Miles C. Bates’ Wave House finds new life in Palm Desert
Once facing demolition, Palm Desert’s Miles C. Bates house has officially been saved. All it took was a community movement called “Save the Wave,” a circus-like auction and a painstaking restoration to unlock its former glory.
Famous for its flamboyant wave-like roof, the Midcentury gem enjoys a storied past in the desert city.
It was built in 1955 by Walter S. White for artist Miles C. Bates, who used the home for social events full of art and music during his stay. In 2018, it became the city’s first landmark to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Despite the status, a few decades of dilapidation and bad additions had left the home in rough shape, and the city still had to decide what to do with it. After efforts from the Palm Desert Historical Society and meetings with the organizer of Modernism Week — which is taking place in Palm Springs through Sunday this year — they decided to auction it off in 2018.
“We’ve purchased properties at auction over the years, but this was much more of a spectacle. It felt like a livestock auction,” said Christian Stayner of Stayner Architects, one of two bidders at the end of the rapid-fire affair that barely lasted five minutes. He won with a bid of $360,000.
Stayner, who runs the firm with his father, Gil, took on the project because he felt a natural camaraderie with White as an inventor, builder and architect.
“He was very much ahead of his time in working to design buildings in harmony with the climate where they’re located,” he said. “I saw the house as a dialogue between two architects set decades apart.”
Entering with a budget of “it’ll cost what it costs,” Stayner ended up spending about $1.2 million between the purchase of the property and the restoration. Most of his efforts, however, were spent tearing things down rather than building them up.
Unsightly additions over the years included two extra bedrooms and enclosed portions of exterior patios, as well as an eyesore of an apartment building crammed onto the property mere feet away from the Wave House.
He stripped away everything beyond the original 800-square-foot floor plan and found a fortunate surprise in the process. To repair the iconic curving roof, he needed a rare type of old-growth wood and found plenty of it while demolishing the apartment buildings, so his team was able to salvage the lumber and re-mill it to match what they needed.
After a 14-month restoration, the house is now identical to what it was in the ‘50s: an 800-square-foot dwelling with one bedroom and two bathrooms. Inside, beamed ceilings, walls of glass and brightly colored cabinetry provide Midcentury charm.
“From a real estate perspective, removing floor area is the worst thing you can do, but the additions were brutal. They were unkind to White’s original intent for the house,” Stayner said.
He has long-term plans for the property including adding a pair of one-bedroom units, a swimming pool and a cabana out back. He also secured a permit from the city allowing it to be accessed by the public for overnight stays and events, so the house will serve as a community space for art, music and social events as it did under Bates’ ownership.
“We’re entering a period in architecture that requires us to think about the ecological conditions of building something new and consider repurposing existing buildings to be something different,” Stayner said. “How do we deal with the history that we’re stuck with?”
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