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Robert E. Alexander 

Interviewed by Marlene L. Laskey 


Completed under the auspices 

of the 

Oral History Program 

University of California 

Los Angeles 

Copyright © 1989 
The Regents of the University of California 


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Photograph courtesy of Leigh Wiener, 



Biographical Summary viii 

Interview History xiii 

TAPE NUMBER: I, Side One (July 24, 1986) 1 

Childhood in suburban New Jersey--The Alexander 
family tile business--Alexander ' s brother and 

TAPE NUMBER: I, Side Two (July 24, 1986) 21 

Decision to study architecture--Entering the 
Cornell University School of Architecture--A 
traditional beaux-arts curriculum--Working in 
Pasadena with Garrett Van Pelt--Marriage. 

TAPE NUMBER: II, Side One (July 24, 1986) 43 

More on working for Van Pelt--Working for Corbett, 

Harrison, and MacMurray--Designing the elevators 

for the New York Life Insurance Company Building-- 

Pasadena architects design for a specific 

lif estyle--Odd jobs during the Depression--Working 

as a laborer in construction--First projects-- John 


TAPE NUMBER: II, Side Two (July 24, 1986) 67 

Working for Metropolitan Life Insurance Company 
on the design of Parkchester--The evolution of 
public housing in the 1930s--Alexander ' s advocacy 
of public housing--Fighting the real estate lobby. 

TAPE NUMBER: III, Side One (October 2, 1986) 81 

Impressions of Los Angeles in the 1930s--Roland 
E. Coate and the Monterey style--The Spanish 
Colonial revival in Southern California-- 
Partnership with Louis E. Wilson--The origins of 
Baldwin Hills Village--Comparison with mass- 
housing projects on the East Coast--Vehicular 
access and street layout--Factors in designing 
quality low-cost housing--The Baldwin estate's 
investment goals--The relation of Baldwin Hills 
Village to modernism. 


TAPE NUMBER: III, Side Two (October 2, 1986) 100 

Includes single-story, one-bedroom apartments in 
Baldwin Hills Village--Variety of textures and 
color in Baldwin Hills--Siting the buildings-- 
Landscaping--Disputes with the Federal Housing 
Administration ( FHA ) over unusual elements in the 
design--Planning for children--Changes in Baldwin 
Hills Village as a result of World War II. 

TAPE NUMBER: IV, Side One (October 2, 1986) 117 

Recreational facilities at Baldwin Hills Village-- 
Siting of public park and elementary school-- 
Alexander's projects in early 1940s--Lakewood 

TAPE NUMBER: IV, Side Two (October 2, 1986) 136 

The craftsman tradition in construction--Working 
for the production-control division at Lockheed 
Aircraft during World War II--Telesis South--The 
Pasadena Citizens Planning Council--Alexander ' s 
involvement in urban planning education-- 
Alexander is appointed to the Los Angeles City 
Planning Commission--More on the real estate 
lobby's opposition to public housing. 

TAPE NUMBER: V, Side One (October 3, 1986) 157 

The city beautiful movement and the origins of 
the Los Angeles City Planning Commission-- 
G. Gordon Whitnall--Zoning laws, 1904-1940--Union 
Station and the development of the civic center 
area--Preface to a Master Plan--Fletcher Bowron ' s 
reform administration--The master plan of 
parkways--The civic center plan--The Arroyo Seco 
Freeway--1945 revision of the master plan of 
highways--Westchester , 

TAPE NUMBER: V, Side Two (October 3, 1986) 183 

More on the Westchester development--Evolution of 
the beach plan--Hyperion Treatment Plant--Sewage 
and the water table in the San Fernando Valley-- 
Providing sewers for the Valley in 1945--Planning 
for parks and playgrounds--Garbage- and waste- 
disposal plans--Smog and trash incinerators-- 
Comprehensive revision of the city of Los 
Angeles's zoning laws in 1945. 

TAPE NUMBER: VI, Side One (October 3, 1986) 207 

Setback requirements in the 1945 zoning 
ordinance- -Building- height limits- -Conditional 
uses--Post-1945 subdivision of the San Fernando 
Valley--The Adohr Ranch controversy--The Los 
Angeles City Community Redevelopment Agency 
( CRA ) --Relationship of the CRA to the city 
planning commission--The Bunker Hill 
redevelopment project. 

TAPE NUMBER: VI, Side Two (October 3, 1986) 228 

More on Bunker Hill--Residential development in 
the downtown area--Alexander ' s proposal to use the 
right of eminent domain to control land 
speculation--Forest Lawn Mortuaries--Zoning 
variances and city politics--Red-baiting of public 
housing advocates during the McCarthy era. 

TAPE NUMBER: VII, Side One (October 3, 1986) 246 

Frank B. Wilkinson--Developing the master plan for 
Orange Coast College--Garrett Eckbo--Designing the 
UCLA University Elementary School ( UES ) . 

TAPE NUMBER: VII, Side Two (October 4, 1986) 267 

The American Institute of Architects--UES appears 
in Architectural Forum- -Baldwin Hills Elementary 
School--The Schmoo House--Working with Douglas 
Aircraft to develop prefabricated housing--Reasons 
for the failure of prefab housing proposals in the 
post-World War II period--Relationship with Ayn 

TAPE NUMBER: VIII, Side One (October 4, 1986) 286 

Meeting Frank Lloyd Wright--Impressions of 
Richard J. Neutra's von Sternberg House-- 
Alexander hired to develop a master plan for a 
model rural community in Southern India--A visit 
to Tokyo--A visit to Bangkok. 

TAPE NUMBER: VIII, Side Two (October 4, 1986) 307 

Calcutta--Madras--Studying village culture-- 
Working with Indian architects--Planning for an 
interconnected system of ten villages--Brick- 
making machines--Problems with the distribution 


system in India--Building a demonstration 
village--Bureaucratic conflicts terminate the 
Indian project. 

TAPE NUMBER: IX, Side One (October 4, 1986) 325 

Working with Richard Neutra to prepare a plan for 
the redevelopment of the Sutter subdivision in 
Sacramento--Working with Neutra on Chavez Ravine-- 
Relationship of Chavez Ravine plan to the Bunker 
Hill redevelopment project--Planning for both 
low- and high-density housing--Opposition from 
the real estate industry--The development of 
Alexander's partnership with Neutra. 

TAPE NUMBER: IX, Side Two (October 4, 1986) 348 

More on the partnership with Neutra--Assessment 
of Neutra 's personal character--The Los Angeles 
County Hall of Records--Developing a master plan 
for Guam in 1952--Proposals to reorient Guam's 
economy toward East Asian markets--Designing for 
the climate. 




Born: November 23, 1907, in Bayonne, New Jersey. 

Education: B.Arch. , Cornell University, 1930. 

Spouse: Eugenie Vigneron, married 1931, deceased 1952; 
two children. Mary Starbuck, married 1953, divorced 
1984; 1 child. Nancy Jaicks, married 1984. 


Partner, Wilson, Merrill, and Alexander, Los Angeles, 

Assistant to works manager, Lockheed Aircraft, Burbank, 
California, 1942-46. 

Owner, R. E. Alexander, Los Angeles, 1946-49. 

Partner, R. J. Neutra and R. E. Alexander, Los Angeles, 

Owner, R. E. Alexander F.A.I. A. and Associates, Los 
Angeles, 1959-81. 

Consultant in field, Berkeley, 1982-present . 


Baldwin Hills Village, Los Angeles, 1935-42. 

Estrada Courts, Los Angeles, 1939. 

Lakewood Village, Los Angeles, 1942. 

Baldwin Hills Community Church, Los Angeles, 1946. 

Baldwin Hills Elementary School, Los Angeles, 1947-49. 

Los Angeles Demonstration Elementary School, UCLA, 1948. 

Orange Coast College, Costa Mesa, California, 1948-55. 

Redevelopment plan, Sacramento, California (with Richard 
Neutra), 1950. 


Redevelopment plan, Elysian Heights, Los Angeles (with 
Richard Neutra ) , 1950-53. 

Territorial plan, governor's residence, and three 
schools, Guam, 1952-54. 

San Pedro Hotel (with Richard Neutra), 1953. 

Child guidance clinic, Los Angeles (with Richard 
Neutra), 1954. 

Family housing. Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho 
(with Richard Neutra), 1954. 

Mellon Science Building and Francis Scott Key 
Auditorium, Saint John's College, Annapolis, Maryland 
(with Richard Neutra), 1955. 

Science building, arts and music auditorium and sports 
facilities. Orange Coast College, Costa Mesa, California 
(with Richard Neutra), 1957. 

Miramar Naval Base Chapel, La Jolla, California (with 
Richard Neutra), 1957. 

Alamitos Intermediate School, Garden Grove, California 
(with Richard Neutra), 1957. 

Church Fine Arts Complex, University of Nevada at Reno 
(with Richard Neutra), 1958. 

Palos Verdes High School, Palos Verdes, California (with 
Richard Neutra), 1958. 

Fine arts center, California State University, San 
Fernando (with Richard Neutra), 1958. 

University Elementary School, UCLA (with Richard 
Neutra), 1958. 

Gettysburg Visitors Center, Pennsylvania (with Richard 
Neutra), 1958. 

Petrified Forest Visitors Center, Arizona (with Richard 
Neutra), 1958. 

Police facilities building, Santa Ana, California, 1958. 

Dayton Museum of Natural History and Planetarium, 
Dayton, Ohio (with Richard Neutra), 1959. 


Getchell Library, University of Nevada at Reno, 1959. 

Megastructure, Caracas, Venezuela (with Richard Neutra ) , 

City plan, Escondido, California, c. 1960. 

Great Western Savings and Loan Building, Los Angeles, 

Catskill Elementary School, Los Angeles, 1961. 

International Student Center, UCLA, 1961. 

Dining facility. University of California, San Diego, 

Swirlbul Library, Adelphi University, Garden City, Long 
Island, New York, 1963. 

United States Embassy, Karachi, Pakistan (with Richard 
Neutra), 1963. 

Lincoln Memorial Museum, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania (with 
Richard Neutra), 1963. 

Married student housing. University of Southern 
California, 1963. 

Los Angeles County Hall of Records (with Richard 
Neutra), 1964. 

School of Medicine, University of California, San Diego, 

Residence halls, Revelle College, University of 
California, San Diego, 1966. 

Baxter Hall of Humanities and Social Sciences and Ramo 
Auditorium, California Institute of Technology, 1968. 

Bunker Hill Towers, Los Angeles, 1968. 

Los Angeles City Central Library addition, 1970. 

Beckman Behavioral Biology Laboratories, California 
Institute of Technology, 1972. 

Ridgecrest Mental Health Center, Ridgecrest, California, 


Carson City Hall, Carson, California, 1976. 


Los Angeles City Planning Commission, 1945-51; 
president, 1948-50. 

Consultant, Public Housing Administration, 1950. 

Consultant, government of India, 1951. 

Consultant, government of Guam, 1951-52. 

Consultant, Federal Housing Administration ( FHA ) , 

Consultant, University of California, San Diego, 

Consultant, California Institute of Technology, 1966-72. 

Consultant, Claremont Colleges, 1966-76. 

Consultant, Ministry of Culture and Education, Brazil, 

Consultant, Pacific Architects and Engineers, Tokyo, 
1977-78, 1983. 


American Institute of Architects, fellow, 1956; Southern 
California chapter, vice president, 1969; president, 

California Club, 1959-69. 

California Planning and Conservation League, board of 
directors, 1961-63. 

Town Hall of California, Los Angeles, board of 
governors, 1965-67. 

Willard Neighborhood Association, president, 1985. 


Honor award, American Institute of Architects, 1946, 
1951, 1954. 



Rebuilding a City: A Study of Redevelopment Problems in 
Los Angeles, with Drayton S. Bryant. Los Angeles: John 
Randolph Haynes Foundation, 1951. 

The Rural City. New York: United Nations publication, 

Environmental Quality and Amenity in California: An 
Analysis of State Development Decision Procedures 
Affecting Visual and Other Qualitative Characteristics 
of the California Environment, with Rai Y. Okimoto, 




Marlene L. Laskey, Interviewer, UCLA Oral History 
Program. B.A., Political Science, UCLA; has researched, 
organized, and led architectural tours of Los Angeles. 


Place: Tapes I and II, Laskey 's home, Los Angeles. 
Tapes III-XIX, Alexander's apartment, Berkeley, 

Dates, length of sessions: July 24, 1986 (147 minutes); 
October 2, 1986 (173); October 3, 1986 (217); October 4, 
1986 (288); May 11, 1987 (137); May 12, 1987 (117); May 
13, 1987 (291); May 14, 1987 (196). 

Total number of recorded hours: 25.25 

Persons present during interview: Alexander and Laskey. 


The interview is arranged chronologically. Major topics 
Include buildings and projects Alexander designed, his 
interest in redevelopment and public housing, his tenure 
on the Los Angeles City Planning Commission, his partner- 
ship with Richard J. Neutra, and his involvement in the 
American Institute of Architects. Periodically, 
Alexander consulted written documents, particularly 
while discussing the planning commission. 


George Hodak, editorial assistant, edited the 
interview. He checked the verbatim transcript of the 
interview against the original tape recordings, edited 
for punctuation, paragraphing, and spelling, and 
verified proper names. Words and phrases inserted by 
the editor have been bracketed. 

The edited transcript was sent to Alexander in December 
1987. He verified proper names, made some corrections 
and additions, and returned the transcript in March 


Richard Candida Smith, principal editor, prepared the 
table of contents. Paul Winters, editorial assistant, 
prepared the biographical summary and interview 
history. Teresa Barnett, editor, prepared the index. 


The original tape recordings of the interview are in the 
university archives and are available under the 
regulations governing the use of permanent noncurrent 
records of the university. Records relating to the 
interview are located in the office of the UCLA Oral 
History Program. 


JULY 24, 1986 

LASKEY: Robert Alexander was an architect in Los Angeles 
in the thirties, in its most explosive and interesting 
time, and also on the [Los Angeles] City Planning 
Commission in the late forties when a great deal was 
happening to change the look of Los Angeles. But you're 
not a native of Los Angeles, are you, Mr. Alexander? 
ALEXANDER: No, I was born in Bayonne, New Jersey, a 
peninsula that sticks into lower New York harbor. At a 
time-- Well, it was before the petrochemical industry took 
over in that area. We were within a short distance of the 
lower New York Yacht Club, which had a sunset gun every 
evening which I remember. My father [Edwin Hixson 
Alexander] had been born in Jersey City, which is adjacent 
to it; my mother [Clara Evans Alexander] in south Jersey 
near Moorestown, New Jersey. 

As a city boy he became entranced by fresh vegetables 
and so forth growing on my mother's father's farm, so that 
even in Bayonne we had a flourishing garden every year at 
the back of the house. I lived there until I was six years 
old. I was born in 1907; therefore I'm an Edwardian. I 
remember some things that you wouldn't connect with a place 
like Bayonne. For instance, in a sort of warehouse 
adjacent to the New Jersey Central Railroad, I remember 

seeing many times a crowd of people in all kinds of strange 
dress. Turned out it was a movie company making movies 
before Hollywood became the real center. 
LASKEY: When would this be, about 1912, 1913? 
ALEXANDER: Well, yeah, 1912. 

LASKEY: And they were filming on location, so to speak? 
LASKEY: Well, they had an indoor set. Of course, they 
couldn't depend on the weather the way you could here, so 
they were making movies in a sort of a warehouse next to 
the railroad line. My Grandmother Alexander lived a couple 
of blocks away from where we lived. Father was one of 
eight children, four boys and four girls. Two of his 
brothers still lived in Bayonne. 
LASKEY: What's your father's name? 

ALEXANDER: Edwin Hixson Alexander. Like many parents, 
they were interested in seeing that their children got a 
good education and grew up in a suburban area, I suppose. 
So we went searching. I remember going out on the Jersey 
Central to Westfield, New Jersey, which is the place they 
decided on, where we took a surrey with a fringe on top out 
with a real estate man to see the sights. And he pointed 
out some grand estate that's no longer there, where there 
were bronze deer on the lawn and all that sort of thing. 
In any event, it was a small town of fewer than 15,000 
people. They rented a house first for two years while 

Father designed and had a house built that's still there in 
great condition. 

LASKEY: Your father designed it? 
LASKEY: Was he an architect? 

ALEXANDER: He was not an architect, although long after I 
went to architectural school I found out that that had been 
his lifelong dream. Of course, you might suspect that. 
But he never overtly came out with it. 
LASKEY: That's interesting. 

ALEXANDER: He was, however, draftsman to his firm; that 
is, his brothers had started a tile-contracting outfit in 
Manhattan. At a certain point there was the usual crash 
panic on Wall Street and throughout the nation. Every few 
years they had a corrective crash of that kind. Then on 
this occasion my grandfather, whom I never met (Grandfather 
Alexander), had been building brick row houses in Brooklyn 
like crazy. Suddenly the bottom fell out of the market, 
and so he was out of his normal occupation, sitting at home 
with nothing to do. His boys, who had started this tile- 
contracting outfit called Alexander and Reid Company, 
kidded him so much that he left home. At which point my 
father, who was in the fourth grade, was induced to leave 
school to help his brothers in their outfit in New York. 
LASKEY: In the fourth grade? 

ALEXANDER: Yes. And from then on he educated himself 
beautifully. He went to Cooper Union College, I guess you 
call it. 

LASKEY: In New York? 

ALEXANDER: He took life drawing and various other things, 
of which I remember samples. He did a lot of drawing and 
painting. And then he became their draftsman. Inciden- 
tally, before he could claim to be a draftsman, he 
recounted a story in the blizzard of 1888, I think it 
was. Well, that could be checked as to when there was an 
enormous blizzard. It was so tough that he and his 
brothers walked across the Hudson River to open the office 
on a Saturday morning. [laughter] Of course, there was 
nobody else in there. 
LASKEY: But it was open. 

ALEXANDER: But, by god, they were going to open the office 
or else. But to be able to walk across the Hudson--that 
hasn't been done many times in history. Well, in any 
event, he eventually became president of the company. They 
did the tile in all the well-known hotels, starting with 
the Bervort and the Waldorf-Astoria, and many hospitals and 
all the Childs' restaurants when they were all tile. They 
were tiled floors, walls, and ceilings, when it was the fad 
to be very pure and pristine with your food after the 
muckraking days of-- I'm thinking of the guy that started 

EPIC [End Poverty in California]. 

LASKEY: Upton Sinclair. 

ALEXANDER: Upton Sinclair, yeah. The Pure Food and Drug 

Act came in and then everybody was germ conscious. Pasteur 

had made a stir about germs and suddenly cleanliness was 

the way to go, and white tile was just in. 

LASKEY: That's very interesting. I never would have made 

that relationship between the architecture being influenced 

by what's going on in the world. It seems so removed from 

the architecture. Did your father employ tile makers, tile 

layers, tile setters? 

ALEXANDER: Yes. Tile setters. 

LASKEY: Was this a very specific kind of a craft, with 

craftsmen involved? 

ALEXANDER: Absolutely, very much so. One of my uncles set 

tile for his brothers and then became an officer in the 

company. Well, if you know good tile work, it's quite 

different from slapping things on the way they do now with 

plastic adhesives and that sort of thing. It was quite an 

art at one time, with masonry, with cement materials, to do 

a good job of tile setting. 

LASKEY: Were the tiles made in New York, New Jersey, or 

were they--? 

ALEXANDER: Well, some were made in New Jersey. I remember 

going to a plant near the Raritan River that is near-- What 

would it have been? Perth Amboy, somewhere in there. The 

Raritan River had deposited some excellent clay, which is 

always the foundation of a tile-manufacturing industry. 

I'll never forget the sight of a room full of boys younger 

than I was--that is, younger than twelve years old--at 

little benches, with hammers attached to the benches so 

that they would swivel, holding long sticks of tile, out of 

which they would make tesserae by nipping them with the end 

of a hammer and making little squares out of these things 

with irregular sides so that they looked like ancient Roman 

or Greek material. 

LASKEY: Yeah, the tesserae are the little pieces that are 

set into the tile to make intricate patterns, is that 


ALEXANDER: Yeah. This was child labor, which I had seen 

for the first time there. 

LASKEY: This was before child labor laws, obviously. 

ALEXANDER: Yes, probably. And a lot of their tile was 

made in Zanesville, Ohio, I believe, but also some came all 

the way from California. The name of the firm was 

Batchelder. I met the founder of that firm, who was still 

here in the thirties. 

LASKEY: Well, Ernest [A.] Batchelder was-- 

ALEXANDER: That's it, right. 

LASKEY: The Batchelder out of Pasadena. And this, of 

course, is also the craftsman movement, so you have these 
beautiful art tiles. 

LASKEY: Correct. Well, they used a lot of that--it came 
all the way from California. I was amazed as a kid, you 

LASKEY: So the kind of tile work that your family or dad 
was involved in then was art, as well as the sort of-- 
ALEXANDER: It involved a lot of delft tile from Holland 
also. They did work for the [Frank A.] Vanderlip estate on 
Long Island and this, that, and the other. They did 
outstanding tile work. And when it came to tile on the 
subways, some, I would call them gangsters, took over, 
[laughter] But my father's firm's work was outstanding. 
So they pretty much cornered the important work from an 
artistic standpoint. 

LASKEY: How did that affect you as a young boy? Were you 
impressed by the quality of the work, by the beauty of the 
tile, or did you really not pay much attention to it? 
ALEXANDER: I didn't pay all that much attention to the 
tile, but we had several paintings hangi-~7 in the house 
that my father had done when he was quite a bit younger. 
His letters were sprinkled with little sketches that were 
just delightful. So I had a dose of art at home from that 

Then we lived all my growing-up days nineteen miles 

from Manhattan. Before I was twelve, I would go in by 
myself on a Saturday on the Jersey Central commuting train 
and take the Liberty Street Ferry across and then a subway 
or L uptown, and then go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art 
or the [American] Museum of Natural History. And four 
years later--that is after I was twelve I guess, yeah, 
twelve to sixteen, something like that--my father gave me 
season tickets to the Walter [J.] Damrosch symphony 
orchestra [New York Symphony Society children's concerts]. 
That was always on Saturday afternoon, and every Saturday 
morning I'd crawl all over the two museums there. 
LASKEY: How wonderful. Were they the Metropolitan--? 
ALEXANDER: --art museum. 

LASKEY: The Metropolitan and the Museum of Natural 

ALEXANDER: Museum of Natural History, yeah, at the foot of 
the park. I had a lot of contact with events in Manhattan. 
LASKEY: New Jersey must have been quite different then. 
You mentioned that earlier on. It wasn't a total urban 
experience; you came through a suburban or a country kind 
of environment. 

ALEXANDER: Oh sure, sure, right, yeah. Well, there was 
always an intimate woods at the back door, you might say, 
which is in such contrast to what I found out here. Of 
course I came to love this open country, the great forest 


experience here. I've done a great deal of backpacking and 
I know the Sierras pretty well. But it's an entirely 
different experience from being able to walk out your back 
door into a woods, an intimate place where the trees aren't 
all that big but the trailing arbutus is there. 
LASKEY: So you essentially had both worlds when you were 
growing up. You had the great metropolis of New York with 
all it had to offer, and then you had this sort of country 

ALEXANDER: Yeah, this was pretty countrylike. Well, 
elementary school was just a literal baseball throw from 
our house right at the foot of the street on Broadway, 
Grant School. But when I went to what you'd call junior 
high school, seventh and eighth grades, I used to walk to 
the center of town practically. I suppose it wasn't more 
than a mile, but in the process I ' d go through people's 
backyards, but mainly went through what later became 
Mindowaskin Park--which was sort of a swamp. Mindowaskin 
Park, Indian name. When I was in high school, somebody had 
the idea to put a little dam up and dredge some of the 
swamp into a little lake, which is still there, and drain a 
lot of the other area. So it had become a civilized 
park. But when I walked to school I walked through this 
thing, with skunk cabbages to kick and dogtooth violets and 
all sorts of things. 

