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Thursday, April 21, 2011

Southern California Architectural History: William Krisel and George Alexander in Hollywood, 1937-1956 - Los Angeles-Platinum Triangle-Beverly Hills Real Estate-90210-Bel Air-Holmby Hills-Sunset Strip-Hollywood Hills-Luxury Estates-Mansions-Celebrity Home

William Krisel and George Alexander in Hollywood, 1937-1956


(Click on images to enlarge).
Sunset Tower, 8358 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, 1931, Leland Bryant, Architect. Burton Frasher photo, 1936. Courtesy Pomona Public Library.

I have always been fascinated by the history of the venerable Art Deco masterpiece Sunset Tower (see above) in the heart of Sunset Strip at Kings Road in West Hollywood. 
I too find captivating the Strip's history as an alluring playground and watering hole for the Hollywood elite. While helping architect William Krisel organize his archives for acquisition by the Getty Research Institute I also learned of his and, arguably his most important client, George Alexander's considerable involvement in the storied past of the building and its environs. Thus, this thirteen-story beacon of glamor and its beguiling surroundings became a great nexus about which to weave the story of "Krisel and Alexander in Hollywood." (See historical footage of the Sunset Tower and it's former denizens at http://www.sunsettowerhotel.com/video_documentary/index.html).


The iconic Sunset Tower on the cover of the latest printing of David Gebhard's classic Los Angeles in the Thirties: 1931-1941, Hennessey & Ingalls.


About 1955, George Alexander, attracted by the glamorous Hollywood and Sunset Strip life-style, sold his and wife Jimmie's house in Hancock Park and bought Sunset Tower at 8358 Sunset Blvd. and prime adjacent land to the west and other land in the unincorporated West Hollywood parlaying the considerable profits from his recently-completed Valley subdivisions including the Palmer & Krisel-designed Corbin Palms. George seemed bent on establishing an empire, or at least consolidating his holdings around this Sunset Strip promontory. Like Sunset Tower's original owner, E. L. Moffett, Alexander bought up as much unincorporated "Strip" real estate as he could get this hands on due to the less stringent building regulations in then unincorporated West Hollywood.

Aerial view of the Sunset Strip in the then unincorporated area of West Hollywood, June 14, 1956. Note Sunset Tower in the center. Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection.

Sunset Tower's original designer, the versatile architectural stylist Leland A. Bryantwas sought after by builders of high-end apartment complexes in the rapidly developing Hollywood of the late 1920s and early 1930s. Another period example is his Trianon Apartments built in 1928 for later Krisel family neighbors Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford. (See below). The French chateau-style complex and its neon sign achieved City of Los Angeles Historical Cultural Monument status in 1995 as have other buildings by Bryant. Other period examples such as The Fontenoy can be found browsing Google Images


Krisel's career has some striking similarities as his commissions gravitated towards luxury condominium and apartment complexes for well-heeled developers, especially while he was in partnership with Abe Shapiro during the 1970s. Dozens of luxury towers by Krisel can be found in the flats of Beverly Hills, Westwood's Wilshire Corridor, Ocean Avenue in Santa Monica, and Coronado Shores and other mega-developments in San Diego, albeit in his crisp, modernist style.


Trianon Apartments, 1752 Serrano Ave.,  Hollywood, Leland A. Bryant,1928 for Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford.

First news of Sunset Tower's construction came in the fall of 1930 when general contractor William L. Moffett announced in the Los Angeles Times that noted architect Leland A. Bryant was finishing plans for the thirteen-story apartment building. He stated that the "modern-type" building will feature the use of violet ray glass, will have 168 rooms, sixty-four suites and garage space for 150 cars. Each apartment was designed to have three exposures. Construction began in November. ("Thirteen-story building to go up on Sunset," Los Angeles Times, September 5, 1930, p. 1). Owner E. M. Fleming's choice of the Art Deco style with Bryant was likely influenced by the late 1929 completion of Bullock's Wilshire Department Store prominent in the view from the Sunset Tower site. (See more on the design and construction of Bullock's Wilshire at my Foundations of Los Angeles Modernism: Richard Neutra's Mod Squad).


"Hollywood Building Rises 195 Feet," Los Angeles Times, August 23, 1931, p. IV-1. (From ProQuest).

Fleming's $750,000 Sunset Tower building opened just nine months later to much fanfare. The above photo of the De Longpre elevation appears to have been taken from the future site of the Krisel family's Brandon Hall apartment building across the street. (See below).

L.A. Times reporter R. P. White included Sunset Tower in a 1933 story on the spate of luxury penthouses popping up around the city, 

"You can hang your house in the sky right here In Los Angeles if you choose to live like a king on a throne above this Southland realm. ... The latest built, so far as the records show, is the elaborate penthouse on the Sunset Towers Apartments on Sunset Boulevard and Kings Road. It is the highest in the city and due to the location of the fifteen-story structure that suppports it, it's tenants live on a level with the tower of the Los Angeles City Hall. Imagine the view!" (White, R. P., "What, Penthouses Here? First One Was Built Twenty Years Ago To Perpetuate Real Living," Los Angeles Times, April 23, 1933, p. 18).
Brandon Hall, 8336-46 De Longpre Ave. Note neon sign on roof  facing Sunset Blvd. "Hollywood Apartment Building Sold," Los Angeles Times, August 28, 1938, p. VI-4. (From ProQuest).

From left, Mary Pickford, D. W. Griffith, Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks on the day they formed the United Artists Corporation. (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images).

Bill's father, Alexander Krisel purchased the year-old apartment building, Brandon Hall, in 1938 after moving the family back from Shanghai the year before. Al Krisel was first the exclusive distributor for United Artists films (see above) in China, Japan, the Philippines and India and soon therafter also for 20th Century-Fox, ParamountSam Goldwyn, David O. Selznick, Walt Disney,  Warner Brothers and most French (Gaumont) and British studios representing a virtual monopoly of foreign films in the Far East during the late 1920s and 30s. Per Krisel, "This continued until his retirement in 1937 at the age of 47. After that, each film company sent their own reps to the Far East to fill the vacuum." (02-05-2011 Krisel e-mail to author). The 11-unit Brandon Hall, which is still owned by the Krisel family, is across the street from Sunset Tower at 8336-46 De Longpre Ave. In 1963 Krisel would design for his father another apartment building, Brandon Plaza, on adjacent land around the corner on Sweetzer Avenue which is also still in the family. (See below).

Brandon Plaza Apartments, 1333 N. Sweetzer Ave., West Hollywood, William Krisel, 1963. Krisel Archive, Getty Research Institute.

Pickfair, Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford Residence, 1143 Summit Drive, Beverly Hills, Wallace Neff remodel architect, 1920s. Douglas Fairbanks rehearses for his swashbuckling role as D'Artagnan in Fred Niblo's the 'Three Musketeers'. With him (seated) is script-writer Edward Knoblock, who co-wrote the screenplay of the film with Fairbanks and Lotta Woods.(Photo by General Photographic Agency/Getty Images) 

Of Pickfair Krisel recalls, 
"When we came to California from Shanghai every two years, we lived at Pickfair as their guests, with use of the Santa Monica Beach House, the chauffeur-driven Rolls-Royce, etc., all while my dad negotiated the films he wanted for the next two years. Not all of the U.S. films were acceptable to Far-Eastern audiences and my dad knew which ones would be money-makers." (02-05-2011 Krisel e-mail to author).
Bill and his two older brothers, Lionel and Henry moved into Brandon Hall when they returned home from World War II in early 1946. From the Krisel's 1937 return from Shanghai until the Mandarin-speaking Bill left for the war to become special aide and translator for General "Vinegar Joe" Stilwell in the China-Burma-India Theater, he lived in the family home on Summit Drive in Beverly Hills (see below), directly across the street from Charlie Chaplin and a few doors down from Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford's Pickfair. (See above). Other neighbors included David O. SelznickTom MixFred AstaireSam Jaffe and Ronald Colman.

Los Angeles Times, March 7, 1937, p. V-4. (From ProQuest).


Sketch for Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford Rancho Zorro Project (unbuilt), Rancho Santa Fe, Wallace Neff, 1932. From Wallace Neff 1895-1982: The Romance of Regional Architecture, The Huntington Library, 1989, p. 111.

Knowing of the Krisel's eventual desire to move back to the U.S., Douglas Fairbanks suggested to Al that he invest in land near his Rancho Zorro in Rancho Santa Fe. In the late 1920s Fairbanks and Pickford bought over 2,000 acres there (see ad below) with the intent of growing oranges. In 1931 Fairbanks and Pickford hired Wallace Neff to design a ranch home for the site that was to become the Fairbanks country retreat. (See above). The couple had been using Neff for remodeling and additions to their beach house on "Rolls-Royce Row" in Santa Monica and Pickfair since their marriage in 1920. (For more on the Fairbanks-Pickford relationship with Neff see Wallace Neff and the Grand Houses of the Golden State by Diane Kanner, Chapter 13, Pickfair, pp. 130-137).

Rancho Santa Fe Real Estate ad, Touring Topics, October 1928, p. 4. (From my collection).

Al Krisel, ca. early 1930s. Photo courtesy William Krisel.

Al bought 23 acres in Rancho Santa Fe in the early 1930s and in 1935 commissioned architect Lilian J. Rice to design the family a sprawling ranch-style home not unlike Neff's design for Rancho Zorro. (See rendering below). Krisel remembers that his father insisted that Rice make his office an exact replica of the Oval Office in the White House. Unfortunately, in 1936, before they broke ground on their dream home, Fairbanks and Pickford divorced. Pickford would stay on at Pickfair through her 1937 marriage to band leader Buddy Rogers until her death at the age of 87 in 1979.

Krisel Residence, Rancho Santa Fe, Lilian J. Rice, 1935, unbuilt. From Lilian J. Rice: Architect of Rancho Santa Fe, California by Diane Y. Lynch, Foreword by William Krisel, Schiffer, 2010, p. 6.

Shortly thereafter the Krisels also abandoned their plans to build their Rancho Santa Fe house and instead bought the Summit Drive property. Bill recalls that his mother thought that the boys would have a more challenging environment at Beverly Hills High than could be had in the San Dieguito schools where they would have had to go if they lived in Rancho Santa Fe. Moving into the Summit Drive house also enabled Cecelia to remain close friends with Pickford for the rest of her days at Pickfair.

