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Discovering the Architect’s Architect In Houston — Palm Springs Pioneer Gets a MATCH Moment

William F. Cody Is a Midcentury Master

BY // 01.31.23
photography Benjamin Hill

Houstonian lovers of modernist architecture gathered for an exclusive talk and book signing highlighting one of the most prominent practitioners of the “Desert Modern” style, the architect’s architect: Palm Springs’ William F. Cody

Midtown Arts & Theater Center Houston (MATCH) was the venue for the sold-out evening presented by Houston Mod: 150 guests enjoyed bites from Central Market, paired with wine, while perusing through the recently published monograph Master of the Midcentury: The Architecture of William F. Cody. The volume was penned by Cody’s daughter Catherine Cody Nemirovsky, design historian Jo Lauria and architectural historian Don Choi

Katie Nartonis, co-author Catherine Cody Nemirovsky, sponsor Kathy Heard, Houston Mod board member David Bucek, co-author Don Choi at Houston Mod William F. Cody lecture and book signing (Photo by Benjamin Hill)
Katie Nartonis, co-author Catherine Cody Nemirovsky, sponsor Kathy Heard, Houston Mod board member David Bucek, co-author Don Choi at Houston Mod William F. Cody lecture and book signing (Photo by Benjamin Hill)

Architect Kathy Heard led the discussion with Cody Nemirovsky, Choi and 20th century art and design specialist Katie Nartonis — stepping in for Lauria, who was unable to make it that night — as well as David Bucek, chair of the Houston Archaeological and Historical Commission.

Cody was one of the most prominent midcentury modern architects of the American West, known especially for his designs of homes and luxury destinations such as the Eldorado Country Club Clubhouse (1959) and the Palm Springs Spa (1959) and even Frank Sinatra’s home in the desert suburb of Rancho Mirage (1953). The architect was most known for his work on buildings in the resort/hospitality sector, especially country clubs, spas and hotels. 

The talk surveyed Cody’s preeminent career, from his early days designing and drafting with his mother, interior designer Anna Elizabeth Shadle, to his years studying at the School of Architecture and Fine Arts at the University of Southern California, to his professional career designing high-profile public and residential commissions. Though numerous prominent architectural firms in California desired to work with him, he chose to stay independent throughout his career. 

William F. Cody's Eldorado Country Club, Indian Wells, California, 1959 (Julius Shulman photography archive © J. Paul Getty Trust, Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles)
William F. Cody’s Eldorado Country Club, Indian Wells, California, 1959 (Julius Shulman photography archive © J. Paul Getty Trust, Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles)

Youngest daughter Catherine Cody Nemirovsky, in from England, relayed childhood memories of her father, revealing the exuberant and family-oriented side of the architect. Along with Heard, Cody Nemirovsky discussed key points of the William F. and Wini Cody home in which she grew up, including its steel-frame construction, modern furniture and eclectic decorations that were collected through the Cody family’s travels. 

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Bucek led the discussion toward Cody’s work in Texas, specifically focusing on the restoration of the Dr. and Mrs. Hampton C. Robinson Jr. residence in Houston.

“It’s amazing how Cody could make the Robinson House’s comparative low-ceiling spaces seem expansive, and the subtlety with which he adjusted the low artificial fill platform on which the house is set to make you aware of the minimal grade changes in the flat landscape,” architectural historian Stephen Fox notes.

This elevated evening was presented by Houston Mod and sponsored by AIA Houston’s Historic Resources Committee, Preservation Houston, Docomomo US, super sponsor Cynthia Toles, Marley Lott, Kimela Tipton and John Bebout, Kathy Heard Design, Joan Harman and David Hume, Robert Searcy Properties, Michael Strickland Design Group, Sunset Settings and PaperCity.

Chelby King, Stephen Fox, Minnette Boesel, Robert Searcy at Houston Mod William F. Cody lecture and book signing (Photo by Benjamin Hill)
Chelby King, Stephen Fox, Minnette Boesel, Robert Searcy at Houston Mod William F. Cody lecture and book signing (Photo by Benjamin Hill)

PC Seen: Houston Mod board vice president David Lidsky, who organized the evening with input from Heard, Toles and Bucek; Houston Mod co-founder Anna Mod; dedicated Houston Mod supporters including Chelby King, author Martin Merritt, Daphne Scarbrough, Malcolm Perry, and Jeff Carowitz; Astrodome Conservancy Board vice chairman and treasurer Minnette Boesel; Glasstire publisher Brandon Zech; Preservation Houston’s Emily ArdoinSheri and Grant Roane; and Roxana and Michael Poskey. 

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