LASKEY: Sounds lovely. Was it on the ocean or was it 
pretty far? I don't know the geography of New Jersey. 
ALEXANDER: Well, it's adjacent to Plainfield; it's 
probably twenty miles from the ocean. But, of course, 
after my migration to California-- I think people still do 
it to some extent, but at that time anybody who had just 
arrived was fair game to get them to admit that this was 
the greatest place on earth and that there was no place 
like it on earth, and so forth. And as a defense 
mechanism, I would relate to them the fact that at my home, 
instead of having to go forty miles to the ocean, I'd go 
twenty miles to get to the ocean. The beaches were 
absolutely magnif icent--which they were. Instead of going 
125 miles to Palm Springs to see cactus and that sort of 
thing, I could find native cactus within 80 miles of my 

LASKEY: In New Jersey? 

ALEXANDER: Yes, in what's called the Pines in south 
Jersey. I could even find right near the Pines a virgin 
forest, absolutely virgin because it wasn't worth cutting 
down, you know. [laughter] It was full of deer and scrub 
oak and that sort of thing that never had been cut. 
LASKEY: Well, I think when we talk about Baldwin Hills 
Village much later in the interview, I think that you said 
that the inspiration of Westfield was part of what 


influenced the design of Baldwin Hills Village, that 
remembrance of going- - 

ALEXANDER: The place that my father decided on for this 
house was called Stanley Oval, because it was a cul-de-sac, 
a very short cul-de-sac with a great big oval. The oval 
was maintained and owned mutually by the property owners 
surrounding it. It was a place for a little bit of mild 
Softball and that sort of thing, not a very good athletic 
park. But it was a quiet, dead-end street. It was a novel 
thing in those days. So when it did come to Baldwin Hills 
Village, I had this dream of something like that but on a 
much grander scale of course. 

I've been back to visit that house, let's see, just 
within the year or maybe a year and a half ago, and I went 
through it. It was quite an experience. It had been a 
long time, fifty years or so since I'd seen it. And the 
house Itself was just as I remembered it. The only changes 
that I found were in the basement, where partitions were 
still marked out on the floor. I could see where there ' d 
been a pretty extensive room for canned goods about half as 
big as your living room here. Another place was called the 
laundry, where I also had my chemistry set. I used to give 
my mother a bad time by getting acid in the laundry tubs. 
LASKEY: Oh, she must have loved that. 
ALEXANDER: The laundry tubs are still there, no partitions 


around it. There were a couple of coal bins for two 
different sizes of coal, one for the coal range and one for 
the furnace. They were all gone; the oil furnace [took 
over] . 

LASKEY: Yeah, of course. 

ALEXANDER: Otherwise, the house was as I remembered it. 
Of course the kitchen had undergone some changes, but it 
was still there, the same size and shape--no longer any 
wooden drainboards and that sort of thing, no longer a coal 
stove. Of course, the coal stove went when I was still 
there. It was quite-- The experience affected me. I loved 
it. I loved the experience to see this thing still there. 
LASKEY: To have it still be there. It was probably an 
experience you wouldn't have in Los Angeles. [laughter] 
How long did your family live there? 

ALEXANDER: Well, let's see, I think we moved in 1915, and 
they must have lived there until 1935 or maybe later. 
During the Depression--when I was not there--my mother fell 
for a chain-letter scheme and happened to win out and get a 
zillion silk stockings. [laughter] 
LASKEY: Really? 

ALEXANDER: So she decided to set up a little shop in the 
house. My father's business went down the tubes pretty 
much. I mean, it was in bad shape for several years. 
LASKEY: In the early thirties, yeah. 


ALEXANDER: Many large contracts that he had, the owners 
would declare bankruptcy and not pay. It just set him way 
back. So my mother developed this little lingerie shop in 
her home and then bought a few gift items for a gift 

Then came summer, and we'd always gone somewhere for 
summer vacation. Mother said, "By golly, we're going to 
have another vacation, and I'm going to pay for it." So 
they went down and found a place at Spring Lake that they 
could rent for the summer. It required a restaurant 
operator to run it, so she said, "Okay, I'll hire a 
couple" --which she did- -"and I'm going to run the gift 
shop, and that's the way we're going to make out." So she 
set up her gift shop, and about halfway through the summer 
she found that the people she had hired were stealing her 
blind. By the custom at the time, in order to get 
business, somebody selling butter wholesale would say, 
"We'll give you 10 percent or 20 percent of the order if 
you'll just order from us." These people would order a 
dozen pounds of butter when they needed six and throw the 
rest in the garbage. 

So she said, "By golly, that's not going to happen 
again." So the next time they went down and they rented 
and finally bought a great big old mansion right on the 
ocean and right across the street from the Monmouth Hotel, 


which is an enormous hotel, and made it into a little hotel 

[the Sandpiper Hotel] with a famous--it became famous-- 

restaurant on the ground floor and gift shop and rooms 

upstairs, not many, I guess a three-story building. So 

they finally sold the house in Westfield and moved down 

there. They had an enjoyable life, running this thing five 

months of the year, fooling around in Florida and whatnot 


LASKEY: Your mother sounds like quite a woman. 

ALEXANDER: Yeah, she was a dynamo. 

LASKEY: What was her name? 

ALEXANDER: Clara Evans Alexander. 

LASKEY: You said the hotel was on the ocean. This was 


ALEXANDER: Spring Lake. 

LASKEY: And Spring Lake is a city in New Jersey on the 


ALEXANDER: Yes, on the ocean. It's not as far south as 

Atlantic City, but it's south of Manasquan and Asbury Park 

and that sort of thing. For one year when I was back 

there-- Well, in the summertime that year I took a ferry 

(that no longer exists) that ran between Manhattan and 

Atlantic Highlands, which is south of Sandy Hook. So it 

was a long, long water ride and then a train from here on 

down. It was just like returning from Europe in the 


morning or going to Europe in the afternoon on this long 
ferry ride. It was wonderful. It went right through all 
the shipping that came into the harbor at that time. 
LASKEY: You sound like you were relatively independent as 
a youth. Was that unusual, or was that your family, sort 
of coming and going to Manhattan, traveling around New 

ALEXANDER: Well, I spent a great deal of time with the 
family; all of the vacations that I can remember were 
family oriented. But yes, I was permitted some freedom, I 
guess you could call it, and spent a lot of time in the 
woods. Oh, one of the great things that my father gave me 
was a-- One summer when I was seventeen I went to Camp 
Quest and went on the Alagash trip that summer. The 
Alagash trip consisted of a canoe trip for a period of 
thirty days, more or less, three hundred miles in the Maine 
wilderness. At that time it was a real wilderness. And 
that was, you know, reliving one of my dreams, having read 
[John] Burroughs ' s Boy Scouts in America, Boy Scouts in the 
Maine Woods, this, that, and the other. I lived all of the 
experiences that I dreamed about and developed a real taste 
for camping out, which I've carried on to today, for that 
matter. We spent several summers in Maine. 

I had a friend, my best friend in Westfield. His 
father was a judge in the county court in Elizabeth. They 


had bought a little farm on Casco Bay outside of Portland, 
Maine. I spent several summers there or with my family at 
Sebago Lake, where my father went fishing every spring or 
landlocked summer. That was a mystique that probably went 
back in the family to a time when my father's mother, my 
grandmother, was born in Aberdeenshire in, let's see, some 
place that has become the onshore oil capital of the North 
Sea--Petershead. It was a fishing village. The family 
undoubtedly was up to their ears in fishing as a living. 
LASKEY: This is something that your father carried with 

ALEXANDER: Yeah, he took me on many a fishing trip. 
LASKEY: So that the canoeing, the backpacking, the outdoor 
life is something that at least marginally came through 
your father, something that he had enjoyed. Did your 
mother enjoy it? Was she an outdoor lady? 
ALEXANDER: Well, she grew up on a farm, from that 
standpoint. She was born on a farm. [laughter] No, she 
wasn't [an outdoor lady]. She'd much rather go--as we did 
many times--to Beach Haven, which is in south Jersey on the 
shore south of Atlantic City, and stay at the Inglewood 
Hotel, which was one of the best there. That was her 
speed. I mean, she-- 
LASKEY: A city person? 
ALEXANDER: Well, she was a country person who loved the 


city life, and my father was a city boy who loved the 
country life, you see. 

LASKEY: And you sort of got the best of both of them. 
ALEXANDER: Well, that's one way to look at it. 
LASKEY: Do you have any brothers or sisters? 
ALEXANDER: Yes, I have one of each. My brother [Harold 
Alexander], four years younger than I, also went to Cornell 
University, graduated in architecture--more talented than 
I, I think, artistically. I did bad enough by being in the 
class of '29 and graduating in the beginning of the 
Depression. But he did even worse. By the time he 
graduated four years later, 1934, there were just-- Well, 
there wasn't anything when I graduated and there wasn't 
anything when he graduated. So anyway, he got a job with 
the Libby-Owens-Ford [Company] . One of his roommates was 
the son of an officer of the company there. He went in 
with college graduates who were sent through every 
department in the company, a little bit of this and that to 
see where they thought they might fit in. 

One Friday afternoon, he went to the local pub, and 
one of the officers of the company came up to him and said, 
"How are things going?" 

He said, "This is for the birds. This company doesn't 
do anything but make flat glass. No imagination whatsoever. 
What you call a research department that I was in last 


week--they don't do any research except on ceramics to make 
glass pots . " 

"Well, what would you do?" 

He said, "You have this damned sales force out 
there. I hardly ever see them, and they never come into 
the factory. But they have contact with the public. They 
would know what the public needs. Here is the makings of a 
research group if you just put a little imagination into it 
and asked the salesmen what might be made out of glass that 
you could do. Then if you set up a little manufacturing 
unit to try it out and see if it is worth manufacturing, 
you might have going a three-way deal here." 

He said, "Well, I'll tell you, if you put that in 
writing, I'll take it up with the board on Monday." 

So that was the way, eventually-- I mean, it went 
through several cases of nepotism, but eventually he was 
appointed head of this new group in the company. And then 
he finally became vice president in charge of research and 
development . 

LASKEY: For Libby-Owens-Ford? 

ALEXANDER: Yeah, and he's now retired living outside of 
Toledo. My sister [Eleanor Alexander Griffin], eight years 
younger than I, lives in Pennsylvania. I just visited her 
not so long ago. She's a Quaker. She's taught yoga for 
thirty years, I guess. She's done all the right things. 


eaten all the right things, just the opposite of anything 
I've done. No smoking, no drink, no alcohol, green 
vegetables, and so on and so forth. 

LASKEY: She sounds like she was about forty years ahead of 
her time. 

ALEXANDER: Well, I don't know about that. Here I am, 
without feeling any ill effects of my age, and I just got 
the word this year that she has cancer. In spite of her-- 
You do everything you can just right. It's just a damn 
shame. Well, those are the two siblings. We didn't fight 
very much. I didn't fight at all with my sister. My 
brother had an interesting introduction to education. That 
is, I was a good boy, and I always did the right thing in 
school . 

LASKEY: You were? 

ALEXANDER: Oh, yeah. I mean, when I was in school. At 
that period I was not what I am now. I'm a naughty boy 
now. But boy, I got good grades all the way through, so I 
made a name for myself as a student in elementary school 
and high school. Along comes my brother, and this brother 
of his has made this name that he's supposed to live up to, 
and he'd be damned if he would. So he was very much 
ingrown. He'd spend hours and hours at home. He'd come 
home from school and go down in his little shop and make 
ship models that you wouldn't believe, just gorgeous 


things. He'd get a jeweler's lathe and turn out little 
cannon-model molds and make the models and the molds and 
pour these things and get a little knitting needle and saw 
it into little pieces and burn three holes in each one, so 
they'd be deadeyes, you know. He made these from the 
ground up, and they were just beautiful. He had one hobby 
or another going on at all times and no social life to 
speak of. And a lousy record in school. 

He went up through his junior year in high school, and 
I invited him up to Cornell. I met him at the train. I 
was playing football, so I had to practice all the time. I 
had a very good friend in architecture who took him around 
to see the place, and every time they came to a corner 
where there was a possibility of there being ice cream, 
he'd demand that they stop and have another strawberry 
sundae or something like that. 

LASKEY: Was ice cream new or he just liked the idea of it? 
ALEXANDER: I don't know. I'm just telling you my 
experience. I just heard about this, and that was what I 
heard. Well, pretty soon I got a letter from home: "What 
happened to Harold when he was at Cornell?" "I don't know 
what happened to him." "Well, all of a sudden he's 
bringing his classmates home. He's developed a social 
life. They tell me in school that he's getting good grades 
now. What's going on?" Well, what went on was that he 
decided he wanted to go to Cornell. Boom! He just-- 


JULY 24, 1986 

LASKEY: Let's continue with brother Harold. 
ALEXANDER: Well, SO he succeeded in getting a recommen- 
dation from the principal, which was all you needed at that 
time to be entered at Cornell. So we had one year, my 
fifth year and his first year, together and cemented a 
lifelong friendship during that year. And followed by 
another, just in the fall, when in the depths of the 
Depression, when I wasn't getting anywhere with anything 
else, I was given a job of coaching freshman football there 
and lived with him and a couple of other characters at 
Louis Agassiz Fuertes ' s studio in Ithaca. Had a great 
time, got to know each other even better. So even though 
we have had divergent careers and probably opposite 
political views, we get along just fine when we do get 
together. It's a great pleasure. 

LASKEY: Well, you mentioned that he did shipbuilding, 
model building, which shows somewhat of an artistic bent. 
What about you? You played football. Did you have any 
other hobbies? Did you draw? Did you have anything as a 
child that sort of indicated where your career in 
architecture would come from? 

ALEXANDER: I don't think so. You know how it is: Johnny 
can draw until he's six years old. No, I wasn't 


particularly talented in that connection, although there 
was drawing in the family. I think I've related in writing 
that when my father set me down in my junior or senior year 
in high school: "What are you going to do? What are you 
going to be?" I wanted to be an archaeologist. He said, 
"You can't possibly make your living as an archaeologist," 
which I found out since is not true. I could have made a 
career in that. "Well," I said, "okay, how about foreign 
service?" "Well, now wait a minute, it takes a millionaire 
to be an ambassador." At that time there was no such thing 
as [Franklin D.] Roosevelt set up, which was official 
training for civil service. You were a rich man to get 
into it in general, not just to be an ambassador. It was 
sort of a hobby for people instead of a serious avocation, 
a vague vocation at that time. And then I said, "Well, how 
about architecture?" Since this was just at the right time 
in architectural history--the boom after World War I was 
still in effect--my father thought, "Well, sure, architects 
make money!" So he said, "Okay, that's a good idea." It 
came about that way, rather than an intense desire. Of 
course once I got into it, I just became dedicated to it 
and couldn't be turned away from it by anything, even 
during the hiatus of the Depression. 

But as I said, I think my brother was more talented, 
you might say, in drawing or in what you might call the art 


part of it. But I was-- In contrast to his experience when 
he was young, I was very social, not with a vast number of 
people, but we developed what we called the Secret Octagon 
Society, the SOS club. 
LASKEY: SOS club. [laughter] 

ALEXANDER: We had a meeting once a month or more 
frequently. I think it was just once a month. May have 
been once a week, that could be. Of course the refreshments 
were always the most important thing. But we also had a 
formalized agenda. We had officers, and we studied and 
followed Robert's Rules of Order. We always had a well- 
balanced program. Somebody played a musical instrument; 
somebody put on a science experiment or whatever; somebody 
did some entertainment like magic tricks; somebody read 
from Shakespeare. Everybody at the meeting participated in 
some way. We got on our feet formally, you know, and 
addressed this audience of seven people. [laughter] That 
was good training. That was more of a hobby than anything 
else I can remember. 

LASKEY: Would this have been in high school? 

LASKEY: I think I read you also played a musical instrument, 
you were involved in music. Or did that come later? 
ALEXANDER: No, that was in the high school years. That 
is, after going to four seasons of Walter Damrosch, my 


father wanted to know what instrument I'd like to play, and 
I said, "A cello. " 

He said, "I can't afford one of those." 

I said, "Well, how about an oboe?" 

He said, "Those guys go crazy or they get consumption. 
You don't want to do that, do you?" 
LASKEY: Oboe players get consumption? 

ALEXANDER: Oboe, yeah, yeah. This was the myth at the 
time. You either go crazy or you get consumption. 
LASKEY: I see. 

ALEXANDER: I said, "No, I don't want to go crazy." I 
said, "I've noticed that the C-melody saxophone plays the 
same score as a cello." 

He said, "Oh well, we can get one of those." 

So he got me a C-melody saxophone that became obsolete 
several years thereafter. It's no longer made. It's 
obsolete now. And then after I tortured the family with 
that for several years, he bought me, before I went to 
college, a B-flat tenor, a silver job. Instead of having 
to polish this brass, I had a silver-plated job. Although 
I started by taking some lessons, I soon became tired of 
reading music and more or less went by ear on everything. 
In college I played in the saxophone sextet, of which Phil 
[Philip] Will [Jr.] was also a member. He's just deceased 
last year, one of the founding partners of Perkins and Will 


Partnership, architects in Chicago, and president of AIA 

[American Institute of Architects] nationally and that sort 

of thing. Very close friend for somebody I didn't see very 

much. So I did follow that a bit, and these days I enjoy 

playing an electronic organ and anything I can get my hands 

on, a harmonica or whatever, that comes along. So sure-- 

that ' s been a fun part of my existence. 

LASKEY: Sports? 

ALEXANDER: Just football. If the urge comes these days 

for exercise, I lie down till the urge goes away. 


LASKEY: No more football? 


LASKEY: But you're still backpacking and camping. 

ALEXANDER: Well, I wouldn't backpack now, but, yeah, I 

love to camp outdoors. I don't do much of it now. I don't 

get a chance. But I've selected sites to live on that are 

pretty outdoorsy. For twenty years I lived on the top of 

Mount Washington, if you know where that is, looking across 

at the Sierra Madres and Mount Wilson. 

LASKEY: Were you a neighbor of Jack Smith's? 

ALEXANDER: Oh yeah, yeah. I got into his column once in a 

while. Then I built a house on one of the choicest sites 

in Mammoth Lakes; the elevation of the living-room floor 

was eight thousand feet. And then built a house in Big 


Sur, right on the ocean, about fifty miles south of 

Carmel. So those, as living sites, have been oriented to 

the changing seasons and so on. 

LASKEY: Beautiful. Well, you live in Berkeley now. Do 

you live in the Berkeley Hills? 

ALEXANDER: No. I live in a little apartment that has its 

charm, in an old house that's just my age and looks worse 

than I do. It's just a block from Alta Bates Hospital. 

It's on Regent Street, north of Ashby [Avenue]. So it's 

within walking distance to the campus [University of 

California, Berkeley] . We look up at the hills and into a 

backyard wih an enormous magnolia tree that has a life of 

its own; all kinds of dove, squirrels, and so forth inhabit 

it. No, it's not as wild and woolly as some of the other 

places, but-- 

LASKEY: Well, Berkeley can get pretty wild and woolly on 

its own. 

ALEXANDER: Yeah, in lots of ways. 

LASKEY: How was the decision made to go to Cornell? 

ALEXANDER: Well, Princeton [University] would have been 

the obvious choice because it was very close to home, but 

at that time their architecture department was largely what 

I would call archaeological. It was oriented toward 

diggings in Cyprus and Athens and that sort of thing. 

LASKEY: More historical than technical. 


ALEXANDER: Rather than having to do with fitting one to 

becomed a practicing architect. MIT [Massachusetts 

Institute of Technology] and Cornell were more or less on a 

par as far as their objectives were concerned. I just fell 

in love with the Cornell campus. It's the most beautiful 

campus in America without any question of a doubt. I just 

fell in love with it. That was it. 

LASKEY: Was it difficult to get into Cornell? 


LASKEY: Because coming, as I do, from the Midwest and then 

coming out here, we think of the eastern colleges as being 

extremely- - 

ALEXANDER: Today, it's out of the question. But at that 

time there was no such thing as an SAT [Scholastic Aptitude 

Test] , and my brother and I simply had our high school 

principal's recommendation that we were college material. 

They didn't inquire any further. The dean accepted us. It 

was a personal-interview matter. They were interested in 

what your extracurricular activities were and what you did 

and that sort of thing. But it was not hard to get into. 

After all, the entire campus had a population of fewer than 

five thousand students. 

LASKEY: Really? Well, what was the campus like that 

impressed you so much? 

ALEXANDER: Well, it's on a hill overlooking Cayuga Lake, 


and the terrain is such there that a stream makes a 
regular-- We'd call it a canyon here--what they call a 
gorge. There are two gorges two hundred feet deep. They 
go right through the heart-- Well, one of them through the 
heart of the campus and the other on the campus, let alone 
others in the countryside. Rolling hills across the lake 
and Civil War-type buildings around the main quad. They're 
still there and maintained; one exception is the new 
library. But it never was an urban place, and it isn't 
now. It's removed from city life, which is not true of 
anything around Boston or Cambridge or New Haven. At the 
time it was founded, transportation was more or less by the 
Erie Canal up into the Finger Lakes. I've looked at 
records of a house that was built above the shore of Cayuga 
Lake, in which their barrels of lime and that sort of thing 
were barged up the canal and down the lake. That was at a 
time, when this [the Cornell campus] was built, when it was 
quite inaccessible. For many, many years the only way to 
get there was the Lackawanna Railroad. 
LASKEY: Really? 

ALEXANDER: Even now, it's like crazy to find an airplane 
that will go. The Mohawk Airlines go or the Allegheny-- 
LASKEY: The Mohawk Airlines. [laughter] 

ALEXANDER: Or something like that. But it's like crazy. 
You've got to go to Newark and then get a puddle jumper 


that goes up there. Otherwise you go by automobile I 

guess. But at that time it was quite a trip by automobile, 

although we went up there, a couple of hundred miles from 

nowhere- -from some place I mean. 

LASKEY: To nowhere. 

ALEXANDER: So I just-- Well, I challenge you to find a 

more beautiful campus today. The buildings aren't all that 

good, but the setting is great. 

LASKEY: The setting hasn't been destroyed by the growth of 

the campus? 

ALEXANDER: No, no. What God hath wrought, man cannot 


LASKEY: Try as they will. 

ALEXANDER: As San Francisco's finding out, you can do a 

pretty good job, but you can't really wreck it. 

LASKEY: Was Cornell--? I'm trying to remember. Was it an 

early coeducational school? 

ALEXANDER: Oh, yes. It was coeducational when it 

opened. This was really quite unusual at the time. It was 

one of the land grant colleges which after the Civil War 

were granted lands in the West as sort of an endowment to 

be sold for whatever they could get for them--as a result 

of which it had certain obligations, such as that it was 

obligated to have an ROTC [Reserve Officers Training Corps] 



LASKEY: Really? 

ALEXANDER: When I went there, freshman and sophomore years 

involved compulsory ROTC for the men. I think that's no 

longer true, but I'm not sure. Although I got out of it 

most of the time. The football coach made a deal with the 

general in charge, so that during football season I didn't 

have to go, which was great. Otherwise, I was currying 

great, big, fat horses in the artillery, learning to take 

an automatic pistol apart, and learning to deal with a 

French 75-mm cannon, firing over Cayuga Lake--crazy. But I 

didn't have very much of it. 

LASKEY: Yeah, I think that the ROTC thing sort of, with 

the protest about Vietnam, ceased being mandatory. I'm not 

sure about that. 

ALEXANDER: I'm not either. 

LASKEY: Did you go specifically into the architecture 

school at Cornell, or was it a basic undergraduate degree? 

ALEXANDER: No, they didn't have that kind of a system, 

which I can regret now in a way, but anyway, that's the way 

it was. Five years in architectural school with certain 

electives. I took public speaking, for instance, in the 

English department. 

LASKEY: Which, I think you've said in your writings, has 

been extremely helpful as an architect. 

