Inland Southern California’s mid-century architecture

A recent trip to Palm Springs reminded us of that city’s sizable collection of mid-century modern architecture, including the former Coachella Valley Savings & Loan building pictured above. Designed by E. Stewart Williams, the building is an excellent example of modern bank design from the 1960s.

1960 - 499 Palm Canyon Drive

We’ll explore some of these desert gems at a later date. But the two-day visit also reminded us of a number of modern gems closer to home, a few of which we will share now.

The building that probably best resembles the style of the one pictured above is Riverside’s main library (aka, Central Library). Located on Mission Inn Avenue in downtown Riverside, the building’s striking appearance stands out among its Spanish-influenced neighbors. As such, it has suffered from harsh criticism through most of its existence. And though better appreciated these days by younger generations, the structure is currently in danger of being demolished to make way for what’s expected to be a new library building. (For what it’s worth, we actually admire the current library building.)

1963 - Main Library - Riverside

As with the Coachella Valley Savings & Loan, the Riverside library’s “floating” walkway, large overhang, symmetrical “screens” and rigid, box-like appearance are all trademarks of mid-century modern architecture. Both buildings are in the vein of the New Formalism style of modern architecture, which was popular for public, institutional and financial buildings during the 1960s.

Elsewhere, one of the Inland region’s best mid-century office buildings can be found in downtown San Bernardino. Built for the State of California in 1966, the 303 Building housed state offices for over 30 years until a new building opened a few blocks away in 1998.

2011 - 303 Building - San Bernardino

In 2007, after sitting vacant for several years, the building reopened following a $25 million renovation by the County of San Bernardino. The refurbishment included removal of asbestos and lead paint, but the building’s exterior retained its mid-century designs, including the slender vertical screens.

Another local gem is Provident Bank in downtown Redlands. Designed by Riverside architect Clinton Marr, the building’s tall, rigid walls project strength and security — an architectural trait sought by banks during the mid-century era. Its undulating, rippled roofline adds a futuristic touch to the structure.

2011 - Mid-Century Gem - Riverside

Though certainly not as prevalent as in Palm Springs, the local region does have its fair share of modern residences, with the majority of these found in Redlands and Riverside.

The region also has a number of mid-century churches, including the fanciful chapel at Wesley United Methodist Church located on Arlington Avenue in Riverside. Another Clinton Marr design, the 1959/60 hat-box looking chapel was built using “a thin shell form finished in gunited concrete.”

2011 - Rivera Library - UC Riverside

Finally, one of the best collections of local modern architecture can be found at UC Riverside, where several buildings were constructed during the 1950s and 1960s. Of particular interest are the Rivera Library, Olmsted Hall and University Theater buildings, each unified via the use of an archway motif.

Also noteworthy at UCR is the 161-foot-tall Carillon Tower. Designed by the firm of A. Quincy Jones and Frederick E. Emmons — one of America’s best-known modern architectural firms — the 48-bell carillon was officially dedicated in October 1966.

We hope to explore these and others modern gems in more detail in the coming months. As usual, be sure to use the comment section to tell us of your own favorite modern building(s) scattered about Inland Southern California (particularly those hidden gems we may not know about).

Images courtesy of: * Pomona Public Library

Sources: UC Riverside, Clinton Marr & Associates (1964 booklet), The Press-Enterprise, City of Riverside

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  1. Although I’m not really a huge fan of mid-century modern, I can appreciate it and I do think we should save the fine examples we have of it.

    On a side note, I think its kind of sad we have the Chinese Pavilion and we can’t even use it because its “closed to the public” :/ … I understand why with the homeless using it for shelter, but at the same time it feels like, what’s the point in having it if we can’t use it?

  2. i agree with the chinese Pavillion. it should be moved to the old chinatown cite as it would compliment the historics importance of riversides china town.

  3. @Krystal — Many find mid-century modern architecture cold and overwhelming. Indeed, it takes a certain eye to appreciate its subtleties (we particularly like the various geometric patterns that are often produced). And, as subjective as it may be, we also agree that we should try and at least preserve the best local examples — before it’s too late (as happened locally with past “recent” architecture, namely Victorian).

    We too would like to see the city address the “closing” of the Chinese Pavilion. In fact, we’d even go as far to say the city needs to address the homeless loitering for the entire library itself (both inside and outside). Though it’s not nearly as bad as it once was, it’s still a problem at times.

  4. @jose — That’s a logical possibility and certainly a worthwhile endeavor for if/when the old Chinatown site is developed.

  5. So funny you should mention E. Stewart Williams. I just dusted off my blog to make a post about the Crafton Hills College Campus, which he apparently won an award for designing. The Library is going to be demolished very soon (the College Board of Trustees is choosing a contractor to do the deed on Thursday). Very sad.

    On another note, love the old drawing of the Main Library, and the other modern photos too. Perhaps there will be time in the summer to get more pictures up on the modernriverside site, though I’m going to have to rebuild the website from it’s pretty but nightmarish iWeb format (shudder).

  6. @Tanya — We’re hoping to highlight a few other structures by E. Stewart Williams in the future (along with other Palm Springs structures/architects). In the meantime, we’re compiling several galleries of local “modern” structures to post (and/or attach to this entry). What started out as a single gallery has since grown into several galleries. In them will be a few photos of Crafton Hills College (and maybe more, now that we know its library is to be demolished — thanks for the head’s up). Also included will be a gallery/entry on Pomona, which is technically just inside LA County, but has a few significant modern gems that we’d hate to ignore.

    And we hope you do get back to modernriverside soon (let us know if you need help!). With the possible demolition of the downtown library on the horizon, any extra bit of advocating for potential re-use alternatives and/or documenting its demise would be welcomed.

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