Donald Wexler (1926-2015) was born on January 23, 1926, in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and grew up in Minneapolis. After serving in the Navy from 1944 to 1946, he attended the University of Minnesota on the G.I. Bill and graduated in 1950 with a degree in architecture.
Wexler worked as a draftsman in Richard Neutra's firm and was a devoted disciple of the famed architect. In the early 1950s, he moved to Palm Springs to go to work for William Cody, a leading architect in the Desert Modern style.
“Wexler worked from an existing Desert Modern vocabulary — indoor-outdoor spaces, walls of glass, a focus on mountain views, all very spare and minimal — and applied it to all sorts of buildings over the years,” said Peter Moruzzi, an architectural historian and the founder of the Palm Springs Modern Committee, a preservation group. “He had a profound influence not just on Palm Springs but on the entire Coachella Valley.”
In 1952 Wexler formed a partnership with Richard Harrison. Their first major project was El Rancho Vista Estates, 75 low-slung single-family houses with decorative concrete-block walls and floor-to-ceiling glass walls oriented toward the mountains, some with the folded “butterfly” roofs that became one of Mr. Wexler’s signatures.
In the early 1960s, Wexler and Harrison teamed up with Calcor, a manufacturer of prefabricated steel panels, local developers Alexander Construction Company, U.S. Steel, and Bethlehem Steel to design dozens of modest-size prefab steel houses. Only seven of the houses were ever built, but they are considered excellent examples of the Desert Modern style: light and elegant, with floor-to-ceiling windows, fluid interior layouts, multiple sliding doors opening onto exterior living spaces and pools, and design features, like deep overhangs, that accommodated sunlight and shadow.
After dissolving his partnership with Harrison in 1961,Wexler took on a number of public projects, most notably his design of the main terminal of the Palm Springs airport. According to Michael Stern, who has written extensively about Palm Springs modernism, “The center of the main terminal is almost a temple of glass that frames the mountain...It was Donald Wexler’s love letter to Palm Springs.”
Wexler died on June 26 at the age of 89.
Style in Steel house, Buena Park (1967)
Palm Springs International Airport, circa 1965