Cecelia Krisel, ca. early 1930s. Photo courtesy William Krisel.

Krisel's assistance to his father in drawing design sketches that were mailed back and forth between Shanghai and Rancho Santa Fe and a letter of encouragement from Rice stating that he would make a fine architect are what initially piqued his interest in the field. His viewing of Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater in Time Magazine's January 17, 1938 issue's cover story (see below) and his Letter-to-the-Editor published in the November 14, 1938 issue critiquing Franklin D. Roosevelt's plan for his Hyde Park "dream house" which appeared in the October 17th issue sealed the deal in architecture as his career choice.

Frank Lloyd Wright Issue, Time Magazine, January 17, 1938.

Aline Barnsdall Beverly Hills House, Summit Ridge Drive, 1923, Frank Lloyd Wright. From Frank Lloyd Wright: Hollyhock House and Olive Hill by Kathryn Smith, pp. 164).  

Unbeknownst to the the young Bill, his new idol Wright, having moved to Los Angeles in 1923, spent a few months that year developing a scheme for a new house (see above) for Aline Barnsdall on a 24 acre parcel on a spectacular view site on Summit Ridge Drive just north of Pickfair. (See top center in below photo). Barnsdall was by then tiring of her Hollyhock compund on Olive Hill and entered into negotiations to purchase the land for $60,000 and commissioned Wright to design a $150,000 home. The land deal fell through and the project was never realized. (See Kathryn Smith, pp. 164-66). (For much on Barnsdall's influence as an architectural patron on the Schindlers and their circle see also my Pauline Gibling Schindler: Vagabond Agent for Modernism, 1927-1936).

Chaplin Estate (left-center) and Pickfair (next house to the right), ca. early 1920s. (Editor's note: Fred Astaire's estate extended from the Chaplin house to Pickfair across the street from the Krisel holdings.)

Chaplin Residence, 1085 Summit Dr., ca. late 1920s.

Also knowing of the Krisel's plans to move back to the U.S. and their change of mind on Rancho Santa Fe, Chaplin advised Al to buy the new house under construction by builder Paul E. Thilo at 1120 Summit Drive (seen earlier above) across the street from his and the Fred Astaire estates (see above) and a few doors down from Pickfair. ("House to Cost $16,000," Los Angeles Times, November 10, 1935, p. IV-3). Krisel purchased the house and a 2.5-acre parcel, (from Chaplin's garage where his Japanese chauffeur and Rolls-Royce were housed to the uphill corner near Pickfair), on a 1936 Los Angeles scouting trip before returning to Shanghai for a year to wrap up the family's business affairs. He leased the house to noted movie director King Vidor, who was building his second Wallace Neff-designed home (see below) further up the hill on Summit Ridge Dr. until he and the family returned from Shanghai for good in mid-July 1937. ("King Vidor Buys Six-Acre Site for Residence," Los Angeles Times, March 28, 1937, p. V-1). For more on the Vidor-Neff relationship see Wallace Neff and the Grand Houses of the Golden State by Diane Kanner, Chapter 12, Architect to the Stars, pp. 119-129).


King Vidor ca. 1928. Image from allmovietalk.com.

(click on images to enlarge)
King Vidor Residence, 1636 Summit Ridge Dr., Beverly Hills, Wallace Neff Architect, 1938. Maynard Parker Photo No. 0940-001 courtesy Huntington Library Parker Collection.

Vidor had Neff prepare preliminary plans for his new Summit Ridge compound while living in the Krisel home. Vidor then had his Filipino "house boy", an architect by education who could not find employment in his profession in the U.S., complete the working drawings in one of the maid's rooms in the Krisel house. Knowing of the Krisel's return date he quickly built the 'gatehouse' seen below and moved in while the main house was being completed. When the young Bill moved into his new architectural studio in the maid's room he found renderings for the new Vidor house in the closet. (02-06-2011 Krisel to author e-mail).

King Vidor and Betty Hill Vidor at Vidor House II, 1636 Summit Ridge Dr. From Wallace Neff: Architect of California's Golden Age by Wallace Neff, Jr., p. 139.

Vidor's stepson Bob Hill, who was friends with the Krisel boys at Beverly Hills High, was killed on a WW II mission flying over "The Hump" between India and China. ("Mrs. King Vidor's Son Missing in Action," Los Angeles Times, June 2, 1945, p. I-7). (See also more on Krisel's "Hump" experiences later herein).


Jamison rendering dated 11-11-1940. From "Wallace Neff, Architect: Some of His Recent Work," by Mark Daniels, Architect & Engineer, January 1941, p. 34. (From my collection).

Neff was clearly making a name for himself as architect to the stars since besides the two Vidor houses he had also recently completed homes for Joan BennettLouis B. MayerSam JaffeDarryl F. ZanuckFrederick MarchWilliam Goetz and others. While the second Vidor house was nearing completion in 1938 and impressed with Neff's nearby Jaffe House completed the previous year, Paulette Goddard commissioned Neff to do a preliminary design for their house across the street from the Krisels. (See above). Both avid skiers, Neff and Goddard were also involved in some ski lodge projects which were never built due to lack of funding. Chaplin spurned Neff's design, likely due to a combination of his wife's spendthrift ways and the infatuation he sensed between the architect and his wife which lasted until their divorce in 1942 thus Neff joined a 13-year-old Krisel as one of Chaplin's rejected architects. (See below). (For more on Krisel's indirect involvement with Neff see my Frederick L. Roehrig, The Millionaire's Architect on Krisel's Parkwood La Mirada tract on Neff's birthplace, Windemere Ranch).

Krisel recalled,

"Paulette [Goddard] had me design her a private bungalow on their Summit Drive property when I was 13 years old (1937) since she did not like living in the “big” house. She wanted her own space. (Krisel Oral History, p. 16). (No record exists of Krisel's unbuilt design). (For more on the Neff-Goddard relationship see Kanner, pp. 166-7). 

Wallace Neff and Paulette Goddard ca. 1940. From Wallace Neff: Architect of California's Golden Age by Wallace Neff and Alson Clark, Capra Press, 1986, p. 156.

Japanese bombing of Shanghai during August 1937 invasion. Note the Odeon, just one of numerous Shanghai theaters screening Al Krisel-distributed films.

The Krisels were fortunate to escape Shanghai just two months prior to the August 14, 1937 Japanese invasion at the beginning of the Sino-Japanese War. (See above). 

Al Krisel's Chinese chauffeur and the Krisel boys with 1936 Buick in front of the Krisel Residence, 4 Route Francis Garnier, Shanghai, China, 1936. Photo courtesy William Krisel.


Krisel remembered some of the details regarding his family home in Shanghai, 
"It was designed by a French architect and my dad bought it new in about 1920.
The house is 3-stories + full basement + attic + separate servant's building. Both Henry (1922) and I (1924) were born in the house with an American doctor in attendance." (02-06-2011 Krisel to author e-mail).
Former Krisel Residence as it looks today. Photo by Bob Kaufmann, January 15, 2011.

After moving into the Summit Dr. house Bill and his brother Henry became close childhood friends with Chaplin's sons, Charlie, Jr. and Sydney while Bill's mother Cecelia was also very close to Mary Pickford. Pickford, Fairbanks, Chaplin and Paulette Goddard were all house guests at the Krisel home across the street from Madame Chiang Kai-shek's house in the French Concession in Shanghai (see above and below) during the late 1920s and early 1930s. Bill remembered,
"When the Madame lived there, whenever her limo came out of her gate and if I were on my bike in the streeet, she would have the driver stop, put down her window and say hello and ask how the family was. She was very, very 'Western' in her daily life. A very charming lady." (02-07-2011 Krisel to author e-mail).

Former residence of Madame Chiang Kai-shek, now home of the Shanghai Music Conservatory, across from the former Krisel house, Route Francis Garnier, Shanghai, China. Photo by Bob Kaufmann, January 15, 2011.

The Krisel's lived the life of wealthy taipan family during their sojourn in Shanghai mirroring the description in the January 1935 issue of Fortune Magazine in the article "Budget for a Taipan." Al Krisel's General Film Exchange and law offices were on the top floor of the Capitol Building (see below)  in the heart of the Bund in downtown Shanghai.

Capitol Building, Bund, Shanghai, ca. 1930s. Krisel office has the balcony.

Krisel remembers that,
"The Capitol Building also housed the Capitol Theater where my dad privately previewed the films as they came by ship from the USA. His office also did the Chinese subtitles in Shanghai, and in Tokyo for Japanese audiences, etc." (02-05-2011 Krisel e-mail to the author).

Douglas Fairbanks with personnel of the Mingxing (Star) Film Studio, China's largest, during his first visit in 1929.  Mary Pickford accompanied him on the visit, but is not in the photo. Note Al Krisel looking over Fairbanks' left shoulder.

Al Krisel arranged a series of events surrounding a controversial 1929 Fairbanks and Pickford visit including the welcome at the Mingxing Film Studio seen above. (For more on the contentious visit and Al Krisel's involvement see Thief of Bagdad Uproar). 

Thief of Bagdad set on the United Artists lot, 1923. Photo from Hollywoodland.

The Thief of Bagdad movie poster, by G. A. E. Panter, 1923. From Hollywoodland.

Krisel has fond memories of the Pickford-Fairbanks visitation,
"Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks came to our house for a private dinner. And my dad had a few close friends over. My brothers and I had to have our baths and our bathrobes on when they came. I can remember when my dad was shaking the martinis, Douglas Fairbanks liked martinis. And so we had this stairway at the house and when we were at the top of the stairs looking down and asked, “Is that Douglas Fairbanks?” he said “Yes it is!” and he leaped over the balustrade and in two steps was up to the top and he grabbed us. He was a swashbuckling type of a guy."(William Krisel Oral History interviewed and transcribed by John Crosse, 2008, p. 25).

Fairbanks and Pickford nicknamed the boys "The Three Musketeers" and the nickname stuck according to an Al Krisel quote to the L.A. Times during a 1930 visit back to the States with the family. ("Trade Conditions Explained by Returning American," Los Angeles Times, June 16, 1930, p. 15).

