Friday, March 16, 2012

Studebaker Avanti: Desert Dream

The image above is a publicity photo of the Studebaker Avanti that was publicly unveiled 26 April 1962 -- nearly 50 years ago. It was a styling sensation that has withstood time better than any other car of its era that I can think of offhand; aside from narrow tires and a comparatively vertical windshield, it does not seem out of place when compared to 2012 cars.

The Avanti was a crash project initiated by Sherwood Egbert, the latest of a series of presidents attempting to save the dying Studebaker firm. Egbert asked famed industrial designer Raymond Loewy (1893-1986), who formerly was responsible for Studebaker styling, to take on the project. In turn, Loewy brought in Tom Kellogg, Bob Andrews and John Ebstein to do the design work under his general direction. Andrews was a veteran who used to work at Hudson and Kellogg's experience was as a student at the Art Center School. Ebstein was a long-time Loewy employee who handled day-to-day administration.

Rather than setting up shop in a Loewy office, the team was sent to Loewy's retreat in Palm Desert, California so that they could focus on the task and come up with a design within the span of a few weeks.

I have seen photos of Loewy's house which was designed by the expatriate Swiss modernist Albert Frey (1903-88). Frey was responsible for many of the early modernist structures built in the Palm Springs area in the years immediately following World War 2. Those photos were mostly taken when the house was new and plenty of desert land could be seen in the background. Nowadays Palm Springs is pretty well built up and growth is taking place farther down the valley. So up until the day before I drafted this post, I wondered where the Loewy house was. Then I bought a book about Frey that contained a sketch map indicated the locations and street numbers for some of his projects. And voila! -- on it was the information I needed. So I groped around northwest Palm Springs until I found it, stopping only to take a snapshot of it from the side window of my car.


The Loewy House as seen from the pool

The Loewy House, showing his wife, daughter and Raymond Loewy; note the desert backdrop

The photo I took
Loewy's lot was pretty large, but the neighborhood looks to have been in place for a long time and contains plenty of vegetation. So I wonder if the property had been subdivided and whether much of the original views have been retained aside from those of the nearby mountains.


dearieme said...

Recently we were discussing whether biplanes must always be ugly.

Donald Pittenger said...

derieme -- Interesting that no plan view of the wings was shown.