ALEXANDER: I don't know how in god's name it happened, but 


I was on the first board of managers of the Willard 
Straight Hall, which had just been completed as the student 
union, and then became president of the Saturday noon club 
or Saturday lunch club, which entertained visiting 
dignitaries. So I became accustomed to introducing these 
characters and entertaining them afterwards and that sort 
of thing--which was also very helpful. I made it an 
objective to go out of my way to find the opportunity of 
public speaking. Yes, I think that's as important a tool 
as drawing in architecture. 

LASKEY: When you went for your interview, what did they 
want from you? What were they looking for from you when 
you went into Cornell? Or were they looking for anything? 
ALEXANDER: I'll be darned if I know for sure, but I think 
my father's background and knowing architects in Manhattan 
and working with them probably helped in conversing with 
the dean. The fact that my nose wasn't 100 percent to the 
grindstone was in my favor. The whole school of 
architecture consisted of not more than two hundred 
people. The graduating class got down to twenty, something 
like that. So it was a pretty intimate thing, and it was 
the liveliest school on campus. They were always doing 
something that called attention to themselves, good or bad, 
and the envy of a lot of the students from that standpoint. 
LASKEY: From a social point of view? 


ALEXANDER: Yeah, raising hell in one way or another. 

LASKEY: Creatively. 

ALEXANDER: Yeah, could be. [laughter] Their 

participation in Spring Day made it an outstanding event. 

LASKEY: Spring Day is a special celebration at Cornell? 

ALEXANDER: Yes. It started out largely as the finals of 

the crew races, but then it became an outrageous sort of 

time for parades and outrageous things such as the Beaux 

Arts Ball, which was a campuswide mystery and kind of a 

crazy time. 

LASKEY: What do you mean by saying that the Beaux Arts 

Ball was a campuswide mystery? 

ALEXANDER: Well, I should say that the very name developed 

a certain mystique, if you know what I mean. 

LASKEY: I assume from the name that it was a ball put on 

by the architecture school? 

ALEXANDER: Right. For the architects and mainly attended 

by architects. But it gained a certain amount of infamy 

and fame and so forth. Remember, this is during the period 

of Prohibition, when everybody in college was required to 

get drunk on occasion. 

LASKEY: You started Cornell in 1925. So we're talking in 

the period from 1925 to 1930, the jazz age. 

ALEXANDER: Yeah, right, and it was outrageous. 

LASKEY: Was it really? 


ALEXANDER: Well, looking at it now it's so goddamned 

innocent it isn't even funny, but at the time it was 

outlandish in the eyes of our parents and so forth. 

LASKEY: We're talking about bathtub gin and flappers, the 


ALEXANDER: Well, the great parties, the junior prom, the 

great campuswide dance held in the drill hall which had 

been built for ROTC, an enormous hall, with Jimmy Dorsey at 

one end and somebody, Paul Whiteman, at the other end of 

the hall playing one after the other all night long. One 

of those things. 

LASKEY: Did you ever compare notes with your brother? It 

must have been a very different Cornell that he went to. 

ALEXANDER: No, not really. I mean, four years-- 

LASKEY: Yeah, but those four years, that was '29-- It came 

right in the middle of that. 

ALEXANDER: No, I never did, from that standpoint. I just 

assumed life went on. [laughter] 

LASKEY: It went on, but I would think it would have gone 

on very differently. 

ALEXANDER: It could be. I just don't know. It sure went 

differently for me, I'll tell you. 

LASKEY: Well, you mentioned that Beaux Arts Ball. Going 

to Cornell in the twenties, you were then going right as 

architectural styles were changing, as "modern 


architecture, " quote unquote, was coming in. Did you go 
into the architecture school with any kind of a feeling 
about style? 

LASKEY: Were you even familiar with the modern movement? 
ALEXANDER: Not a bit. As a matter of fact, I just 
figured, "If this is the way you do it, if you can learn 
it, I can learn it. If you go to an architectural school 
to become an architect, that's what I'm going to do." I 
had no ideas-- I remember hearing tales about what was 
going on at Yale [University] and figuring at one point, 
"Gee, I might transfer to Yale, " because something was 
happening there. In my freshman year the school was 
dominated, from the standpoint of design, by the beaux 
arts. Every member of the faculty had been to the [Ecole 
des] Beaux-Arts or the landscape faculty had been Prix de 
Rome winners, and so forth. Everything was strictly 
classical; we learned to render the orders and that sort of 
thing. It started to loosen up when we had a visiting 
professor from Manhattan, Alexander Duncan Seymour, 
otherwise known as Alexander Drunken Seymour. [laughter] 
LASKEY: Poor Mr. Seymour. 

ALEXANDER: He and a young assistant professor started to 
put some life in the program. He was of the Paul [P.] Cret 
school, you might say. Paul Cret at the University of 


Pennsylvania and Otto Phaelton at Yale and somebody Morgan 

at NYU [New York University] and Alexander Seymour at 

Cornell were of the persuasion that classical forms were a 

must, but that we must introduce some fresh way to use 

thein--which they did. That was a breath of fresh air. I 

would say a hero at the time was-- [pause] The guy who 

designed the central library in L.A. and-- 

LASKEY: Oh, Bertram [G.] Goodhue. 

ALEXANDER: Yeah, Bertram Goodhue was a hero at the time. 

We never heard of Frank Lloyd Wright. 

LASKEY: Really? 

ALEXANDER: That's right. 

LASKEY: I find that really interesting. 

ALEXANDER: We had a hell of a fine library at the time. 

But [I] never heard about that guy until I-- 

LASKEY: How about the Bauhaus? Had that--? 

ALEXANDER: That hadn't started, no. I mean, no news of 


LASKEY: It had been around a bit. 

ALEXANDER: Yeah. I don't doubt that there were other 

students, probably even at Cornell, who had a different 

experience. But I don't remember hearing about those guys. 

LASKEY: But this was the education you were getting. It 

did not include references to Wright? 



LASKEY: How about the Chicago School with [Louis H.] 
Sullivan? Did you get that sort of thing? 
ALEXANDER: Oh yeah, yeah. However, there was a dramatic 
change over a period of five years from strict orders in 
beaux arts to beaux arts liberated, you might say. 

During my junior year, the summer of my junior year, I 
drove out to California with a fraternity brother who was 
also in architecture and who had to return to Pasadena. We 
lived at his house in Pasadena. He came back to get a job 
with his former boss, who was Marston. 
LASKEY: Oh, Sylvanus Marston? 

ALEXANDER: Yeah, who had been in partnership with 
[Garrett] Van Pelt. It was Marston, Van Pelt, and [Edgar] 
Maybury. Then Van Pelt split from Marston and Maybury and 
had an office in the same block on Euclid Street. I got a 
job with Van Pelt and so did John Porter Clark at a later 
date. He was the guy with whom I drove out to 
California. He's now in Palm Springs and has been an 
architect there since the middle of the Depression. 
LASKEY: Really? 

ALEXANDER: Yeah. John Porter Clark. Then I was offered a 
job if I would come back upon graduation. Furthermore, Van 
Pelt offered to show me around Europe. So my father bought 
a Model A Ford roadster, which we took across on the 
steamship Bremen. 


LASKEY: Now, just a second. This was after you came here 

for the summer between your junior and senior year? 


LASKEY: You went back and-- 

ALEXANDER: That was the end of my fifth year. 

LASKEY: The end of your fifth year. Then you went back 

for your fifth year and then went to Europe with Van Pelt 

after that? 

ALEXANDER: The summer I graduated, 1930. I was there for 

three months . 

LASKEY: What an opportunity. 

ALEXANDER: Well, he knew Europe like the back of his hand, 

which was a fantastic opportunity. And so we went all over 

France, Spain, and Italy for three months. That was 

fabulous. I had a great experience there. Came back, 

worked here in Pasadena for Van Pelt for a year. I figured 

everything was just going fine. The Depression was on in 

the rest of the country, but I had a job. Then I went back 

East, got married, came back here three, four, or five 

months later. One Friday afternoon, every client in the 

office called and canceled. Van Pelt locked the door and 

that was it, and I was out on the street. 

LASKEY: Oh, my goodness. This was about 1932? 


LASKEY: You went back to get married. Was this someone 


from New Jersey or someone from school? 

ALEXANDER: No, it was someone that I had met on the trip 

out here in '28. She had come out having graduated from a 

ladies' college in Saratoga [Springs]. Swarthmore-- Not 

Swarthmore . [Skidmore College] Well, anyway, she had come 

out to join the community theater in Pasadena, which was 


LASKEY: Oh, the Pasadena Playhouse? 

ALEXANDER: Right, it was famous at the time as a community 

theater. She found that it already had been corrupted by 

Hollywood into an organization that used mainly Hollywood 

people and was no longer the community theater that it had 

been. So then she decided to go back, and she and her 

mother and her sister booked passage on the steamship 

Virginia going through the Canal Zone, which I had also 

booked to get back. I met her there. Then she went to 

Cornell for an M.A. during my fifth year and then got a job 

teaching at Dickinson College in Williamsport, 

Pennsylvania. That's where we were married, then flew out 


LASKEY: Flew out here? 

ALEXANDER: Yeah. That was crazy. We got to Salt Lake 

City and we were to change to Western Airlines at Salt Lake 

City. We waved good-bye to our plane that then went on to 

San Francisco and said, "Where's ours?" They said, "Well, 


you know, due to the Knute Rockne crash, all Ford trimotors 
have been grounded. So we're very sorry." I said, "Now 
what do we do?" So I rustled up a mail plane pilot who 
flew a plane-- Let's see, I don't remember the name of it 
now. But it had an open cockpit for the pilot and two 
staggered seats. The fuselage was so narrow that they 
couldn't get two seats next to each other. So it had 
staggered seats and open windows, if we wanted them open. 
I guess we could close them up, but he had his head in the 
breeze all the time. 
LASKEY: You flew like that from-- 

ALEXANDER: Flew from Salt Lake City to Las Vegas to Los 
Angeles. I ate my box lunch, which made my wife throw 
up. [laughter] She was just deathly sick. So then when 
we came over the San Gorgonio Pass, I said, "Whew, look at 
those wonderful yuccas." She could have killed me. 
LASKEY: What was your wife's name? 

ALEXANDER: Marie Eugenie Therese Antoinette Vigneron 
Alexander. We had two kids together [Lynne M. Alexander 
and Timothy M. Alexander] . She pulled me through the 
Depression by getting a job teaching school at West lake 
School for Girls in Pasadena--$100 a month for nine months, 
$900 a year. I earned a like amount in one year--$934 or 
something like that--sketching for Doug [Douglas] Honnold 
and getting little jobs here and there, digging ditches 


occasionally, getting jobs at United Artists studios in the 
art department and that sort of thing. And then we had a 
couple of kids. She went to USC [University of Southern 
California], got an M.A. in library science, and then 
became the librarian of the Library of Architecture and 
Allied Arts, which was an independent organization founded 
by the Allied Architects [of Los Angeles], who attempted to 
corner all the city and county business at one time, headed 
by [Edwin] Bergstrom, 

LASKEY: I believe they did a master plan for the [Los 
Angeles] Civic Center. What else about them? 
ALEXANDER: Well, they were sued by old Martin. What's his 
name? Albert [C] Martin, Sr. He sued successfully, so 
they had to disband. As part of their public relations 
gesture, they gave their library that they had assembled, 
set it up as a public institution with an endowment. It 
was in very bad shape after a period of years because the 
endowment just didn't take care of rising inflation and so 
on during the war. Anyway, she became their librarian and 
tried to get it in shape. 

Then on an occasion when I was back at Ann Arbor, 
Michigan, at a conference of architects and school 
administrators and educational publishers, I got the news 
that she had been killed by a Santa Fe train. 
LASKEY: Oh, Mr. Alexander. 


ALEXANDER: She was driving home from the library on 

Fletcher Boulevard and there was a grade crossing at that 

point. There was construction going on on Fletcher so that 

the cars were jammed up in a single line, and she was 

stranded in the middle of the tracks when the gates came 

down on both sides. 

LASKEY: Oh, how horrible. 

ALEXANDER: So that — 

LASKEY: When was this? 

ALEXANDER: I think it was '51. Then I became a member of 

the board of the library and determined to put it where it 

would be self-supporting and at the same time do everybody 

some good if they took advantage of it. And that became 

part of the UCLA library. I had conferences with [Franklin 

D.] Murphy, and we donated the library to UCLA and used the 

endowment, which is still in existence, to give the library 

a shot in the arm every year. 

LASKEY: Is this the architecture library or the research 


ALEXANDER: The Architecture [and Urban Planning] 

Library. It's part of it. I presume it's integrated. It 

should be by now. It was a library that was very heavily 

used by the movie industry at one time, the art departments 

in the movie industry. So it had quite a collection of 

things that you wouldn't find in a normal architectural 


library, things that had to do with decoration and with rug 
designs and all kinds of stuff. It also has some historic 
stuff in it. 


JULY 24, 1986 

LASKEY: I want to go back just a little bit, Mr. 
Alexander, to the period when you first came out to Los 
Angeles and then you went back to the East and then you 
went to Europe. I'm wondering about all the influences of 
all these changes on you. 

ALEXANDER: Well, I had worked in Manhattan for [Wallace 
K.] Harrison. It became Harrison and Abramovitz. This was 
the Harrison that was with [Harvey W.] Corbett and [William 
H.] MacMurray, the firm that was doing Rockefeller 
Center. So it was quite a change to work in an office in 
Pasadena that was doing nothing but residential work. It 
was all very well-designed residential work. At that time 
it was customary for the draftsman to be given the time to 
draw charcoal sketches full-size on the wall, for instance, 
of say a New Orleans grill and then to follow that through 
and go out to the iron worker, where he'd help the modeler 
make a clay or wax model of this thing and then see it cast 
in cast iron. That's something that no architect has a 
chance to do these days. It was really a marvelous 
LASKEY: Oh, yes. 

ALEXANDER: Or to design as part of a total picture some 
large-scale vase, or whatever, as part of some 


Mediterranean house and then to make a full-size of it on 
the wall and then go around to the Greek sculptor who 
couldn't get jobs doing what he was taught to do in the old 
country but who would make a model of this thing. It was a 
five-foot-high thing that Sinbad the Sailor would be proud 
to jump out of. 

LASKEY: Were they in the offices? You worked these out on 
the walls of the offices? 

ALEXANDER: Well, I mean you put a piece of paper up first. 
LASKEY: And then take them to the craftsman and say, "This 
is what I want, " and you worked together. 
ALEXANDER: So you really become involved. I mean you 
could become involved at that time in the hands-on 
experience of craftsmanship. You're not doing it; you're 
not trained to do it, but you get a piece of the action. 
So this was a very personally satisfying experience. 

Of course, going to Europe just blew my mind. I 
didn't expect to and didn't get a chance to do anything 
such as I had seen over there--that is, up to a certain 
point. But I was really given a great opportunity the very 
first year I came back. At that time it was quite 
customary for people to go to Pasadena for the winter, 
especially if they were from Chicago, or in this case 
Rochester, New York. Rochester, New York, can have an 
absolutely miserable winter if you're a certain age. I 


mean, when I was young I loved it, but, geez, what a 
place. So people would form the habit of coming out here 
every year. They'd go to, let's see, the Huntington Hotel 
or one of the hotels. (I have a story about that, by the 
way.) But this client that I'm thinking about was a shoe 
manufacturer named Mr. Stein or something--! don't remember 
what it was. Anyway, I'd say he romanticized Mediterranean 
influence by the Arabs somehow or other: [mimics Eastern 
European accent] "Mr. Alexander, go down and look at the 
Green Hotel." There would be something in the lobby that 
he thought was terrific or there would be the dome on the 
roof: "Look at the dome, just what I want." Anyway, I had 
been to Majorca. I'd spent two weeks on Majorca. I just 
loved the place. I was given full speed ahead to design 
something for this guy, and it's still there. It's near 
the Huntington Hotel, which is no longer-- Is it shut down 

LASKEY: Well, it's-- 
ALEXANDER: Been condemned. 

LASKEY: Well, it was, but they are protesting that. 
ALEXANDER: Oh, good. 

LASKEY: I think it's still operating, and there's a chance 
that it will continue as it is. At least, we hope so. 
ALEXANDER: It was customary for a hotel in Pasadena-- Or I 
should say, several of the hotels bought quite a bit of 


land around them. And if somebody was a regular guest and 
would like to come out and build a house there, they could 
sell them a piece of property for a house. He could come 
over to the hotel for meals anytime he wanted, and so on 
and so forth. He knew everybody who came out every year 
the way he did. So that was part of the system. This guy 
bought a piece of property that went down to El Molino 
[Avenue] up to whatever that little winding street is 
there. I designed a fantasy there. The two gates, the 
gateposts I should say, have objects on top which you 
wouldn't believe. I was enchanted by-- What do you call 
them? They grow up by Castroville. 
LASKEY: Oh, artichokes. 

ALEXANDER: The form is like a pineapple, so regular and 
beautiful in such a pattern. I just became enthralled by 
that. I went down to the greengrocer and bought a couple 
of these artichokes and came back and designed artichokes 
about three feet high that go on top of these gateposts. 
And then the doorway has something I wouldn't be caught 
dead with now I guess--a fanciful sort of design. I don't 
know that it has a name. It's sort of a floral design that 
was done in emerald blue, or what do they call a stone 
that's blue? 
LASKEY: Lapis. 
ALEXANDER: Yeah, or the stuff from Arizona that the 


Indians use. 

LASKEY: Oh, turquoise. 

ALEXANDER: Turquoise-blue tile. It's sort of an elaborate 

flowing thing, just out of nothing. And it's still there. 

LASKEY: This is around the doorway? 

ALEXANDER: Yeah, around the doorway to the house. And 

this place was bought by [Isaac N.] Van Nuys, famous for 

Van Nuys in the [San Fernando] Valley. The reason I know 

it's still there is that I had a call from a young man who 

in partnership with another young man had bought this home, 

and I guess is living in it now. They wanted me to come 

around and tell them something about it. On the centennial 

year I was taken on a bus tour--I was supposed to talk 

about some things. And, by god, we went right past this 

thing. I don't know whether I got a chance to say anything 

about it or not, but it was on the tour. Nobody knew 

anything about it. It's just a "strangey." 

LASKEY: Well, is it a whole house? 


LASKEY: But it's done as a fantasy? 

ALEXANDER: Well, I'd call it-- It came right out of 

Majorca from my standpoint. The entrance is through a 

patio and columns and corbels, which were nicely carved to 

my design. It was really fun to work on something like 

that, especially right out of school. 


LASKEY: When you came out here and started working for 

[Garrett] Van Pelt, they dealt a lot, did they not, in 

Mediterranean houses and Mediterranean-style architecture? 

ALEXANDER: Oh, yeah. 

LASKEY: Was that new to you? 

ALEXANDER: Not after that trip. Well, I knew something 

about it from the library at Cornell [University] , but it 

was quite new to think of doing a thing like that when I 

was there. 

Do you know where George Vernon Russell lives? Well, 
it's in Pasadena. It's off of Orange Grove [Boulevard], up 
a driveway. It used to be an estate belonging to this one 
house, but the house has been-- Stuff in front of it. It 
is, you know, multiple family now. But he bought this 
thing which was designed by Van Pelt's office--I 
participated in it--for a Mrs. Hill. I forget the 
background of Mrs. Hill, but she was very well-off. That's 
pretty typical of the really solid Mediterranean stuff that 
we were doing at the time. I designed fireplaces, mantles, 
and some of the outside. Well, the basic plan I think Van 
Pelt did. But John [Porter] Clark and I both worked on 
that one. John came to work for Van Pelt. Well, it was 
during the Depression; it happened all the time. 

There were three sisters-- What's the name Young in 
the movies? Three sisters, their last name is Young. 


LASKEY: Loretta Young. 

ALEXANDER: Yeah, there you go. Well, he designed Loretta 

Young's house right off of the UCLA campus, right across 

Sunset Boulevard from the UCLA campus up on a hill. It's a 

four-column, Georgian, two-story building. 

LASKEY: It's Still there. 

ALEXANDER: Yeah. John designed that. 

LASKEY: Did you work on that one at all? 

ALEXANDER: I worked on some of the stuff, fireplaces, 


LASKEY: Well, would your beaux-arts training from Cornell 

have helped you in this kind of architecture? 

ALEXANDER: Oh, certainly. Sure. I still approach a 

serious design problem from the standpoint of balance. And 

the beaux-arts design training was actually a course in 

logic, the way it was taught, as I recall it. So that, 

regardless of the form, the approach was more or less the 


LASKEY: Did you have to go through the charette? Was this 

part of the training? 

ALEXANDER: Oh yes, yeah. Esquisse and esquisse- 

esquisse. The eight-hour project and the three-day 

project. And then you had to set down in one day what your 

basic concept was and then not deviate from that as you 

developed it over a two-week or ten-week period. 


LASKEY: Did they give you the program and tell you and 
then you had to--? 

ALEXANDER: Oh, yeah. They give you the program. Then you 
sit down and develop an esquise-esquise, which was in 
sketch form. And if you departed from that you got an hors 
de concours (HC), or you could get an HC for being late. 
You'd get around to the last day and then work all day and 
night, sometimes two days and nights. And when we started, 
the first couple of years Cornell was part of a system in 
which we sent some of our projects, the best ones that were 
judged by our faculty, to a central place for judging. So 
that there was a competition between colleges, which had 
its healthy aspects, but which resulted really in paying 
too much attention to the presentation and not the 
content. It was abandoned the end of the second year I was 
there. But not the beaux-arts system. 
LASKEY: How long did the beaux-arts system last? 
ALEXANDER: Well, from a standpoint of teaching, I don't 
know how long it lasted. It was there all the time I was 
there. But they got away from the stiff rules and the 
intercollege competition, that sort of thing, which I think 
was under the circumstances a good idea. 
LASKEY: As you moved West, did you find any other 
influences that were different approaches to architecture 
or design? 


ALEXANDER: I didn't know a hell of a lot different from 
what I found out here, as a matter of fact. I had that one 
experience of working for a summer in Manhattan. I had 
worked one summer in my father's office, which was not at 
all architectural. But outside of that-- Well, I did 
become familiar with the whole elevator background. 
Corbett was the name of the head architect; Corbett, 
Harrison, and MacMurray was the firm. We were doing 
Rockefeller Center and had just started on the New York 
Life Insurance Company Building. The life insurance 
company had hired an efficiency expert by the name of Mr. 
Comfort, who was getting in the hair of Mr. Corbett. Mr. 
Corbett took me aside and said, "Now, I'm going to assign 
you to this man, and you just keep him occupied, will 
you?" [laughter] So I worked with this guy on 
permutations and combinations of how to deal with 
elevators. That is, whether you have a double-decked 
elevator that stops at two floors at once or whether you 
had two elevators operating at the same chamber at the same 
time. And what safety devices you have to have- -how many 
feet a minute. Twelve hundred feet a minute, I think, was 
about as fast as they went at the time, I'm not sure. But 
I got a liberal dose of elevator lore: how you figure out 
where you're going to have express stops, how you handle 
express locals beyond that, and what is the most efficient 


way to handle the whole elevator deal. This is pretty far 
out compared to designing a little house out here, or a big 
house for that matter. 

LASKEY: The elevator work that you were doing, was it 
actually in conjunction with the building of Rockefeller 

ALEXANDER: Oh no, this was the New York Life Building, 
LASKEY: The New York Life Building. But the Rockefeller 
Center was being built at the same time. I guess that's 
the question that I'm trying to ask you and not phrasing 
very well. You're involved, and you see Rockefeller Center 
at one point on one side and then you have this sort of 
hacienda or Mediterranean style--they were such different 
life-styles. And you were a young man, and also the 
distances between the coasts were greater in 1930 than they 
are now. I'm just wondering--it sounds like it would have 
been exciting and challenging. 

