Living North and South
Sausalito architects bask in desert sun during cold months
John Boccardo and J.R. Roberts enjoy the view from their Sausalito home.
Photos by Barbara Reis and David Glum
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Sometimes, destiny can be delayed, but never denied. Just ask Sausalito architects J. R. Roberts and John Boccardo, who specialize in architectural restoration, share a passion for midcentury modern architecture and revel in the beauty of Palm Springs.
“I love the contrast [of going] between the wet redwoods of the north and the dry, warm climate of the desert,” says Roberts, a former Sausalito mayor and city councilman from 1998 to 2002. “After it rains in the desert, the mountains explode into spectacular shows of colors from wild flowers and cactus. The air smells of sage and feels like velvet moving over your skin.”
Before they moved to Sausalito, Roberts and Boccardo lived in Palm Springs. There they noticed a stunning example of midcentury modern architecture that would ultimately become their home. In the late 1980s, says Roberts, “John and I used to drive by the house and dream of owning it.”
Located in the Little Tuscany neighborhood in the Palm Springs foothills, an area known for its privacy, boulder-strewn lots, and spectacular views, the 2,800-square-foot home on just over a half acre of land had captured their hearts. Alas, the house belonged to another. So Boccardo and Roberts bought and restored a different midcentury modern home. They never expected the phone call they received in 1999, alerting them that their dream home was about to go on the market.
“John was on a plane the next day and we bought it,” says Roberts.“I didn’t see it until we were in escrow. I didn’t need to. I knew I wanted it and was not afraid of the restoration.”
A House Built for Friendship
The home was designed and built in 1953 by the late E. Stewart Williams, of Williams, Williams and Williams, an architectural firm best known for its impressive roster of commercial projects, among them the Coachella Savings and Loan, the Palm Springs Desert Museum and the Mountaintop Station of the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. As a residence, Roberts and Boccardo’s house was a distinctive exception, as was Frank Sinatra’s home.
“Stu did very few houses,” Roberts says of the pioneering architect. “This house was a true labor of love for him and one of his very favorite designs.” He did it only because his lifelong friends, Bill and Marjorie Edris, owners of the Olympic Hotel in Seattle, had asked him to design.
Palm Springs home is situated on a hill that allows breathtaking views from every room
When the construction estimate came in at $126,000, Marjorie Edris flinched. At a time when homes sold for about $14,000, it seemed a fortune. But her husband reportedly assuaged her sticker shock by saying, “Marge, money is for spending!”
Stories like this are among the many memories of a friendship struck between the home’s celebrated architect and its new owners. In fact, Roberts was one of only five people asked to speak at a memorial honoring Williams held last year in the museum he designed.
“He was an amazing man with great talent, dark humor and a wonderful family,” says Roberts. “He was grateful that we bought and restored the house, and we remain friends with his kids.” In fact, Roberts serves on the board of the Palm Springs Desert Museum with Williams’s daughter-in-law Sidney.