Article and photos by John Grafman
It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. The movie title of the 1963 United Artists hit comedy might justly sum up that period of time and perhaps this year’s Cul de Sac A-Go-Go, as well.
All things considered, Cul de Sac A-Go-Go couldn’t be a more appropriate name. Due to a global pandemic, a war in Ukraine, climate change, and a former president being charged with a number of crimes, the majority of us are getting a disenchanted with the mad world we currently live in. And let’s face it, going to a go-go sounds like a far better time any day of the week.
Sure, we’ve all seen cars and homes, fashion, and décor from the mid-century era. Also true, this isn’t the first time this street has been featured in the Modernism Week Fall Preview. Yet, when combined with period music and crowd-pleasing go-go dancers, it’s hard to beat. This creates a living, breathing diorama of life in the swinging 60s and 70s. It’s a stylish spectacular for anyone attending.
Although not all elements are period, the majority are. Even the attendees have pulled out and dressed-up in dated treasures from their wardrobes in order to become part of the action.
One has to appreciate the flashback and being able to explore design in a comprehensive way. Style and colors came together with what was then new materials, forming a groovy, hip feel. Say what you will, the designs from the 60s and 70s could be called a lot of things – boring isn’t one of them.
Tom Dolle was providing the design and event coordination. Jeff Stork had the un-enviable just of deciding what cars make the cut and which don’t. It takes a vision to make it all gel. Fortunately, this isn’t their first time at bat. In fact, not only have they collaborated on the prior Cul de Sac Experiences, but these two men are behind the highly regarded Glamour Road. This book delves deeply into how the auto industry addressed the emerging postwar markets for women and youth, and in turn the auto becomes the dominant icon for design and success. In short – talent is not a shortcoming of either of these gentlemen.
Jeff Stork enlightens us on picking the flavor of this year’s cars. “Well, normally when we’re, selecting vehicles for cul-de-sac, the first thing we bring to mind is a year and then I try to tailor the experience to the year”, states Stork. “This year we decided not to select an actual year, but to build the experience around just a point in time. It was a slightly fuzzy late 60s, early 70s, but in my mind, I built everything around 1971.”
“The last one we did was ‘69 and I just wanted to be a little bit further [along] in time.” Stork continues, “And when you, when you go a little bit newer into the ‘70s, things start to change. One of the things you’ll notice is that we had more imports. In the early ‘60s we weren’t really revolving around imports, but by 1971 they were an important part of the market.”
At the Cul de Sac, six similar condos are featured in this self-guided tour. These are vintage William Krisel designed homes that were built in 1964 by Roy Fey. The architectural markers included the umbrella ceilings, clerestory windows, patterned block walls, along with walls of glass.
The condo of Rick and Catherine is unusual, as it’s in the process of being renovated. Thereby, attendees get to appreciate the architecture without the distractions of a house full of furnishings. The square footage is not huge, but the stated features help in creating an airy feel.
The coordination of all the vehicles dotting the street fell into the capable hands of Jeff Stork. “I wanted to show a couple of the high-end imports that you would have seen at the time, the ‘Pagoda’ Mercedes, of course, and the E Type Coupe.” Stork further suggests, “It’s just because, again at this point in time, wealthy people aren’t [just] buying Cadillac, they’re starting to look at some of the imported alternatives. So, we kind of wanted to integrate that.”
Gracefully residing in the driveway of the carport is indeed the 1966 Mercedes Benz “Pagoda” 230SL (W113) owned by Scott Graham. This particular automobile was originally sold new in Germany to a Pan Am stewardess and then imported to the California. The side makers and headlamps were replaced with American spec parts. Similar to the architecture, the removeable hardtop found on this roadster also created a sense of lightness with thin pillars and lots of glass.
Planted in the driveway of Blossom and Tom’s East Alto Circle condo is Allison and Wickham Zimmerman’s striking, Series 2 – 1969 Jaguar XKE Coupe. Enzo Ferrari called this flowing design “The most beautiful car ever made”. The Jag ran in production for fourteen years, starting in 1961. Slightly marring the purity and otherwise clean shape are the mandated side marker lights. Also in 1968, the same government agency required the glass headlamp covers be eliminated. Regardless, the changes can’t damper the advance design and engineering.
The XKE featured independent suspension at all corners, along with unitized construction. The engine was able to get the Jaguar moving from zero to 60 in less than seven seconds and topped out at respectable 150 MPH. Also, all XKE models came complete with four-wheel disc brakes, which was cutting-edge at the time.
A 1960’s vibe, from the art down to the furniture, is permeating Blossom and Tom’s condo. Using the original concrete blocks as a backdrop, an over-sized painting stands out and softens the industrial feel of the wall behind it. The flavor continues to the outdoor patio with the thoughtful tableware designed by none other than Tom Dolle of Destination PSP. Plates, bowls, and drinkware are combining the colors and shapes from yesteryear. It’s these type of details – original, reproductions, or inspired by mid-century – that complete the overall impression. When done properly, it promotes the goal – the suspension of disbelief.