ALEXANDER: Well, I didn't have a development in depth in 
Manhattan from that standpoint. From the standpoint of 
surroundings, of course, I knew what an urban scene was. I 
was dumped into a country scene here, really. The 
architects with whom I worked here also had beaux-arts 
training, although they may not have actually gone to the 
Ecole des Beaux-Arts. But they knew how the rich people 
for whom they designed houses liked to live--which is 


something to learn. A lot of people don't know today how 
they did like to live at that time. That is, this whole 
idea that came in with modern architecture, so-called, of 
opening up spaces so that there were no doors separating 
the kitchen-- In fact, the kitchen becomes part of the 
family room or the living room even. No such thing as a 
dining room in many of those designs. Dining space, this 
space, that space, and the other space all mashed into 
one. Whereas the idea of coming into a reception room 
where one is received if he has the right card when he 
comes to the door and puts it in the tray-- And if it is 
perfectly okay, then the door is opened again for him to 
come in. Then he must wait for admission into the parlor, 
if it's a formal thing. The whole idea of the formal 
dining room and the butler's pantry, which is a real 
pantry, and the kitchen and the place for the servants to 
eat and to live and all that sort of thing is foreign to 
our living these days. It was something that was foreign 
to me as far as my home was concerned, although we had a 
maid's room in the house. We never had a maid to speak of, 
maybe for a short time. But learning what was considered 
the good life was something that was necessary and 

LASKEY: Well, Pasadena in particular wooed the upper 
class, or an upper-middle-class kind of resident. 


ALEXANDER: Well, Van Pelt designed the McCormick place for 
instance. Coming out from Chicago to the [Henry E.] 
Huntington [Library and Art Gallery] year after year, you 
finally had to have a place right across the street from 
the Huntington of course. The thumbtack king, that was a 
[Sylvanus] Marston job that Jack Clark worked on. You 
know, the country club life at the time was something that 
has not been indulged in since. 

LASKEY: Well, you had made a statement that I was looking 
for in talking about this period and the architects who 
were designing. You said that there was no way that they 
would ever design a house where the front door would open 
into the living room. 

LASKEY: Which is exactly what you're saying. I think that 
describes so well the difference, this sort of elegance and 
formality of what I think of when I think of Mediterranean 
houses and what I think of as Southern California. 

Did you live in Pasadena when you were working out 


ALEXANDER: Yes. I lived in several places, but for quite 
a while in a little cottage right off El Molino, Let's 
see, what's it called? Oak Knoll Gardens Drive, right off 
Oak Knoll [Avenue], or off El Molino near Oak Knoll. When 
I finally got some work in Los Angeles in [Reginald D.] 


Johnson's office and later with Wilson and Merrill, I used 
to take the red car in. This was one block from Lake 
[Street] , where the red car ran. Then I moved to a little 
house out on San Gabriel Boulevard, which is on the east 
side of Pasadena, beyond, well, out Lombardy [Road]. 
LASKEY: Okay. I think of Lombardy as basically in San 

ALEXANDER: Right, yeah. San Gabriel Boulevard runs right 
into San Marino, but it's Pasadena at that point. That was 
just before and after the war started. Then I moved to 
Baldwin Hills Village and lived there for nine years. For 
fifteen years I lived in Pasadena. 

LASKEY: When Mr. Van Pelt closed his office door that 
Friday afternoon, what did you do? 

ALEXANDER: Well, John Clark and I were both looking for 
something to do--preferably to get paid for doing. So 
Colorado Boulevard and Lake were just desolate looking. A 
whole department store had closed down. The store windows 
were drab and oh so sad looking. Everything had come to a 
standstill. Came to the bank holiday-- For instance, I had 
a savings account. I'd been putting something in this 
savings account religiously every week. It was the only 
bank that failed to open after the bank holiday. Anyway, 
here's this miserable-looking street, and we thought, 
"Well, we could maybe persuade these people to jazz things 


up. They have these vacant windows and they look 
terrible. So let's get a job window decorating." I guess 
maybe we got two jobs for very little pay, if any. That 
just didn't fly. 

Then another friend of mine was C. Hunt Lewis III. He 
and I had both worked in Johnson's office for a little 
bit. He had graduated from Princeton [University]. Or had 
he? I think so. He was married to Rosemary Street 
Lewis. Her father was Julian Street. You know of him? 
LASKEY: No, I don't. 

ALEXANDER: Author for the New Yorker. Well, anyway. Hunt 
Lewis and I-- Here was Prohibition just going out, people 
were stocking up on wine. Let's design some wine-cellar 
accessories. [laughter] Well, you know there's not much 
money in it. Maybe we had a couple of jobs, but we 
couldn't make a go of it. I had maybe two or three weeks 
working for Reggie Johnson on a house that was already 
under construction. It was a luxurious palace, costing $2 
million at the time, for Seeley [G. ] Mudd in Pasadena. 
LASKEY: It was in Pasadena? 

ALEXANDER: Yeah. Johnson had a superb chief draftsman and 
a couple of great designers, one of whom was a Cornell man 
whom I had known, Cooney [M.] Cameron. Carpenter was the 
other designer, wore a smock, good old French style. I 
worked on paneling in some grand room or other and came to 


the end of the employment. Johnson said, "Well, now, why 
don't you go around and see if Frank Hodges, the 
contractor, can use your help. You might get some 
contracting and construction experience." So Frank Hodges 
sent me around to see his foreman. His foreman rubbed his 
hand in glee to see this lily- fingered character looking 
for a job. So the first Job-- It turned out that the day 
before, Mr. Mudd had been on the job and he had gone down 
into the little tiny basement they had, which was just a 
partial basement big enough for the heating system. He 
looked up over the retaining wall and said, "Well, now, 
that looks rather untidy in there, don't you think, Mr. 
Hodges?" Mr. Hodges said, "Yes, it is rather untidy. What 
would you like?" He said, "Well, I'd like to have it very 
tidy." This thing covered what seemed like an acre, you 
know, and the only access to this underspace under the 
house was one access port in the center of this concrete 
floor. There were concrete beams that came down within 
eighteen inches of the dirt. And the game was that some 
Mexicans would take wheelbarrow loads of pea gravel, very 
small, fine gravel, and dump it down this access hole, and 
another Mexican and I would get under there and get this 
pea gravel and spread it around two inches deep over the 
whole thing. We'd have to get it out from where they were 
dumping it down in quantity first, and then get a two-by- 


four and screed it until it was two inches deep over the 

whole damn thing. Well, for two weeks I did this until I 

couldn't stand up straight. [laughter] 

LASKEY: I was going to say, I'm surprised that you could 

even maneuver. I would think you had to be using muscles 

you hadn't ever used. 

ALEXANDER: It was absolutely crazy. It was insane. 

So at the end of two weeks Seeley Mudd comes along 
with another grand idea. By that time they had framed up 
to the second floor, and he says, "Now, is this my 

We said, "Yes. " 

He says, "Is that a bathroom right next door to it? 
Won't I hear the plumbing?" I mean, it's his own goddamned 
plumbing you know. [laughter] 

LASKEY: He had seen the plans to the house before? 
ALEXANDER: Mr. Hodges says, "Yes, Mr. Mudd, you probably 

"I think we should have some sound insulation in that 
wall, don't you?" 

"Oh yes, Mr. Mudd. " 

So at that time there was no such thing as bats of 
glass wool, something nice and clean like that to put up 
with paper on one side. But you got burlap sacks of spun 
glass. Then you were to pack this into the wall. Well, I 


think we were given masks, so that that helped a little bit 
so we didn't get, what do you call it, from glass in the 
lungs. But I had little pieces of glass sticking me in my 
ear and down my back and unmentionable places all over. I 
just couldn't get rid of it with a shower or anything else 
for another two weeks packing glass wool. 

LASKEY: How could they get anybody to do that? I mean, 
that sounds like a job that could literally kill you. 
ALEXANDER: I told Seeley Mudd about this years later when 
I was a consulting architect at Caltech [California 
Institute of Technology] and he wanted to locate an 
astronomy building that he wanted to finance. This was 
just before he died. Well, he was amused, but he didn't 
remember it, [laughter] 

LASKEY: All the havoc that he wrought and he didn't even 
remember it. Was that the end of your construction career? 
ALEXANDER: Well, no, I did some more ditchdigging on 
occasion for brief periods. Actually, one really good 
experience I had from the standpoint of understanding how 
things are put together--which we did not learn in college 
the way some do at San Luis Obispo [California Polytechnic 
State University] these days, or they have in the past 
years--was just how two-by-fours are put together to make 
things work. I had a friend who lived adjacent to the 
Valley Hunt Club, Harlan [B.] Robinson. His mother was 


living alone, or I guess he was living there with her at 
the time, and it was only a few blocks from the Huntington 
Memorial Hospital. She had an idea to bring in some extra 
income. She needed a garage. She wanted a two-car garage 
with an apartment attached to it that she could rent to a 
nurse. So she wanted me to design it. Well, it was 
great. She had a very big heart and was a grand lady. I 
think she sympathized with my plight, but in any event I 
got a little money for designing this thing. Then she 
said, "Well, now that you have it designed, how about 
building it?" I said, "Oh my god, I don't know anything 
about that." She said, "Well, you think it over." 

So that night I had a friend, a Cornell architect who 
was then studying sculpture at USC [University of Southern 
California], "Bill Berk, the jerk from Albuquerque"-- He 
came over and we had a little music going on. By that time 
I had accumulated six ocarinas of various sizes, from a 
little soprano ocarina to a bass ocarina. He had developed 
what he called a stomach pump, which was a f ive-and-ten- 
cent-store flute with a long length of rubber tubing that 
he'd put around his neck and blow. He'd put the flute on 
the floor and play it. So we had a couple of numbers and I 
mentioned this opportunity, which I thought was scary. He 
said, "Oh no, I know all about that stuff. My father has 
all the tools. He'll lend [them to] us." He said, "Don't 


worry, we can do that." Well, I didn't know it, but he 
didn't know much more about it than I did, but he had balls 
and the tools. Of course, I didn't have any tools or 
anything like that. We even rented a little cement mixer 
that was like a coffee pot, but would break down right in 
the middle of everything. Well, anyway, we decided we 
would try it. He brought the tools along and he taught me 
how things go together. By doing it myself and building a 
whole little house without any outside help-- 

Furthermore, we got about halfway through this-- He 
always had crazy ideas. He was married; he and Suzanne had 
heard about a wonderful opportunity to go around the world 
and make their money doing it. This was [the idea of] a 
guy who thought he was a millionaire. He inherited quite a 
bit of money and he had bought a sailing vessel, the 
Eastern Star or something like that, in San Francisco 
harbor. He was outfitting this thing and he was rounding 
up a group of artists of various kinds: a sculptor, a 
writer to chronicle the whole thing, this, that, and the 
other--a painter too. They were going to take a sail 
around the world and going to do all these things that 
would make money to support it, and in the meantime he'd 
finance them. So Bill, all of a sudden right in the middle 
of our construction project, went sailing off to San 
Francisco to build their quarters on the boat, which they 


did. But then, unfortunately, the guy who owned the boat 
turned out not to be a millionaire, but to have had what 
money he inherited go to his head. So he thought he was a 
millionaire. So that didn't work out. 

But in the meantime I was left holding the sack with 
this house half completed. So I finished it. That 
intimate contact with having to do certain things, to put 
two-by-fours together and to make the house work, really 
freed me a great deal from the fear I had of tools and the 
fear I had of wondering how-- You know, looking at 
copybooks is one thing, but getting your hands on it and 
doing it is another. So that was really good construction 
experience- -as tiny as it was. It's been torn down since, 
by the way. 

LASKEY: Oh, that's too bad. 

ALEXANDER: A couple of my things have been torn down. 
Parkinson [and Bergstrom; later Parkinson and Parkinson], 
who was a big firm here at one time. 
LASKEY: Donald Parkinson? 
LASKEY: John and — 

ALEXANDER: Well, it was father and son. 
LASKEY: Yeah, John and Don. 

ALEXANDER: I knew both, but when the old man had died-- 
Donald had a client, G. Schirmer, who turned out sheet 


music. Mr. Schirmer wanted a store in Los Angeles, and it 
was a little job from Parkinson's standpoint. I had 
several occasions like this when an architect didn't want 
to take on the obligation of having a permanent employee, 
but he had a job that he wanted done. I had several cases 
where I was employed like that. Just to come in and do the 
whole thing: "I don't want to hear a thing. Take care of 
the client, get it built, and get it out of here." So I 
designed this one-story store in downtown Los Angeles. I 
forget exactly where it was now, but right near Pershing 
Square. It was quite urbane. And that's been torn down. 
LASKEY: It wasn't about, oh, say, somewhere near Hope 
[Street] and Ninth [Street] or in that area? 

LASKEY: Because for years there was a music store that 
sold sheet music. 

ALEXANDER: This was like Sixth [Street] . 
LASKEY: Oh, really next to Pershing Square. 
ALEXANDER: Probably some other things have been torn down 
that I don't know about. I just thought of those two. 
Another one that may have been torn down similar to that: 
Palmer Sabin had his office right next to Arroyo 
[Boulevard] and California Street and Roland [E.] Coate 
[formerly of Johnson, Kaufman, and Coate] also had his 
office there. Palmer Sabin, when I was looking for a job. 


said, "You know, I have this little project for the school 
board of San Marino, which is an auditorium, and I'd like 
you to handle the whole thing." There I did the plans and 
the specifications and saw it get underway. That was right 
on Huntington Boulevard. I don't know whether it's there 
still or not, but it was a little auditorium, pretty 
superficially classic. The most interesting thing about it 
was that a friend of Palmer's, also in that same little 
complex with Palmer Sabin and Roland Coate, was a 
contractor who had patents on something called lattice 
steel, in which he would erect a sort of basket of very, 
very light steelwork and put a paper core, a reinforced 
paper core inside so that it was hollow, and blast it with 
Gunite from the outside--that is, pneumatically blown 
concrete, very dense. This was the construction of the 
thing. What's the name of the guy? [Fritz Ruppel] He was 
a very interesting character. He did the reconstruction of 
one of the missions south of here, San Luis Key I think, in 
Oceanside. [He] developed a brick that looked like an 
adobe brick in size, scale, and so forth, specially for 
this job. well, anyway, that's a diversion. Where were 

we? [laughter] 

LASKEY: we were talking about some of your buildings that 
had been torn down in San Marino, and having talked about 
Palmer Sabin and Roland Coate. 


ALEXANDER: Everything is a diversion. 

LASKEY: Well, not always. Did you do anything else for 

the Parkinsons in downtown Los Angeles? Were you involved 

in anything that went up on Spring Street? 

ALEXANDER: No, no. I got to know the old boy before he 

died, though. He had come from Canada. 

LASKEY: This was John, the father. 

ALEXANDER: Yeah. He'd come from Canada, and when he first 

arrived there was a building boom on here. All of the 

lumber, of course, was coming down from the Northwest by 

ship. When it arrived, it was not only green, but it was 

full of sea water. And maybe-- How long have you lived 


LASKEY: Almost thirty years. 

ALEXANDER: Okay, then you may remember at the foot of 

Bunker Hill, across from the [Los Angeles Central] Library, 

there were some five- and six-story tenements of wood. 

LASKEY: Across from the library? 

ALEXANDER: Well, this side-- 

LASKEY: Well, across from Hill Street, across from [Grand] 

Central Market. 

ALEXANDER: Yeah, correct. Yeah, yeah. Well, not only 

there but on the other side of the hill there were these 

five- or six-story walk-ups in wood. Well, he had designed 

those when he first came from Canada. 


LASKEY: Parkinson did? 

ALEXANDER: Yeah. It was his introduction to Los 
Angeles. I mean, it was a building boom--boom, boom, 
boom. This was probably 1910. Anyway, he was a careful 
man, and he got out a transit and measured the thing when 
it was built. I forgot how many months later, it was nine 
inches shorter in height. And this is not supposed to 
happen to Douglas fir. I mean, everything's supposed to 


JULY 24, 1986 

ALEXANDER: I remember that scene. When he was telling 
that story, it seems to me it was at the Pierpont Davis 
house. Pier Davis, Dave [David J.] Witmer, [Edwin] 
Bergstrom--the group of people who were in what was called 
Allied Architects [of Los Angeles] . We were in tuxedos at 
his house. I don't know where we had come from, but I 
remember he told me that it's ridiculous to wear these 
fancy shirts with a tuxedo. A tuxedo, after all, is a 
dinner jacket, you just wear an ordinary white shirt. When 
it comes to formal wear with tails, that's something else, 
but don't give me this stiff -shirt business. I mean, you 
wear that to dinner, for heaven's sake, every night. 
LASKEY: Of course, of course. [laughter] 
ALEXANDER: That was the group when-- 

LASKEY: Now, when was this, or is this the same period 
we've been talking about? 

ALEXANDER: Well, I'll tell you, when I got into working 
with Dave Witmer-- Let's see, the war hadn't started yet. 
[pause] But maybe it had. Oh, I know. It was after I 
went back to visit my family at Spring Lake. I had sent my 
wife [Eugenie Vigneron Alexander] and daughter [ Lynne M. 
Alexander] back ahead of me. I was working with Wilson and 
Merrill. And our last active job in the office was 


converting an opera house in Bakersfield into a [Twentieth 
Century] Fox West Coast theater. That came almost to a 
close under construction and I was free to take a 
vacation. So I was going to just take a two-week vacation 
in Spring Lake. I went back with a fishing rod, white 
ducks, and tennis shoes, and that's about all. 
LASKEY: Your white tux? 
ALEXANDER: No, no, white ducks. 

LASKEY: You travel for every occasion. [laughter] 
ALEXANDER: I Just expected to stay two weeks, instead of 
which, just before I was to come back, I thought I'd visit 
Clarence [S.] Stein in New York City. He had been our 
consulting architect on Baldwin Hills Village. He never 
came out here that I recall during that period, but he did 
keep us on the track by correspondence. He was just a 
delightful gentleman. So I went in just to call on him, 
and he said, "Hey, by the way, while you're here why don't 
you get some experience in large-scale housing?" I said, 
"Well, why don't I?" He said, "Well, tell you what. You 
know Richmond Shreve, " who was the architect of the Empire 
State Building. He was a Cornell architect. He said, 
"Just tell him you're from Cornell--! mean you were 
educated at Cornell--and that you'd like a job on this 
thing that they're working on down at Metropolitan 
Life [Insurance Company], [at] the Metropolitan board of 


design. He's chairman of the board of design. They're 
designing the largest housing project in the world, 2,275 
apartments," or whatever it was. It became Parkchester. 
That was the name of it. 

And so I went down to see Shreve, and he said, "Oh, 
sure, we need some people. We're hiring right now." This 
being still in the Depression era, it sounded good to have 
something going on like that, really active. So I went 
down to Union Square and the Metropolitan building, where 
the drafting building was, and I was hired on. I said, 
"I'd just like to have some experience for a couple of 
months." He says, "Well, we'd like to have you aboard." 
So at the end of the month I was told that "If you commit 
to stay for six months, we'll give you a raise and you do 
this." Then at the end of another month, he said, "If you 
agree to stay for a year, we'll give you this 
responsibility and increase your pay." So I did. I was 
there for the whole damn year, unexpectedly. 
LASKEY: This was about in 1937, 1938. 

ALEXANDER: Yeah, I think. My Social Security card, the 
first one I ever had, I think it's '38. Yeah. Well, I 
came back from that to Los Angeles to find that my partner 
Wilson had become a joint-venture partner on several teams 
in public housing. 
LASKEY: Just to back up a little bit, who was Wilson? 


ALEXANDER: Lou Wilson, Louis Eugene Wilson, was the older 
brother of the Wilson who founded a very extensive practice 
here. And what was his name? Wilson, another Wilson. 
[tape recorder off] 

Adrian Wilson's firm [Adrian Wilson and Associates] 
blossomed during the Vietnam War, doing a lot of work 
overseas that I didn't care for very much. Over a period 
of years, I had a lot of, not bitter, but I was in a feud 
with Adrian. But it wasn't really all that bad. I didn't 
like what I considered his principles to be, whereas his 
brother I thought--well, I know--was an entirely different 
kind of character. Lou Wilson was a go-getter businessman 
and architect from Kansas. He had gone into partnership 
with Edwin Merrill, who was a well- trained architect, a 
graduate of MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology] . 
But Merrill was stone-deaf, very close to stone-deaf and 
disabled that way in practice. But a real student and a 
great technical man, not a designer--neither one was. 
Well, Lou had-- 

LASKEY: Well, what was his expertise then? 
ALEXANDER: Getting business. 
LASKEY: Oh, okay. 

ALEXANDER: And just a wonderful human being- -good, 
sociable guy. He had, in 1934 or '33-- Yeah, in 1934 he 
had rounded up ten contracts. He had the contracts signed 


and wanted to get these houses designed. And that was when 
Reg Johnson referred him to me. That was the first so- 
called steady job that I had. It wasn't very steady, 
because as soon as I got my license that year I demanded 
partnership. Of course they'd be delighted to have me as a 
partner, which meant that I didn't get paid at all. 
LASKEY: This was what, 1932? 
ALEXANDER: ' Thirty- four . 
LASKEY: 'Thirty- four, okay. 

ALEXANDER: Yeah. I mean sometimes I didn't get paid at 
all. Anyway, I had to share in their ill or good fortune, 
whatever. Well, I came back to find that Lou had entered 
these joint ventures without any reference to my being a 
partner of our firm of Wilson, Merrill, and Alexander. 
LASKEY: What's a joint venture? 

ALEXANDER: Well, that is a one-time partnership for that 
specific job only. It's the same as a partnership except 
it's not extensive, it doesn't cover everything. It covers 
that one particular thing. It's a venture that is entered 
into jointly by one or more firms. President Roosevelt's 
policy at that time was in any one of these things, such as 
the public housing program, if you were to engage in 
architecture you must spread the work. So that no public 
housing project should be designed by one architect only. 
You must have three or four, at least three. 


LASKEY: You know, I never realized that. That's why there 
are always several firms connected with any public housing 

ALEXANDER: At that time that's true. 
LASKEY: I didn't know that. 

ALEXANDER: That was not true later on under the postwar 
[Harry S.] Truman effort, but it was true during the 
Depression. So I found that he had been a member of more 
than one of these groups without involving me. I said to 
myself, "Well, two can play at that game." So that's when 
I went to see Walter [W.] Alley, who was the head of the 
staff of the [Los Angeles City] Housing Authority at the 
time, as to which architects were not involved and what 
potential projects might there be. And at that time the 
housing authority had no money and no resources to do all 
of the work that it took to have the city council declare 
an area subject to redevelopment or, I should say, 
qualified for public housing. The architect was expected 
to sort of pioneer that and provide a study free of charge. 
LASKEY: With your own time, with your own money? 
ALEXANDER: Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. So I found that Dave 
Witmer, who had been chief architect of the FHA [Federal 
Housing Administration] and had resigned from that to 
design a project parallel to Baldwin Hills Village-- 
LASKEY: In Los Angeles? 


ALEXANDER: Yeah, right next to the public housing project 
I was part of. You know, where the murals are. 
LASKEY: Oh, Estrada Courts. 

ALEXANDER: Estrada Courts, okay, right near the Sears 
[Roebuck and Company] headquarters. 
LASKEY: Okay. 

ALEXANDER: Wyvernwood it was called. Wyvernwood. He was 
architect of Wyvernwood. So he was in the housing game. I 
went to see him, and he said, "Well, I don't have the time 
to promote this thing, but if you'll promote it, count me 
in." I said, "We've got to have three at least." He said, 
"Well, a friend of mine. Wink [Winchton] Risley, is not 
involved in any other team, so let's make a team." So we 
made a team, and then I did all the legwork that it took to 
qualify this thing and get it before the city council and 
get it approved. Then we were designing this thing. And 
prior to this time Witmer had been engaged by-- It was 
Witmer and [Loyal F.] Watson. Witmer and Watson had been 
engaged by [John] Griffith and [Herbert C] Legg. Griffith 
was a rich entrepreneur from Pasadena and Legg was the 
former county supervisor, who became a county supervisor 
again after that. In the interim, he got into the housing 
game. They had acquired an option on a big piece of the 
Montana Ranch down at Lakewood. It's now the city of 
Lakewood . 


