Albert Frey blew into Palm Springs in the fall of 1934. He was barely 31, all limbs and ideas, eager to leave an imprint out West. The Swiss-born architect arrived by way of New York, where he turned down a partnership deal from his former boss, Philip Goodwin, to drive across the country and study the shifting landscape of American architecture. (The pair would later collaborate on the design the Museum of Modern Art building in Manhattan.) It was the hottest year on record, and newspaper headlines heralded ominous dust storms throughout the heartland, but that didn’t stop Frey from fleeing the bustle of the Big Apple, eyes fixated on the magnificently barren California desert. That was Frey. He’d lived in three countries before landing at Ellis Island in 1930. Until he settled in Palm Springs, the wunderkind didn’t stay anywhere long.
Frey’s actual partner and former East Coast housemate, A. Lawrence Kocher, had a brother, J.J., who’d taken up residence in the Coachella Valley two decades earlier. A retired physician, J.J. started a real estate development and insurance firm and needed an office. Kocher and Frey heeded the call with a bilevel cube of a building, finished in 1934, geometrically reflecting the slow-stepping horizon line of the surrounding San Jacinto Mountains. It was stark white, a severe departure from the existing brick storefront that J.J. had built with help from the indigenous Cahuilla — and was among the first International Style buildings in the nascent resort town of Palm Springs.