Marmol Radziner has restored and adapted E. Stewart Williams' 1961 Santa Fe Federal Savings & Loan building for its use as a museum.

If you’re looking for local heroes, there are several in Palm Springs with the name Williams. E. Stewart Williams (1909-2005) was an Ohio-born architect who moved to the desert town in 1946, and within a year had designed a house for Frank Sinatra, converting the singer to modernism. During the next four decades, Williams, practicing with his brother and father as Williams, Williams and Williams or, as the locals called it, Williams Cubed, designed dozens of buildings in the Coachella Valley, including many more houses, museums, a synagogue, and several sleek commercial buildings. One of them, completed in 1961 for the Santa Fe Federal Savings & Loan, is a rectangular glass enclosure between a raised plinth and a wide, flat roof—it resembles Mies van der Rohe’s Barcelona Pavilion, complete with cruciform columns.

Stewart Williams’ daughter-in-law, Sidney Williams, is the curator of architecture and design at the Palm Springs Art Museum (whose main building Williams designed). After the Santa Fe bank closed, a developer proposed encircling the delicate Williams building with condos. Sidney Williams had a better idea: she persuaded the museum to buy it and turn it into a satellite branch focused on architecture and design. Sidney Williams enlisted local philanthropists (including one couple living in a Neutra house in Palm Springs, and another restoring a Lautner house in Los Angeles) to support the effort. Eventually, the museum brought in Marmol Radziner, the highly regarded Los Angeles firm known for several Palm Springs renovations, to turn the clock both forwards and back. The firm outfitted the 17,000-square-foot building for its use as a museum while also restoring it, whenever possible, to its original condition. Marmol Radziner was guided by Williams’ original drawings (which he had donated, along with the rest of his archive, to the museum), and Julius Shulman’s serene black-and-white photos of the building.

Last week, the new building—officially the Architecture and Design Center, Edwards Harris Pavilion—opened with a show of (who else?) Stewart Williams. An Eloquent Modernist: E. Stewart Williams, Architect (through February 22) is elegantly presented and somewhat spare. High points include four models, brilliantly rendered by David Webb, of Williams’ houses, which perfectly captured the spirit of the post-War years. Williams memorably described one as “a roof over a garden.” There is also a section devoted to his work in the late 1960s as a leader of the Downtown Planning Collaborative, which spent four years developing a plan for a walkable Palm Springs. (Williams did a lot of lecturing around Southern California about sprawl, and the need for planning, decades before the cause was popular.) The downtown plan, four years in the making, was politely received, and then ignored.

But the best evidence of Williams’ prowess is the building itself, with its custom metal brise soleils. Their design is repeated in interior portions. Marmol Radziner didn’t try to obscure the building’s original purpose—the old drive-up teller window is still intact and the vault is now a gift shop—but did burnish it with new terrazzo floors to match the old ones, and a new ceiling system that allows for flexible gallery lighting. And flexibility is key. Sidney Williams is planning to follow the Stewart Williams show with an installation by the artist Andrea Zittel, followed by a traveling version of Killer Heels (a shoe exhibit now at the Brooklyn Museum). In Palm Springs, design is practically a religion, and now there’s a new place to worship.