Unusual style, enduring legacy
Get to know the distinctive architecture of this living legend.
Architecture of Hugh Kaptur
Anyone who visits Palm Springs will tell you it’s absolutely beautiful with the San Jacinto mountains, the trees, and the abundance of elegant mid-century modern architecture. Amazing houses, including some hidden gems, are popular tourist attractions and all offer breathtaking views, while some even offer tours. Interestingly, though, many of the architects who helped make Palm Springs what it is actually came from other areas, including Hugh Kaptur, and architect who’s increasingly getting a lot more of the spotlight in Palm Springs.
Born on May 22, 1931 in Detroit, Michigan, Hugh Kaptur started out as a U.S. Marine before being honorably discharged. He worked with his dad as a designer at GM and studied architectural engineering at the Lawrence Institute of Technology before relocating to Palm Springs in 1956 and kicking off his career in architecture by apprenticing in the offices of two other infamous architects, Donald Wexler and Richard Harrison. Heavily influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright, Kaptur would go on to work with other renowned individuals including Richard Ricciardi, Lawrence Lapham, and James Cioffi.
Kaptur has created many different building types including houses, apartments, hotels, fire stations, and office buildings. Some of the most notable include:
- Tahquitz Plaza: Kaptur created this retail and office “plaza” in two phases throughout the 1970s. It currently houses offices as well as cafes and spans 32,000 square feet. The architecture itself has been deemed “pueblo-influenced romantic” due to its unique mid-century modern layout that is meshed with the style of Spanish pueblos. This is one of Kaptur’s most notable works, as it was designated a Class 1 Historic Site in December of 2015, after many years of debate.
- Palm Springs Fire Stations: Kaptur is also known for designing several municipal buildings including Palm Springs Fire Stations #3 and #4. Beginning in the summer of 2017, work began on Fire Station #4 to remodel and expand it. The firehouse architecture is so cherished that the city agreed to involve Kaptur in the renovations so that the station could preserve his mid-century modern look and original vision.
Steve McQueen House: Located in the Southridge community, this home is where famous mid-century actor Steve McQueen lived. Other celebrities such as horror director Wes Craven also resided here throughout the years, but it was truly a home well suited to McQueen and has retained that name since he lived there. Although this home features typical mid-century modern post and beam designs, the house is mostly known for its huge foyer, two-story high doors, and floating staircase. Kaptur designed the home in 1964 and included cypress paneling, terrazzo floors, and gigantic glass walls that provide beautiful views of the San Jacinto mountains. A massive terrace, a patio, and a swimming pool are also part of this 4,493 square foot property. After Craven passed away, the house was placed on the market for sale at $4.6 million.
- William Holden House: Situated in the Deepwell region of Palm Springs, the William Holden House is another one of Kaptur’s best-known works. Kaptur built the 5-bedroom, 5.5-bathroom home in 1956 and included expansive glass curtain walls as well as 47 windows and doors that all pivot. The house exhibits Kaptur’s skills with mid-century modern architecture, as it features the post and beam design as well as tall ceilings and even a mid-century modern fireplace. The house has been redone and updated in some ways, but the general feel remains the same. Also featuring a swimming pool, fire pit, and great views of the surrounding valley, this was one of Kaptur’s favorite works. He even notes that 50s and 60s-era actor William Holden was one of his favorite clients, stating that he was an “interesting gentleman” and told great stories.
- Villa Caballeros Apartments: Kaptur is also known for designing apartments, including the Villa Caballeros Apartments on Tahquitz Canyon Way. Sticking with the mid-century modern theme, these apartments each feature the typical high-vaulted ceilings and huge windows designed for residents to be able to bring in the California sun and enjoy the views outside. Built in the mid-1980’s, this complex has 59 units, a pool and spa, racquetball and tennis courts, and a clubhouse.
Another notable work of Kaptur’s is the Siva House, which is a smaller home he built in 1959 and that features his usual floor-to-ceiling glass doors and windows as well as large, open rooms to provide great views. There are also the Casa Blanca Hotel (now known as the Musicland Hotel), which was built in 1967 and is still open today, and the Palm Springs Golf Club Clubhouse (now known as the Tahquitz Creek Golf Course Clubhouse), which was also built in 1967 and remains a popular place for both tourists and locals.
Kaptur was officially deemed one of the greatest architects in the Coachella Valley region when he received a star on Palm Canyon Drive’s Walk of Fame. His works have been included in many publications about mid-century modern architecture as well as a documentary film titled Quiet Elegance: The Architecture of Hugh M. Kaptur. In May of 2019, Kaptur himself wrote a special piece for The Desert Sun expressing his “sincere and heartfelt gratitude” to everyone who has contributed to this recognition.