LASKEY: Oh, down near Long Beach. 

ALEXANDER: Yeah, near Long Beach. They had acquired this 
acreage, and Witmer and Watson were involved as 
architects. And Witmer needed somebody to lay out 2,400 
houses, lots, so on and so forth. So he asked me to do 
that. I was working in his office but on a piecemeal 
basis. One day he got a telephone call from Washington, 
D.C., from Mr. Bergstrom, who had been president of the AIA 
[American Institute of Architects] nationally. 
LASKEY: Was that the Bergstrom of Parkinson and Bergstrom 
out here, Henry Bergstrom? 

ALEXANDER: Right, right. Bergstrom called him in his 
office. Dave came out of the office, went over to me, and 
said, "I've just been asked to go to Washington and I might 
do it. If I do, will you go into partnership with us?" I 
said, "Sure." So what it was-- Bergstrom had been, as 
president of the AIA, asked to be the chief architect of 
designing the Pentagon. Because he had been, I think, 
simply careless about not getting authorization for certain 
funds, that he didn't put in his pocket, but he had been a 
naughty boy with AIA funds, I guess-- 
LASKEY: Oh, I see. 

ALEXANDER: --in the eyes of the profession. And he had 
been asked to step down and had been asked to get out of 
the Pentagon job. And so he had asked Dave to take his 


place. Dave became chief architect of the Pentagon and 

rounded up architects--that ' s where I got [to know] such 

people as Pier Davis and other characters who had worked in 

the Allied Architects and had a beaux-arts slant--to go 

back and work on the Pentagon with him. That's the way I 

got to know these guys. 

LASKEY: Oh, I see. 

ALEXANDER: Such as Parkinson and-- 

LASKEY: Well, first of all, I'm curious, did you ever ask 

Wilson why he didn't include you in--? 

ALEXANDER: I don't know whether I did or not. 

LASKEY: It isn't something that you remember or seem to 

think important. 

ALEXANDER: No, no, no. He was more or less going his way, 

and I thought, "Well, what the hell, I'll go mine too." 

LASKEY: Were you particularly interested in public 


ALEXANDER: Oh, yes, from an emotional and political 

standpoint. Oh, yeah. I was up to my ears in it and 

maintained that interest over a period of years, right 

through after the war when the vets came back. We had two 

successive statewide propositions for state public 

housing. I was active statewide with Katherine Bauer and 

Hal [Harold F.] Wise and the public housing establishment. 

And I always went to the conventions in Washington on 


public housing. I got to know Charlie [Charles] Abrams, 
who was one of the first public housers in New York City, a 
lawyer, and Strauss. I don't know, just anybody who was in 
the public housing game at that time, including Clarence 
Stein and Henry Churchill of Philadelphia. And in 
Washington, D.C., it was Louis Justement. He wrote New 
Cities for Old. Anyway, yes I was very much concerned. My 
interest went right through to a time when after the war I 
was working on these statewide campaigns. Of course, I was 
really right up against the real estate lobby. I was a 
prominent part of it because I was president of the [Los 
Angeles City] Planning Commission at a time when these 
campaigns were going on. I was outspoken and debated Fritz 
Burns in front of town hall and would go out into the 
lion's mouth, the Wilshire real estate, whatever it was, 
real estate organization, to speak to them. I went all 
over the state speaking in favor of public housing. The 
opposition was as ruthless as they could be without 
murdering people. 

On one occasion-- I forget the name of the housing 
organization there [Citizens Housing Council] . Father 
O'Dwyer was an active member of the board, as I was. I 
found that a sympathizer with our cause had gotten a job as 
a secretary in the opposition's camp, which was run by a 
couple of ruthless bastards who ran political campaigns. 


She would send is copies of memos, intraoffice memos, that 
were outrageous, about how they were going to get this 
Alexander. "Get his boss." Then the note would come back, 
"Well, he doesn't have a boss." "Okay, get [Fletcher] 
Bowron to fire him." Well, Bowron, the mayor at the time, 
was very sympathetic with my position. But as long as I 
said by disclaimer every time I spoke that I was not 
speaking for the city administration or for the planning 
commission but on my own, he said, "Just go right ahead. 
[I'll] back you up anytime." So I was called in these 
memos "Red" Alexander, because the idea was that if you're 
for public housing that you're naturally a communist. 
LASKEY: Of course. 
ALEXANDER: Well, where were we? 

LASKEY: How did you develop an interest in public housing? 
ALEXANDER: Well, in the first place, I had never had the 
experience of poverty before the Depression. I remember 
standing in line when I found out that at a certain point 
my family was without food and that you could get food by 
coming down to some place that was in a department store in 
Pasadena. [Nash's] 

LASKEY: This is your family out here, your immediate 

ALEXANDER: Yes . I just had a wife and a daughter, but we 
didn't have any food in the house, and I'd run out of money 


and she'd run out of money. So I went down and I stood in 
line. Well, I got up to the window and backed away--I 
couldn't do it. So we went hungry. And this affected me 
deeply. And it turned me from what you might call an 
inherited Republican to a wild-eyed, fiery liberal, if not 
a communist. I never joined the Communist Party, but I 
undoubtedly rubbed shoulders with plenty of them. And 
anybody who didn't question our economic system at the time 
was dead between the ears. So I was all for Upton 
Sinclair's EPIC [End Poverty in California] and all kinds 
of other crazy ideas. 

Anyway, I got to know the real scene of the way people 
were living at that time. And even though the slums of New 
York were famous as slums, we had slums right here right 
next to the city hall--within view of city hall. I got 
grand tours of these places and talked to the people. And 
nothing was being done to ameliorate that situation, so I 
just became a part of the movement to get something done. 
LASKEY: Public housing was a new concept then, wasn't it? 
ALEXANDER: Oh, yes. 

LASKEY: That came out of the late Depression? 
ALEXANDER: Yeah. The first public housing project in 
Manhattan Island was a result of this. Charlie Abrams told 
me about it. They-- How was it? Some buildings were torn 
down and there were a lot of toilets and steel bars and 


this, that, and the other thing. Junk that they were going 

to just take out and dump in the ocean. He said, "Well, 

now, wait a minute. If you're going to get rid of it 

anyway, may we have it?" And they started their first 

public housing by using junk to put it together. It was 

better than the tenements that had been built with, you 

know, a cold-water tap on the floor and you go outside to a 

privy. Well, the conditions here, even though on the 

surface-- In Watts, for instance, superficially one-story 

high, little, innocent bungalows, you go back in the alley-- 

and It was all built with alleys in that area--and what had 

been little garages with dirt floors had become living 

quarters. Well, anyway, I-- 

LASKEY: So you had a commitment to public housing, an 

emotional commitment. Whether Wilson would have been 

involved or anything, this is something you would have 

gotten involved in. 

ALEXANDER: Oh yeah, sure. 

liASKEY: It was then a federal program? 


LASKEY: Through what agency? 

ALEXANDER: We tried to create a state program prior to the 

federal program, but that didn't work. The real estate 

lobby beat us. But yes, it was a federal program. And 

after these unsuccessful state things came along, that put 


me in the public eye. And to everybody's amazement, this 
new little president got his public housing bill through. 
Nobody would believe it because, that is, in California the 
real estate lobby had put up so much flak about socialism 
and communism and so on and so forth. When Truman got his 
public housing bill into law, locals just couldn't believe 
it. And then I was supposedly the fair-haired boy of the 
movement . 


OCTOBER 2, 1986 

LASKEY: Mr. Alexander, you came to California permanently 
in the summer of 1930, right after the end of the Roaring 
Twenties and the very beginning of the Depression. You 
went to Pasadena and you worked with what we would call the 
gentlemen architects of Pasadena. What was that like? 
ALEXANDER: Now, before I start, you remind me that we 
ended the last session with a question about what I 
remember most about Pasadena at that time or Southern 
California. I would say there were two things that 
impressed me most: the ever-present mountains hanging over 
the Los Angeles plain, and they were quite visible all the 
time, and the other thing was the beaches. During the 
Depression I did a great deal of surf-fishing from Santa 
Barbara to Lower California, below Ensenada, and this vast 
stretch of beach was also very impressive. And as for the 
architects, I think I mentioned that I set up house next to 
Roland [E.] Coate's sister and that, plus the fact that he 
was a graduate of Cornell [University] . 

LASKEY: Roland Coate was also indirectly responsible for 
your being out here, wasn't he? 

LASKEY: Wasn't he the one who was the sponsor of John 
Porter Clark? 


ALEXANDER: No. No. John Porter Clark's boss was Sy 
[Sylvanus] Marston. 
LASKEY: Marston, I'm sorry. 

ALEXANDER: Sy was very, very traditional in his approach 
to architecture. Roland Coate was quite a bit younger, and 
he was always searching for a fresh means to express the 
relationship of the early California scene to architecture 
that he was designing at the time. So that I think he was 
the one who made the so-called Monterey style an important 
one. He went up and took photographs of the Monterey 
custom house and residences there and popularized the 
transition to using the long balcony on the second floor on 
the front of the house in places where it had no meaning at 
all except that it was obviously a style of some kind. It 
was a combination of the ship carpenters that came around 
the Horn dealing with the adobe they found here and using 
wood sparingly but to good effect. 

Roland also sought out some real ranch houses, which 
were few and far between at that time. One of them that he 
directed me to see was the ranch headquarters at Santa 
Margarita Ranch. Santa Margarita Ranch was bought at the 
beginning of the Second World War by the military, by the 
United States to serve as the Marine Corps training base, 
which it still is. Camp Pendelton. That was the largest 
[California] ranch intact at that time. 


LASKEY: Did you know that that was the ranch house that 

Cliff [M.] May grew up in? 

ALEXANDER: He grew up in it? 

LASKEY: Yes, that was his family's- -he spent his summers 

there. His aunt lived there. 

ALEXANDER: I'll be darned. I didn't know that. 

Well, one thing I remember that Roland experimented 
with, or demonstrated in the house that he built for 
himself, was the traditional Spanish-influenced house built 
around the central patio. And instead of having screen 
doors leading out to the patio, which are always a damned 
nuisance and come apart before their time, he put a screen 
dome covering over the entire patio, so that you had the 
freedom from insects and so forth and lots of glass doors 
leading out to the patio. 

LASKEY: This would have been in the early thirties? 
ALEXANDER: Yes . I don't know how-- When you say early 

LASKEY: Oh, before 1935. 
ALEXANDER: Yes, that's right. Yeah. 

LASKEY: Well, did you feel that the Monterey style was not 
indigenous to Southern California, which was why you feel 
It really didn't work here? 

ALEXANDER: Oh no, I meant to say that the typical second- 
floor balcony was developed for the street scene in 


Monterey, where people could sit out on the balcony and 
talk to the people going by either riding horseback or in 
carriages, have polite conversation from the second floor 
without getting themselves down to the first floor, which 
was all horse manure and mud. 

LASKEY: [laughter] So it was a very urban-- 
ALEXANDER: Yes, it was a device that was quite popular, I 
think, on that account. It looked the same, but it didn't 
serve the same purpose when it was translated to a house 
with a setback on California Street in Pasadena, that sort 
of thing. 

LASKEY: Well, the Pasadena architects that we're talking 
about worked a lot in Spanish style, didn't they? 

LASKEY: Did you work with Wallace Neff at all? 
ALEXANDER: No. I admired some of his work very much. Of 
course, some of it is quite-- Well, all architecture is 
influenced mainly by the clientele, and when he got a 
Hollywood clientele a lot of his work became fantasy, which 
is fun, but-- I met him several times, but I didn't know 
him well. Reg [Reginald D.] Johnson, of course, I got to 
know very well, especially through our association in 
Baldwin Hills Village. Palmer Sabin had an office in the 
same complex as Roland Coate, at the corner of California 
Street and what's now Arroyo Boulevard. 


LASKEY: You were working for [Garrett] Van Pelt and 

[Edgar] Maybury, is that right? 

ALEXANDER: I was working for Van Pelt. Van Pelt split 

from Marston and Maybury before I came out here in 1928. 

They were disassociated in, I suppose, 1927. 

LASKEY: Where was your office? 

ALEXANDER: Van Pelt's office was in a new building on 

North Euclid [Avenue] almost at the corner of Green Street 

and Euclid in Pasadena. And that was, oh, almost adjacent 

to an older building where Marston and Maybury had their 

office. So that when I came out here in the summer of 

1928, my friend John Clark went back to work, of course, 

with Marston and Maybury and I got a job right next door 

with Van Pelt. 

LASKEY: And were you working mostly on residential? 

ALEXANDER: Oh, yeah, that's almost all that both firms 

were involved in. 

LASKEY: And they were involved in very traditional 



LASKEY: And architecture for the elite? 

ALEXANDER: That's right. 

LASKEY: So that was quite a major jump when you got 

involved in Baldwin Hills Village. 



LASKEY: How did you get from Pasadena to Baldwin Hills? 
ALEXANDER: Well, for the first five years of the thirties, 
hardly any new buildings were being designed or built. And 
jobs that I could get in architectural work were few and 
far between. On at least a couple of occasions, maybe two 
or three, I had brief engagements in Reginald Johnson's 
office, which was in Los Angeles, in the city, although he 
lived in Pasadena. Each engagement would be for maybe just 
a couple of weeks with a long dry period in between. After 
one of those engagements, Lou [Louis E.] Wilson, architect 
of Wilson and Merrill, asked Johnson to recommend somebody 
as a designer, because he had signed up some ten clients 
for residential work and didn't feel capable of handling it 
and needed help. And Johnson recommended me. So I started 
out designing ten houses for Wilson and Merrill. During 
that period in 1934, I finally got enough work in 
architects' offices to get my license. And the minute I 
had my license, I demanded partnership, which was in a way 
a mistake. Maybe I mentioned that before, did I? 
LASKEY: You didn't mention it in detail. 

ALEXANDER: Well, it meant that I didn't necessarily get an 
hourly wage. 

LASKEY: This was in 1934, so were any architects getting 
an hourly wage at that time? 
ALEXANDER: Oh, sure. Anybody who was an employee got it 


or he could raise hell about it, but if you're a partner 


LASKEY: well, I guess basically what I'm saying is were 

architects being employed at this time? 

ALEXANDER: Well, to some extent, but not very much. The 
engagement was very light, 

LASKEY: I think you had written somewhere that in five 
years, from 1930 to 1935, more construction was destroyed 
by fire in the U.S. than new construction was built. Did 
that apply in Southern California as well? 

ALEXANDER: Oh, sure, sure. And during that period, up to 
that period I should say, I had been reading quite a bit in 
the field of architecture and planning and the relationship 
of buildings to buildings and buildings to the community. 
And I became very much interested in large-scale housing, 
especially for low-income people. That is, I looked at 
what I had been doing in working in Johnson's office, for 
instance on the- The last one was the Seeley [G. ] Mudd 
house, I think. And the W. A. [William Andrews] Clark 
house in Santa Barbara, things like that. And I decided 
that tny mission, what I would try to concentrate on in my 
career, would not be single-family, custom-designed houses 
but that I would try to tackle housing as a social and 
economic problem. There was a great deal of discussion 
among architects at that time of slum clearance and housing 


for the masses and that sort of thing. That became a major 

interest. I don't remember exactly how it happened, but I 

know we discussed this in the office of Wilson and Merrill, 

later to become Wilson, Merrill, and Alexander. 

LASKEY: Where were the offices of Wilson, Merrill, and 

Alexander? In Pasadena? 

ALEXANDER: No, they were in the Petroleum Securities 

building, which was the Doheny Building on Olympic 

[Boulevard] and Figueroa [Street]. It's still there. 

There was a great deal in the architectural press, a 
great deal of discussion countrywide about housing as a 
social and economic problem. Lou Wilson was very long on 
energy and weak on prestige, and he was interested in 
developing some type of large-scale housing under the new 
laws that had just been passed for setting up the FHA 
[Federal Housing Administration] , under the rules of the 
limited-dividend corporations espoused by the FHA. So he-- 
that is, Wilson--found a site that he thought was 
adaptable. I think it was on Exposition Boulevard. And he 
got Johnson interested in joint venturing their 
architectural services, and in turn Johnson got a 
contractor interested. 

The contractor was Joshua Marks, I think that's right, 
from Marks Shardee. Johnson had his office in the 
architects' building, which is now the location of 


Richfield Center at the corner of Figueroa and Fifth 
Street. And Marks had his office in the same building. 
Marks was a San Franciscan who had come to Los Angeles to 
represent [Alfred B.] Swinerton, a contractor whose name is 
still associated with a company in San Francisco, Lindgren 
and Swinerton, which is still in business. And Lindgren 
and Swinerton had been selected to build the Santa Anita 
racetrack. The Santa Anita racetrack had been built on 
land previously owned by the Baldwin estate, [Elias J.] 
Baldwin having been one of the silver barons who struck it 
rich in Nevada, then went to Southern California and bought 
a vast ranch. And part of that ranch was used, eventually, 
to build this big racetrack. 

So Marks came down to supervise the racetrack 
contruction. He got to know the Baldwin estate heirs, and 
the manager of the estate was Ray Knisley. So the three, 
Wilson and Johnson and Marks, got together on this site 
that Wilson had first identified, and they found that that 
wouldn't work out for some reason, which I don't recall. 
But Marks said, "Hey, the Baldwin estate still owns a lot 
of property out at Baldwin Hills. It's a great big rabbit 
warren. They just raise sheep on the hills--there ' s 
nothing there. I bet they'd be interested in promoting 
some housing to start to develop their land. " So they went 
together to see Ray Knisley, and Ray Knisley became very 


much interested and did designate something like two 
hundred acres at the foot of Baldwin Hills, leading up to 
the base of the hills, as available. This was after I had 
become a partner, and I made the first sketch proposed for 
what became Baldwin Hills Village in August of 1935, I 
believe. I still have a copy of that sketch somewhere. 

The idea was to have one very long cul-de-sac 
boulevard leading up to a shopping center and a school, 
with a lot of little cul-de-sacs feeding into it, which 
were a reproduction in very large scale of the place where 
I grew up in New Jersey, No. 1 Stanley Oval. Stanley Oval 
was a little cul-de-sac, and that was my ideal of a quiet 
residential environment. So this whole proposal was a 
multiplication of this concept of the cul-de-sac: quiet 
living environment and a means to walk to school without 
crossing streets. It had the distinct disadvantage of any 
long cul-de-sac into which these little ones feed. In any 
event, that took up most of the two hundred acres. And 
this essentially was just a subdivision of single-family 

LASKEY: Now, the reading that you had been doing prior to 
this, would this have included things like the Ebenezer 
Howard book. Garden Cities of Tomorrow? 
ALEXANDER: Oh, sure, right. 
LASKEY: This was a relatively new idea. The idea of 


planned communities arose about the turn of the century, 
when they first really began to see the need and to talk 
about it. 

ALEXANDER: Yes, that's right. 

LASKEY: How did you justify or how did you conceive of the 
need for a planned community in an area like West Los 
Angeles, which must have been very sparse at the time. 
ALEXANDER: It was quite sparse. Well, our objective was 
not to develop a planned community as much as it was to 
make housing available to middle-income people. The way it 
turned out, the apartments in Baldwin Hills Village were 
rentable at $12.27 per room per month, which was quite a 
feat. And that was really the objective. We also would 
have liked to have included a school and a shopping center 
and even an industrial area. But this was beyond anything 
that we could get through the FHA at that time. 
LASKEY: So the original plan at that time was for a 
community of single-family dwellings? 

ALEXANDER: Yeah. And in working with the FHA and finding 
out that they had started a separate branch devoted to 
rental housing-- There were a few examples in the East, a 
couple of which had been designed by Clarence [S.] Stein of 
Wright and Stein Architects. One was Chatham Village in 
Pittsburgh. Also Sunnyside Gardens, I think it was, in 
Long Island. In any event, the FHA was enthusiastic about 


developing rental housing in order to get the cost of 
housing down and within reach of people who were still, of 
course, feeling the pinch of the Depression from 1935 and 
on. Things didn't turn around until about 1940. 

So, as a result of working with the FHA and finding 
out about their experience on these places in the East, we 
turned our attention to reducing the size of the 
development to one half of the originally contemplated size 
and reserving the rest for an expansion, if it proved 
successful. Then we narrowed it down to one hundred acres, 
let's see, about twenty acres of which in the final plan 
was reserved as what you might call a protective barrier or 
protective strip of land around the village over which we 
would continue to have control, but which was undesignated 
as far as use goes. The thought was that eventually 
Baldwin Hills Village would be duplicated or doubled in 
size by developing the portion to the south, up to the 

LASKEY: Up to the hills. 

ALEXANDER: And so we started to work on this concept of 
rental housing. The town-house concept in the East was-- 
Well, did they call it town houses? Well, the housing in 
Brooklyn, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Washington--attached 
housing--was long strips bordering a street with some space 
behind them but no space in between them. Continuous block 


after block, in New York, Brooklyn, and all over the East 
Coast, wherever there was housing of that type built. Los 
Angeles City had a building law that permitted attached 
housing up to a certain point. I think the maximum number 
of units before a break, in order to get fire equipment 
around I presume, was four units on the second floor, if 
I'm not mistaken. Anyway, it was a building-department law 
in Los Angeles that helped form and shape the buildings in 
Baldwin Hills Village. 

Johnson made a trip to the East Coast and came back 
with glowing tales of various things he'd seen along the 
lines of what we were talking about. And also he had met 
with Clarence Stein and wanted to know if we would go along 
with having Stein as our consulting architect, which we 
agreed to do. Stein, as I recall, never visited us or Los 
Angeles during the entire development. But he did keep in 
touch by correspondence. Since the planning spanned a 
period of five years and it was seven years until it was 
completed, he served a very important function in keeping 
us on the track. That is, over a period of time, if a 
project is in an architect's office for five years, when 
things are not particularly active anyway, they are always 
tinkering with the darned thing [laughter] and they can't 
keep their hands off of it. So I think on occasion we 
would have some brilliant idea that would be untrue to the 


objectives that we had at first established. 
LASKEY: Had you defined your objectives by then? 
ALEXANDER: The major objective, I think, was to make the 
automobile accessible--which it had to be in Southern 
California--but to make it a servant instead of a master, 
and to somehow create a serene environment in which the 
automobile would not intrude, but yet make the automobile 
accessible. That was the major objective. 

LASKEY: That was rather far-reaching for 1935, wasn't it? 
ALEXANDER: Well, yes. Although this had been the 
objective of-- Let's see, Clarence Stein' s-- 
LASKEY: Radburn? 

ALEXANDER: Radburn, yes. Radburn was largely single- 
family residences, but it did pay attention to separation 
of pedestrian and vehicular traffic. We had the good 
fortune of having the rapt attention during all of the 
planning period of Ray Knisley of the Baldwin estate. 
Although Ray was very conservative, he also could see that 
if large-scale housing was to be made available to-- How 
should I put it? We had to attempt economically to make 
housing available to the largest income group, which meant 
pretty low income. His economic objective was investment 
rather than speculation, which is the number one, perhaps 
the most important thing that separated Baldwin Hills 
Village from any other housing that went on after it. 


LASKEY: Do you think this is the main reason why there 

were no more Baldwin Hills? 

ALEXANDER: Yes, absolutely. It was developed in an era of 

investment and with investment in mind, and not with the 

hit-and-run objective of most speculators. 

LASKEY: That also has to do with a rather crucial period 

of time in which the village was built, 

ALEXANDER: Yes, that's true. It was built partly after we 

were--in fact entirely after we were--in the war. And we 

had to get permission from the War Production Board to 

proceed . 

LASKEY: But it was designed before we were in the war-- 

ALEXANDER: That's right. 

