Beyond Palm Springs: 7 Other Mid-Century Hotspots That Might Surprise You

Some of the country's most stunning examples of mid-century modern architecture are hiding in plain sight — in places you'd never expect.

By
Brittany Anas
On Thursday, April 23, 2020 - 09:00
Mid Century Modern Architecture

Palm Springs is renowned for having the largest concentration of mid-century modern architecture in the country, and its reputation is well-deserved: in this desert oasis, you’ll find architectural show-offs like Elvis’s Honeymoon Hideaway, which boasts a boomerang roofline and octagonal floating glass bedroom.

But throughout the United States often in small to mid-size cities and unassuming towns  you’ll find lesser-known mid-century marvels. The architectural style popularized from the 1930s to the 1960s is commonly characterized by flat planes, integration into nature, a futuristic aesthetic and large windows. 

Here, seven small and mid-size towns across the country that are bidding for a spot on your must-visit map of mid-century architectural greats.

1. Spring Green, Wisconsin

As the birthplace of acclaimed architect Frank Lloyd Wright, mid-century modern is woven into Wisconsin’s DNA. The Frank Lloyd Wright Trail takes mid-century fanatics on a self-guided architectural tour through nine counties in southern Wisconsin, with highlights like Lake Denton’s Seth Peterson Cottage that’s been described as having “more architecture per square foot than any other building Wright ever designed;” to Still Bend’s The Schwartz House modeled after Wright’s winning entry in Life magazine’s “Dream House” competition. But a perfect place to start is Spring Green, which is where Wright built his own famous home and studio, Taliesin, an 800-acre agricultural estate overlooking the Wisconsin River. With travel on hold, check out the virtual tour of the estate, which is set to a soundtrack of Wright’s favorite music. He believed understanding music made him a better architect.

Scottsdale
Andrew Pielage for Taliesin West

2. Scottsdale, Arizona 

In the winter, Frank Lloyd Wright slipped away to sunny Scottsdale, home to his winter home and desert laboratory, Taliesin West. Visitors can tour the architectural marvel, which was built mostly by Wright and his apprentices, making it an especially personal accomplishment. Take a peek inside with this virtual tour. Should you visit Scottsdale in the future, check into Hotel Valley Ho, where mid-century mod meets Hollywood glam, with stunning Camelback Mountain as a backdrop. The hotel is a bonafide mid-century landmark originally built in 1956 by architect Edward Varney. In the decades since, it's gone through thoughtful restorations to preserve and celebrate its iconic style. The palm-studded pool deck with punch-colored cabanas was once a desert playground for Hollywood elite to watch poolside fashion shows, martinis in hand.

3. Midland, Michigan 

Architect Alden B. Dow, who studied with Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesin, introduced modern design to Midland in the early 1930s. He created 130 structures during his 50-year career. Now, the city of 42,000 boasts more than 400 mid-century modern structures. But the pièce de résistance? Dow’s home and studio, which looks as though it's floating in a pond. Visitors here can take a tour of Dow’s home and studio, where you’ll find sloping roofs and brilliant colors. The estate hosts summer architecture and design camps. If you’re charmed, you can check out if there are any Dow homes on the market. While in town, visit the Midland Center for the Arts, which was designed by Dow.

Spokane
Libby Kamrowski

4. Spokane, Washington 

Never thought you’d be dazzled by a parking garage? Spokane rises to the challenge with its iconic Parkade, a geometric gem that was built in 1967 to keep up with the rise in automobiles. The 10-story parking plaza is just one of the Spokane landmarks bidding for a spot on your must-visit mid-century map. In addition to historic homes and commercial buildings, architecture lovers have a chance to interact with mid-century staples in Spokane. Stop for lunch at local institution Dick’s Hamburgers, which was built with funky details designed to grab the attention of drivers. Then, enjoy a show at the sculptural Spokane Civic Theatre. While travel is on hold, you can get a historical overview of the many mid-century buildings.

Dekker House Albuquerque
Brady LaVigne

5. Albuquerque, New Mexico

Butterfly roofs were popular in Albuquerque years before they rose to prominence in Palm Springs, says Thea Haver, founder and president of Modern Albuquerque. This New Mexico city more than doubled in size and population between 1950 and 1960. With the population growth came a mid-century design boom. Albuquerque is home to more than 200 documented mid-century modern homes and 366 buildings. Modern Albuquerque has a map to help you find some of the city’s architectural treasures, including the Dekker House, a simple and unadorned rectangular home built as Albuquerque architect Art Dekker’s personal residence.

6. Greenville, South Carolina

Made with local cypress wood and designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, the Broad Margin private residence in Greenville was built in 1954 and can be considered a case study in the architect’s natural, or “Usonian” designs. The residence was constructed with stone walls and chimneys, a massive roof and built-in furniture made from local materials. Get a glimpse of Greenwood’s architectural styles spanning the decades, and hear stories from homeowners, via a Historic Neighborhoods History Tour.

Laurent House Rockford
Rockford CVB

7. Rockford, Illinois

In 1948, disabled World War II veteran Kenneth Laurent and his wife Phyllis commissioned Frank Lloyd Wright to design a home for them in Rockford. The Laurents received a $10,000 grant for disabled veterans and Phyllis saw an article in House Beautiful about a Wright-designed house in Virginia and thought the open-plan style would be a good fit for her husband. It was the only building ever designed by the famed architect for a person with a disability, and Wright referred to the home as his “little gem,” selecting it for his book that showcased 35 of his most significant buildings. The Laurent House opened to the public in 2014, and is available for tours.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Brittany Anas is a former newspaper reporter who accidentally became a federal background investigator before quickly retreating back to journalism.