The Three Musketeers movie poster featuring Fairbanks. United Artists, 1921.

Al Krisel, an erstwhile member of the U.S. Consular Service and Federal Judge and trademark protection attorney before representing United Artists in the Orient had the honor of secretly marrying Charlie and Paulette aboard ship between Shanghai and Hong Kong on their way back to the United States during a 1936 world tour promoting his and his co-star's first sound film Modern Times. (For more on this see the very interesting Charlie Chaplin: One Night in Shanghai). 


Charlie Chaplin and Paulette Goddard on the grounds of the Chaplin Estate, ca. late 1930s.  From Early Beverly Hills by Marc Wanamaker, p. 91.

Bill reminisced about Summit Drive and his friendship with the Chaplin boys in his Oral History,

“They [Sydney and Charlie, Jr.] loved being at our house and every Friday night Charlie [Sr.] would say “Well, what do you guys want to do? Do you want to go to a movie? Do you want to go ice-skating? Do you want to go roller-skating? What do you want to do?” So he used to give us the chauffeur, the car and $20 and then we would go to a movie and we would go to…we liked going to a hamburger place on Sunset and Doheny called Nutburgers. And they also had pinball machines that you could play. So we’d have the Rolls Royce with the Japanese chauffeur and go to the movie and whatnot. And occasionally Paulette would say “I’m going to go with you guys.” So she wouldn’t be bored at home." (William Krisel Oral History interviewed and transcribed by John Crosse, 2008, p. 16).

Krisel and the Chaplin boys also took advantage of the tourists driving through the neighborhood looking for Pickfair and the Chaplin estate. He and Sydney Chaplin would take tourists onto the grounds for a fee and show them around the outside of the house. The butler and maids would come out and tell them that they couldn’t do that. (Krisel Oral History, p. 46). See the 1938 Ragsdale's Movie Guide Map below for a map to the stars' homes that was likely for sale along Sunset Blvd. at the time to help funnel tourists up to Summit Drive to hopefully get a peak at "Hollywood Royalty."


1938 Ragsdale's Movie Guide Map. 1120 Summit Dr. is erroneously listed as the King Vidor Residence after he moved out July 1937 upon the Krisel's return.


Krisel also recalled in his oral history that he and Charlie, Jr. sold Chaplin, Sr.'s Schweppes from his tennis court house refrigerator at a card table stand they set up in the street in front of the Chaplin estate gate for 5 cents a bottle when it cost about 15 cents in the store. Neighbor David Selznick, always one for a bargain, bought the whole case for a $1.00 as he drove by on his way to his award-winning Roland E. Coate-designed home at 1050 Summit Drive. (See below). When Chaplin had guests over later in the day and offered them a drink after a brisk game of tennis, he found the Schweppes missing. He asked the butler about it and the butler insisted he filled the refrigerator in the morning. Chaplin found out about the sale to Selznick from the boys and called and asked him to return the Schweppes. Selznick said a deal’s a deal. Chaplin threatened to sue because he was such a tightwad. (Krisel Oral History, pp. 15-16)

"Residence of Mr. and Mrs. David O. Selznick, 1050 Summit Drive, Beverly Hills, Roland E. Coate, A.I.A., Architect, Florence Yoch and Lucile Council, Landscape Architects." California Arts & Architecture, June 1936, Cover and pp. 18-19. (From my collection). 


Charlie Chaplin, Jr.’s recollection in his book “My Father, Charlie Chaplin” was that what they sold was bottles of liquor. The anecdote is presented in a third version in “Charlie Chaplin and His Times”  by Kenneth S. Lynn as being a beer stand and the boys selling Charlie’s expensive beer to Selznick at rock-bottom prices and Charlie later complementing Selznick on his choice of beer when being offered one at Selznick’s house and Selznick taking pleasure in telling him where he got it and for how much.


Fred Astaire Residence, 1101 Summit Dr., 1937. ("Screen Star's New Residence Plans Prepared," L.A. Times, December 22, 1935, p. I-7). (Author's note: Krisel House would be directly to the right of the Astaire pool across the street). Chaplin House at bottom-center. From Early Beverly Hills, by Marc Wanamaker, Arcadia, 2005, p. 102.

Krisel recently recalled happenings in the Fred Astaire household across the street at 1101 Summit Drive (see above), 
"Astaire was married to a New York socialite he used to dance with professionally and adopted her son Peter. She and her brother were famous ballroom dancers and she was famous too. They then had two children, first a girl named Ava, and then a boy Fred, Jr. They were like five years younger than me. Astaire sold that home to William Wyler, the famous European director in the fall of 1945 and had another house built on his adjacent land at 1121 Summit Dr. between Wyler and Pickfair. (Hopper, Hedda, "More Plans," L.A. Times, October 15, 1945, p. 8). Since our property was so long we were still 'across the street' from Astaire. His property extended to the north all the waydown to San Ysidro Dr. near the intersection of Pickfair Way. He built a third home fronting on San Ysidro (1155) for his mother. When his wife died he married a woman who was a jockey for one of his race horses that he had on his ranch in Rancho Santa Fe. Astaire did a film with Paulette Goddard in 1940, "Second Chorus."  (02-07 & 02-12-2011 Krisel to author e-mails).
Fred Astaire and Paulette Goddard in Second Chorus, 1940. (From A Fred Astaire Album).

Hedda Hopper wrote in her column of "Second Chorus,"
"I hear Boris Morros wrote in a hot love-scene between Fred Astaire and Paulette Goddard before Paulette signed to play opposite Fred in "Second Chorus." Guess she wanted to see if Fred can take it. He may surprise all of us. But what's going to happen when Paulette meets Mrs. Astaire? They're neighbors on Summit Drive. Paulette is known as "The Little Princess" of Summit Drive, Mrs. Astaire as "The Queen," and Mary Pickford as "The Queen Mother." (Hopper, Hedda, "Fireworks," L.A. Times, July 1, 1940, I-10).
Krisel recalled of Morros's son Richard,
"Boris Morros's son Richard was a friend and classmate of mine at Beverly Hills High. He was on the golf team and played golf daily at the Hillcrest Country Club in lieu of 'Gym' class." (02-13-2011 Krisel to author e-mail).
Screen Book, September 1939. Cover-girl Paulette Goddard. From Kanner, p. 166.


Krisel further reminisced on neighbors to the east, the Jaffes,
"Sam Jaffe was a literary agent who lived in a Neff house at the corner of Summit Dr. and Pickfair Way which had interiors by Paul Laszlo. I dated Sam's daughter Naomi (see below) who later married Dick Carroll, the Rodeo Drive men's clothier, and they later divorced. The Jaffe home was full of modernist painters and sculptures."

Naomi, Barbara, Mildred and Judith Jaffe, 1945. From Wallace Neff and the Grand Houses of the Golden State by Diane Kanner, p. 165.

Al Krisel became an avid gardener upon retiring and to build up young Bill's confidence as an aspiring architect, worked with him on a master plan for the garden on their 2.5-acre parcel. Krisel designed garden structures in his "studio" set up in a spare bedroom. This likely could have been the initial spark for Krisel's life-long love affair with landscape architecture which he earnestly studied under Garrett Eckbo at USC after the war. Krisel recalled, 
"The 2-1/2 acres wasn’t fully developed, it was…half of it was a house and a garden and the other half was hillside. So he worked with me, we worked [up] a master plan of how to plant a family orchard, and how to have a lath house, and how to have a greenhouse, and how to have a garden pergola, and how to have some terraces, and that was the master plan. So I made the drawings as a thirteen, fourteen and fifteen year old kid during that time and my dad implemented it. ... But he also made me and my two brothers each put in 20 hours of work a week before we could go out and have fun. And he gave us 20 cents an hour, and said that’s all we were worth and really what we were was free slaves for him because we followed him around and he said “Pick that up, move this, hand me that, bring this, go get that, turn that on, turn that off." And his friends who used to visit would call him the dictator with his slaves. But he thought he was really teaching us the value of money, that you had to work for it and he also was trying to teach us that if you owned a piece of property you had to know how to take care of it." (Krisel Oral History, p. 28).


Beverly Hills High School, 1935. Designed by Robert D. Farquhar in the French Normandy style in 1927.  From Early Beverly Hills by Marc Wanamaker, p. 77.


Krisel was able to organize a self-directed architectural class for himself at Beverly Hills High (see above) with the help of a local architect who would lend him sets of plans and his mechanical drawing teacher. He also was the student manager of the tennis team where he befriended Sam Goldwyn, Jr. with whom he is friends to this day. Other good friends included Marcus Loew of the theater chain family and Adolph Zukor's son BuddyBill was also able to obtain an underage drivers license through the largess of his lawyer father who pulled some strings with the local judge. Krisel reminisced,
"And so they gave me what they call a “sunrise to sunset” driver’s license that I could only go on certain prescribed streets that went from our house to school and back. Which of course coming home I never followed because I went into the village of Beverly Hills and fooled around with the other kids. I had a car when I was fourteen, fifteen and sixteen." (Krisel Oral History, p. 29).



The boys were "not thrilled" to be seen in the utilitarian 1937 Plymouth (see similar car above) their father bought them for school so they pressed for a more stylish car. After much cajoling they got Al to spring for a 1939 Oldsmobile convertible. Krisel recalled,
"It was beautiful. It was maroon with maroon leather upholstery and it was really gorgeous. Well, my mom and dad went again to Europe. When they came back we had chopped the top. In those days if you had a convertible you had a special Carson Top. We paid for it. It was a top that lifted off. We had pulleys in the garage that lifted the roof off. The inside of the roof was all beautifully upholstered. And we had the car lowered and we had the windshield cut and we had the license plate sunk in the trunk and we had all the chrome taken off and all the holes filled in and all the ornamentation taken off and it was a customized cruise car. My dad came home and said ‘What did you do with that beautiful car I bought you? You ruined it.” We said “Oh no dad. This is what we like and we paid for it ourselves”. And he thought we were nuts. He got in the car and he said “I think I’m in a tank.(Krisel Oral History, p. 29).

