Lombard; Rich Caldwell, John Scranton, Brant Miller


On the day of the tour the weather could not have been more perfect; sunny, warm and not too hot. The day started with a lecture on Borrego Springs history, by Manfred Knaak, M.S. and Professor of Anthropology at Imperial Valley Community College. While not a lecture strictly on local architectural history, this set the stage for understanding the development of the Borrego Valley and how the architecture that was featured came to be built there. The tour consisted of five homes, the works of Cliff May, Henry Hester, Sim Bruce Richards and local Borrego architect Richard Zerbe. One unique feature of the home tour was our preservation in progress house, a local landmark known as the Desert Club/Galeria de Anza Borrego. This 1955 clubhouse was the first in Borrego Springs. When the course failed, it was converted to an artist's studio and operated for 35 years until its purchase by the present owners. Escrow on the building closed two days before our tour and this was the first time the building had been open to the public in nearly a decade. The owners are planning to restore the building to its 1955 roots, and are considering some public use of the building. The evening concluded with a sunset reception in a private residence designed by La Jolla architect Everett Abrams.

(left to right) Mike Gotch, Pat McArron; Robert Imber, Todd Pitman, Suzanne Lawrence, Carmen Pauli; Erik Hanson, Christopher Pro


Of the 200 tour participants, a full one-third was from outside the San Diego area. For many this was their first trip to Borrego Springs. Nearly one third were Borrego Springs residents looking to learn about their own community's history. Our thanks and gratitude goes to all our homeowners and volunteers, and sponsors, both from SOHO and Borrego Springs. The responses we have received have been most gratifying. Perhaps the highest praise of the event has been the response we've heard many times, "I can't wait for next year's tour."

2005 - Volume 36, Issue 2

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