LASKEY: --and built during the war. So you have a great 

dichotomy that's opened up here. 


LASKEY: Before we get into that, I'm curious as to whether 

any members of the Baldwin family were involved in the 


ALEXANDER: Not directly, but after construction was almost 

completed I remember Lou Wilson going to Anita Baldwin, who 

was the surviving heir, the most important surviving heir 

at the time, to get her to donate $10,000 for putting in 

some specimen olive trees in one of the seventeen courts as 

a demonstration. And he was successful. As far as I know. 


that's the only direct Baldwin influence except for Ray 

Knisley, who was the manager of the estate. 

LASKEY: And he was doing it as an investment, so this 

wasn't an act of charity on the part of the Baldwin family. 


LASKEY: Or a social cause they were involved with. 


LASKEY: Strictly an investment. 

ALEXANDER: They agreed to put up the acreage necessary, 

which finally turned out to be, I think, sixty-four acres. 

LASKEY: Now, was this the amount of acreage negotiable? 

You mentioned that you started out with two hundred. Had 

you wanted to develop the entire two hundred acres, would 

that have been available to you? 

ALEXANDER: I think so if we could have. I think it was 

possible. You see, we started out with a single-family 

house plan and we ended up with something that would 

require two stories. But our objective was to develop 

something at ten families to the acre. This was an 

abstraction, but from experience the FHA liked it. And 

that's the way it turned out. We probably ended up with 

the same number of housing units as we had, spread over two 

hundred acres. But this was definitely a feasible plan. 

What made it possible to develop at all, under the FHA 

regulation, was the fact that the Baldwin estate put the 


land in as their investment, and they did not specify what 
the land had to be worth. So then all during the five-year 
period, well, I guess certainly dozens of financial setups 
were made in our office, and the variable was the price of 
the land. So that in order to make the thing work out 
economically, you'd work everything else out and then put 
the land in at whatever value would make the whole thing 

LASKEY: [laughter] You got away with it? 

ALEXANDER: Well, it wasn't a question of getting away with 
it; it was a question that they were willing to do that. 
It wasn't getting away with anything, but it would have 
been very difficult for us to have had a fixed price for 
the land and then make everything else work. As a matter 
of fact, we didn't get under construction until after the 
war broke out, at which point Marks Shardee were 
apprehensive about what was going to happen during the war 
and they backed out, and Herbert Baruch, the Herb Baruch 
Construction Company came in to build it. 
LASKEY: What is it that Marks and Shardee were 
apprehensive about? 
ALEXANDER: World war. 

LASKEY: But I mean relating to Baldwin Hills Village. 
Would it be not being able to get materials, not being able 
to get workmen, or were they just apprehensive about the--? 


ALEXANDER: I just don't know. Don't know. 

LASKEY: You had come from Cornell with a beaux-arts 

background and you worked with Reginald Johnson, who was 

building large, single-family residences in Pasadena. 

Where did you acquire the knowledge to start working on 

multiple-family dwellings in houses or buildings that are 

essentially very modern? 

ALEXANDER: Well, I don't know how to answer that question. 

LASKEY: Now, the modern movement was surfacing in Los 

Angeles late in the thirties. 

ALEXANDER: Sure. There's nothing very modern about the 

external appearance of Baldwin Hills Village--at least in 

my eyes. The external appearance is rather bland and not 

typed as to style. I think that's a great advantage, that 

it wasn't typed with the International style or some other 


LASKEY: Well, it's modern in the sense that it wasn't a 

style at that point in the thirties, when they were still 


ALEXANDER: You mean it wasn't Spanish. 

LASKEY: --bungalows and Spanish and identifiable types. 

This was a flat roof, a very severe building which one 

thinks of as being modern. 

ALEXANDER: Yeah, I guess so. 

LASKEY: They certainly weren't building these buildings in 


Pasadena at the time. And you wouldn't have been doing 
this at Cornell. I think even Radburn, looking at some of 
the housing that Stein did in his planned communities, 
tended to have styles or to very much reflect the nature of 
the community in which they were built. But Baldwin Hills 
Village was different. 

ALEXANDER: Well, we had an economic objective that helped 
pare it down. And I know I had developed a dislike of the 
rather phony, very often phony, Spanish things, which if 
you had a lot of money to spend you could develop into 
something which was quite acceptable, something that was 
almost Spanish. But if you go through Lemert Park or the 
area where you live and you see this developed in an 
inexpensive way, it isn't at all what even the poorest 
Mexican would do, as far as being true to itself. 


OCTOBER 2, 1986 

LASKEY: You developed a rather unique style for Baldwin 
Hills Village, not using references to classical styles. 
ALEXANDER: For one thing, before the design was jelled, 
you might say, I had gone back East in the summer of '37 or 
'38, ostensibly for a two-week vacation. I stayed there 
for a full year, gaining experience not only in the design 
and layout of apartments, but looking around the East at 
the time and maturing my idea of breaking away from what I 
called copycat architecture. That undoubtedly had a major 
influence on the way the design turned out. 
LASKEY: I'm curious-- This is an aside. But why did the 
Metropolitan Life Insurance Company decide to go into 
large-scale housing? 

ALEXANDER: They had a lot of money and they wanted to get 
some return on it. If they got 2 percent on their money, 
they were in clover compared to-- I mean, they had to earn 
money for their policyholders, and they were given 
permission to invest a certain amount, a certain proportion 
of the total policyholders' money they had in housing. 
Insurance companies are regulated. I don't know the 
details of it, but they are regulated by states and by the 
federal government, for that matter. They couldn't put all 
of their investment in housing or pretty soon they'd own 


the whole damn country. But that's the way they got into 
it, and that's the way they later got into-- What's it 
called on Wilshire Boulevard? 
LASKEY: Park Labrea. 

ALEXANDER: Park Labrea is Metropolitan. 

LASKEY: That's what I was going to ask you. At the time 
you were working on Parkchester, was there any thought 
about Park Labrea at that time? I think Park Labrea was 
just slightly after that. 

ALEXANDER: Correct. Yes. Yeah, I remember when we went 
to see-- Well, let's get back where we were on the 
design. I had noticed that projects that were a 100 
percent two stories high or higher were not-- Well, I just 
didn't feel they had a residential quality that was 
appropriate. So one of my objectives when I came back was 
to change the design where we had everything two stories 
high, uniformly, to introducing 10 percent of the building 
area in one-story design. So where we had some three- 
bedroom apartments-- A three-bedroom apartment normally 
doesn't work out to be equal in size between the first 
floor and the second floor; that is, you can get two 
bedrooms and a bath to balance a first-floor living room, 
dining area and kitchen. Well, in any event, we had these 
large apartments at the center of a long building 
overlapping each other. So I took those apartments and put 


them on the end of the building, a portion of which was one 
story high. So that when you're walking along on a path 
and you round the end of that building, you can really 
almost reach up to the eaves with your hand. They're that 
low. And then I used a one-bedroom-- Let's see, was it one 
bedroom? Yeah, one-bedroom apartments I made one story 
high. I forget what the proportion was in the total scheme 
of things, but I used that one-bedroom apartment also at 
the end of another row of two-story blocks. And I also 
used those one-bedroom apartments to form some buildings of 
three one-bedroom apartments. These one-story features 
were introduced in the plan as a whole at places where the 
path turns around a whole group of buildings. So that 
walking through the village, you had in several cases these 
low, typically Californian, as I saw it, buildings that I 
think changed its character from what it had been when I 
left Los Angeles to go back East. 

LASKEY: Now, these one-story parts of the building were in 
a different material too. 

ALEXANDER: Yes. Well, the one-bedroom apartments, whether 
they were one story [at the] end of a building or three 
one-bedrooms making a building that's all one story, were 
made or were fashioned of large bricks, whitewashed. And 
those bricks were adobe-brick size. They had been 
developed by Fritz Ruppel. Fritz Ruppel had developed 


these bricks— hard, burned clay--for the restoration of the 
San [Juan] Capistrano Mission. Was it San Capistrano? No, 
it was San Luis Rey, I think. In any event, he was 
restoring a mission (he was a contractor) and he wanted to 
get the adobe effect with the permanence of burned-clay 
brick. So he developed this size, and they were available 
at the time. They were used for these one-story, one- 
bedroom apartments. And we depended on a variety of 
textures and a variety of color and a variety of roofing 
gravel to overcome the monotony of everything being exactly 
the same. Whether that was desirable or not, that was the 

effect anyway. 

LASKEY: Now, how did you go about siting the buildings in 

the village itself? 

ALEXANDER: Well, I don't know exactly how that happened, 
but I know that Lou Wilson— We had developed a plan that 
looked just like a bunch of cigars taken out of a box. It 
had no central focus; it was just a rigid assembly of these 
building blocks. On one occasion, I think over a weekend, 
Lou Wilson arrived Monday morning with a suggestion for a 
layout that did have focus. I don't know whether he 
personally devised this thing or what happened, but it was 
a refreshing change. The main thing that it had was at the 
center of the plan facing Rodeo Drive there was a proposed 
office or rental building, an office building and a 


semicircular arrangement of short blocks of apartments. 
And behind that, at the center of the plan, was a nursery 
school. The buildings were arranged in a Greek fret 
pattern, that is, two long buildings perpendicular to the 
adjoining road and a building at the end of those, 
perpendicular to them and parallel to the road, making a U- 
shape into which you could drive and park your car in 
parking sheds. And then that U-shape connected to another 
U-shape with a building parallel to the road, forming a U 
facing the interior of the scheme, which would become a 
park. So that they're developed in this fret pattern, a 
series of openings facing the road where you would drive in 
and park your car in carports, alternating with a series of 
U-forms facing the interior park. And in the development 
of this scheme there were to be three major parks with 
smaller residential-type parks flowing into them. I don't 
know whether that describes it--trying to describe these 
things in words is really weird. 

LASKEY: I know, but possibly we'll be able to include some 
plans or photographs. 

ALEXANDER: However, even then, I would say the plan lacked 
any real grace, but at least it had some organization 
instead of being bland, monotonous. This is so often true 
of developments, where everything is the same and 
everything, for instance, is two stories high and without 


any form. And this introduced some form in the scheme, but 
went through a lot of work after that. 

One factor occurred during the working-drawing stage 
that was probably the most beneficial thing to the grace of 
the interior plan. For many years, the Cornell 
[University] School of Architecture, which included 
landscape architecture, had been preeminent in the field of 
landscape architecture. So that almost every year a 
Cornell-graduating landscape architect would win the Prix 
de Rome, which was the most prestigious award in landscape 
architecture. And the year-- Let's see, it must have been 
1938. The person who won the Prix de Rome from Cornell was 
sent to Mexico instead of Italy, because Mussolini was 
making it very difficult to live in Italy. I think he 
wrote me from Mexico that he was coming through Los Angeles 
on his way back East, and I met him at the station. The 
reason was that he was going to visit his uncle, who was 
the designer of the hotel that you just mentioned, the 
Huntington Hotel. Myron Hunt's nephew was the guy, and 
what in the hell was his name? 
LASKEY: Fred Edmondson. 

ALEXANDER: That's right. So did I go through all this 
ALEXANDER: Okay, so I met Fred Edmondson at the station. 


and the very next morning I had him working at the 
office. He worked with me ten days and ten evenings on 
specific paths and shrubbery and tree massing that changed 
the whole aspect of the thing and made it graceful and 
livable. A lot of the things, or some of the things that 
were proposed and were at first built, have been eliminated 
since, but in any event, that was really a great 
contribution that he made. Okay, where do we go from here? 
LASKEY: How about the FHA? 

ALEXANDER: Oh, yeah. From a standpoint of design--since 
their only experience with multiple housing had been on the 
East Coast, where cities had been built before the 
automobile came along--they just could not believe there 
was any necessity whatsoever for a plan, which we insisted 
on, of having one car stall for every apartment, plus an 
additional parking space equivalent to the number of 
apartments. They just couldn't believe it. Every one of 
their projects that they had insured in the East was easily 
accessible by pedestrians to their employment by public 
transportation of some kind, and an automobile was unheard 
of almost. So we had quite a battle to defend our one 
carport for every apartment plus one parking space for 
every apartment. 

Another thing, when Baldwin Hills was almost wiped out 
by a flood when the dam to a reservoir burst above it, it 


wiped out a few of the apartments but didn't destroy the 
village as a whole. But I was quite apprehensive that the 
owner, who by then was Baldwin M. Baldwin, would change 
everything for the worse. Instead of which, he was able to 
do some things we were not able to do under the FHA and 
under available technology at that time. For instance, we 
had a patio for every apartment that had a ground floor, 
and the aluminum sliding glass door had not been developed 
at that time. After the flood a lot of these went in where 
they should have been in the first place. 
LASKEY: Oh, to lead from the dining area out into the 

ALEXANDER: Well, to lead from anything at all--I mean from 
the bedroom even. The major battle with the FHA was just 
as they couldn't imagine a car for every apartment, they 
couldn't imagine our next proposal, which was that the main 
entrance for every apartment be on the garage side of the 
building. That was definitely not the prestige side. It 
was obviously going to be the garden side. The garden side 
was the place where we would have expected to have the 
patios, and have the prestige or the main entrance on the 
side facing the garages, or the back of the garages. We 
proved that that area, although narrow, could be attractive 
by showing them a little narrow alley that exists between 
the main public library [Los Angeles City Central Library] 


and the California Club in downtown Los Angeles. It's a 
very narrow space, but it's very beautifully landscaped. 
We would take them down there and show them that a small 
space with a wall on one side and entrances to apartments 
on the other could be quite pleasant, and that was the way 
to do it because that was the shortest distance between 
your automobile and your residence. But we lost out on 
that--we had to have a prestige entrance facing the park. 
So that at a certain point I can show you cobwebs growing 
on the doors to the park, and the place where the kiddies 
meet their daddy was in the kitchen. 

LASKEY: So if you had had your way, the Baldwin Hills 
buildings, then, would just be turned around from the way 
they are. 

ALEXANDER: Yes . It would take some modification, but that 
was the essential idea, yeah. The impressive nature of 
these great green areas, the three large parks in the 
center and the subsidiary parks leading into them, created 
a park system that I suppose any manager in his right mind 
would attempt to preserve as a pristine park. It had been 
intended, from a social standpoint, that the kids would 
play ball with their dad in the center green and this would 
be a real living place. The kids could pitch tents out 
there and play cowboys and Indians and whatnot. But this 
was not to be. At one point the chief gardener, chief 


groundsman, brought in a truckload of trees, and I saw him 

in one of these greens spotting these in such a way that it 

would be impossible to play ball out there anymore. The 

gardeners were Instructed that if they saw any kids playing 

out there they were to turn the sprinklers on. 

LASKEY: Now, this was the owners or the managers? 

ALEXANDER: This was after New England Mutual Life 

Insurance Company bought the thing. 

LASKEY: Who were the original owners? 

ALEXANDER: The original owners were some twenty 

individuals: this included the architects, the Baldwin 

estate, and the Chandlers, and I don't know who, a whole 

bunch of people. There were quite a few investors. I 

think there were twenty or thirty--I'm not sure which. 

LASKEY: Well, who was the leading light behind it? There 

must have been somebody who was holding all of this 


ALEXANDER: Ray Knisley and Reg Johnson. 

LASKEY: Really? That's amazing. 

ALEXANDER: It was sold after the war to New England 

Mutual, and then they in turn later sold it to Baldwin M. 

Baldwin. Each time for a profit, of course. 

LASKEY: So in the beginning, then, it was just the idea of 

a group of people who wanted to see a plan like this. 

ALEXANDER: Well, it was the idea of Ray Knisley and the 


architects, influenced of course by costs and so forth that 
the contractor would advise on. And as far as I know, no 
ultimate investor except those I mentioned had any part in 
the decisions or the social objectives or whatever. 
LASKEY: So then the large part of the funding was through 
the FHA, which is why they had so much authority. 
ALEXANDER: I believe it was an 80-percent loan. So the 20 
percent had to be in cash and services and land. The hard 
dollar investment was not tremendous, but compared to what 
happened after the war with speculation when they got away 
with murder and didn't have a nickel in it, this was quite 
different. The FHA limited-dividend corporation was based 
on experience in housing in England for some hundred years, 
in which it was shown that investment in housing could be 
successful over a long period of time. The investment was 
limited to 6 percent per year and the balance put in a 
separate fund for amortization, so that at the end of its 
life you could tear it down and you'd have the money to 
rebuild. Reserves were required to be put up for 
replacement of water heaters every seven years, of Venetian 
blinds every five years, of this, that, and the other 
according to what experience showed the life of the gadget 
might be. Unlike other investments in housing-- Where the 
owner or owners milk it for all it's worth, without any 
thought of the future, and then when it comes time to 


replace a water heater, "Oh my god, where ' s the money going 
to come from? We're going to have to take it out of the 
current rent." And there's hardly any of that reservation 
of what some people used to call a sinking fund to replace 
or repair or repaint. These days, for the most part, 
that's all of a sudden a shock that you have to spend this 
money. So that was a very good discipline, which, however, 
was avoided or eliminated as soon as New England Mutual 
bought it. Let's see, Lincoln of Omaha, is it? Lincoln 
[National Life] Insurance Company. Well, I think they were 
the first lenders. But the FHA doesn't put money into 
anything. Did you know that? 

LASKEY: Well, they make available loans to you. 
ALEXANDER: What they do is they insure loans. 
LASKEY: They insure the loans. 

ALEXANDER: And then Fanny Mae [Federal National Mortgage 
Associate (FNMA)] is the one that takes over the loans. 
LASKEY: Well, then it is not unlike the banking system, 
the FDIC [Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation], in that 
they simply insure the loan for the lender. 
ALEXANDER: That's right, yeah. Okay, where are we now? 
LASKEY: After Baldwin Hills Village was built, you moved 
into it. But where were you living? What was your life 
like at the time that this was being built? You were not 
living in Pasadena anymore. 


ALEXANDER: Well, I was in Pasadena still. 
LASKEY: Oh, you were? 

ALEXANDER: Oh, yeah, up until the time-- Let's see, yes. 
When it was under construction I lived on North San Gabriel 
Boulevard, which is in Pasadena, in a three-bedroom house, 
one story high, designed by Curtis Chambers. It had been 
built by Earl Huggins in Pasadena, a contractor who had 
wanted to do good things. He had bought the land that had 
belonged to a rather large estate where the building had 
burned down, and he built-- [tape recorder off] Huggins had 
surrounded the site of the old house that had burned down 
with a whole series of one-story houses and had intended to 
convert the interior into a park, which would be owned 
jointly in common by the people surrounding it. He ran 
into an obstacle by the FHA as to maintaining it, so that 
never happened. But it made a nice informal playground for 
our kids. 

Speaking of kids, in Baldwin Hills Village we had the 
ideal that this would be a family place with lots of 
kids. So we had evenly divided, more or less, eight or 
more little "tot lots." And after the thing opened, or I 
guess just before it opened, it was decided to change the 
nursery at the center of the thing. The nursery school was 
to become a recreation center. It was decided as a matter 
of policy that certain areas would be for families with 


children and certain other areas would be for families 

without children. This imbalance-- For instance, in the 

years when there were no gas or electric clothes dryers, 

you had diaper-- 

LASKEY: No disposable diapers either. 

ALEXANDER: Right. So you had this imbalance of the 

laundry yards. Where there were kids or little children 

you needed a lot, and you didn't need as many in other 

areas. Over a period of years the attrition set in, caused 

by the fact that any manager in his right mind with a 

waiting list twice the occupancy of the village would pick 

people who were sterile and went to Europe every year, that 

sort of thing. [laughter] 

LASKEY: To make his own life easier. 

ALEXANDER: So that eventually children, families with 

children, hardly existed at all in the village. And then 

tot lots were turned into additional parking or whatever. 

Then with the advent of the dryer and the washing machine, 

the large laundry-hanging areas were also converted into 

additional parking. I don't know what other changes, but 

in any event it has become a place without children. 

Another disappointment at the very beginning was that, 

without telling us, the FHA eliminated 212 benches that we 

had planned through the village. 

LASKEY: On the greens and in the park areas? 


ALEXANDER: Yeah, right. So that makes walking in the 
park-- Well, benches are conducive to park walking as far 
as I'm concerned. They were cut out, I think, just because 
they needed to show a balance sheet, and this was a little 
bit of money that nobody would notice. But it never has 
recovered from that. The park areas are serene and 
beautiful, but they look as though they are not lived in. 
LASKEY: And obviously none of the future owners ever saw 
the need to put in benches. 

ALEXANDER: Right. Well, it was always, at the beginning, 
something we would get around to doing when we had the 
money. The first years during the war, two factors made it 
very difficult for it to survive economically. One was 
that unless you could prove the war-related need for a 
telephone, you were not permitted a telephone. That meant 
that we had to have a telephone exchange manned twenty- four 
hours a day at the office of the village. 
LASKEY: At your expense? Or at the expense of the 

ALEXANDER: Yeah. The rents were frozen, and then we were 
required to put in this telephone service. We had 
originally had a commitment from the bus lines, the rapid 
transit, whatever it's called, the RTD [Southern California 
Rapid Transit District] , to run a bus out to Baldwin Hills 
Village to get regular bus service. When we entered the 


war, the War Production Board refused to permit them to 

come out, so the Baldwin Hills Village Company had to pay 

for a shuttle bus from the village to the nearest shopping 

center, in the form of a big station wagon. Would you call 

it a station wagon? It was a little old bus. 

LASKEY: A little van. 

ALEXANDER: A little van, right. And those two unexpected, 

unplanned- for expenses made it touch and go as to whether 

it would survive during the war. Of course, at the end of 

the war it was a very attractive buy. 

LASKEY: Well, the fact that it was filled up to 100 

percent at all times, as I think you've written, helped 

make it through this tough period. 

ALEXANDER: Yeah, that's true. 

LASKEY: When did you move into the village? 

ALEXANDER: Nineteen forty-two. 

LASKEY: As soon as it was completed. 

ALEXANDER: Shortly after it-- Well, I guess the occupancy 

started in stages. We were not by any means the first 

family to move in. It was all full when we moved in. 

LASKEY: Now, you went from Baldwin Hills Village to your 

next project, which was Lakewood City, the next planned 



LASKEY: Were you doing those concurrently, or was Baldwin 


Hills Village, at least your part in it, pretty much 
finished at that point? 
ALEXANDER: I'm trying to think. 

LASKEY: I think they probably overlapped, at least a bit. 
ALEXANDER: Oh, yeah. Yeah, the Baldwin Hills Village 
plans were finished and it was under construction before I 
was asked by [David J.] Witmer to lay out Lakewood City, as 
it was called. 


OCTOBER 2, 1986 

ALEXANDER: Returning to Baldwin Hills Village. I lived in 
it for nine years, including some of the war years. My two 
children [Lynne M. Alexander and Timothy M. Alexander] went 
to Baldwin Hills Elementary School, and then my daughter 
went to Dorsey High School. It was ironic that the horrors 
of war and their side effects had the benefit of creating a 
lively community in Baldwin Hills Village. We used the 
adult clubhouse, which was programmed seven days a week, 
several hours every day, with a Friday night forum to which 
we invited speakers to debate various issues. We had a 
square dance night every Wednesday night, as I recall it, 
card games and so forth. We had celebrations and plays and 
an annual Baldwin Hills Olympics, with egg-throwing 
contests and jogging contests and so forth. Because of our 
restricted ability to get around on account of the 
conservation of gasoline and so forth, we developed a 
Lanham Act nursery school in the first floor of one of the 
buildings next to the clubhouse. 
LASKEY: What was the Lanham Act? 

ALEXANDER: I don't know. There was a congressman named 
[Henry J.] Lanham, as I recall, who set up assistance for 
nursery schools during the war, when so many mothers were 
engaged in war production. Since we were not permitted by 


the War Production Board to build the commercial area that 
was planned at one end of the village, we remodeled the 
ground floor of the other building adjacent to the 
clubhouse as a market. The fact that travel was restricted 
gave us a real sense of community in the village. Although 
you might not know your next-door neighbor, there were 
people in the village that you knew very well and got to 
know better. 

