Scope and Content of Collection
Title: William Krisel papers
Date (inclusive): 1935-2014
390.6 linear feet
(57 boxes, 411 flatfiles, 36 boxed rolls)
The Getty Research Institute
1200 Getty Center Drive, Suite 1100
Los Angeles, California, 90049-1688
Southern California architect William Krisel is a pioneering designer of mid-century residential and commercial architecture,
known mainly for his affordable homes expressing the modern aesthetic. Consisting of drawings, photographs, documents, and
articles, the archive contributes greatly to the study of mid-century modernism and postwar housing trends, particularly the
development of tract housing, in California.
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Language: Collection material is in
William Krisel was born in 1924 in Shanghai, China to American parents and was raised there until the family relocated to
Beverly Hills, California in 1937. Krisel developed an early interest in architecture that he attributes to his father's correspondence
with Rancho Santa Fe architect Lilian Rice, who designed a home for the family in California. He enrolled at the University
of Southern California (USC) as an architecture student in 1941, but his studies were interrupted by the onset of World War
II. He served for three years as a Chinese interpreter before returning to USC in 1946. As a student, Krisel apprenticed at
the offices of Paul Laszlo and Victor Gruen and Associates. He graduated in 1949 and obtained his license in 1950, the same
year he formalized his partnership with architect Dan Saxon Palmer. He earned his license as a landscape architect in 1954.
The firm, Palmer & Krisel, AIA, Architects (including for a brief period a third partner, John Lindsay) focused its early
efforts on commercial projects and custom homes in Bel Air and Brentwood, where they experimented with the modular post-and-beam
system that they would later employ in their tract houses. In 1952, Palmer and Krisel completed their first tract development,
consisting of ten houses in the San Fernando Valley. The success of this modest project established a collaboration with the
family-owned Alexander Construction Company, which commenced on a large scale with the Corbin Palms development in 1953.
Over the next decade, Palmer and Krisel expanded their practice to meet the needs of the booming housing industry by offering
a complete array of services to clients and builders. Their work came to be characterized by unique siting, minimal ornamentation,
butterfly roofs, and large glass windows, all of which reflected ongoing popular interest in casual indoor-outdoor living.
The standardized designs of these single-family tract homes made them both easy to construct and affordable for first-time
homebuyers. The residential projects reveal Krisel's interest in experimenting with construction methods, building materials,
and layout patterns, as well as his consideration of lifestyle changes after World War II. Krisel, though invited to participate
in the Case Study Program, never found a client who was willing to volunteer his or her home for public scrutiny. Nevertheless,
his work with Palmer represented the mass replication of the ideals and aesthetic of the program, moving beyond prototype
to meet the large-scale needs of the postwar housing boom. Over the next decade, the pair would design approximately 20,000
units of housing in Southern California.
Looking to broaden their market, the Alexanders turned to the Coachella Valley as a site of recreational development. In order
to bring visitors to Palm Springs and the surrounding area, they commissioned a destination resort in 1954, which Palmer and
Krisel designed on a ten-acre site. The Ocotillo Lodge was completed in 1957 and featured a striking modern design juxtaposed
against the warm desert landscape. Additional Alexander tracts in the vicinity of the resort made the ownership of second
residences outside of Los Angeles, including condominiums and single family houses, popular among members of the middle class.
These projects include Twin Palm Estates, Racquet Club Road Estates, and the Sandpiper Condominiums. The homes were notable
for their textured landscaping, concrete block walls, extensive glass walls featuring desert views, and swimming pools, emphasizing
an elegant, but relaxed lifestyle. Krisel also designed a lavish home for Bob and Helene Alexander, which was known as "The
House of Tomorrow."
Palmer and Krisel ended their partnership in 1964, and Krisel practiced independently until 1969, when he formed a new partnership
with architect Abraham Shapiro. Krisel/Shapiro & Associates (KSA) designed many large office complexes, condominiums, senior
homes, apartments, and commercial buildings. One of their more notable projects was the development of Coronado Shores, a
condominium master plan consisting of ten fifteen-story towers located on the beach just south of the Hotel del Coronado in
San Diego. The firm was in business until 1979, when Krisel sold his share to Shapiro. Since 1980, Krisel has worked as an
architectural consultant in the field of housing and forensic architecture.
