Palm Springs flyby (and a glimpse of Sunnylands)

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We arrived at the Palm Springs V Hotel after dark, around 9 p.m., and left early the next morning, Thursday, for our talk at 9 a.m. “The Backyard; A Biography.” No chaise lounge time for us. Mitch grabbed this photo of the V Palm Springs Hotel on Friday. Thanks to Modernism Week/Paul Ortega for the swank digs!
Unless otherwise noted, all photos by MB Maher

Notwithstanding the recent visit to Palm Springs for Modernism Week, I still have yet to visit nearby Sunnylands, the so-called Camp David of the West in its heyday, when it was the private residence of the Annenbergs, Ambassador Walter Annenberg and his wife Leonore — these are Mitch’s photos. He was able to saunter over for a quick look since the condo a friend loaned him for the talk overlooked the Sunnylands golf course. The Annenbergs’ house was designed by MCM architect A. Quincy Jones in 1963, but Sunnylands, to my mind, is all about the fairly new desert garden and its spectacular mass plantings of palo verde trees, succulents and cacti. In 2006 the Annenberg Foundation Trust commissioned the Office of James Burnett landscape architecture firm to create a 9-acre garden on the 200-acre site which was the Annenbergs’ desert retreat. OJB’s work earned the Honor Award in 2012 from the American Society of Landscape Architects.

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“This is all about the plants and they are spectacular, adding texture and color to the desert and lawns. This shows a real knowledge of plants. The feeling is lush and the colors are fabulous.”
2012 Professional Awards Jury, ASLA

I knew the Annenberg name only from seeing it scroll across my tv screen when watching my local PBS station. In reading up on Sunnylands, I impatiently swiped aside accounts of the international summits, diplomatic triumphs, and art collection donated to the Metropolitan to indulge an admittedly crass curiosity: Where did the Annenberg fortune come from? Like Hearst, the source of Annenberg’s wealth was print media, which he later expanded into radio and television. Annenberg grew his father’s publishing acquisitions into the company Triangle Publications, which ultimately included a lucrative roster of publications like TV Guide, Seventeen, the Daily Racing Form. Annenberg’s fortune was also channeled into heroic-scale philanthropy and supported an abiding sense of public service.

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Barack Obama and Xi Jinping at Sunnylands 2013, photo found here
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“I believe in social responsibility. A man’s service to others must be at least in ratio to the character of his own success in life. When one is fortunate enough to gain a measure of material well being, however small, service to others should be uppermost in his mind.” – Walter H. Annenberg (1951)
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OJB’s work has been LEED Gold Certified

From OJB’s website:

  • The project utilizes just 20% of the water allocation from Coachella Valley Water District.
  • The project uses 100% on-site stormwater retention.
  • High-efficiency capillary irrigation zones are independently controlled by soil and moisture censored monitors to reduce water use.
  • The user experiences stormwater features through garden paths which integrate grading, planting, water capture, and water storage.

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Sunnyland’s signature mass plantings of succulents like Euphorbia resinifera and agaves
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“Working closely with owner, the landscape architect developed a scheme that begins as an orderly, geometric composition adjacent to the Center and becomes progressively more free flowing as it moves to the desert meadows. The landscape architect sculpted the earth and used plants in a painterly fashion across the 15 acre site. Trees were carefully positioned throughout the site to ensure that ample shade was provided and great care was given to the visual composition of understory plantings. Plantings were designed “in mass” much like one experiences a large nursery. Therefore, dozens of aloe, agave and barrel cactus were used to great large sweeps of color and texture.” — ASLA
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impressionistic sweeps — photo from Timeout

Still on my must-see list: Sunnylands, Rancho Mirage, California.  

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3 Responses to Palm Springs flyby (and a glimpse of Sunnylands)

  1. Loree L Bohl says:

    Sexy! Thanks for sharing the Mitch’s photos and more of the backstory.

  2. Elaine says:

    How did your talk go? Unfortunate, you were so close but unable to visit Sunnylands. Just means you will need to go back. The plant palette and composition is stunning.

  3. Denise says:

    @Loree, I’m hoping to share more soon!
    @Elaine, the talk went unbelievably well. Huge relief. I’m hoping to get snippets up on the blog soon. It was 45 minutes long so will be best broken up into small chunks.

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