Following the war, from a social standpoint, I think 
it declined for a long time. The erosion--and I think I 
mentioned it already--of the manager having a long waiting 
list and being able to pick and choose the people who would 
cause him the least trouble resulted in eliminating 
children. Then when It became a condominium, much to my 
horror, the new owners who changed it to a condominium put 
deed restrictions in the new deeds that no one under the 
age of eighteen was to live in the village, and if you 
became pregnant, you'd have to move out. 
LASKEY: Really? 

ALEXANDER: Yes. I went to the state legislature to see if 
I could overcome this by state legislation. But whereas 
they could, and did, enact a statewide law against 
discrimination [against] children in rental units, they 
couldn't do anything about a private dwelling or a private 
condominium. In any event, I did experience the village 


intimately during its first years and enjoyed it 


LASKEY: Living in it, are there any major changes you 

would have made? 

ALEXANDER: Well, I mentioned the 212 benches that were 
missing. I would put the benches in. 
LASKEY: How about a swimming pool? 

ALEXANDER: Well, that was planned. But as a decorative 
part of the landscape plan, immediately in front of the 
community building there was a fountain, a spray pool sort 
of. This was one step toward having a swimming pool. We 
had planned having a swimming pool, but we put in this 
spray pool for small children. It would accumulate, when 
it was in operation, water perhaps four or five inches 
deep. One day when the kids were splashing around in it, 
one of the mothers noticed that a child was lying in the 
center of the pool, nose under water. It was only about 
four inches of water, and yet the child would have died if 
she hadn't gone in and taken the child out and pumped the 
water out. So that put the kibosh on even the wading pool 
(it was called a wading pool), so we converted it into a 
mound of earth with plants growing out of it. I mean, talk 
about liability insurance! 
LASKEY: [laughter] Yeah. 
ALEXANDER: We just gave up on having a pool. It was to 


have been between the clubhouse and the office; that was 
where the pool was planned. We did originally have an idea 
of developing a more or less self-contained community. We 
had visualized the commercial area where it is now, but we 
had hoped to get the elementary school and a church and so 
forth, other functions, within the community. We found 
that the school board--! should say the person in charge of 
school planning--was entirely opposed to the idea, since it 
seemed to him to be a sort of exclusive-- We didn't have in 
mind having only Baldwin Hills children in the school, but 
we wanted to have a school within the community somehow, 
and we were especially concerned about the safety of the 
kids crossing Rodeo Road. 
LASKEY: With good reason. 

ALEXANDER: Nevertheless, they put it on the opposite side 
of-- They bought the land from the Baldwin estate across 
the street from Hauser [Boulevard] and Rodeo Road. They 
bought a piece of land that was just big enough for the 
school buildings plus a playground completely covered with 
asphalt. And so I did persuade-- It took a lot of 
persuasion to get a resolution passed by the [Los Angeles 
Unified School District] Board of Education and the park 
department [Los Angeles City Recreation and Parks] that if 
I could get a park given to the city, ground given to the 
city for a park adjacent to the school, that there would be 


joint use between the school and use as a park. That is, 
they would then have some green areas as well as the 
asphalt area. And this was agreed upon, and Ray Knisley 
was intrumental in the Baldwin estate giving the land for 
the park adjacent to the school. 

After New England Mutual Life Insurance Company 
purchased Baldwin Hills Village, I became a sort of 
troublemaker from their standpoint. On one occasion when I 
had-- Let's see. I had gone to Guam, and from Guam we 
decided to go on to Manila and Tokyo before going home, in 
order to explore the availability of materials for 
construction on Guam. I looked at my medical record 
regarding my passport and found that I needed a booster 
shot for cholera. It turned out when I got home that I'd 
evidently been shot with a dirty needle, and I got 
hepatitis, which socked me in the hospital. But at the 
same time I got an eviction notice from the manager of 
Baldwin Hills Village, because in my absence my daughter 
had taken pity on a little kitten and had taken the kitten 
in the house and was keeping it. That was against the 
rules. We were not to have any animals. 
LASKEY: Oh, couldn't they just--? 

ALEXANDER: So the grounds keeper, under orders, found the 
kitten in an odd moment outside the house and destroyed the 


LASKEY: Oh, no. 

ALEXANDER: And also issued me an eviction notice. 

LASKEY: Do you think it was because you had the kitten or 

because you--? 

ALEXANDER: Oh, no, that was the excuse for getting us 

out. So that was when I got permission-- Well, I bought 

the remaining interest in the building that had been built 

as a-- What do you call it? There was a building that had 

been built for the architect, a construction building that 

I had used as an architect's office, and I got permission 

to move that fifteen miles across town at three o'clock in 

the morning and make a house out of it. Anyway, that was 

the end of my Baldwin Hills experience. 

LASKEY: Did you contest it at all? 

ALEXANDER: No, there wasn't any sense that I could see. 

LASKEY: Weren't you outraged? 

ALEXANDER: Yes, I was outraged, and I considered the New 

England Mutual absentee landlords to be about the worst, 

but there isn't much you can do with a giant like that. 

LASKEY: But while Wilson, Merrill, and Alexander were 

working on Baldwin Hills Village, you did have some other 

projects that you were involved with. Some that weren't 

built, like the Dana Point project. 

ALEXANDER: Yeah, what can I say about them? Well, there 

were several residences that were the things that brought 


me to Wilson and Merrill, later Wilson, Merrill, and 
Alexander. I think there were a dozen single-family 
residences. One of them was for Marjorie Rambeau, a 
silent-movie star. That was above Sunset Plaza [Drive], 

you know, where- - 

LASKEY: Doheny [Road] up above Sunset [Boulevard]? 
ALEXANDER: Sunset Plaza Drive winds up above Sunset 
Boulevard above where the Trocadero [Cafe] used to be. 
LASKEY: Yeah, I know where that is. 

ALEXANDER: Anyway, we designed two houses up there. I 
went back to see them one time, I guess three or four years 
ago; they're still there, still about the same. We 
designed a house for Calvin Kuhl, who had been sent out by 
some New York advertising agency to be in charge of their 
new radio program in Toluca Lake. There again, I went 
around to see if it was still there, and it's still 
there. It was a sort of Cape Cod colonial, a one-story 
house with eaves that you could touch with your hand. Two 
little people, and a house to suit them right on the 
lake. One of the other projects was-- You mentioned the 
Sherwood Inn. Bing Crosby was one of the ringleaders in 
establishing the Del Mar racetrack, which was the catalyst 
that would presumably bring back the life of this great big 
hotel at Del Mar which had been built in the big hotel 


LASKEY: Was it one of the hotels like the Del Coronado? 

LASKEY: That period, the turn of the century. 
ALEXANDER: Nowhere as good as the Hotel [Del] Coronado, 
but, yeah, about the same time. Barney Vanderstien was an 
entrepreneur whose business in the old silent-movie days 
was the care and feeding of a movie crew on location, out 
in the desert or wherever. And when the Boulder Dam was 
proposed and the six companies got together to build the 
dam, they needed somebody to take care of the care and 
feeding of the thousands of people who built the dam. And 
Barney Vanderstien took the contract for the housing and 
feeding of these people. Well, at the end of the war, he 
was looking around for things to do and bought the hotel, 

the Sherwood. 

One project that delighted me and I had a lot of fun 
with was the bar for the remodeled hotel. I subscribed to 
the theory at the time that a bar could not be successful 
unless the ceiling was low and the lights were dim. The 
Sherwood Inn sounded pretty English to me, so I decided 
that an appropriate theme would be the Knight's Inn or the 
Knight's Bar--what was it? Well, in any event, this hotel 
had very, very high ground-floor ceilings, inappropriate 
for the bar, I thought. In order to lower the ceiling 
without too much cost, I devised a fabric ceiling of wide 


red and blue alternating stripes draped over rope molds 
covered with gold leaf. And to carry out the theme I had 
in mind, I used Burke's Peerage to get the coats of arms of 
people with whom racetrack fans might identify--people such 
as Captain Cook and Shakespeare and Morris (who invented 
the morris chair) [laughter] and various people who had 
something to do with California or would be recognized by 
relatively unsophisticated Calif ornians. 
LASKEY: And racetrack fans. 

ALEXANDER: And I got a wood-carver by the name of 
Peckaneck--! couldn't spell it precisely, but Peckaneck was 
the name--who was carving in depth, somewhat in the style 
of Grinling Gibbons, a famous British wood-carver. 
LASKEY: Where did you find Peckaneck? 

ALEXANDER: In Pasadena. I forget what I had him do before 
that, but he was looking for work. I made full-size 
drawings of each one of these coats of arms, which he 
developed in three dimensions, beautifully carved, heavy, 
thick wooden models of the coat of arms, which were then 
silver-leafed and gold-leafed and colored correctly 
according to Burke's Peerage. And it made quite a show, 
one of these coats of arms for each booth. Each booth was 
set up as if it were a horse stall with a carved horse's 
head. And at the center, where there was a musician's 
stage for a trio, he carved a Saint George slaying the 


dragon scene, pretty large scale. I forget how big it was, 

but quite substantial. And then I got a friend who had 

made a hobby of Burke's Peerage and coats of arms to write 

up a description and the background of each one of these 

characters, which was on parchment adjacent to the arms. 

That was a lot of fun. 

LASKEY: What happened to the hotel? Was it successful? 

ALEXANDER: Well, it was, but I wasn't able to follow it 

until I was engaged by the regents of UCSD [University of 

California, San Diego] and I found that there were some 

people who remembered the bar and they remembered when it 

was changed. I think the hotel was torn down, but I'm not 

sure about that. But in any event, the bar was dismantled 

at one point and the fragments of these carvings had been 

dispersed somehow. I located Saint George and the dragon 

in some other bar in the area. I wasn't able to track down 

the whole thing. I was just interested. 

LASKEY: It's kind of nice that it got recycled and not 

just destroyed, 


LASKEY: Then you got Involved with the Bakersfield Opera 


ALEXANDER: Yeah. Well, that was an "opery" house that 

still had some of the stage props behind the scenes when we 

went in, and it had been bought by [Twentieth Century] Fox 


West Coast to convert to a movie theater. I was very 
excited about the project and figured on doing something 
new and different for an entrance to a movie. We were of 
course to have a marquee--that was a necessity. As long as 
you could call attention to yourself by building over the 
sidewalk, then that is the thing to do. I had the concept 
of having a movie screen up above the marquee and at the 
outside of the marquee having a projector to project movies 
of coming movies or whatever. Of course, it would only be 
shown at night, as it would be invisible during the 
daytime. So I didn't worry about that too much, because I 
was so excited about the thing. 

I also had got excited about the use of neon, which 
was of course the big rage in the twenties. But rather 
than having the kinds of pylon or tower that was prevalent 
at the time, I had a neon character, a salesman, help me 
design a spiral neon as the tower with an exposed tube. 
And I made a model to illustrate this concept having a 
movie screen above the marquee. 

LASKEY: Now, the marquee is jutting out over the sidewalk, 
the general thirties marquee. 

ALEXANDER: Yeah, from the outside of this triangular 
marquee there would be a projector; the theory was to 
project onto the screen. 
LASKEY: Where's the screen going to be? 


ALEXANDER: On the face of the building. 

LASKEY: On the face of the building, so the projector is 

at the point of the marquee projecting the film onto the 


ALEXANDER: Yeah. I don't think I could make it work now, 

but that was the idea, and I was so excited about it I made 

a model . 

LASKEY: Where was the neon tower? 

ALEXANDER: At just one corner of the building. 

LASKEY: But this is up above the actual building and 


ALEXANDER: And I made a model with real neon that would 

light up and so forth and took it to Mr. [Spyros P.] 

Skouras ' s office, and it went over like a lead balloon. He 

took one look and said, "No, it's not fancy enough." So we 

went back, and I found out that the only way to go with 

Skouras was to engage the services of Tony [Anthony B.] 

Heinsbergen. Tony Heinsbergen had his place out on-- What 

was it? 

LASKEY: On Beverly. 

ALEXANDER: Yeah, on Beverly Boulevard. And the only thing 

that was not a Heinsbergen, when I got into the decoration 

of this building, was the doors. I found somebody who had 

developed a technique of sandblasting in three dimensions. 

That is, he used something like tape or gummy substance-- 


what was it?--a rubbery substance with which you coat the 
glass. And then the portion that you want to be the 
deepest, you cut out of the rubbery substance, peel it off, 
then sandblast, and then you peel off some more around that 
and sandblast it again. In other words, instead of 
building up, you build down. The portion that gets four 
sandblasts is the deepest portion, and the one that gets 
only one is the shallowest, so that you can build this 
thing in three dimensions. I made a floral design on the 
glass which was developed that way. That was my 
contribution to the ornament. 

LASKEY: Now, at the same time--we had discussed this last 
time--you were also getting Involved in public housing. 
You were working on the Estrada Courts and Lakewood [City]. 
ALEXANDER: Estrada Courts came after I had been in New 
York. I came back from working on Parkchester and found 
that Lou [Louis E.] Wilson was in two or three joint 
ventures with other architects and that I wasn't 
included. So I said, "Well, I'll go out and stake out my 
own claim." Did I discuss this in our previous session? 
LASKEY : Yes . 
ALEXANDER: Yeah, okay. 

LASKEY: But I wanted to ask you about Baldwin Hills 
Village, and I think I did ask you: In relation to Estrada 
courts, and also then going on into Lakewood village, would 


we have had any of those developments if there hadn't been 

a depression? 

ALEXANDER: Perhaps not, I don't know. Well, we have 
always needed housing for moderate- income people and poor 
people and so forth. And the FHA [Federal Housing 
Administration] was the product of a national conference 
called by [Herbert] Hoover. Hoover called for a conference 
on the problem of housing. That conference produced about 
a two-foot-long shelf of books that I found in the public 
library at Pasadena some time later in the early 
thirties. And the major product that came out of this 
Hoover conference on housing was FHA. Now, I don't think 
that was the product of the Depression, but just the 
product of the need for public interest in the housing 
industry, to see that it was serving all the people. 
Before the FHA, it was customary to have very short 
mortgages and to have a balloon payment required if you 
were going to keep your property. In other words, you 
wouldn't pay very much per month when you started, but the 
theory was that you were going to get rich and then pay it 
all off in one block-just in five or ten years or 
whatever. That was quite unsatisfactory, and it didn't 
serve the public or the investors or anybody. So I think 
the FHA would have happened in some form anyway, and part 
of that FHA effort was rental housing. So I don't think 


that was a product of the Depression. I don't know about 
whether public housing would have-- I think public housing 
would have likewise come along somehow anyway. 
LASKEY: Well, the trends, the history of it go back before 
the Depression, but there had not exactly been an aura in 
this country of acceptance or seeming to understand the 
need for it. 

ALEXANDER: Right, that's true. 

LASKEY: Now, the large developments that were built after 
the war, like Levittown--which I think was a postwar 
development- -were definitely not caused by the 
Depression. They were not caused by a communal need so 
much as they were caused by the pressures of population. 
So possibly you're right in saying that these developments 
would have happened because there was a need for them. 
ALEXANDER: And Levittown was the result of five years of 
forced idleness in housing. So there was a pent-up demand, 
a lot of new family formation, and a hiatus in the whole 
housing industry during the war. 

LASKEY: Lakewood City sort of falls in between these 
developments that we're talking about. It was single- 
family dwellings. 

ALEXANDER: It was single-family dwellings and it was built 
before the war. Part of it was built during the war. A 
lot of the carpenter labor in that project consisted of 


people from Oklahoma and Arkansas moving to the West. And 
I remember when we had the submarine scare here, the 
bombing near Santa Barbara, all of a sudden there were no 
carpenters on the job. It was the first attempt that I 
know of to build housing with a factory in the fields. 
That is to say, there were two young men who had been 
engaged by contractors who built Wyvernwood [Los Angeles] -- 
which was developed and owned by John Griff ith--who became 
the contractors of Lakewood City. They set up a big shed 
and sawmill in which, after having seven different floor 
plans and after building a mock-up of each one, they would 
take it apart and see how long each member was and cut to 
fit every stick of lumber that went into the house, bundled 
according to which window, which door, and so forth must be 
built in the house. Everything was labeled, bundled and 
trekked from this sawmill to the site. It took three Ross- 
carrier loads per building. The first one would take it up 
to the floor, the rough-floor stage. The second load would 
take it up, including the roof, and the third load would be 
all of the finished lumber. They had this organized like 
that with holes for wiring or plumbing or whatnot, pre- 

LASKEY: It was a kind of prefabricated house? 
ALEXANDER: It was probably the most successful prefab 
attempt. It was really prefab using traditional methods of 


nail pounding and so forth. But this managed to get to a 
stage where there were eight completions a day; there was a 
house an hour being turned out. 
LASKEY: How many houses in total? 

ALEXANDER: Well, 2,400, I think. There were approximately 
500 hundred at a time in a surge. I was the only one able 
to do the field supervision or inspection, or whatever you 
want to call it--observation for the architect. [David J.] 
Witmer had been called to Washington to be chief architect 
of the Pentagon. His partner, [Loyal F.] Watson, was very 
hard of hearing; also, he was quite a bit older. So I was 
elected to go out and furnish the observation. Well, when 
we got to the stage of there being a house an hour 
completion--and each house had to have five inspections--I 
would go out with this FHA character, McDonald I think his 
name was, who knew construction down to the last nail, the 
way I did not. I walked around with him until I walked my 
legs up to my knees; it was really pitiful. Five 
inspections per house and eight houses a day. That's forty 
houses to review, in one stage or another. That was a job 
and a half. This guy Mcdonald could see that something was 
wrong from a half a block away about a house that we were 
walking over to see. I learned a hell of a lot about 
putting things together. 
LASKEY: Did that help you when you were involved in 


further planning of communities? 

ALEXANDER: It didn't help me very much in community 

planning, but it helped me understand construction where 

sticks of wood were involved. 

LASKEY: You've written, "Although I would come to look 

with horror on such an object"--I'm talking about Lakewood 

City--"I approached the task with enthusiasm." Why did you 

come to look at it with horror? 

ALEXANDER: Oh, well, making everything individual and 

different from every other person's-- To make every house 

different is not my objective anymore. I think it's a 

mistake. We were trying to mimic a community that grew 

gradually, and we did [it] overnight, falsely, by twisting, 

turning, reversing, and upside-downing, attached or 

detached garage, simply for the sake of making something 


There's a little book by, I think his name was 
Rasmussen, that points out the difference between the 
British and the American. The British wanting to live in a 
house that is just like the one next door, so that you 
don't notice him. You go to Bath, for instance, and you 
see a row of houses, every one exactly alike, and they just 
love it that way. The American wants to stick his neck out 
and call attention to himself: "I'm an individual!" And 
this forced difference I detest now, which I did not at the 


time. Everybody's attempt to be different at any cost. 
LASKEY: Well, if you were designing a subdivision now-- 
these are single-family residences--would you have them all 
look the same? I mean, I think that's a little bit 
different when you are doing a community or a subdivision 
like that than when you're doing something like Baldwin 
Hills Village, which is a different kind of a community. 
You could have probably more shared features. How would 
you--? How do you visualize now--? 

ALEXANDER: I guess I just wouldn't get into the game. 
LASKEY: Just wouldn't do it. [laughter] Well, I guess 
they still are building subdivisions with single-family 
residences. It is just sort of running through my mind 
whether they are even doing that anymore, even out in the 

ALEXANDER: I don't know. I'm unfamiliar with the field 


OCTOBER 2, 1986 

LASKEY: Regarding the importance of craftsmen, 
particularly the importance of craftsmen in the prewar 
building, what happened to those craftsmen when the war 


ALEXANDER: Well, they got jobs in the aircraft industry 

making models, full-size fuselage or whatever. I wasn't 

able to track them, but I know that they got out of the 

business they'd been trained in and into allied fields in 

the war industries, in shipbuilding. I'm sure that they 

had modelers in shipbuilding. There's one blacksmith in 

San Francisco that still has his blacksmith's shop--he's 

not shoeing horses anymore. But he's pretty rare. I 

noticed on Olvera Street there was a wrought-iron craftsman 

who was doing work right up to ten years ago at least. 

LASKEY: He just died last year. 

ALEXANDER: Is that so? 

LASKEY: They just closed up his little place. 

ALEXANDER: Well, I don't know where they went, but I know 

they had jobs in war industries. 

LASKEY: Well, after the war, with the changes in 

technology used in architecture and in design, there 

doesn't seem to have been a place for them. Because I 

think you mentioned at some point in your writings about 


how important these men were. Again going back to the 
early architects of Pasadena, that they could probably not 
have built or designed a building without the use of these 
craftsmen. And after the war, that is probably not true. 
ALEXANDER: Well, even in just simple painting-- Caradoc 
Rees, who was the father of our state senator-- 
LASKEY: Tom [Thomas M.] Rees? 

ALEXANDER: Yeah, Tom Rees. Wasn't he a congressmen 
also? Well, his father, Caradoc Rees, was a real craftsman 
in the field of painting. He would insist on doing a 
perfectly beautiful job that turned a piece of wood into 
ivory. NO one would consider painting with a thin coat of 
paint, letting it dry, and then rubbing it with— what do 
you call it?--volcanic ash. 
LASKEY: Pumice stone. 

ALEXANDER: Pumice, yeah, pumice and water. And then doing 
another coat and pumice and water and doing a sixteen-coat 
job--in a kitchen. But that's the only kind of work he 
knew how to do, and he was very much in demand by people 
who had the money and who loved beautiful things. And in a 
way, it shows how our standard of living has declined, or 
at least we place emphasis on things other than 
craftsmanship. Nobody would consider doing what he did at 
all today, and he found that out. I saw him many times 
after. His business had just practically disappeared 


because of the lack of appreciation and the willingness to 

pay for a superb job. He reverted to painting landscapes 

for pleasure. 

LASKEY: And probably the technique was not passed on to 


ALEXANDER: That's right. There was no demand for it 

anymore . 

LASKEY: Well, at the point of Lakewood City and the 

building of Baldwin Hills Village, and even the 

construction of Estrada Courts, we were in the war. Given 

restrictions on building--in fact, I think there was a 

moratorium on building--what did you do? 

ALEXANDER: What did I do? I went to work for Lockheed 

[Aircraft] . In manufacturing, not in plant engineering. 

LASKEY: How did you do that? 

ALEXANDER: How did I do it? 

LASKEY: What was your background? 

ALEXANDER: Well, my background was architectural school, 

in which one is trained to synthesize, put things 

together. I had a theory at one time that architectural 

training was a pretty good generalist training from the 

standpoint of not taking things apart, but putting them 

together. To oversimplify, I figured that lawyers picked 

things apart-- 

LASKEY: And architects put it back together. 


ALEXANDER: In any event, I went into the production- 
control division of Lockheed, the function of which is to 
get everything that goes into building an airplane at the 
right place at the right time. And I went from that to 
assistant to the works manager of factory two, which was 
across the street from the original main factory. 
LASKEY: This is the Lockheed in the [San Fernando] Valley? 
ALEXANDER: Yeah. Before that I was asked to be in charge 
of what was called "area 300." It was part of production 
control. The management decided to tap the womanpower of 
the San Joaquin Valley by setting up sub-assembly plants 
from Bakersfield to Fresno. This would require shipping 
things out of the mother plant and receiving them back. 
Here again, it was a question of getting parts to the right 
place at the right time and supplying these plants. So 
there was a control point, area 300, in a big warehouse 
across the street from the main factory, and I was put in 
charge of that. That was a hair-raising experience. I was 
called into a meeting, top management, and asked if I would 
accept the job, and I said, "Yeah, I'll tackle anything." 
I didn't know what was going to happen. But a ditto memo 
went out to every department manager saying what they were 
going to do and that I would be in charge of the control 
point as of a certain date and that each department head 
was to give me so many employees. The result was that each 


department head would look at his personnel file and find 
the troublemakers that he wanted to get rid of and send 
them to me. The first few days my telephone was ringing 
every minute; I couldn't put it down without its ringing 
again. It just drove me crazy. Then the first load of 
stuff to go out to these plants accumulated much faster 
than we could possibly ship them out, so that there was 
this long line of stuff on dollies waiting to be shipped 
out that extended way back into the main plant. So I was 
being cursed right and left because I wasn't getting this 
stuff out fast enough. I was given a supreme record 
keeper. Our main job was to keep track of things: what 
went out and what came in. And, you know, if everything is 
cool, steady, and systematic you know what's happening. 
But when it's a frantic rush to get these plants 
established from Bakersfield to Fresno, good god, 
everything just went to pot. But one fortunate thing was 
that in order to run these outside plants successfully, we 
had to have-- What were they called? 
LASKEY: Expediters. 

