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Palm Springs Architecture and Design Center gets big boost from Sinatra family

It was billed as "Cocktails and Home Movies with the Sinatra Family," and sure enough, Frank Sinatra’s kids—and a granddaughter—were there last Friday night (Jan. 24) to help raise money for the Palm Springs Art Museum Architecture and Design Center, Edwards Harris Pavilion, or A&D Center, for short.

From left, Frank Sinatra, Jr., Amanda Erlinger, Tina Sinatra, J.R. Roberts and Nancy Sinatra, at the Palm Springs A&D Center benefit.
David A. Lee Photography

The third facility of the Palm Springs Art Museum will open in November, following an adaptive reuse rehabilitation of the historic former Santa Fe Federal Savings and Loan in downtown Palm Springs. It will then provide Palm Springs—and the entire architecture and design community--an appropriate center for the study, exhibition, and celebration of significant architectural and design collections, in a locale that is known as a bastion of Mid-Century modern architecture.

Built in 1961, Santa Fe Federal was designed by renowned modernist architect E. Stewart Williams, and designated a Palm Springs Class 1 Historic Site in 2009. It was acquired by the Palm Springs Art Museum in 2011.

The A&D Center benefit was held at the Graff-Radford House in nearby Rancho Mirage, which is the last residence designed by the late Williams.

A paramount figure in Mid-Century modern architecture, Williams also designed the Palm Springs Desert Museum, along with numerous private homes including the famous Frank Sinatra House in Palm Springs in 1947.

“It [the Sinatra House] was considered out in the desert, then,” says J.R. Roberts, who heads development for the A&D Center and hosted the event (which he produced) with Nancy Sinatra. “Indian Canyon Drive, which was the secondary main artery to downtown, wasn’t paved yet.”

But Sinatra’s residence, and his love of the town, had a major impact on Palm Springs' growth, adds Roberts, "and probably caused a lot of others to come here and spend time here. He and his colleagues performed here, so it seemed a perfect fit to hold an event with the Sinatras in support of Palm Springs history.”

Indeed, the Sinatra family “is synonymous with the hip history of Palm Springs,” says Roberts, “and we were thrilled when all three kids agreed to be part of it.”

Approximately 250 attendees assembled at the Audi Rancho Mirage dealership—an event co-sponsor—and were bussed to the Graff-Radford House, where Nancy, Tina and Frank Sinatra, Jr., along with Nancy’s daughter Amanda Erlinger, presented candid home movies of the siblings when they were young children playing in the Sinatra House and at poolside.

“My bedroom had butterfly wallpaper!” Nancy recalled, touchingly calling out “Hiya, Dad!” when her then youthful father appeared in the swimming pool area.

“So there’s the pool you almost let me drown in!” Tina interjected.

“That looks like Peggy Lee’s little girl!” Nancy marveled, and when Lee herself appeared a few minutes later, affirmed, “That’s Peggy Lee! I told you.”

Frank, Jr. related how he and his sisters were given two pennies each for a popsicle at the store down the road, and after returning with the two cents when the price went up to three, their mother called the store to complain about the inflation.

But taking a more serious tone, Nancy noted how she had tried in vain to save the landmark Ken Kellogg-designed Chart House Restaurant in Rancho Mirage, which was demolished following a fire and a losing battle by preservationists to rebuild it.

“It was an icon and so much more,” said Nancy, “and we have to educate people so that tragedy won’t happen again.” The Palm Spring Valley’s architecture, she declared, was as essential as “our father’s and grandfather’s music.”

Roberts also worked on the effort to save the Chart House.

“Her interest and support there extended to the Architecture and Design Center,” says Roberts. “She gets and understands the importance of architecture, because it defines us as special and makes us different than other cities. Her interest and support is wonderful: She and Amanda brought Frank, Jr. and Tina, and you saw the outcome.”

Roberts tallies $200,000 raised at the Graff-Radford House event, at which a painting by celebrated Lowbrow artist Shag (Josh Agle), which envisions the gala opening of the A&D Center, was donated.

“He’s allowing us 200 numbered prints, which will help the museum financially into the future,” says Roberts. Shag, incidentally, did the artwork for Nancy Sinatra’s new digital album Shifting Gears.

He notes that architecture and design aficionados and fans come to Palm Springs from all over the world “to get a taste and feel of what makes Palm Springs cool.”

“This new facility not only shows the Palm Springs Art Museum’s commitment to architecture and design and recognizes their importance, but also puts its campus right downtown and makes it accessible to visitors and tourists--more so than the mother ship,” says Roberts, referring to the main museum building.

“The fact that it’s a repurposed, beautiful old bank building, designed by the same architect who designed the art museum, in South Palm Springs, will re-energize that end of town,” concludes Roberts. “The whole north end is already re-energized and alive again, and we believe this new arts museum will do the same for the south end.”

Meanwhile, the museum is still seeking funding to complete the A&D Center restoration, and has a few Center Founder positions and naming opportunities left.

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