PALM SPRINGS, Calif. — A landmark Palm Desert home with a one-of-a-kind “roller-coaster wave” roof will hit the auction block during 2018 Modernism Week when city officials and preservationists hope someone with a passion for midcentury modern architecture will want to own and restore the structure.
Vacant and in disrepair, the house was designed in 1955 for playboy artist Miles C. Bates by innovative architect Walter S. White.
The city of Palm Desert announced the auction on its website, and posted historical information about the house and its original owner, as well as other integral documentation about the property, along with instructions on how to obtain a bid package.
“The city is interested in partnering with a buyer who values Walter White’s vision for the Miles Bates House and wants to return the structure to its former glory,” the city states in a brochure documenting the structure’s history.
Palm Desert city leaders have approved up to $50,000 in matching funds to incentivize restoration of the property.
Modernism Week, set for Feb. 15-25, is a celebration of midcentury modern design architecture, art, fashion and culture and every year draws tens of thousands of people to the Coachella Valley.
Built as a one-bedroom, one-bath home with curved walls and an open floor plan, innovative architect White — who was based in Palm Desert at the time — used wooden dowels with bi-concave intermediate elements for the roof, a design style he patented.
The rolling roof line follows the profile of the Santa Rosa Mountains behind it.
The house, at 73697 Santa Rosa Way, generated “a lot of interest” when the city opened it for public tours during a Modernism Week Preview event in October, Mayor Jan Harnik said.
The house sits on less than an acre and was recently appraised at $320,000 to $340,000. It is unknown what restoration would cost.
The city has hoped Modernism Week would offer the best opportunity to sell the house to someone with a passion for the architecture and ability to preserve and restore it.
Except for a couple of small areas of dry rot, the roof remains in good shape and savable, city Public Works Director Mark Greenwood said.
The city’s Redevelopment Agency purchased the home in 2007 for future expansion of nearby Joslyn senior center and to provide more affordable housing for seniors.
But years before the city’s RDA acquired the house, it had been renovated with rooms added on in the front, shielding much of the roof from street view. A four-unit, single-story apartment complex — also in a state of disrepair — was built on the south side of the house in 1973.
With the state’s dismantling of redevelopment agencies in 2011, the city is now required to sell the house and land and must do so by the end of June or it will become Riverside County property.
In the meantime, efforts to get the house listed as a historical landmark locally and nationally continue.
Historical society board secretary Merilee Colton said placing the house up for auction won’t hurt registration efforts, but it is important that designation comes before it is sold to keep it from demolition.
Surrounded by citrus orchards when it was built, the house is in an area zoned for single and multifamily dwellings and now ringed by apartment complexes.
A special meeting of the Palm Desert Cultural Resources Preservation Committee is set for 9 a.m. PT Dec. 12 to consider a local historic landmark designation for the house. The public meeting will be held in the council chambers conference room at City Hall, on the northeast corner of Fred Waring Drive and San Pablo Avenue.
While supportive of a local listing, the City Council recently voted to object to a nomination for listing on the National Register, saying it could place restoration mandates/boundaries on the house that could make it cost-prohibitive to prospective buyers.
Instead, Greenwood said national designation should be up to the new owner. The decision was met with disappointment from the historical society which continues to push forward and get the national listing.
“Our focus is on saving the house, and while we welcome the city’s innovative involvement, and all the effort they have put forward to find the right buyer, hope is not a plan and we must plan for the worst," Colton said.
The nomination for national designation will likely be approved at the state level before the start of Modernism Week and then forwarded for federal approval, she said.
“That will not automatically prevent destruction but should raise the house’s profile even more, which would help in the fight to preserve it,” Colton said.
For more information about bidding on the home, visit cityofpalmdesert.org/our-city/departments/public-works/milesbateshouse
For Modernism Week information and tickets, visit www.modernismweek.com.
Follow Sherry Barkas on Twitter: @TDSSherryBarkas