The Krisel brothers' modified 1939 Oldsmobile convertible in the Krisel driveway on Summit Drive. Photo courtesy William Krisel.


Beverly Hills Hotel, Elmer Gray, 1912. Photo courtesy Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection.

The Krisel boys needed a social outlet and Al gave them a choice of installing a pool and tennis court at the house or leasing two cabanas at the Beverly Hills Hotel Sand & Pool Club. (See below). The venerable Elmer Grey-designed hotel which opened in 1912 (see above) had by then become a center of Beverly Hills social life. ("Great Tourist Hostelry for Beautiful Site Between City and the Sea," L.A. Times, September 20, 1911, p. II-1) Once Al made it clear that they would be required to maintain the pool and tennis court, it was a no-brainer for the boys. They opted for the hotel down the hill to be closer to their friends. (See below).


(Click to enlarge)
Beverly Hills Hotel District, 1924 illustrating the proximity of the Krisel house to the hotel. Chaplin Estate and Pickfair on Summit Drive at upper left and hotel, center.  From Early Beverly Hills by Marc Wanamaker, p. 44.

Beverly Hills Hotel swimming pool and tennis courts in the background circa late 1930s. Photo courtesy of LAPL Photo Collection).


Swimming pool and cabanas after the war circa late 1940s. The Krisels leased cabana nos. 2 and 3 from the right.


Bill's brother Henry made great use of the pool, becoming a champion swimmer in the 50 and 100-yard freestyle and relays at Beverly Hills High and then going on to star on the USC swim team.


Former National Clay Court Champion Harvey Snodgrass giving a lesson to Joan Crawford. Photo courtesy of Corbis Images.


Krisel reminisced of his days hanging around the Sand & Pool Club, 
"I did play tennis with Katherine Hepburn on the Beverly Hills Hotel tennis courts. Harvey Snodgrass (see above) was the hotel's tennis pro and Hepburn took five lessons a week from him so I got to play with her after her lesson with Harvey. At the time she introduced the woman's tennis slacks."
Katharine Hepburn, Gussie Moran posing for a publicity picture on the set of Pat and Mike, 1952. Photo courtesy of the Everett Collection.

Hepburn reminisced about those days in her autobiography,
"I learned something early on  playing tennis at the Beverly Hills Hotel with Harvey Snodgrass. "Oh god Harvey. Those people watching -  I can't bear it." "Don't worry Kate, they won't stay. You cannot, unless you are totally insane - you just cannot watch a rotten tennis player for long." There are no two ways about it. He was right. In those days I was young and playing mediocre tennis. Well, I'm more interesting now because I'm still trying." (Me: Stories of My Life, by Katherine Hepburn, p. 369).
Krisel's fond recollection of tennis on the Chaplin court goes like this: 
"When Syd and Charlie, Jr. were home on the weekends from Black-Foxe Military School we played tennis on the Chaplin court until noon. That's when the celebrities came to play tennis with the invited tennis playing greats. Yes, I met Gussie Moran. She was about my age. Dorothy Mae Bundy was the oldest star player. The street Bundy Drive is named after her. You name the great tennis player and I'll bet I met them at Chaplin's and in many cases hit balls with them in warm-up. I did warm up with [Bill] Tilden, [Fred] Perry and Ellsworth Vines on the Chaplin court. Charlie, Sr. loved playing with the big name tennis stars. He got free lessons from them by inviting them to his court." (See some of Chaplin's regular partners below).
Groucho Marx, Charlie Chaplin, Ellsworth Vines and Fred Perry after a match at the Beverly Hills Tennis Club. Photo courtesy of Corbis.

On Thursday nights, traditional Beverly Hills maid's night out, the Krisel family ate in the Beverly Hills Hotel's main dining room at the buffet table and since the chefs knew Bill well, he claims to have "got the best of everything." After the war and the 1949 remodel of the hotel by Paul Williams, Bill's brother Henry hung out at the Polo Lounge with Errol Flynn fellow sports car enthusiast Frank SinatraPeter Lawford and the "Rat Pack." Henry, a car fanatic his entire life, before the war was into building hot rods with high school buddies John Champion and Blake Edwards. Edwards leased an apartment at Brandon Hall during the early 1960s before marrying Julie Andrews in 1969. Henry would later buy Frank Sinatra's Facel-Vega with fitted trunk luggage designed by Louis Vuitton when he sold it to buy a new Dual-Ghia to keep pace with Dean Martin.




The last of the brothers to leave home for the war, Henry was able to take the beloved Olds to his Japanese language training class at the University of Colorado before shipping off to Guam. (See below). After the war Henry co-wrote a somewhat autobiographical screenplay, "Black Sheep in Green Pastures," in the Krisel Beverly Hills Hotel pool cabana with USC classmate John Tice which was being shopped around for a movie starring Scott Brady("Scott Brady to Star as Real Black Sheep," Los Angeles Times, Sept. 23, 1949, p. I-9). 


Henry Krisel and the customized 1939 Olds at the University of Colorado in Boulder, 1945. Photo courtesy of Bill Krisel.


Generalissimo and Madame Chiang Kai-Shek meet with Lt. General Joseph W. Stilwell, the commander of the China Expeditionary Forces, at Burma on April 19, 1942, the day after the Doolittle Raid on Japan. Image: © CORBIS.

Upon graduation from Beverly Hills High, Krisel enrolled in the USC architectural program and apprenticed with noted architect and designer Paul Laszlo until enlisting in the Army in 1943. After basic training at Camp Santa Anita Bill was sent to the Army Special Training Program at Pomona College (see below) to learn to be a Chinese interpreter because of his ability to speak Mandarin from his boyhood in Shangai. After three months at Pomona in 1943 a special request came in from General Stilwell for the best man in the class and off Bill went to China.


Krisel at Army Special Training Program at Claremont-Pomona College, 1943. Photo courtesy Bill Krisel.

Krisel recalled his experiences flying "The Hump" to hook up with Stilwell in 1943,
"The first time was when I flew from Dibrogarh, Assam, India into China to Kunming and then Chungking. A year later I flew back to Assam to accompany some high-ranking generals coming to China for Roosevelt. They wanted me on board their flight over "The Hump" in case it was shot down by the Japs so I could interpret in case we survived. ... Since everything we had in WW II China was flown in over "The Hump," we soldiers did not have PX supplies, but Madame Chiang (see below) had all the Coca-Cola, cosmetics, luxuries from the States flown in for her personal use. Our high school friend, Bob Hill, stepson of King Vidor, was killed as a U.S. pilot flying "The Hump." No body was ever found. He's probably resting on a high Himalayan peak." (01-31-2011 Krisel to author e-mail). 
Former French Concession neighbor in Shanghai, Madame Chiang Kai-shek and Bill were ironically crossing paths during 1943 as she was ending her great U.S western tour to drum up support for her husband's Nationalists in front of a throng of 35,000 at the Lloyd Wright-designed Hollywood Bowl on April 4, 1943. (See below).


Madame Chiang Kai-shek at the Hollywood Bowl, April 4, 1943. Pictorial California, Summer 1943, p. 24. Photos courtesy of Krisel Summit Drive neighbor David O. Selznick. (From my collection).


Madame Chiang Kai-shek, Time Magazine March 1, 1943.


Madame Chiang was considered to be a brilliant political strategist. She accompanied her husband to the Cairo Conference of the Big Four in 1943, acting as his translator, secretary and advisor. Earlier that same year Madame Chiang became the first Chinese national and only the second woman to address the U.S. Congress. She made the March 1 cover of Time Magazine for the second time, as ‘The Dragon Lady’ that year. (See above).

Krisel spent much of his time gathering special intelligence for Stilwell and had some pretty harrowing experiences along the way. He was able to track down his reports in the National Archives a few years back and saw favorable comments from officers who reviewed them.

Krisel in Kunming, China, March 1944. Photo courtesy Bill Krisel.


Krisel recalled another assignment from Stilwell to act as interpreter for Vice President Henry Wallace (see below) when Roosevelt sent him on a special intelligence gathering mission, 
"He was very interested in the Chinese Communist group under Chairman Mao at that time headquartered in Yannan living in caves. The U.S.A. had a tightrope to walk trying to win the war in China and still have the cooperation of Chiang-Kai-shek along with Mao Tze-dung. I had to be very circumspect. In the end Madame Chiang prevailed and Roosevelt transferred Stilwell to Okinawa to keep peace between the U.S.A. and Nationalist China. I stayed on in China and was assigned to the Joint Intelligence Collection Agency. I made a trip to Yannan for the Dixie Mission. I was on a team investigating the use of biological warfare on the Chinese by the Japanese and interrogated special prisoners." (Krisel 02-02-2011 e-mail to the author).

Bill Krisel and Vice President Henry Wallace, June 1944. Photo courtesy of William Krisel, Krisel Archive, Getty Research Institute.

Ironically, Wallace visited the home of William Wyler across the street from the Krisels on May 17, 1948 for a fund raiser with Chaplin and Goddard, Edward G. Robinson, King Vidor, Fritz Lang, Burt Lancaster, Larry Adler and others in attendance and October 3rd for a tennis match while on his presidential campaign. ("Visitor Carries His Campaign to Beverly Hills," and "Wallace Plays Tennis, Takes Off on Tour," L.A. Times, May 17 and October 4, 1948).

After the war ended Krisel immediately returned to his architectural studies at USC in January 1946, like most returning vets, eager to make up for lost time. While apprenticing with Laszlo before the war he remembers helping design Shoji screens based on the ones in the Krisel summer homes in Japan while they were still living in Shanghai. Al owned a beach house in Kamakura and another home in Karuzawa. Bill also designed the distinctive "p.L." logo Laszlo used in all of his period marketing material. (See below).


Paul Laszlo with Krisel logo. Photographer unknown but likely Julius Shulman.


Page from Laszlo marketing book. Photographer unknown but likely Julius Shulman. 


It was while working for Laszlo just after the war that Krisel first met architectural photographer Julius Shulman whom he would later commission to photograph his now iconic Alexander projects in Palm Springs. Laszlo negotiated a lower fee for an assignment by talking Shulman into using Krisel instead of his usual helper to hold the ubiquitous branch the photographer used to frame his subject. Per Krisel, "This started a tradition for future architects who would assist Shulman in a photo assignment." (02-05-2011 Krisel e-mail to the author).

