Today Palm Springs is known for its midcentury modern homes. But it wasn’t always that way. In fact, the success of the midcentury modern style home’s success can be attributed to a small number of very influential home builders and designers. About 2,500 modern homes were created to change the entire landscape of Palm Springs, CA. These homes were dubbed Alexander Homes because they were originally built by Bob Alexander and designed by the architecture firm of Palmer & Krisel. From there, many of the other architects of the time copied and expanded upon the design.
One of the most prominent of the Alexander homes as the one owned by Elvis and Priscilla Presley. It was known as their honeymoon house and was originally owned by Bob Alexander. It was recently on the market in 2018 with an asking price of $3.2 million. Prior to Elvis and Priscilla, this was the home that Bob Alexander and his family lived in. At that time, it was known as the House of Tomorrow, and was featured in the September 1962 Look Magazine.
History of the Alexander Homes
The homes built by Bob Alexander came from the company known as Alexander Construction Company. Bob owned this company with his father George Alexander. They started the company due to a shortage of homes following World War II because it was easy to finance and build low-cost housing.
While Bob believed in building lots of modern homes, his father didn’t believe the idea had much merit. Bob Alexander sought an architect to help by creating drawings and sketches, which is when he found William Krisel of Palmer & Krisel.
While George Alexander didn’t see merit in Bob’s idea, he gave his son a three-acre lot. This lot was turned into ten homes, which immediately sold and led to the first major modern housing tract created by Alexander Construction Company called Corbin Palms in Woodland Hills. Today, the homes are going through a second round of modernism— restoring where needed to bring back the original vision.
Since building modern homes cost less and earned them a greater profit compared to the homes they had been building, this style of home became their main focus. Throughout the 1950s, the Alexanders took this philosophy to the desert and created the Ocotillo Lodge, which was their first project in Palm Springs.
George handled the financing of the firm and decided to purchase sites throughout the Coachella Valley. Bob did the building and the Twin Palms Estates was completed in 1957 with homes aimed at middle-income and second-home buyers near the Racquet Club. The most famous of these homes is the Sinatra House, previously owned by Frank Sinatra and now available for tours and events.
The design of the homes was handled by Palmer & Krisel. They created two-floor plans they could easily adapt to face different directions on lots to ensure the tract wasn’t repetitive. This led to a project called Racquet Club Estates, which was built during 1959 and 1960.
Along with the homes aimed at middle-income buyers, Alexander Construction Company started to build more elegant homes with custom features. Vista Las Palmas was a neighborhood where they build several homes within in 1959. Bob and Helene Alexander actually found their dream home in this neighborhood due to the incredible views of the mountains. Later, this same home would become the Elvis Honeymoon House. The home was sold by the estate of the Alexanders after George, his wife Jimmie, Bob, and Helene were tragically killed in a Learjet crash.
Over the time Alexander Construction Company was building in Palm Springs, they created more than 2,500 homes and reshaped the entire area. Early ads from the construction company boasted, “Designed by Architects, Built by Master Builders for Permanent Value.”
Elements Found in an Alexander Home
The real key to the success of the Alexanders was working with William Krisel, a very talented architect. Krisel created more than 40,000 units across several states before retiring. The elements he designed into the Alexander homes led to the monumental success they achieved.
It was all about efficient planning, using simple resources creatively, and straightforward construction strategies. Costs were kept down without impacting the design quality. Common elements of early Alexander homes include:
- Exposed roof planks
- Three-quarter walls to divide rooms
- Clean, contemporary look without trim or molding
- Similar or the same floor plans
- Clean lines
- Lots of light from an abundance of windows
The floor plans were basically the same, but each home was oriented in the site differently to make it look like a custom home.
When the Alexanders started building more luxurious, custom homes, the features included:
- Beautiful landscaping
- Single-story floor plan
- Open circulation patterns
- Bathroom skylights
- Exposed wood beams
- Two-tone wood, native stone, concrete block, or patterned brick exteriors
- Interior atrium
- Side-to-side bathrooms
- In-ground swimming pools
- Post-and-beam construction
- Elaborate fireplaces
- Built-in kitchen appliances
- Shoji screen room dividers
- Acoustic ceiling panels
- Sunken tubs and showers
- Mirrored walls
- Expansive windows to connect the indoors with the outdoors
Many of the original Alexander homes were smaller and aimed at middle-income, but later homes were far more elaborate, luxurious, and custom-built to suit the buyer.
Many Alexander Homes are still found throughout Palm Springs, California today. They go up for sale often and range in price with some of the earlier homes going for less than some of the more luxurious, later homes. There are even a few for rent on vacation rental sites like Airbnb.