Design 101: What Are Alexander Homes, and Why Are They Still So Beloved?
When the Alexander Construction Company, founded by George Alexander and his son Robert, arrived in Palm Springs in the mid-1950s, it brought with it the winds of change and growth for the Southern California desert city. The Alexanders were already successful developers in L.A., and when they arrived in the desert, they began building moderately-priced homes for middle-income families and second home buyers.
These "Alexander homes" would help fill the need for accessible housing as Palm Springs’ year-round population began to grow. Soon, the company was building larger homes and expanding to neighborhoods that had previously been exclusive to the wealthy and the Hollywood crowd. The Alexander Construction Company would go on to build over 2,200 homes across the Coachella Valley.
Part of the key to their success was their relationship with talented young architects. William Krisel, of Los Angeles–based firm Palmer and Krisel, was responsible for designing a large percentage of Alexander homes. Krisel was also key in the design of the Alexander Construction Company's first subdivision, Twin Palms Estate—where each home came with two palm trees. Developed from 1957 to 1958, the neighborhood is located just south of the Ocotillo Lodge, which was the first Alexander construction project in Palm Springs and served to host prospective buyers of homes in the subdivision.
Chris Menrad, the author of William Krisel’s Palm Springs: The Language of Modernism, notes, "The genius of Krisel is that he was able to show the Alexanders (his customer and the builder of Twin Palms) how to offer a product to the buyer that looked like a custom home, but was quasi-assembly line built with almost a modular concept of commonality of floor plan and construction technique."
The Racquet Club Estates were developed from 1959 to 1962 by the Alexander Construction Company and Krisel. Buyers were offered almost identical floor plans, which had been tweaked by the architect to create a non-repetitive tract. A variety of exterior details and five different roofline options added a sense of diversity. The Alexanders also successfully streamlined their process by storing materials on site (in a warehouse designed by Krisel) so that projects could be completed quickly.
In the early 1960s, the Alexanders tapped Palm Springs architect Donald Wexler and his business partner at the time, Richard Harrison, to plan and design a neighborhood of 40 prefabricated steel homes. Wexler believed that steel was the best building material for the desert, so they teamed up with the prefabricated steel panel company Calcor, and steel producers US Steel and Bethlehem Steel.
The design consisted of a concrete slab with a prefabricated kitchen and bath that served as the central core. Each house could be built in just two days, however only seven models were constructed before the soaring cost of steel made them unable to complete the project.
Sadly, the Alexanders’ time was cut short. George Alexander, his wife Mildred, their son Robert, and Robert’s wife Helene were all killed in 1965 when their chartered plane crashed, and the company ceased operations with their deaths. However, the classic homes they built still resonate with midcentury design enthusiasts around the world—and their legacy lives on. The Alexander Construction Company played a pivotal role in shaping Palm Springs into the midcentury mecca that it remains today.
Interested in staying in an Alexander Home? Here are 8 Midcentury-Modern Vacation Homes You Can Rent in Palm Springs
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