Southern California's alluring desert and an enticing village called Palm Springs captivated an impressive list of talented architects by the 1920s. Lloyd Wright, son of the master, designed downtown's 1923 Oasis Hotel, a slip-form concrete monument to early California Modernism. In the 1920s and 1930s R.M. Schindler and Richard Neutra had one-of-a-kind desert commissions; and a young Swiss architect, Albert Frey — fresh from a stint in Paris with Le Corbusier — was beginning a distinctive career that forever changed the region's design aesthetic.
From the 1940s through the 1970s prolific regional modernists such as William F. Cody, Donald Wexler, and E. Stewart Williams were carving prominent careers with striking custom homes, impressive commercial complexes, hotels and motels, and commanding civic and educational campuses. They and other modernists created an architectural treasury of great consequence and innovation in and around Palm Springs. For all that, the city more or less remained a sleepy seasonal village for affluent snowbirds through the 1940s.
Then, a tail-finned postwar America began gathering under the invigorating desert sun. In rapid tempo, Hollywood's ingénues and elite followed suit, discovered that Palm Springs was the perfect playground to frolic discreetly. Tennis, golf, plush resorts, and swimming pools in every imaginable shape soon surrounded a stylish downtown promenade of tasteful shops, bustling eateries, and swanky cocktail lounges.
A bevy of builders emerged to fill a new need for mass-market housing, spurred by the city's growing year-round population and an increasing demand for vacation homes. Chief among them was the George Alexander Construction Company, headed by the father-son team of George and Robert Alexander, successful builder/developers from Los Angeles. They arrived in 1955 with an able track record of single-family subdivisions in LA. and, more importantly, a keen interest in pioneering architecture.
In the decade that followed, the Alexanders changed the face of Palm Springs with the construction of more than 2,500 homes in the modernist idiom. In 1999, the 'Desert Sun' newspaper quoted an earlier article: "Because of their [the Alexanders'] vision, Palm Springs took a new shape and a new direction in development. They believed that in this luxury community, quality homes could be built to fit the budgets of lower and middle income families...Because of the Alexanders, Palm Springs has not only grown, it has grown in a much more balanced and solid way." In the same article, former Palm Springs mayor Frank Bogert is quoted as saying, "I give George Alexander full credit for doubling the size of this city."
"Designed by Architects, Built by Master Builders for Permanent Value" boasted the Alexanders' early ads. With spacious open plans, beguiling modern conveniences, and an underlying sophistication, their homes appealed to buyers eager to shed the trappings of large, unwieldy houses for a more casual, carefree way of life. In an era of uninspired ranches and mock colonials, the Alexanders' uncomplicated designs of strong form and angles articulated a bold, new residential look.
Key to the Alexanders' success was their association with a talented young architect, William Krisel, partner in the Los Angeles firm Palmer and Krisel, Inc. Educated at the University of Southern California, Krisel embarked on professional life under the tutelage of California designer Paul Laszlo, worked for a time at Victor Gruen Associates, and eventually retired (while licensed in five states) with a body of residential work in excess of 40,000 units. Krisel still likes to remind us of his understanding that the way to a builder's heart was through his wallet. Through efficient planning, creative use of simple resource, and straightforward construction techniques, he kept costs down without affecting the quality of design.
Exposed roof planks accented adjacent ceiling beams with decorative as well as structural value. Three-quarter walls divided rooms, allowing in an abundance of light while making construction (and associated costs) of a full, framed wall unnecessary. Eliminating molding and trim created a clean, contemporary new look, and at the same time saved time and money.