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Finding aid for the William Krisel papers, 1935-2014
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Biographical/Historical Note
  • Administrative Information
  • Separated Materials
  • Scope and Content of Collection
  • Indexing Terms

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: William Krisel papers
    Date (inclusive): 1935-2014
    Number: 2009.M.23
    Creator/Collector: Krisel, William
    Physical Description: 390.6 linear feet (57 boxes, 411 flatfiles, 36 boxed rolls)
    The Getty Research Institute
    Special Collections
    1200 Getty Center Drive, Suite 1100
    Los Angeles, California, 90049-1688
    (310) 440-7390
    Abstract: 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.
    Request Materials: Request access to the physical materials described in this inventory through the catalog record  for this collection. Click here for the access policy .
    Language: Collection material is in English

    Biographical/Historical Note

    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.

    Administrative Information


    Open for use by qualified researchers, with the exception of the unreformatted computer files. Flat file folder 131A is restricted pending conservation.

    Publication Rights

    Preferred Citation

    William Krisel Papers, 1935-2014, The Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles, Accession no. 2009.M.23

    Acquisition Information

    Gift of William and Corinne Krisel. Acquired in 2009, with subsequent additions.

    Processing History

    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.

    Separated Materials

    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.

    Indexing Terms

    Subjects - Corporate Bodies

    Alexander Construction Company

    Subjects - Topics

    Architect-designed houses--California
    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
    Negatives (photographic)
    Photographic prints--California--20th century
    Slides (photographs)--20th century


    Krisel/Shapiro & Associates
    Palmer & Krisel, AIA, Architects
    Palmer, Krisel & Lindsay, AIA, Architects
    Shulman, Julius
    William Krisel, AIA, Architect