Flying Sevens

The History

By Jim Duggins, Ph.D.

The following two paragraphs are excerpts from the History page on the original Royal Hawaiian Estates website.

In the early Sixties, Harrison and Wexler received a commission to design a complex of 40 housing units spread over five acres. The complex, later called the “The Royal Hawaiian Estates,” emphasizes the adornment of Tropical Island living without sacrificing the clean lines of modernism.

But it is the exterior that completes the Polynesian or whimsical “tiki” designs. The ends of each individual unit and their shared entrances have clerestory windows at the vaulted ceilings. In addition, patios facing the common areas include three large vertical beams  that angle out to join the horizontal roof beam, thus forming a spider-legged span approximating a 30-degree angle. A gaily painted triangle is inserted to strengthen the beams from the decks where they meet the horizontal pieces from the roof. These structures, called “flying-sevens,” from each patio, reminiscent of the stabilizers on outrigger canoes, lend a colorful holiday air to the complex.

The Destruction

The early 1990’s recession, an aging population,  dwindling reserve funds, and deferred maintenance were the formula for a perfect storm at the Royal Hawaiian Estates. The storm package included the proposed removal of all of the tiki-themed architectural elements rather than continue to maintain them.

The project began on the west side of the complex, starting with the Flying Sevens, likely because they were structural, not decorative. The Flying Sevens were replaced by metal or wooden beams to provide support for the patio roofs. The second picture in the right side-bar shows the after effect of the removal.

I purchased a unit on the east side in October 1999 – not knowing about the plan to continue the removal of the Flying Sevens. By then all of the Tiki-apexes and the Fascia of the Gables had been removed. A neighbor casually told me that my unit was on the list to have the Flying Sevens removed. Anyone who knows me can well imagine my reaction. I was elected President of the board and began my reign by calling a “town hall meeting.”

I invited William Kopelk, the president of the Palm Springs Preservation Foundation at that time to speak to a packed room on education and restoration. By the time he and I finished our passionate speeches and answered questions, everyone in attendance agreed to stop the destruction and move forward with maintenance and restoration.

The Restoration

In an ongoing effort to restore significant architectural elements at the Royal Hawaiian Estates, the Board of Directors approved  a restoration project to remove three unrepairable Flying Sevens and replace them with identical material. The drawings were prepared by James G. McIntosh Architecture and Engineering in June 2007. The architect based the drawings on original intact Flying Sevens.

The following week we submitted a blanket Minor Architectural (MAA) certificate of approval for the repair and restoration on the Flying Sevens located in the courtyard areas at the Royal Hawaiian Estates – Historic District 2. The application identified the Flying Sevens which are still in place as well as those that were removed in the 1990s.

The Palm Springs City Planning Department sent the MAA to the Historic Site Preservation Board (HSPB) with a recommendation for approval. The HSPB unanimously approved the blanket project.

The following slides show the restoration process.

Restored Flying Seven

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