Design 101: What Are Alexander Homes, and Why Are They Still So Beloved?
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Design 101: What Are Alexander Homes, and Why Are They Still So Beloved?

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By Jennifer Baum Lagdameo
The Alexander Construction Company made Palm Springs living accessible to the masses.

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.

A yellow facade adds character to this recently renovated 1961 home on a corner lot in the heart of Vista Las Palmas, another Alexander subdivision.

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.

Originally built in 1957, this Twin Palms home was designed by William Krisel. Recently, the home was renovated with an updated kitchen and bathrooms that remain true to the residence’s midcentury character.

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."

William Krisel designed the Ocotillo Lodge, a hotel that features a number of his signature design moves: post-and-beam construction, walls of glass, and seamless indoor/outdoor connections. Pictured here is one of the hotel’s bungalows.

This updated 1957 home in the Twin Palms Estate features the subdivision’s signature palm trees front and center.

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. 

This Alexander home in Racquet Club North has recently been updated and is available to rent via Turnkey Vacation Rentals. 

This updated home by the Alexander Construction Company is located in the center of Racquet Club Estates and is also available for short-term stays.

Polished concrete floors, post-and-beam ceilings, and an open floor plan define this Krisel-designed Alexander home in Racquet Club Estates. The updated residence has a home theater, a newly renovated kitchen, and a private backyard with spectacular mountain views. It can be rented via HomeAway.

Completed in 1960, this Alexander home was designed by William Krisel for Robert Alexander and his wife Helene, however, it’s most famous as the location where Elvis and Priscilla Presley spent their 1967 honeymoon.

This 1959 Alexander home features vaulted tongue-and-groove ceilings, porcelain tile floors, and classic furnishings from Warren Platner, George Nelson, and the Eameses. It is available to rent on HomeAway. 

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.

Built in 1962, Steel House #4 is one of the seven steel-and-glass prefab homes designed by Wexler and Richard Harrison.

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.

A 2014 remodel of Steel House #4 improved daylighting by opening the floor plan.

When Wexler and Harrison’s steel homes first hit the market in 1962, they were competitively priced between $13,000 and $17,000. Shown above is Steel House #2.

A look at the pool area of Steel House #2. Each major room features floor-to-ceiling glass panels and sliding doors that are all eight feet high.

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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