 Desert Comber's Club, La Quinta, Paul Laszlo, 1947. Unbuilt. From "Lodgings in the Desert, Paul Laszlo, Beverly Hills, Interiors, January 1948, p. 106-7. (From my collection).

In 1947 Krisel was involved in preparing drawings for a desert resort called "The Desert Comber's Club" in La Quinta which was never built. This project would later provide the inspiration for George Alexander's Ocotillo Lodge built in Palm Springs in 1957. (See below). Laszlo's secretary after the war, Maxine Fife, was a high school girlfriend of Henry's who had some bit movie parts while going to Beverly Hills High and shortly after the war. Laszlo ended up marrying Maxine soon thereafter and having a son they named Peter Paul. Julius Shulman's log book indicates that he photographed Peter Paul's baby portrait for Maxine on July 17, 1947.

Rendering Ocotillo Lodge, Palm Springs, William Krisel for Alexander Construction Co., drawn in 1956. (From Ocotillo Lodge marketing brochure in my collection).

Peter Paul babysat for the Krisels during his high school days at Palisades High. Krisel and the Laszlos remained life-long friends. The elder statesman of L.A. interior design and wife Maxine paid Bill a high compliment by selling their beloved Brentwood home and moving into the Park Plaza luxury condos he designed on Ocean Avenue in Santa Monica after Laszlo's 1975 retirement. (See below).

Park Plaza, 515 Ocean Avenue, Santa Monica, Krisel & Shapiro for McCulloch Realty, 1975. Krisel Archive, Getty Research Institute.

Krisel also quickly reconnected with his old circle of friends after the war. He was going to school in the daytime, apprenticing first with Paul Laszlo during 1946-7 and later with Victor Gruen from 1947-9 and hanging out with Sydney Chaplin's Circle Theatre crowd after school and work.


Wilshire Bowl, 5655 Wilshire Blvd., ca. 1938.

Slapsy Maxie's before the Krisel-Loper makeover for new syndicate of owners headed by Sy Devore and his new manager Jerry Brooks, ca 1946.


During mid-1947 Krisel also moonlighted for noted fashion, interior and costume designer Don Loper on the remodeling of Slapsy Maxie's nightclub (see before above and after below) for new owner, soon to be Rat Pack clothier Sy Devore and his syndicate backed by Mickey Cohen and their new manager Jerry  Brooks who was a tenant-neighbor at Brandon Hall at the time. ("L. A. Slapsy's Sold Because of Huge Nut," Billboard, August 16, 1947, p. 38). The site was previously the home of the Wilshire Bowl restaurant-dance hall and in the early 1940s and the Louisiana Club until 1943 when erstwhile Vaudeville impresario Sammy Lewis, with urging from regular performer, Chaplin impersonator, and later partner, comedian Ben Blue, moved his Slapsy Maxie's club named after boxer Maxie Rosenbloom from Beverly Blvd. to the new location. (See two above). Krisel recalled of Blue,
"Ben Blue was a comedian who also performed at Slapsy's. He loved authentic Chinese antique furniture. I told him our house on Summit was full of Chinese antiques. I had him over to the house and my dad reluctantly sold him some pieces we were not using." (02-13-2011 Krisel to author e-mail).
Slapsy Maxie's was also financially backed by mobster "Bugsy" Siegel's lieutenant Mickey Cohen throughout the 1940s and served as his floating office. (Dino: Living High in the Dirty Business of Dreams by Nick Tosche, p. 166). Krisel recalls attending an opening after the remodel featuring Danny Thomas and most shows during Thomas's extended run to the point he had the whole act memorized. ("Slapsy Maxie's to Reopen Soon," Los Angeles Times, September 27, 1947, p. I-5). 


Krisel further reminisced, 
"Later I went to every opening act as the guest of [Jerry] Brooks. He would also introduce me to the showgirls. Most of the acts were from Las Vegas and very first class entertainers. ... Brooks was a nightclub owner from Vegas and back east. He was not a celebrity but he did know Mickey Cohen." 
Krisel particularly remembered catching Dean Martin's show in January 1948. (Krisel 01-31-2011 e-mail to the author). Slapsy Maxie’s bartender Dick Martin was inspired to pattern his delivery and persona after Martin’s performances which he later parlayed to great fame with partner Dan Rowan on Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In. (Hollywood's Celebrity Gangster: The Incredible Life and Times of Mickey Cohen by Brad Lewis, p. 86). Billboard reviews during this period indicate that, besides Danny Thomas and Dean Martin, acts Krisel might have seen were Desi ArnazLena HornePaul Winchell & Jerry MahoneyMartin & Lewis, and many of the costume shows designed, choreographed and produced by Don Loper. (Billboard).


Slapsy Maxie's Nightclub, 5655 Wilshire Blvd., William Krisel-Don Loper remodel and Krisel signage, 1947. From L.A. in the 30's David Gebhard and Harriette Von Breton, Peregrine, 1975, p. 72. (note photo inaccurately dated as 1937 in the book as there is a 1947 Cadillac parked in front).


As mentioned earlier, after the war Bill and his brothers moved into the senior Krisel's Brandon Hall Apartments a block from the glamor of the celebrity magnet Sunset Strip. His father allotted him a $6,000 budget to remodel and furnish his two-story end unit seen below. After beginning his apprenticeship with Victor Gruen he was assisted on the interior design by new mentor and Gruen right-hand man Rudi Baumfeld. Krisel modernized his space and furnished it with a desk Paul Laszlo discarded as well as pieces by Ray and Charles Eames

Krisel's parents sold the Summit Drive house in 1949 because the first Mayor of Beverly Hills, Sil Spaulding subdivided and sold his adjacent 65 acres. Al did not want to watch the development encroaching upon their until then idyllic space. Jerry Lewis made a strong attempt to purchase the Summit Drive house but he was outbid by another buyer per Krisel's recollection. Al and Cecelia then moved into the penthouse unit at Brandon Hall and began dividing their time between West Hollywood and downtown Rancho Santa Fe where they purchased two Lilian Rice-style apartment buildings and a vacant lot on Paseo Delicias. Their new apartments were steps from the business district so Cecelia could easily walk to the shops and close enough to the Crosby Golf Course for daily golfer Al to take his golf cart from home. They split time between the two locations until Bill designed their three-unit condominium building on the vacant lot in 1957. (See Below). Bill designed as modern a building as he could under the tight Rancho Santa Fe design restrictions.

Krisel compound. Paseo Delicias, Rancho Santa Fe, William Krisel, 1957. Photo by John Crosse, 2009.


Other notable Brandon Hall tenants over the years include: Luise Rainer (who later moved to the Richard Neutra's Strathmore Apartments in Westwood), author Irving WallaceIda LupinoBlake Edwards, founder of Motor Trend and Hot Rod magazines Robert Petersen, Mayer Lansky henchman Gus Greenbaum's girlfriend (whom brother Henry was also friendly with), Howard Hughes's girlfriend, and Charlie Farrell (actor, Mayor of Palm Springs and founder of the Palm Springs Racquet Club with Ralph Bellamy). Krisel reminisced,
"Howard Hughes kept a girlfriend in Brandon Hall. He drove by the building every night at about 2 or 3 a.m. in an old Chevy to see if there were any lights on in her apartment. The bedroom window faced the street. He did allow her to go the the Beverly Hills Hotel Polo Lounge once a week for dinner and drinks. She was allowed to invite some friends along. Hughes paid the bill directly to the hotel as the girlfriend was known at the Polo Lounge. I was lucky enough to have been invited to go to dinner with her quite a few times. Hughes had to OK in advance the 'guests.' I was OK'd." (Krisel 01-17-31 e-mail to the author).
Of Robert "Pete" Peterson he recalled,
"We also had a tenant named Robert Petersen (Pete) who later formed Motor Trend, Hot Rod and many more magazines (and the Petersen Automotive Museum). He also acquired a lot of real estate in Hollywood and what is now West Hollywood (formerly the County). Pete kept his meat and fish, he was a hunter, in my mom's large freezer in the basement of the building. We were friends until his death. He later owned Scandia Restaurant." (ibid).
Brandon Hall Apartments, 8336-46 De Longpre Ave., West Hollywood. Two-story Bill Krisel unit on the right. Photo by John Crosse, 2010.


Brandon Hall's most famous tenant was Marilyn Monroe who moved in in October 1954 upon filing for a divorce from Joe Dimaggio.

The above photo shows Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe, returning to L.A. on September 16, 1954 from the set of the "Seven Year Itch." Earlier that week, Monroe had posed for photographers while standing on a New York City subway grating, her white dress a-flutter around her hips. The jealous DiMaggio witnessed the scene and became furious. Shortly after this photo was taken, Monroe filed for divorce. (See two below).

20th Century Fox telegram to Monroe at Brandon Hall, October 1954. From Kashner, Sam, "The Things She Left Behind," Vanity Fair, October 2008, p. 330).


Seeking to avoid any further confrontations with Dimaggio, Monroe hastily moved out of their rented Palm Drive home in Beverly Hills into Brandon Hall in early October. She was also a former resident of nearby Sunset Tower and a regular at Ciro's and the other close by Sunset Strip watering holes. Monroe's divorce became final October 27th and she started to put the brief, yet tumultuous Dimaggio episode behind her. 

Monroe, then living in Brandon Hall, with attorney Jerry Geisler announcing her plans to divorce Joe Dimaggio, October 7, 1954. Herald Examiner Collection, Los Angeles Public Library.

One final scandal concerning Dimaggio and drinking buddy Frank Sinatra occurred on the night of November 5th in what has become known as "The Wrong Door Raid." Dimaggio, convinced that Marilyn was seeing someone else during their marriage had hired a private detective in an attempt to find incriminating evidence. The P.I. followed Monroe from Brandon Hall to a girlfriend's house and notified Dimmagio. "Joltin Joe", with Frank and axes in tow, broke down a door at the wrong address and thus a scandal was born. (For more details see the link above).

Frank Sinatra testifying before the Grand Jury February 28, 1957. From the Herald Examiner Collection, Los Angeles Public Library.

