As Krisel tells the story, the Alexander Construction-Palmer & Krisel venture started like this: Krisel and his friend, Bob Alexander, got Bob's father, George Alexander, to let the younger men try an experiment. Build eight or ten modern tract homes in the Valley and see if they'd sell. Up to that point, the Alexanders had been building what Krisel contemptuously calls dingbats.
"They cost less per square foot than what Bob's father sold as dingbats, and they sold at a higher price—so they made a bigger profit per house," Krisel has said. Krisel did whatever it took to keep costs down. "We had developed a system of post-and-beam houses, developed our own windows, our own walls. We found out what cost money in a home, and we figured out how to do it better and cheaper."
Plus the homes had style—open beams, open plans, broad overhangs, low gables with glass-filled clerestories, Mondrian-like wall screens by the entries (Krisel designed them himself), wooden parquet floors, and laminate countertops decorated with a classic '50s motif—the boomerang.
Houses are rectangular in plan, with a carport generally separated from the house by a breezeway. One distinctive feature was floor-to-ceiling windows divided by wooden muntins. Many people have filled in the bottom portion of the windows over the years, and most have turned the breezeway into living space.
Krisel was a landscape architect as well as an architect, and one of the neighborhood's best features is its park-like setting. The homes facing Corbin Avenue present a particularly satisfying picture to passersby thanks to their broad lawns.
Low berms in front of each house add interest to an otherwise flat landscape. They also illustrate Palmer & Krisel's ability to turn economy to their advantage. Rather than haul away leftover drywall and other construction debris, they bulldozed it into mounds and turned it into an amenity.
The original plan was to provide each home with two Washingtonia palms. (The architects repeated this trick two years later in one of their first Palm Springs subdivisions, Twin Palms.) But, Krisel recalls, Disney needed palms for Disneyland, so he "bought them from anybody who had a palm tree." As a result, later homes at Corbin Palms made do with olive trees.
Corbin Palms homes range from about 1,000 to 1,400 square feet, and have four bedrooms with two to three baths.
Krisel was so pleased with the homes, he and his wife bought one themselves. "I had no special deal, it was $500 down and the $14,000 was financed, and it cost me $60 a month."
The homes attracted people with design savvy, Krisel recalls, just as they do today. June Jones recalls many engineers who worked in nearby aerospace plants. She and her husband, John A. Jones, a theater set designer and sculptor, taught at UCLA.
Over the past few years, one house after another, starting with Yaryan and Yerke's, has been restored, and others are underway. But destructive remodels continue as well. "I wish we could inform them," Yerke says of his wayward neighbors, "and help them to see what we see." Yerke does more than wish; he knocks on doors and informs. "Unfortunately, sometimes you come up against a little bit of a brick wall," he says.
"The new people who come in, it would be nice if they were like us, and they wanted to keep the house and make it modern, and not ruin it," says Melanie Margolis-Sigman.
"Or maybe even buy a broken one and fix it," Yaryan adds.
Photos: John Eng, Adriene Biondo, Douglas M. Simmonds (courtesy Bill Krisel); and courtesy Bill Yaryan
• Corbin Palms is located on the west side of Corbin Avenue, between Calvert and Hamlin streets. The 6100 and 6200 blocks of Jumilla have homes that are particularly well preserved. Two landmark homes share a broad, park-like lawn on Corbin, just south of Topham Street. Victory Boulevard has a remarkable array of palms. Look for Corbin Palms online at CorbinPalmsModern.com