Family Affair, Story Untold - Page 4

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

George and Jimmie loved to entertain friends from Los Angeles and business associates at the Racquet Club. "It was the place to be seen," Krisel says. "If it was New Years Eve, and you weren't at the Racquet Club, you were nobody." The Alexanders retained the club's well-liked founder, actor Charles Farrell, as club host while planning to expand and upgrade the club, working with Krisel as architect.

Bob loved Palm Springs' social whirl, Shirley Polier remembers. But it was Helene who planned "wonderful, imaginative parties," often with guests in costume. They invited stars -- Barbara Sinatra, Dinah Shore -- as well as the mailman and the guys who cleaned their pool, Polier says. Jill remembers her parents' cocktail glasses, each embossed with the name of one of their friends.

During the annual Desert Circus, when people dressed up like cowboys, rode through town on horses, and 'arrested' and fined anyone not in costume to raise funds for charity, Bob and Helene were front and center, Polier says. "Everyone wanted to be Helene and Bob's friend," she says. "They followed whatever they planned or did."

Bob drove a Jaguar XKE convertible and a Honda motorcycle, Jill says. "We did a lot of dune-buggying together," she recalls. "He was definitely a kid at heart." In his quieter moments, Bob constructed model airplanes, which he displayed in town at Uncle Don's Toys. "I was so proud," Jill recalls.

The Alexanders' death hit the community hard, with a front-page banner headline in the Desert Sun. Shirley Polier was stunned, in part because in flying together, Bob and Helene had violated their own rule -- one they had lectured Shirley and her husband about. A couple with children, they had said, should never fly together.

"All their friends just fell apart," Polier says. "We missed them tremendously because they were the center of our lives."

newspaper articles about the crash

The Alexanders were bound for West Hollywood, where Helene's brother was celebrating the completion of a condo tower he had built. Eight people died in the crash, including the pilot and co-pilot of the small jet, and several friends -- including a 12-year-old boy. The crash happened at 5:20 p.m. November 14, 1965 during a rainstorm, eight minutes after takeoff. George was 67, Jimmie 61, Bob 40, and Helene 38.

What would the Alexanders have accomplished in future years? Besides drawing up plans for a revamped Racquet Club, Krisel had been working with Bob on plans for condo communities with shared pools and common areas. Polier's husband, Philip Abrams, was working with the Alexanders on an ambitious plan for housing in the hills southwest of town, she says.

"His plans for building went far beyond the homes that they had put up," Dan Kaplan says of George. At one point, George had proposed that the city build another north-south route paralleling Palm Canyon Drive, to the west. The idea was nixed. George was also interested in retail and commercial development, Kaplan says.

Over the past decade, Alexander homes have surged in popularity, bringing new attention to the architect who designed them and the family that built them.

"It's been kind of fun," says Jill Kitnick, who named her oldest son Alexander "after all of them."

"I feel it's extended their lives, in a way," Kitnick says of the newfound appreciation for all things Alexander. "They had a short life. But it's extended the recognition."


Photos: Cal Bernstein (courtesy Roz Bernstein), Barry Sturgill, John Eng, Robert Doisneau, Georgia Ashby, David W. Johnson; and courtesy Ron and Barbara Marshall of the Palm Springs Preservation Foundation, Peter Moruzzi of the Palm Springs Modern Committee, Jeri Vogelsang of the Palm Springs Historical Society, Chris Sauder of the Palm Springs Public Library, Francine Deroudille of Atelier Robert Doisneau, Nat Gozzano and John Shields of racquetclubestates.com, Los Angeles Times, Bill Krisel, Don Wexler, John Crosse

Photo of the 'House of Tomorrow' under construction is from the book 'Palm Springs 1960' by Robert Doisneau (Flammarion-Rizzoli International)

Alexander family photos reprinted with permission of Palm Springs Life and Desert Publications Inc.