In the Cul de Sac, four doors down the street is the condo of Lise and Gordon. This residence shares much of the same aesthetic as Blossom and Tom’s unit. The furniture’s crisp lines accentuate the Krisel home. The thin legs on the seating helps to create that sense of floating. The area rug is bordered by the hard flooring beneath. While these condos originally came equipped with wall-to-wall carpeting, a relatively new treatment at the time, we are often associating the hard flooring and a rug with the era regardless of it being correct.
One of the most iconic vehicle designs of the early 1970s is parked in front of the carport. The ubiquitous, ever popular station wagon – the SUV of its time, is right at home acting as a metal and chrome prop. This medium green metallic, faux wood grained, 1971 Ford Country Squire Station Wagon is owned by Sally LeBoeuf and Michael Kerns. This was the top model in the wagon line-up, and it’s the seventh generation Country Squire dating back to 1950. One could argue that the plastic applique is a technical advancement over the real thing, just as veneer surfaces replaced the solid wood furniture in homes. However, 50+ years later, most of the general public would point out that real wood and faux wood should not be on the body panels of cars. It is, on the other hand, umm, distinctive.
In a quest for style, coupes made up a larger portion the automobiles that were on the road. At the Cul de Sac A-Go-Go it’s no different. In the driveways and carports are a delicious variety of examples including the juicy 1972 Buick Riviera of Sandy Edelstein and Scott King, the 1971 Volkswagen Super Beetle of Ty McNeill, and a sizeable 1969 Mercury Monterey owned by Steve Pietrangelo.
Jeff Stork mentions, “Volkswagen had its best sales here for the Beetle in 1970. So, we found a ‘71 Super Beetle, which is a car that every neighborhood in America would have had in 1971, and I kind of wanted to play off that with the Gremlin. Which was the first of the Detroit Subcompacts.”
As such, parked on the street is the ‘love it or leave it’ 1971 AMC Gremlin provided by the Prescott Collection that welcomes the Cul de Sac attendees.
As for the Buick Riviera, Stork says, “There was only a small moment in time where that design would have gotten approved for production. And there’s exactly one person that could have pushed it through, and that was [Bill] Mitchell. No one subsequent to him at General Motors would have had the power to get that thing passed the board of directors. It’s just outrageous. And the fact that was designed to be sold into the stream of commerce is just a really gutsy thing.”
The high-powered – 350 horsepower, “fuselage” design of the 1969 Chrysler 300 Convertible from Chris Menrad feels like it was created just for the 70s Palm Springs lifestyle. This offers power, prestige, and one helluva view for at least four people.
On the turntable spins the 1969 Plymouth Barracuda Mod Top that’s the baby of Lisa and Brian Eberhart. The ‘Cuda is in itself eye-catching, as it looks very well cared for. What sets this apart is the unusual “Mod Top” option that came in typically yellow or green. Now, this was created to connect with the “Flower Power” generation. Given that only roughly 900 of these came with this option, it might be safe to say that those with flowers in their hair didn’t have the green in their bank accounts.
Jeff Stork also points out, “[OEMs] are looking for ways to reach the young, hip consumer. So why not a floral vinyl top with matching seat inserts on a Plymouth Barracuda, which had previously sort of marketed itself as a performance car? So are we performance or are we pretty, we’re not really sure – we’ll try a little of each.” The real-world result was, few option packages sold. Lesson learned – knowing your target demographic.
Yes, two-doors do offer a style benefit, but with a gang of supermodels in tow, four-doors does make life easier. Hence, the Chrysler 300 hardtop. Jane and Grant Guy own this whale of a car. The large, flat, and mostly unbroken surfaces only emphasis the girth. Stevie Wonder aside, nobody could miss this coming up the street.
Stork reminds us, “The convertible is what they used to lure you into the showroom and the four-door hardtop is what Dad bought anyway. So, it was kind of like come and dream about this, but you’re actually going home in that one.”
Music is often part of the experience at car shows and concourses. However, how many have a pop-up Go-Go? Connecting all the visual dots with the sounds from the era comes courtesy of Kiki and Greg Tormo of Glitter & Sand. Miss dd Starr and the performances of the Cul de Sac Dancers – Starlotte Satine, Chelsea Sphere, Tina Turntables, and Manny Huerta – are providing a vibrant, sexy display alongside the music. Bottom line, the cars make it cool, but the music makes the Cul de Sac magic!
When it comes down to creating this event, why do all of this? Tom Dolle spill the beans, “For me, classic cars and midcentury modern homes are more than just beautiful objects—they are markers in time, and represent the aspirations of an era. This cul de sac is uniquely laid out like a giant stage set, with stylish homes and carports that are meant to display cars. When you throw in a few period touches and creative friends who add dancing, music, fashion, photography and models, it creates a magical time capsule experience. It’s a house tour, a car show, and performance art in one. I’m not sure you could do this anywhere else but Palm Springs!
Tickets for Modernism Week in February 2023 with over 350 events are now on sale.
Find more images at Going to A Go-Go, A Snapshot of an Era.