A Mecca for Meditation and Modernism: Exploring the Joshua Tree Retreat Center

Modernism Week, the annual festival celebrating midcentury architecture, art, and design, began in Palm Springs Thursday, February 16th, marking its 19th year.

A walking tour of the historic Institute of Mentalphysics, also known as the Joshua Tree Retreat Center, is a standout event on this year's festival schedule. Situated approximately one mile from the entrance of Joshua Tree National Park, the Institute was established by Edwin Dingle, an English expatriate and spiritual seeker, in the mid-1940s. It served as the headquarters for his yoga-based self-realization movement, which he had founded two decades prior.

Ding Le Mei, previously known as Edwin Dingle, enlisted the services of Frank Lloyd Wright to design the Institute, but the renowned architect assigned the task to his eldest son, Lloyd Wright. The Institute, which consists of eleven organic modern buildings, was constructed between 1946 and 1956 and was recently added to the National Register of Historic Places. The younger Wright intentionally designed the buildings to harmonize with and reflect the natural forms and colors of the surrounding landscape.

The one-hour tour of the Institute will take participants along the main walking path of the campus, stopping at six of Lloyd Wright's structures, including the event's most highlighted features, such as "the most intact coffee shop style building in all of Southern California" and "prime examples of desert masonry." In addition to the tour, attendees will have the option to view an exhibit titled "Edwin + Lloyd," which delves into the backstory of Dingle, Wright, and the creation of the retreat center.

Although not a part of the tour, the section of the Institute initially designed by architect Harold Zook is worth noting. Zook, who had worked in Albert Frey's Palm Springs office and was also the son of a renowned architect with the same name, was commissioned to design on-campus housing for teachers in 1960. However, the Zook-designed structures located in the northwest corner of the 140-acre retreat center had remained unused for many years and had become suitable for both physical and spiritual rejuvenation.

Homestead Modern, a high-end vacation rental and hospitality company, recognized the potential of the structures and arranged to lease and restore them for use as short-term rentals. To oversee the restoration, the company brought in Brad Dunning, a celebrated architectural designer known for his restoration work on significant properties such as those designed by Richard Neutra, John Lautner, A. Quincy Jones, Wallace Neff, and Paul R. Williams.

The three structures that comprise The Bungalows offer a total of 14 studio and one-bedroom suites that have undergone a sophisticated makeover, featuring natural wood, organic textiles, and a palette of desert pastels. Each unit includes polished concrete floors, wood-beamed ceilings, sliding glass doors, private patio areas, and a selection of curated books, games, and art, but without televisions. In addition to the kitchenettes provided in each suite, guests can make use of the site's communal grills or dine on vegetarian fare at Food For Thought, the retreat center's cafe (open Thursday through Sunday, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.). Guests of the boutique hotel can enjoy the retreat's hot and cold plunge pools, as well as participate in a variety of wellness and spirit-enhancing activities, such as yoga classes, meditation sessions, sound baths, dance performances, and plein air painting workshops. Room rates begin at $250.



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