Grand Jury hearings were convened in 1957 to investigate the event in an attempt to discover better ways to regulate the practices of private detectives. ("Grand Jury Hearings May Call Marilyn in 'Raid' Quiz, L.A. Times, Feb. 27, 1957, p. 1). The hearings soon resulted in a law suit being filed by the victim of the "Wrong Door" raid. ("Sinatra, Dimaggio Sued Over 'Wrong Door' Raid," L.A. Times, June 1, p. II-1).


In 1946, students from UCLA, including William Schallert, Jerry Epstein, Kathleen Freeman along with Sid Rushakoff and Krisel friend Sydney Chaplin created The Circle Theatre in a converted corner grocery store at Waring and El Centro Ave. in Hollywood and the Circle Players were born. The first play to be done in the new space was "Ethan Frome." Having to clean the rubbish and convert the building into a theater was a daunting task. Krisel can be seen bending over a bucket in the foreground of the below photo of the Circle Players readying the theater for opening night. (Article about The Circle Theatre opening)


Circle Theatre under construction circa January 1947. Bill Krisel bending over bucket in foreground. Photo courtesy of the El Centro Theatre Archive.


Charlie Chaplin, allowed access to his vast amount of props for the Players' first production. Antics were common place at The Circle with weekly cushion fights being the norm. After the audience left you might have seen Sydney Chaplin or Bill Schallert pursuing Kathleen Freeman down the streets, while the children across the street at Hollygrove, (Marilyn Monroe stayed there as an orphan.) watched the mayhem. The next play to grace the Circle's stage was, "The Time of Your Life" by William Saroyan. Sydney was in the show and at the time dating Marilyn Monroe, bringing her to watch rehearsals. 


Playbill image from El Centro Theatre Archive.


The cast of Saroyan's "The Time of Your Life.". At the table on far left: Kathleen Freeman, (?), Virginia Morton (the nurse). At the foreground table: Mary DavenportJack KellyJack Conrad. In the background, left to right Ray HykeBill Schallert,(?), Sydney Chaplin, Gloria Greer, Manny Robinson, Edward G. Robinson's son), (?), George Englund, Earle Herdan, Larry Saltersand, Julian Ludwig.

This was the first production that Charlie Chaplin came to. Next up was "Love on the Dole." Then something amazing happened, William Saroyan, sent his new script "Sam's Ego House" and asked if The Circle would consider presenting it. Mr. Saroyan made it to the show, along with Mrs. Clifford Odets and Edward G. Robinson(From Circle Theatre History).


Entrance to the Circle Theatre, opening night, March 1947. Note Bill Krisel's 1947 Cadillac convertible parked right in front, Photo courtesy of the El Centro Theatre Archive


Krisel designed and installed the distinctive graphic signage above the entrance in the above photo of the opening night crowd waiting to get in and prominently parked his new 1947 Cadillac convertible in front to add cachet to the event. Krisel related to me that his father Al bought each of his three boys and himself a brand new Cadillac in 1947. Hillcrest Motors in Beverly Hills had a day to remember as Al wrote a check for all four cars. Krisel remembers having to wait a year before he could qualify for his Cadillac due to post-war shortage restrictions and selling his 1946 Lincoln (see later below) for a profit in the bargain. Krisel also designed the below set for "Rain" and performed an occasional walk-on role whenever one of the Players didn't show up.




Al Krisel's 1947 Cadillac at the entrance gate to the Krisel Residence on Summit Dr. Photo courtesy Bill Krisel.


Set for "Rain" designed by Bill Krisel circa 1948.  


Charlie Chaplin directing the first rehearsal of "Rain." Left to right: Charlie, Leah Waggner, an unknown actor, Kathleen FreemanSydney ChaplinJohn Peri. Back to Camera: June Havoc..El Centro Theatre Archive.

Sydney Chaplin, seen below performing in Funny Girl with Barbara Streisand, would later meet with success on the Broadway stage. Krisel visited Sydney backstage during Funny Girl's Broadway run and met Barbara who was having a brief fling with Sydney at the time. Sydney carved out a respectable career of his own, and is remembered primarily for three Broadway musicals — Bells Are Ringing, for which he won a Best Featured Actor Tony in 1957Subways Are for Sleeping (by the authors of Bells Are Ringing) and Funny Girl (see below), in which his gambler character, Nicky Arnstein, broke Fanny Brice's heart. 

Jean Stapleton, Barbra Streisand and Sydney Chaplin in Funny Girl. Photo from Playbill.com.


Krisel recalls the group often going to McHenry's Bantam Cock Restaurant on La Cienega Blvd. for drinks after the shows and staying until closing time. When he wasn't at the Circle Theatre he was holding his own with a group of now iconic comedy writers including Marty Ragaway, Neil Simon and his brother Danny, Seaman Jacobs, Sid Caesar, Mel Brooks, Larry GelbartMel TolkinLarry Rhine and Danny Arnold. Arnold, also part of the Circle Players, appeared in films as an actor opposite the hot young comic duo Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis (see below) and also wrote the screenplay for, and appeared in, the Martin and Lewis movie The Caddy (1953) and had a relationship with the Chaplin boy's mother Lita Gray. (02-12-2011 Krisel to author e-mail).


1950 poster for "The Caddy" starring Martin & Lewis with Danny Arnold


In Krisel's parlance, "All of them were Jewish, from Brooklyn, apprenticed at the Catskills and came to Hollywood for fame and fortune and pretty girls." Then it was up at 7 a.m. for breakfast at the brand new John Lautner-designed Googie's Coffee Shop next door to Schwab's Drug Store on Sunset (see below) on the way to work at Victor Gruen and Elsie Krummeck's  home they shared with Rudi Baumfeld on Kings Road just up the hill from Sunset Tower.

Goodie's Coffee Shop, 8400 Sunset Blvd., John Lautner, 1948, "Googie Architecture," House & Home, February 1952, p. 86.

Gruen & Krummeck shortly thereafter moved their office to nearby Santa Monica Blvd. one block east of La Cienega Blvd. on the southwest corner. (See below). 

Elsie Krummeck (leaning against Krisel's 1946 Lincoln) and Victor Gruen in front of the Gruen's new offices on Santa Monica Blvd. just east of La Cienega Blvd. Photo by William Krisel, 1947.

Krisel was able to qualify for early delivery of the above 1946 Lincoln due to his WW II service. He remembered that post-war production for the Lincoln line began in March 1946 and his was delivered to the Beverly Hills dealership in April and that it was a big event at the dealership. Gruen used to call on Bill to pick up important clients at the airport whom would assume that the car was Gruen's. Bill also fondly recalls double-dating with Charlie Chaplin, Jr. and Marilyn Monroe in the same vehicle circa 1946-7.

"Ground Broken for Milliron's West End Store," Los Angeles Times, March 16, 1948, p. 1. (From ProQuest).


Krisel's main assignments for Gruen centered around constructing the models for the innovative and highly publicized Milliron's Department Store in Westchester completed in 1949. Bill remembers recruiting many USC classmates for the task and being given the responsibility by Gruen to oversee the building of dozens of models required for all aspects of this major project. (See above).



Mocambo Nightclub, Sunset Strip. USC Digital Collection.  Photographer: Lou Mack. Date 1957-07-23.

It was the nightlife of Krisel's neighborhood, the "Sunset Strip," which made headlines across the nation. The portion of the famous Boulevard in the unincorporated area became the "playground of the stars," augmenting the clubs and restaurants of downtown Hollywood. During the late 1930s through the 1950s "The Strip" was the center of Hollywood’s public social life, and the names of its nightclubs – the Trocadero, Mocambo (see above), Ciro’s and a host of others – were synonymous with the carefree, glamorous existence to which every starlet aspired. They were packed each night with Hollywood celebrities, Los Angeles socialites, and tourists. The Strip was also a forerunner or prototype for the Las Vegas Strip where Frank Sinatra and his Rat Pack and many other big name acts performed. Martin & Lewis debuted at Ciro's in 1950 and Sammy Davis, Jr. made his famous comeback there in 1956. Sinatra's first take on Martin and Lewis was not entirely enthusiastic: "The dago's lousy, but the little Jew is great." (Hollywood's Celebrity Gangster: The Incredible Life and Times of Mickey Cohen by Brad Lewis, p. 86).


Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis at the July 28, 1950 Las Vegas premiere of "My Friend Irma Goes West." Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection.

John Lindsay, short-time Palmer & Krisel partner in 1951-52, was married to actress Diana Lynn seen on the above El Portal Theatre marquee in Las Vegas. Martin & Lewis were "discovered" at Slapsy Maxie's in 1948 and received contracts from Hal Wallis at Paramount Studios for "My Friend Irma" released in 1949. (See Wilshire Boulevard: Grand Concourse of Los Angeles by Kevin Roderick and J. Eric Lynxwiler, Angel City Presss, p. 137). Lynn co-starred with Martin & Lewis, first in "My Friend Irma" and then in "My Friend Irma Goes West" which had its world premiere in Las Vegas in July 1950. (See above). Fellow marquee-mate and co-star John Lund also commissioned Krisel to design a custom home in Coldwater Canyon in 1952.

"Architect John Lindsay had stars in his eyes for his pretty fiance, Diana Lynn at a swank Hollywood garden party given by Hotel Tycoon Arnold Kirkeby for Kay Thompson. Starlet Cathy Downs swapped chit-chat with them." From Chicago Sun-Times, December 18, 1948.

Krisel recalled, 

“My good friend John Lindsay (see above), who was an architect, was married to Diana Lynn, who was a movie actress and also a concert pianist in the era of Liza Minelli’s mother [Judy Garland]. Anyway, she and another young lady were all in a stable at the studio and John had married Diana and I was a bachelor and he used to fix me up with a lot of movie starlets and whatnot.” (Krisel Oral History, p. 53).

Lindsay, who like a moth was also attracted to the bright lights of The Strip, brought in numerous clients through his Hollywood connections but according to Krisel, he never signed them up for high enough fees for the firm to make a profit so they had to let him go. 


Abbe Lane at Ciro's, June 4, 1954. Photo by Michael Ochs courtesy of Getty Images. 


