Demolishing Modernism

The first 30 feet of Fairway Drive run between six-foot hedges before halting at an iron gate. Visitors who activate the callbox are asked to identify themselves and the residence to which they are traveling. If the visitor has been invited by someone behind the gate, the iron bars swing open with a soft, slow hum revealing an empty landscape of lush, green, uninterrupted curves intersected twice by winding asphalt golf-cart paths. Welcome to the Tamarisk Country Club, Rancho Mirage, California.

After the gate, Fairway Drive crosses the fairway separating Tamarisk’s 12th and 13th holes, splits the hedges separating two large homes, and forks. To the left, at the end of a cul-de-sac, is a striking palazzo of sharp geometries. But to the right, the clean aesthetic deteriorates. Behind a chain-link fence covered in combat-green plastic is a single-acre lot where utility connections, desert scrub, and shattered tree stumps poke through sand. At the property’s edge, almost lost in the drooping flowers of an overgrown hedge, is a modest metal mailbox. Behind it, written in an elegant modernist typeface attached to a darkened wood plank, is a name and address: S.H. Maslon 70-900 Fairway Drive.

It looks like a headstone, and in many ways, it is one.

Samuel H. Maslon was born in 1901 to the owner of a Jewish grocery on the north side of Minneapolis. Although a quiet young man, his brilliance drew attention: When it came time for him to attend law school, the Jewish community raised the funds to pay his tuition at Harvard. After graduating first in his class, Maslon moved to Washington, D.C. and clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis. Soon after, he returned to Minneapolis and founded the Minneapolis law firm today known as Maslon Edelman Borman & Brand.

Of those who noticed Maslon’s ascent, none was more important to him than Luella Rykoff, the ninth child of a well-off Los Angeles grocery wholesaler. Their first date took place while Sam was on business in Los Angeles, and was arranged by a Maslon law partner’s wife who happened to be related to Luella. Sam made an excellent impression: Luella broke off an engagement to another man and became engaged to Sam—after that first date. Later, as Luella Maslon, she astonished her relatives and moved to the “wilds of Minnesota.”

Luella Maslon grew to love Minneapolis. She raised her children in the city, and she became an important figure in its cultural life. Luella was particularly interested in the visual arts, and so she became a docent at The Minneapolis Institute of Arts. Not long afterward she and Sam began acquiring an important collection of their own. Years later, Sam Maslon would recall, “Soon we found ourselves in the world art market—looking for works of art in Los Angeles, New York, Paris, Zurich, Israel—and suddenly we realized that something great had come into our lives.” Edith Nadler, a lifelong friend in both Minneapolis and California, recalls that, “She wasn’t just a collector, she was a teacher. She suggested that I become a docent at the Institute. She imbued people with a love of art.”

Luella’s family remained in California, and so she and Sam would travel there for extended vacations with their children in Palm Springs, a few hours from Los Angeles. Janice Lyle, the director of the Palm Springs Desert Museum, credits Luella with being one of a small group of people who transformed Palm Springs into a destination that was “not just for golf and tennis. This became a place for cultural experiences.”

Sam Maslon served as a trustee at The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, and Luella served as a trustee at the Palm Springs Desert Museum (she also chaired that museum’s Art Committee, guiding its acquisition of contemporary artworks). Their impact on both institutions was profound and long-standing, embodied only in part by the 19th and 20th century masterpieces given to each.

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