The development of Palm Springs’, Tahquitz River Estates (TRE) has been a long and fascinating history since it’s first Spanish Revival Homes that were built in the 1930s. Most famously know for it’s 1940s Paul Trousdale Homes along it’s namesake Tahquitz River Wash, TRE also has been home to many, many famous residents including the enigmatic Dr. William Scholl, the foot care specialist who in 1948, purchased a very large compound, which he named “Casa de Rancho”, that straddled both Morongo and Sonora Roads.
Scholl led a decidedly sober private life. He never married, and except for an interest in cooking and a love of travel displayed no passions beyond his devotion to the human foot. For many of his active years, he lived in a single rented room at the downtown Illinois Athletic Club and used the common bathroom down the hall. In his later days he maintained homes in both Michigan City and Palm Springs, California, but it appears he spent little time in either. They more often served as vacation sites for his many nieces and nephews.
Back in 2007, the Historic Site Preservation Board (HSPB) considered the nomination as a Class 1 Historic Site the "Casa de Rancho" a Morongo Street compound built in the 1940s for Dr. William Scholl. Dr Scholl might have joined the ranks of the town’s prominent (part-time) residents to be honored by the designation, but it was not to be. When built, the Spanish Colonial style property was a mini-estate containing ten buildable lots; such parcels are extremely rare in Palm Springs today. Struggling with the concepts of Setting and Context, the HSPB lost its courage and recommended protecting only the main house, which was centered on two lots facing Morongo; the remainder of the fully landscaped site which contained a swimming pool and pool house, tennis courts and gardens was not included in the recommendation to the City Council. Predictably, the owner opposed the designation, and, while owner consent is not required by the designating ordinance, the City Council deferred to the owner’s wishes and declined the recommendation, resulting in a property that had no protection. With the City’s failure to protect the property, the owner immediately walled off the main house, demolished the outbuildings, filled in the pool, stripped the mature landscape and prepared to sell off the lots for development.
Needless to say, the owner did not predict the global financial melt-down that subsequently occurred, and the empty lots remained undeveloped for many years. The appearance of the property became that of a forlorn, blighted site, littered with unfinished construction debris; it retains little of its original charm or value, an impact on the neighborhood that was not be easily overcome. Among the lessons to be learned here is the understanding of the value to an historic property of its setting and historic landscape. As these few surviving larger parcels start being subdivided.
Sadly, the current state of what’s left of the Dr. Scholl’s Estate is one of a dilapidated exterior and overgrown, unkempt gardens and grounds. Some improvements has been made to the landscaping on Morongo Rd., but, the site remains an incredible opportunity to revive a once shining jewel of early Palm Springs.
Visionary Real estate agent Monique Lombardelli license Architect, Joseph Eichlers Plans plans, and developer Troy Kudlac puts them into action.
Thanks to real estate agent Monique Lombardelli licensing the original Joseph Eichler plans, and developer Troy Kudlac putting them into action, Palm Springs has its first Eichler home, which is also claimed to be the first new one in four decades. Kudlac says it sold a day before the open house, for the full ask of $1.29M. The event was enough to give Palm Springs Modernism Week its very own Eichler Day, in a place that now counts just one very adapted, modernized Eichler home. (The iconic modernist tract homes of Palm Springs go by Alexander.)
Eight ‘Desert Eichler’ homes eventually were completed “on the famed Dr. Scholl’s estate, a short drive from downtown Palm Springs. The homes feature mountain views, large trademark Eichler atriums, expansive glass windows, and stylish midcentury furnishings in various styles, from Danish classics by Mid Century Mobler to the finest Danish reproductions by Carl Hansen & Son.
Troy, who started building what he envisioned as small tracts of these homes in 2013, has been building these homes on spec, meaning that once built he needs to find buyers. For a while, he said in an earlier interview, sales were slow. “I thought they would sell faster,” he says. “It’s a smaller a niche than I thought.” He also says that, unlike in the Bay Area, in Palm Springs ‘Eichler’ is not a major brand name. “We don’t get the same name recognition out of it,” Troy says.
These new 'Eichlers' of Palm Springs join much larger existing neighbors of Alexander homes, and homes from the mid-century by other modern developers.
Troy also faced competition from the desert city’s existing stock of mid-century modern homes from the actual mid-century, many of them by the Alexander construction company. The Alexanders generally have higher ceilings, which people like, and often sell for less than he can sell his 'Eichlers.'
“The homes are really expensive to build,” Troy says, “and the land is very expensive in Palm Springs.”
“A lot of people don’t like the low ceilings in the bedrooms [of the Eichlers], also the narrow halls,” Troy says. “In Palm Springs people want height and lots of glass so they can see more of the sky and the mountains.”
“We thought about increasing heights,” Troy says. “But if you’re going in that direction it’s hard to be calling the houses Eichlers. I believe in it being as close to the original as I can make it. If you’re raising the roof, you’re not building an Eichler."
“It’s definitely taught me a lot about the business,” Troy says of his desert 'Eichlers.' “There’s a lot of challenges to building them. We built the A-frame model twice, and we are getting better at it. There are still things we can get better at.”
“We have the original plans, but the original plans don’t have all the details. We have to work out the details in the field, inspired by what we see of the house, worked out by trial and error.”
As an example he gives “how you encase the wood around the windows. Each one is different. Some of the windows tie into the wall, some tie into other windows, or into the fireplace. It’s a big challenge. We spend a lot of time on it because it’s very important. I want it to look great.”
“The architect can draw up whatever he wants,” Troy says with a laugh. “But to actually make it work…You have to make field decisions to make the process work, save money, and do something aesthetically pleasing, and as close to what the architect designed as possible.”
Which is not to say he hasn’t made a few changes to the original Eichler plans.
“I always look at it like how would Joseph Eichler might make changes to meet what the market wants,” Troy says. His changes have included adding a powder room (with toilet and sink) to the hobby area, so people visiting don’t have to go into the bedroom to use the facilities.
The kitchen diverges from the original Eichler plans for greater openness. A few other changes have been made.
“In the A-frame model, and what we call the gallery model with the Bermuda roof, in those we removed the wall between the kitchen and dining room. When we’ve visited Eichler homes, we’ve seen that most of the owners have removed that wall. If Joseph were doing these things today, he probably wouldn’t have put that wall in.”
He also had to make changes to meet current energy codes. But, Troy says of his desert 'Eichlers,' “I would say they’re 85 to 90 percent accurate. I think we’re doing a very good job of that.”
“Of the 10,000 people who have gone through the houses, many of them are people who say, ‘Oh, I grew up in an Eichler house,’ or, ‘I lived next to Eichlers and knew them well,’ or ‘I used to live in one.’
“One hundred percent of them say, ‘This house is amazing, and it reminds me of an Eichler and I love it.’