The above photo of Abbe Lane posing in front of Ciro's instantly brought to mind Krisel's1956 rendering for George Alexander's Ocotillo Lodge in Palm Springs. (See below). George Alexander's vision of transplanting some of the glamor of the Sunset Strip to Palm Springs couldn't have been in better hands than Krisel's. Las Vegas also came of age in the 1950s bringing in the acts from the Sunset Strip glory days to headline at the rash of new casinos. Many of these same stars would also go on to build vacation homes in Palm Springs.

William Krisel rendering for the Ocotillo Lodge, Palm Springs for George Alexander, 1956. From the Krisel Archive, Getty Research Institute.


A young college man recently back from the war living a block away from the "action" couldn't help but be attracted to glitter of The Strip. A typical evening for Bill in his single days while still living at Brandon Hall might go like this: drinks and dinner with a date at the Polo Lounge, and then on to any combination of the La Rue, the Mocambo, Ciro's, Dave's Blue Room and/or Slapsy Maxie's. Just as with Slapsy Maxie's, former "Bugsy" Siegel lieutenant Mickey Cohen (see below) had his hand in much of the activity along the strip as part of Mayer Lansky's buildup of his West Coast and Las Vegas empire.

Gangster Mickey Cohen posing for a Life Magazine feature article "Trouble in Los Angeles," Life, January 16, 1950.

Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz at a Ciro's charity benefit, May 24, 1956. Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS.


Prohibition was probably the strongest reason for the advent of the Sunset Strip’s popularity. It was outside of the Los Angeles city limits and therefore outside the jurisdiction of the then scandal-ridden Los Angeles Police Department. At the same time, it was very close to Hollywood and to Beverly Hills, making it a convenient place for people to eat, shop, and socialize. The nightclubs also served an important function in publicizing the idea of Hollywood glamor and excitement to an international audience of movie fans, as they provided a setting for stars to dress lavishly, to socialize together, and perhaps most important, to be photographed. (See above and below).

Celebrating the upcoming marriage of Nancy Davis (left) to Ronald Reagan, are Mrs. Dean Martin (Jeanne Biegger) and Dean Martin (right) at Ciro's Nightclub on the Sunset Strip on February 23, 1952. From Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection.


Upon graduation from USC in 1949, Krisel formed a partnership with Dan Palmer, whom he met while working for Gruen. Their first office was carved out of the crawl space below Dan's aunt Pauline's R. M. Schindler-designed Falk Apartments in Silverlake where he resided with wife Doris. (See my The First Palmer & Krisel Office for more on this). The practice quickly blossomed with an early focus on custom single family residences and some small commercial work. The firm's breakthrough tract project, their bread and butter in their salad days, came in 1952 with their first major subdivision for the George Alexander Company, i.e., Corbin Palms in the Canoga Park neighborhood of the San Fernando Valley. (See tract brochure below).

Corbin Palms Tract Brochure, George Alexander Company, 1953. Image courtesy KriselKeeper.


William and Corinne Krisel Residence, Corbin Palms, Canoga Park, William Krisel, Architect, 1953. Photo: Douglas M. Simmonds Job No. 356-36. Courtesy Krisel Archive, Getty Research Institute.

Krisel met his wife-to-be Corinne in 1952 and after a 10-month courtship they were married, honeymooned in Hawaii and moved into one of the Corbin Palms houses in 1953. Bill customized the house with built-in furniture upholstered by George Kasparian and the couple installed modern furniture from Knoll and other modernist suppliers. (See below).  Bill surprised Corinne with the new 1955 Thunderbird when she came home from the hospital with their first child, son William.

William and Corinne Krisel Residence living room, Corbin Palms, Canoga Park, William Krisel, Architect, 1953. Photo: Douglas M. Simmonds Job No. 356-38. Courtesy Krisel Archive, Getty Research Institute.

As mentioned at the beginning, George and Jimmie Alexander were attracted by the glamorous Hollywood and Sunset Strip life-style, sold their house in Hancock Park and bought Sunset Tower and prime adjacent land to the west and other land in the unincorporated West Hollywood to take advantage of the less stringent building regulations in then unincorporated West Hollywood. George seemed bent on establishing an empire around this Sunset Strip landmark. The Sunset Tower has undergone various iterations of remodeling under a series of different owners over the years. The below brochure appears to be from the late 1940s and would have been close to the state the hotel was in when purchased by George Alexander in 1955.

Sunset Tower marketing brochure, circa late 1940s. (From my collection).

Sunset Tower marketing brochure, circa late 1940s. (From my collection).

Pleased with the profitability of Palmer & Krisel's tract designs, Alexander commissioned the rapidly growing firm to design four more projects in close proximity. George's vision began with first having P&K remodel some commercial space for the firm's new offices at 8462 Sunset Blvd. (at Queens Ave.) near La Cienega Blvd. Then came the design for the remodel of Sunset Tower and addition of new amenities such as the pool and cabana to increase the building's rental value. He and wife Jimmie would move into the penthouse after their interior remodel work was done. He concurrently had P&K design a new apartment building, Sunset Tower West, on the adjacent land at 8400 Sunset and the Sycamore Lanai Apartment Building nearby.


The Alexanders lived in the Krisel family's Brandon Hall Apartments while their Sunset Tower penthouse was being remodeled. Krisel knew that they needed a temporary place close to the construction activity and there happened to be an opening at Brandon Hall that suited their needs. Krisel recently recalled an anecdote from Jimmie's brief stay at there,
"[Jimmie] walked to the corner market at Sweetzer and Santa Monica Blvd. every day to shop and always wore her 7-carat diamond ring while doing so. One day, while walking home to Brandon Hall, she was held up and robbed of the diamond ring. From then on, my mom never wore her large diamond ring while shopping." (01-15-2011 Bill Krisel to John Crosse e-mail).
Looking east on the Sunset Strip from the Alexander penthouse balcony. USC Digital Collection. Photographer: Lou Mack. Date 1957-07-23.

After the Alexander's Sunset Tower penthouse remodel was complete they moved across the street from Brandon Hall  to this view from their new balcony. To the east (above) at the center top is the legendary Chateau Marmont and to the west (below) in the center across the street is none other than Ciro's.

Looking west on the Sunset Strip from the Alexander penthouse balcony, 1957. USC Digital CollectionPhotographer: Lou Mack. Date 1957-07-23.

Sunset Strip overlooking the Los Angeles basin. Herman Schultheis photo, no date. Los Angeles Library Photo Collection.


They didn't have far to move their belongings as the above perspective illustrates. Sunset Tower is center-right, the rooftop of Brandon Hall is clearly visible to the left of the Tower and Chateau Marmont is at the lower left. This image captures the personal residences of Bill Krisel from 1946 through 1953 (and his siblings and parents for much of the same time span) and George and Jimmie Alexander from 1955 to 1957, not to mention hundreds of Hollywood celebrities. 

George and Jimmie Alexander. From When Mod Went Mass: A Celebration of Alexander Homes, Palm Springs Historic Site Foundation, 2000, p. 3.

The Alexanders not only loved the view but also the glamorous life-style and where better to hold court than their new Sunset Strip aerie. Some of the largest egos in Hollywood called the Sunset Tower penthouse home besides the Alexanders such as: Howard Hughes, John Wayne, Jerry Buss, and Frank Sinatra. Other celebrities who have lived in the building include erstwhile Krisel Summit Drive neighbor Paulette Goddard, former Brandon Hall tenant Marilyn Monroe, Jean Harlow, Clark Gable and Carole Lombard, Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Ava Gardner, Truman Capote, Mae West, Elizabeth Taylor, Conrad Hilton, gangster "Bugsy" Siegel – who was eventually evicted for running a gambling center out of his room, Diana Ross, Preston Sturges, Werner Klemperer, 40-year resident Lloyd Pantages, and, more recently, Ann Arbor's own, Iggy Pop, who made a habit of jumping into the hotel pool from his apartment window. 


Sunset Tower front entry before the Krisel remodel. Herman Schultheis photo, no date. Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection.


Bill Krisel rendering of the porte cochere for Sunset Tower, 8358 Sunset Blvd., 1955. "$1,000,000 Remodeling Program Furthered," Los Angeles Times, December 4, 1955, p. VI-1. From ProQuest.

With the $1,000,000 modernization program for the 13-story Sunset Tower, Alexander envisioned making it one of the most luxurious apartment buildings on the West Coast. Krisel not only designed a new more modern porte cochere for the entry way (see rendering above and as-built below), but also a complete remodeling of the lower facade and renovation and redecoration of the entire interior lobby and the construction on the adjacent property of a large swimming pool and 12 cabanas as well as dressing rooms, dining terrace, and an alfresco snack bar with its own kitchen. (See photos later below).


Sunset Tower sporting the new Palmer & Krisel porte cochere, 1955. (Note the rooftop of Brandon Hall at the lower left). Photographer unknown. Courtesy Krisel Archive, Getty Research Institute.

The new entrance to the building (see above), had a facing of travertine marble, paving of beige terrazzo accented with charcoal chips and a square canopy of charcoal brown and beige panels suspended on a frame of slender steel rods. The main lobby, exposed by a full-glass wall, echoed the color scheme of the entrance, with beige and charcoal walls, pendant "bubble" light, travertine cocktail tables and other furnishings.


The elevator lobbies on the other floors of the apartment building, also designed by Krisel, feature large expanses of smoked mirror and special lighting filtered through translucent glass ceilings.


William Krisel rendering, Sunset Tower Pool & Cabanas, Palmer & Krisel, 1955. Krisel Archive, Getty Research Institute.


Landscaping, also designed by Krisel, provided an arresting view from above, with mosaic terrazzo paving and multi-colored cabana roofs presenting a dramatic and colorful visual pattern to apartment dwellers looking down from their windows. Krisel would soon be putting many of these same design elements to good use for Alexander in Palm Springs.


Sunset Tower Pool & Cabanas, Palmer & Krisel, 1955. Julius Shulman Job No. 2248, 08-10-1956. Krisel Archive, Getty Research Institute. 


Sunset Tower Pool & Cabanas, Palmer & Krisel, 1955. Julius Shulman Job No. 2248, 08-10-1956. Krisel Archive, Getty Research Institute.