Krisel's career experienced a rebirth in the mid-2000s with the resurgence of interest in mid-century design. Many of his
homes have been restored, particularly those in Palm Springs, and at least one developer began building new homes from updated
versions of Krisel's old plans. He has received numerous awards and recognition for his architectural and landscaping projects
from national, state, and local organizations.
Open for use by qualified researchers, with the exception of the unreformatted computer files. Flat file folder 131A is restricted
William Krisel Papers, 1935-2014, The Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles, Accession no. 2009.M.23
Gift of William and Corinne Krisel. Acquired in 2009, with subsequent additions.
In 2011 and 2012 with grant funding from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR), Laura Dominguez, Mitchell
Erzinger, and Suzanne Noruschat processed the collection and created the inventory under the supervision of Ann Harrison.
A small number of periodicals and books were transferred to the library.
Scope and Content of Collection
The William Krisel papers detail the prolific career of one of Southern California's most successful architects. The archive
emphasizes Krisel's important role as an architect for the masses, bringing affordable, well-designed modern residences and
landscapes to middle class families throughout the region, including Los Angeles, San Diego, and the Coachella Valley. It
also documents his influence in a range of building types, including custom homes, tract houses, apartments, condominiums,
and commercial, industrial and institutional buildings. The archive is a significant resource for the study of mass-produced
housing and mid-century aesthetics in Southern California, particularly in light of the recent resurgence of interest in Krisel's
work among homeowners.
The project drawings and records in Series I form the core of the archive. Drawings, documentation and photographs, including
images by Julius Shulman, representing over 300 projects form a cross-section of Krisel's work from the 1950s through the
1970s. The series demonstrates Krisel's commitment to collaborating with developers throughout the region in order to produce
great quantities of high quality residences. Included are materials from Corbin Palms (Woodland Hills, 1953-1955), Krisel
and Palmer's first large project for George Alexander, which featured four basic house plans with different elevations, color
schemes, landscaping and siting, as well as materials for the Sandpiper Condominiums, a complex of pinwheel-shaped buildings
constructed in Palm Desert and Indian Wells between 1958 and 1966 by two separate developers. The series also includes a large
number of commercial and industrial projects, such as industrial parks, shopping centers, medical and office buildings, and
hotels. Of particular note is the Ocotillo Lodge in Palm Springs (1955-1957), which he designed for Alexander Construction
and Joseph Dunas as a destination resort to attract potential homeowners to the Coachella Valley.
Two small series complete the archive. Series II is comprised of documentation relating to the broader aspects of Krisel's
career as an architect, including correspondence, awards and diplomas, general press coverage and documentation of the various
architectural firms with which he worked. A very small third series includes personal papers such as military honors, family
photographs and portraits of Krisel.
Arranged in three series:
Series I. Project drawings and records, 1946-2014, undated;
Series II. Professional papers, 1938-2013, undated;
Series III. Personal papers, 1935-2009, undated.
Subjects - Corporate Bodies
Alexander Construction Company
Subjects - Topics
Architects and builders--California--20th century
Architects and housing developers--California--20th century
Architecture, Modern--20th century--California, Southern
Architecture--California--Los Angeles--20th century
Architecture--California--San Diego--20th century
Modern movement (Architecture)--California
Subjects - Places
Coachella Valley (Calif.)--Buildings, structures, etc.
Los Angeles (Calif.)--Buildings, structures, etc.--20th century
Palm Springs (Calif.)-Buildings, structures, etc.
San Diego (Calif.)-Buildings, structures, etc.-20th century
Genres and Forms of Material
Architectural drawings--United States--20th century
Photographic prints--California--20th century
Slides (photographs)--20th century
Krisel/Shapiro & Associates
Palmer & Krisel, AIA, Architects
Palmer, Krisel & Lindsay, AIA, Architects
William Krisel, AIA, Architect