Family Affair, Story Untold - Page 3

Desert modern builders George and Bob Alexander found common ground through daring decisions and hard work

Dan Kaplan, a doctor like his father, moved to the desert in 1960 and became friends with Bob and Helene. "My impression was, Bob was a very bright and effective individual and he did the day-to-day management," Kaplan says. "But in my recollection, George was the visionary. He was the idea person."

The Alexanders' first project in town was the Ocotillo Lodge, built in 1956, which was adjacent to one of their first subdivisions, Twin Palms. George and Jimmie lived at the Ocotillo themselves for a time. And George used the Ocotillo as a place for friends and associates from Los Angeles to stay while visiting town. George always showed off his latest houses, Krisel says, and many of his friends bought.

octillo lodge

Krisel designed an office-warehouse for the Alexanders in Palm Springs' industrial north end, which allowed Bob to rationalize production. Bob wanted to make sure that subcontractors would be ready to roll on time. So the subs were required to rent space in the warehouse and stock it with everything they needed for the job -- lumber, bathtubs, wiring. "Everything had to be in the warehouse before they would put a shovel in the ground," Krisel says.

Some contractors complained that the Alexanders were too demanding, Krisel says. But Bob believed in loyalty, promising that contractors who agreed to work only for the Alexanders would always have enough work. Many were made partners in the projects to ensure loyalty.

"He was a good organizer," Krisel says of Bob. "He got everybody to produce and do their job to the best of their ability."

Krisel remembers visiting job sites with Bob, checking the framing, the windows for each model, determining if there was any waste. Then Bob would order exactly what was needed for each house, not a stick more.

night lights on canyon palm drive

The lumber for each house would be bundled in advance and then dropped off on site. On one of the boards would be printed 'Alexander' -- the 'Alexander signature' that many owners still see today in their homes.

Much of the building took place during the summer, when temperatures top 100 degrees. But houses had to be ready for buyers in the fall. Crews worked from four in the morning to noon. Bob spent summers in town, often commuting to Newport Beach, where Helene and Jill summered.

"They were the epitome of a tight-knit, family-owned company," Krisel says. "They built very efficiently with very little waste."

Father and son functioned well as a team. Throughout his life, Bob strove to please his father, says Shirley Abrams Polier, who was friends with Bob at Fairfax High, and also knew him well in Palm Springs, where her husband, Philip Abrams, was the Alexanders' environmental civil engineer.

an alexander steel house today

"George was a very strong personality," she remembers. "He demanded to be in charge, and Bob certainly followed." Bob was more laid back than his father, more sensitive, she says. "We felt that George demanded a lot of Bob," she says. "Bob had to be right there for him."

When they weren't working, George and Bob Alexander knew how to have fun. "This was a family that loved to live -- enjoyed life at its fullest," Gloria Greer, a family friend, wrote in the Palm Springs Desert Sun, the local newspaper, two days after they died. "George Alexander was an adventurer at heart -- he was the 'king' to his close friends, and they called him that!"

All the Alexanders enjoyed horseback riding, Greer reported, and George had been anxious to get back in the saddle after recuperating from an appendectomy. He loved Palm Springs. "This is where George wants to be," Jimmie told Greer just days before the crash, "and if this is what he wants, then that's the way it will be."

advertisement and racquet ball house

George, who lived in a Spanish Colonial house in Palm Springs' Old Las Palmas, served on the Palm Springs Economic Development Commission and kept his hand in several real estate ventures, including a theater in Hollywood. The Alexanders were also partners in the Desert Inn, a Palm Springs landmark that they'd bought from Marion Davies.