Sunset Tower Pool & Cabanas, Palmer & Krisel, 1955. Julius Shulman Job No. 2248, 08-10-1956. Krisel Archive, Getty Research Institute. 


Sunset Tower Pool & Cabanas, Palmer & Krisel, 1955. Julius Shulman Job No. 2248, 08-10-1956. Krisel Archive, Getty Research Institute. 


Anthony Pool ad, Los Angeles Times, 1957, p. . From ProQuest.


View of the pool and cabanas looking west towards the vacant lot of the future Sunset Tower West discussed below. Julius Shulman Job No. 2248, 08-10-1956. Krisel Archive, Getty Research Institute.  


Sunset Tower Pool & Cabanas, Palmer & Krisel, 1955. Julius Shulman Job No. 2248, 08-10-1956. Krisel Archive, Getty Research Institute. 


Krisel rendering of the Sunset Blvd. elevation of Sunset Tower West, 8400 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, 1956. From Building News, March 22, 1956.

Alexander also purchased land next door to Sunset Tower and concurrently had Palmer & Krisel design a new luxury apartment-office building he named Sunset Tower West at 8400 Sunset Blvd. (See above rendering and below Julius Shulman photos of the model.


The $1,250,000 structure was designed to occupy the entire sloping site between Sunset Blvd. and De Longpre Ave. (see below), with the office section fronting on the Sunset and the two wings of the apartment house radiating out from it towards the south, directly across the street from the Krisel family's Brandon Hall Apartments.


Sunset Tower West Model, 8400 Sunset Blvd., Palmer & Krisel, 1956. Julius Shulman Job No, 2267, 09-18-1956, Krisel Archive, Getty Research Institute.


The building originally contained 12,000 square feet of refrigerated air-conditioned office space and 99 apartments; all except the bachelor units with their own kitchens and most of them with private terraces or balconies. A two-level subterranean garage accommodates 100 cars.

View west down Sunset Blvd., Sunset tower on the left and Sunset Tower West, center, William Krisel for George Alexander, 1956. Courtesy Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection. 


Except for a wide windowless panel of travertine marble, the original north facade of the building was almost entirely of glass; relieved only by slender aluminum mullions and spandrels and, at the entrance, a decorative mural of mosaic tile. (See above). The lobby, which served both sections of the building, led directly to a tropically landscaped patio and swimming pool flanked by the two divergent wings of the apartment house. (See below).


Sunset Tower West Model, 8400 Sunset Blvd., Palmer & Krisel, 1956. Julius Shulman Job No, 2267, 09-18-1956, Krisel Archive, Getty Research Institute.


Because of the slope of the site and the orientation of the building every apartment had a virtually unobstructed view of the city to the south and west or the elaborately planted grounds and cabana club of the Sunset Tower immediately to the east. Palmer & Krisel also designed the interiors and color schemes of the apartments which featured mirrored walls and special built-in fumishings. An elevator serviced all floors and switchboard, maid and laundry facilities were originally provided. The building has been remodeled numerous times over the years.


William Krisel rendering of  the Sycamore Lanai Apts. designed for the George Alexander Co., 1955. "Hollywood Project," Los Angeles Times, November 27, 1955, p. VI-2. From ProQuest.

Sycamore Lanai Apartments, 1736 N. Sycamore Ave., Hollywood, Palmer & Krisel for George Alexander Company. Julius Shulman Job No. 2414, 06-12-1957, Krisel Archive, Getty Research Institute.


Also in late 1955 Alexander commissioned Palmer & Krisel to design the 36-unit Sycamore Lanai apartment complex at 1726 N. Sycamore Ave. in Hollywood seen above and below in these Julius Shulman photos. Julius staged a 1956 Oldsmobile in the driveway while Krisel preferred a T-Bird. Like the Sunset Tower West Apartments above, Sycamore Lanai came with Krisel-designed interioirs and built-in furniture which helped Alexander maximize his rent potential.



Sycamore Lanai Apartments, 1736 N. Sycamore Ave., Hollywood, Palmer & Krisel for George Alexander Company. Julius Shulman Job No.2414, 06-12-1957, Krisel Archive, Getty Research Institute.  


George's vision for his construction company changed in 1956 when his health took a turn for the worse and, under his doctor's advice to seek a warmer, drier climate, he decided to relocate his George Alexander Company base of operations to Palm Springs. The Alexanders had already been enamored of the desert where they had been spending many weekends each winter. The timing couldn't have been better for the firm as the popularity of the desert resort was ready to explode. It would be there where he and his son Bob and Bill Krisel would form the desert team that would go down in Palm Springs Modernism history.


The Palmer & Krisel firm's productivity was at it's peak the next few years with $50,000,000 worth of construction on the partnership's drawing boards in 1957 which garnered the firm a top twenty national ranking. A rift in the relationship occurred in the late 1950s caused a division of responsibilities with Krisel taking over Palm Springs and San Diego and while Palmer was left with Los Angeles and Orange County. The pair operated separately but under the same banner under the advice of their attorney so as to maintain the goodwill they had worked so hard to earn in the early 1950s. The pair split up for good in 1964.

Rendering, William and Corinne Krisel Residence, Tigertail Rd. Brentwood. From the Krisel Archive, Getty Research Institute.

The Krisel's Alexander-built Corbin Palms home was always intended to be just a place to start their lives together and their family until they found a lot more to their liking in Brentwood. Krisel was attracted to the aesthetic of the Mutual Housing Authority community of Crestwood Hills and its A. Quincy Jones-inspired modernist architecture and the couple bought a lot on Tigertail Rd. slightly down the hill. He designed the couple's dream home seen above and below and they moved in in 1957. (Author's note: Conan O'Brien moved across the street from the Krisels about two years ago.).



William and Corinne Krisel Residence, Tigertail Rd. Brentwood, 1957. Julius Shulman Job No. 2764, 02-04-1958. From the Krisel Archive, Getty Research Institute.


After a good ten-year run collaborating on numerous now iconic projects with Krisel beginning with the Ocotillo Lodge in 1956, Twin Palms, Racquet Club Road Estates, Vistas Las Palmas and others, the Alexander family met a tragic fate in a November 15, 1965 plane crash. It is fun to speculate what might have been had the firms had another ten or fifteen years to continue to develop the Mecca it has become despite the tragedy. The Alexanders would undoubtedly be pleased to know that their beloved landmark maintains it's glamor to this day playing annual host to one of the most prestigious Oscar after-parties sponsored by Vanity Fair Magazine.


Los Angeles Times, November 16, 1965. From ProQuest.


Also for a more in-depth look at Krisel's 1924 birth and childhood in Shanghai and his formative Beverly Hills years I recommend viewing the documentary on his life,"William Krisel: Architect" which will have a special screening on February 20th in Palm Springs in conjunction with the Palm Springs Modernism Week festivities.

For additional reading on William Krisel and George Alexander I recommend:

Julius Shulman: Palm Springs by Michael Sternand Alan Hess, Rizzoli, 2010.

When Mod Went Mass: A Celebration of Alexander Homes, Palm Springs Historic Site Foundation, 2000

Robert & Helene Alexander Residence I, "Royal Desert Palms," Palm Springs. Julius Shulman Job No. 2368. 03-21-1957. Palm Springs Life, February 2007.

Lawford Residence, designed by William Krisel for the Alexander Construction Co., 1960. Vistas Las Palmas, Palm Springs.(See also below).

Above and below are the Peter Lawford House in the Alexander's Vistas Las Palmas subdivision in Palm Springs. Henry Krisel ran with the "Rat Pack" and knew of Lawford's tennis weekends at the Palm Springs Racquet Club. He recommended Bill's houses and Lawford ended up buying the one pictured here where many Palm Springs legends were born.

From left, Peter Lawford, Patricia Kennedy, Frank Sinatra, and Marilyn Monroe in Lawford's Krisel-designed home in Vistas Las Palmas in Palm Springs, 1960. From Jackson, Nate, "Pack's world of cool," Los Angeles Times, January 16, 2011. Ted Allan photo, mptvimages.com.

Dean Martin Residence designed by Krisel in the Alexander Vistas Las Palmas subdivision near the Lawford Residence.

Robert and Helene Alexander House II aka "The House of Tomorrow" and the Elvis Presley Honeymoon House, Vistas Las Palmas, Palm Springs, William Krisel, 1962. CA Modern Magazine, Winter 2011, Cover and pp. 12-17.

Krisel Resources

Bill Krisel explaining contents of his archive to Wim de Wit and Christopher Alexander of the Getty Research Institute at his Rancho Santa Fe compound prior to acquisition by the Getty. John Crosse photo, summer 2009.


Palmer & Krisel and the Imperial ’400′ Motels: Spreading Good Design to Mid-Century Travelers


William Krisel’s First Professional Published Project: The Dan Palmer Deck at Schindler’s Falk Apartments, Silverlake, 1949 and the First Palmer & Krisel Office


William Krisel, Architect: Los Angeles Premiere, April 13th, Getty Museum Harold Williams Auditorium


Upcoming Krisel Events

January 29, 2011: Alexander Weekend Pre-Party

February 17-27, 2011: Palm Springs Modernism Week

February 20, 2011: William Krisel: Architect, 2:30 p.m.

March 17, 2011: The Future of the Architectural Profession in Southern California, 7:00 p.m., Studio Pali Fekete Gallery. Panel discussion featuring Zoltan Pali. William Krisel, Krisel award-winning subdivision client Harlan Lee, and Architect's Newspaper writer Sam Lubell.

March 25-27, 2011: Alexander Weekend

March 25, 2011: Alexander Weekend Kickoff Event, 6-7:30 p.m. (Invited panelists include architects Bill Krisel and Don Wexler along with author Alan Hess and author/architect Patrick McGrew. Canyon Conference Center (Spa Hotel), 140 N. Indian Canyon Drive.

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Southern California Architectural History: William Krisel and George Alexander in Hollywood, 1937-1956 - Los Angeles-Platinum Triangle-Beverly Hills Real Estate-90210-Bel Air-Holmby Hills-Sunset Strip-Hollywood Hills-Luxury Estates-Mansions-Celebrity Homes-Homes For Sale-Listings-Realtor-Real Estate – http://www.ChristopheChoo.com

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