ALEXANDER: Yeah, expediters, that's right. And 
fortunately, along with the guys who had records with 
various departments, I got some real pirates. If I needed 
something, I'd just call my pirates in and tell them we had 
to have a certain number of a certain part out at the 


Fresno plant. They'd go out and find them, even if they 

had to climb walls and steal stuff. 

LASKEY: It must have been some department. 

ALEXANDER: Oh, that was a hair-raising experience. When 

that subsided so that it was manageable, then I went to the 

works manager in factory B, where I had an odd assortment 

of personnel under my control, including some expediters, 

including thirteen sort of mother hens. What would you 

call them? 

LASKEY: They sort of oversaw? 

ALEXANDER: No. The plant was overloaded with women who 

were having their first experience on the assembly lines. 

If you think women have problems, you have no idea what 

problems they had during the war. In an entirely new 

environment, all of a sudden out of the family home, all of 

a sudden they were being supervised by a man, or whatever. 

LASKEY: Counselors. 

ALEXANDER: Counselors, right. I think I had thirteen 

counselors reporting to me. Women problems-- jeez I My 

counselors needed counseling. 

LASKEY: Well, it was a whole new world for everybody. Not 

just for the women but for the men too. 

ALEXANDER: Yeah, right. And there were all kinds of 

jealousies that I'd never run up against before. Well, 

this organization, in the short time I was there, which was 


like four years or something like that, the total personnel 
grew from nine thousand to ninety thousand, or whatever. I 
just don't remember the figures now, but it was just an 
enormous surge of employees. 

LASKEY: So you're dealing with a bureaucracy. You had 
never really dealt with a bureaucracy at that level before. 
ALEXANDER: Not before and [not] after. I'd never been in 
an organization where everybody was struggling to get one 
step ahead on the ladder. I had my swing shift equivalent, 
the guy in charge of my area 300 swing shift, who figured, 
with very well-founded facts, that he was a much better man 
than I was, because he had been in the aircraft business 
for a long time and he knew by number every part of the PV- 
2 (which was thousands of parts) and I didn't know anything 
like that. I heard that he was after my job, wanted to get 
the day shift. So I talked to my immediate superior, and 
he said, "Why don't you take a vacation and see how he 
makes out?" So I took a one-week or maybe it was two-week 
vacation, to let him take my job while I was gone, see what 
happened. It worked. I mean, he didn't hang himself, but 
he couldn't handle it very well, just from the standpoint 
of handling people. He had a relatively quiet time on 
swing shift. Everything went to hell in the day when 
everybody was there. 
LASKEY: His thirteen women counselors. [laughter] 


ALEXANDER: Well, this was area 300, dealing with the 
northern plants. Well, I learned a lot about organization, 
some of which I could apply, but not much, in architecture. 
LASKEY: But you figure it was your architectural training 
that allowed you to deal with the problems at Lockheed. 
ALEXANDER: I think so. 

LASKEY: Without the benefit of knowing the four thousand 
parts of the airplane. 
ALEXANDER: Yeah, sure. 

LASKEY: Did you stay with Lockheed after the war? 
ALEXANDER: No. I was offered a department-head position, 
but I decided that that was not what I wanted to do. I 
wanted to be an architect on my own. I remember we had an 
AIA [American Institute of Architects] chapter meeting the 
night of V-J-Day. That was the final, you know--not V-E 
[Day] , V-J-Day. Two architects asked me to go into 
partnership with them. The first was Sumner Spaulding and 
the second was Bill [William] Pereira. 
LASKEY: That's very impressive. 

ALEXANDER: In both cases I turned them down. I said, 
"Before the war I was depending on other people, other 
partners and so forth. I'd like to tackle it on my own and 
see what I can do by myself." It was just a feeling I 
had. So that's the way it was. I was determined to be an 
architect anyway. 


LASKEY: Well, by the end of the war you were already 
involved in the [Los Angeles] City Planning Commission. 
How did that come about? 

ALEXANDER: Well, before the war I had been a member of 
Telesis South. Telesis was an organization founded in San 
Francisco by a group of architects who, in the case of San 
Francisco, where they were so physically close from the 
standpoint of office location, could meet every noon or 
anytime they wanted to--they could get together easily. 
One of their members is now living in Berkeley. He became 
a member of the city planning staff here. What the hell is 
his name? Mel Scott. Mel told some of us about this 
organization in San Francisco named Telesis interested in 
city planning. We formed one in Southern California which 
had to meet at night. People would come from miles 
around. One guy came down from Bakersfield every time we 
had a meeting, for instance. This was a group of young 
whippersnappers who were going to change the world. 

Also in Pasadena, when I was living there I was called 
upon by a committee of the League of Women Voters to 
recommend a course study in housing and to speak to them on 
the housing problem in Pasadena. So my message was to 
forget about housing for Pasadena. What they needed was 
city planning. "Okay. What would you give us for a 
bibliography on that?" I gave them a bibliography. Pretty 


soon they knew more about city planning than I did. 

LASKEY: The League of Women Voters has a way of doing 


ALEXANDER: So the League of Women Voters committee had to 

go to the statewide organization to get permission to have 

a subcomniittee on city planning, to include that, at least, 

in the housing problem. Oh, they were hotshots. For one 

thing, it was sort of outrageous, the equivalent of a city 

council. I don't know what they call them in Pasadena, 

governors or something like that. The board of governors, 

is it? 

LASKEY: I don't know. We'll find out. 

ALEXANDER: The equivalent of the city council of Pasadena 

[board of directors] decided to place the function of city 

planning in the sanitary engineers' department--that is, 

the sewer department. 

LASKEY: What was it doing there? 

ALEXANDER: Believe it or not, that was their proposal. 

The League of Women Voters committee went down and pounded 

the table until the board members saw the light and put on 

a nationwide search for a director of city planning--which 

is something I had recommended. They found a guy who had 

just resigned as head of the city planning department at 

Columbia University. James Marshall Miller was his name. 

He became the first city planning director of Pasadena. 


Later on, many years later, he worked for me in charge of 
my city planning projects. But, meantime, in addition to 
raising hell with the city fathers in Pasadena, they [the 
League of Women Voters] organized a series of lectures at 
Caltech [California Institute of Technology] . They had six 
lectures on city planning. They really became a force for 
improving the city, organizing through the chamber of 
commerce and other organizations in Pasadena. 
LASKEY: Were you involved with them through this whole 
cycle during all this time? 

ALEXANDER: Well, not intimately with the League of Women 
Voters, but I was kept in touch with the organization they 
helped found. In fact, let's see, what did they call it? 
I helped them organize a citizens-- You might call it an 
advisory committee on city planning for the city that had a 
newsletter that went out all through the war. I kept 
getting copies when I set up practice after the war. It 
was called [the Pasadena Citizens Planning Council] . I was 
involved in one of their acts before the war came along. 
It was an exhibit at the Grace Nicholson Gallery, an 
exhibit on city planning. The league put that one on for 
something like $250. 
LASKEY: The entire exhibit? 

ALEXANDER: Yeah, and their blood, sweat, and tears. The 
son of one of the League of Women Voters' members-- She had 


a son named Michael. Michael went around Pasadena to look 

at this, that, and the other. Then they had these big 

photographs and illustrations of what he saw in Pasadena. 

So it was sort of a mirror of what Pasadenans could see for 

the first time of themselves. 

LASKEY: How interesting. 

ALEXANDER: It was very effective. At the same time I was 

working on--what the hell was that called?--an organization 

that was meeting at-- 

LASKEY: Was this the organization with Carey McWilliams? 

ALEXANDER: Arts, sciences, and profession council? No, 

that was not it. 

LASKEY: It was close to that. We'll check that. 

[Hollywood Independent Citizens Committee of the Arts, 

Sciences, and Professions.] 

ALEXANDER: You know the Jake Zeitlin who had his studio at 

that time on Carondelet [Street]? 

LASKEY: Oh, really? Near downtown. 

ALEXANDER: Right in downtown. I'm trying to think, how 

was it organized? I know we got $5,000 from the [Los 

Angeles County] Board of Supervisors to put on an exhibit 

of city planning in the county museum. That was also 

before the war started. 

LASKEY: You mean the L.A. County Museum? That would have 

been down in Exposition Park then, right? 


ALEXANDER: Yes . But I don't remember how in god's name 

that was organized. Anyway, I know I was working on that, 

and that went on about the same time as the League of Women 

Voters' exhibit in Pasadena. It cost $5,000 and a lot of 

hard work and was no more effective than the one that the 

league put on, I would say. We had some great big maps. 

[Richard J.] Neutra worked on it. 

LASKEY: The one in Pasadena? 

ALEXANDER: No, the big one. 

LASKEY: Oh, the big one. 

ALEXANDER: But, I don't remember how it was organized. I 

guess the last meeting of Telesis occurred in Jake 

Zeitlin's studio on Carondelet the night of the infamous 

air raid, [Lieutenant General John C] De Witt's false air 

raid of Los Angeles. 

LASKEY: What was that like? 

ALEXANDER: Well, what it was like was that everybody 

decided to go home. All of the lights in the city were 

out, and my wife and I had left our kids in the charge of a 

babysitter and we knew that she would be disturbed. We 

were damn well determined to get home. We went all the way 

home on the Pasadena Freeway without headlights. No other 

cars that I could see. 

LASKEY: Did you have any idea what was happening? 

ALEXANDER: No, we just knew there was an air raid 


warning. We didn't know if it was an air raid or not. It 

was only very shortly after that we found out it was a big 

intentional scare by this stupid General De Witt. 

LASKEY: He was also the one who was very involved with the 

incarceration of the Japanese. 

ALEXANDER: Yeah, right. Well, may his soul rest in 

peace. [laughter] 

LASKEY: Yeah. 

ALEXANDER: Well, anyway, we were getting to what happened 

on the planning commission. I had been very noisy, in 

other words, about city planning. 

LASKEY: So you had been involved with the League of Women 
Voters, you had been on the arts and sciences council, you 
had written some things. 
ALEXANDER: Yeah, diatribes. 
LASKEY: Diatribes. [laughter] 

ALEXANDER: I had been a member of-- Sumner Spaulding had a 
group meeting on city planning which he called his 
"commandos." This was a popular name at the time because 
Great Britain had the commandos that made raids, and we 
were going to make a raid on the city and make it sit up 
and fly right. So that was another outlet. 

LASKEY: NOW, Sumner Spaulding I always consider as a beaux- 
arts or city-beautiful, a very traditional kind of 
architect. This sounds like he — 


ALEXANDER: No, he was a rabble-rouser. You may be 

thinking of Sumner Hunt. 

LASKEY: I could have the two of them mixed, but I thought-- 

ALEXANDER: Sumner Spaulding, sure he was beaux arts 

trained, but at that time everybody was. But he was a 

radical rabble-rouser in a way. 

LASKEY: Really? 

ALEXANDER: Yep. And very provocative. He saw, before 

anybody that I knew, the meaning of the atom bombs--maybe 

with the exception of Einstein. Hardly anyone foresaw the 

consequences . 

LASKEY: But as far as the community here was concerned. 

ALEXANDER: Yeah. He was a very exciting guy. Anyway, we 

had a group that devoted our attention to city planning. I 

was very vocal about it, and it was at a time when very few 

cities in California had a city planning commission or 

department. And I was going around talking about how 

important this was. 

So, in the meantime, before the war came the Shaw 
scandal. Mayor [Frank L.] Shaw was ousted by a referendum, 
or recall I mean. And eventually Fletcher Bowron became 
mayor. The main complaint against Shaw was that in the 
[Los Angeles City] Planning Department there was an open 
buying and selling of planning privileges. So one of the 
major tasks that Bowron addressed was reforming the 


planning law in the city and changing the department and so 
forth. He appointed an outstanding group of five 
conunissioners, including Bill [William H.] Schuchardt--who 
was president--and the president of Occidental College. 
What was his name? 
LASKEY: Remsen [D.] Bird. 

ALEXANDER: Remsen Bird, oh yeah. Bird resigned at some 
time. Well, I guess he resigned as president of Occidental 
College. He stepped down, or out; he wanted to move up to 
Monterey. His successor, an economist, was somebody I had 
known and worked with, maybe even debated, I don't know. 
Coons became the president of Occidental. 
LASKEY: Arthur? 

ALEXANDER: Yeah, Arthur [G.] Coons. Well, anyway, I 
really don't know the story as to how I was identified by 
Bowron to be asked to replace Remsen Bird. But when Remsen 
Bird resigned, Bowron asked me to take the job. 
LASKEY: Had you met Bowron before? 

ALEXANDER: Never met him before. I do know this, that 
according to Bowron ' s secretary [Albine P. Norton] (whom he 
later married), they had made an exhaustive search of my 
record by getting letters of recommendation or whatever 
from all kinds of sources, such as the head of the AFL-CIO 
[American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial 
Organizations] . 


LASKEY: That's interesting. How did they get to the AFL? 
ALEXANDER: Bowron, evidently, had a way of going about 
investigating people that he was going to appoint to 
something through a broad range or spectrum that I would 
not have believed. That man became a regent. What was his 
name? Do you know? 

LASKEY: I don't know. [Cornelius J. Haggerty] 
ALEXANDER: Well, anyway, somebody I'd never met. 

The United Auto Workers [UAW] had asked me, while I 
was still working at Lockheed, if at the end of the war I 
would be head of their housing movement. The UAW had the 
most advanced organization in all kinds of social issues 
such as housing. 

LASKEY: Was this when [Walter] Reuther was still involved? 
ALEXANDER: Yes. I was invited to be head of that. I had 
a long session one night with Carey McWilliams as to what I 
should do. I was undecided. 

LASKEY: Since we've mentioned Carey McWilliams a couple of 
times, you might want to identify what your relationship 
was with him. 

ALEXANDER: Well, the only way I got to know him was by 
being a member of the board of the arts, sciences, 
professions council of the-- What was it called? Citizens-- 
Well, anyway, the arts, sciences, professions council. 


Carey McWilliams and my dentist, Don McQueen-- 

LASKEY: Your dentist? 

ALEXANDER: Yeah. And the [California] Supreme Court 

justice's brother. The Supreme Court justice who had been 

on there before anybody, [Stanley] Mosk. 

LASKEY: Stanley Mosk. 

ALEXANDER: Stan Mosk ' s brother [Edward Mosk]. Anyway, I'm 

naming the board members of the arts, sciences, professions 

council, and this was the way I knew Carey McWilliams. I 

went to him for advice because I knew he knew labor people 

and so forth. Anyway, I decided not to accept the offer. 

But that was the way that somebody at Lockheed, 

representing UAW, was evidently asked by this guy who 

became a regent, the labor leader--! used to know his 

name. I just don't remember these damn things. Anyway, I 

think he also undoubtedly asked the head of the AIA 

chapter, who I think was Herb [Herbert J.] Powell. He got 

a lot of comments from various people, and as I say, I'd 

made a lot of noise. 

LASKEY: They knew where you stood. 

ALEXANDER: Yeah. Mayor Bowron was very active in the 

council of mayors, the National Council of Mayors, so that 

he got their points of view and was very familiar with the 

point of view of any eastern mayor to whom public housing 


was the greatest blessing to take care of a real need and 

problem in the community. So he was not prepared for the 

violent resistance of the real estate lobby in California 

to the whole public housing issue. So he defended me right 

and left. 

LASKEY: Now, are you talking about the Proposition 14 

debate, or does it go back before Proposition 14? 

ALEXANDER: He didn't have to defend me before that. 

LASKEY: Oh. [laughter] Well, Proposition 14 was for 

statewide public housing, is that right? It was there that 

you did head-on battle with the real estate lobby. But 

hadn't they also been instrumental in preventing 

development and city planning within the city of Los 

Angeles? I'm thinking about Bunker Hill and some of the 

other developments that were talked about as possible 

redevelopment areas and then stopped. Or wasn't that the 

real estate lobby? 

ALEXANDER: I think it was. Well, I was appointed to the 

planning commission in 1945. What were the dates? What 

was VJ-Day? Was that '46? 

LASKEY: 'Forty-six or '47. 

ALEXANDER: August 8 or something like that, '46? Or was 

it 1947? 

LASKEY: It was '46 or '47 [August 14, 1945]. 

ALEXANDER: But anyway, part of my tenure was very quiet. 


just hard work on things to come, preparing for the 
holocaust which came at the end of the war when all of a 
sudden this pent-up need for housing and so forth just went 
wild and the housing industry suddenly became clogged with, 
not only good actors, but some people that I thought of as 
real gangsters. The gangster type suddenly found an easy 
way to make a buck with other people's money. And Congress 
was so wild in trying to promote housing that they opened 
the door to anybody who was willing to organize something 
like this without a nickel of his own money in it and make 
a million. I figured there were a great many abuses there, 
but these people did not want any competition from public 
housing, even though all kinds of protections were enacted 
to protect their vested interest in private housing by 
making a gap called the Klutznick gap. 
LASKEY: What kind of gap? 

ALEXANDER: A Klutznick gap. You know Phil [Philip A.] 
Klutznick? Ever heard of him? 
LASKEY : No . 

ALEXANDER: Well, he's been very prominent in supporting 
Israel. He's a Chicago homebuilder, a very decent chap. A 
gap of eligibility, when a person is eligible for public 
housing and not eligible for it. I don't want to explain 
all that stuff. But anyway, we're getting back to the 
planning commission stuff, or did you want to do something 



LASKEY: No. I want you to talk about the planning 
commission. You, the commission, Los Angeles, housing. 
ALEXANDER: Well, another thing about being appointed-- I 
don't know how important this was, but it must have 
probably had some importance. During my fifth year at 
Cornell [University] , my last year, there was a weekly 
seminar given by a visiting professor, a Cornell graduate 
in architecture who had been born and grew up in 
Wisconsin. And I attended this seminar, which was really a 
delightful relaxation, in which we looked at architectural 
magazines and talked about architecture. It was a lot of 
fun. And this old boy turned out to be Bill Schuchardt who 
was on the planning commission. He was very well-off. He 
had never needed to work for a living as an architect, but 
was a very gentlemanly and scholarly character of whom I 
was very fond. So undoubtedly he put in a good word for me 
and that sort of thing. He had become very hard of hearing 


OCTOBER 3, 1986 

LASKEY: We were going into a discussion of Forest Lawn 
[Mortuaries] and its battle with the [Los Angeles] City 
Planning Conunission. It might be a good idea to refresh us 
on the history of the city planning commission development 
in L.A. 

ALEXANDER: The first city planning commission of Los 
Angeles was founded in 1920, largely as a result of the 
tireless efforts of [G.] Gordon Whitnall, who in about 
1910-- Do you mind if I refresh my memory on this? 
LASKEY: Oh, no, go ahead. 

ALEXANDER: Well, preceding that, in 1911 the preliminary 
transportation study of Los Angeles by Bion J. Arnold was 
issued through the [Throop] Polytechnic Institute, which is 
now Caltech [California Institute of Technology] . That was 
followed by the Robinson plan, so-called, prepared by 
Charles Mulford Robinson for a study commission appointed 
by Mayor George Alexander. It was a plan which included 
some street-widening recommendations and which emphasized 
the city beautiful, including a civic center scheme which 
inspired many successive plans, giving this feature a 
planning priority in the eyes of the public. In 1913, City 
Councilman [Fred C] Wheeler introduced an ordinance to 
form a city planning commission, which gained substantial 


public support and was studied in committee and amended by 
the [Los Angeles City] Council, but never adopted for seven 
years . 

During the first decade of the twentieth century when 
motion pictures came to the city, the Automobile Club of 
Southern California was born and the population of the city 
increased from 102,000 to 319,000. 
LASKEY: In one decade? 

ALEXANDER: An alarming 212 percent in one decade. That 
alerted a few citizens to the desirability of planning 
physical growth of the area, and Whitnall became a zealous 
missionary for the cause, devoting the following ten years 
to developing broad public support for the concept, after 
which he plunged in as a self-taught lifelong professional 
at a time when formal academic training in planning was 
unavailable. At the same time as the Wheeler ordinance was 
proposed, there was an extensive city planning exhibit 
prepared by the American City Bureau of New York, and it 
was displayed in Los Angeles under the auspices of the 
Municipal League [of Los Angeles] , financed by the city and 
county. Gordon Whitnall eagerly attended every day, 
registering the names of all who expressed more than a 
passing interest in the subject. Immediately on the close 
of the exhibit he rounded up a few prominent citizens, who 
joined him in inviting the signers to a meeting in which 


the city planning association was formed. In 1918, as an 
Incident in the business of the association. Mayor 
Frederick [T.] Woodman appointed a civic center committee, 
which became known as the [William] Mulholland Committee, 
after its chairman. It recommended the present location of 
the civic center--the one where it finally landed--and it 
was received and filed. And as I said, the commission was 
formed in 1920. Believe it or not, to give the commission 
the broadest community support, it was given fifty-one 
members . 

LASKEY: Fifty-one members? 

ALEXANDER: Serving three years, with seventeen terms 
expiring each year and each member representing some 
organization. Naturally, Gordon Whitnall was given the 
unenviable task of organizing and managing it. He 
organized the commission and nine committees dealing with 
various phases of the work, the chairmen of which became 
the executive committee, meeting weekly, while the 
commission met monthly. During the twenties, that's when 
the real surge in population came. More than 650,000 
people came into the city of Los Angeles within the city 
limits between 1920 and 1930. So they were facing a real 
challenge, you can imagine. 

LASKEY: I think I read somewhere that the population of 
Los Angeles regularly doubled every decade the first five 


decades of the twentieth century. 

ALEXANDER: Well, actually it got a slow start. The first 

hundred years accounted for 10,000 people. 

LASKEY: I know. Isn't that amazing? 

ALEXANDER: The next twenty years 100, 000--that is, it grew 

to 102,000, actually. The next thirty years it grew to 

1,000,000, the next twenty years to 2,000,000, and the next 

thirty years to over 3,000,000. That's approximately. 

LASKEY: Right. 

ALEXANDER: That big surge in the decade from '20 to '30 

was Just fabulous. 

LASKEY: What would have accounted for the large surge in 

the twenties? 

ALEXANDER: Well, the [Los Angeles] harbor had just been 

completed. World War I ended, and the oil boom came in--I 

mean the second oil boom. This oil boom was right down 

near the harbor, where you could just move a ship up to the 

oil pump and-- 

LASKEY: And fill it up. 

ALEXANDER: --fill it up. And that caused a land boom, and 

combined, this was just a tremendous surge. Nineteen 

twenty-three was probably the biggest year of people coming 

into Los Angeles. If you know the dumpy little 

architecture of the time-- Attempts at Swiss chalets, the 

best ones of which had long since been built. You 


recognize it all over Los Angeles, bungalows-- 
LASKEY: Bungalows. 

ALEXANDER: Well, "planning challenge" was the name of the 

LASKEY: So it was this major increase in population, this 
population explosion, that was really the trigger for the 
need for planning in the city. 

ALEXANDER: Owens Valley water had been brought to Los 
Angeles, the port of Los Angeles was opened, and World War 
I had been completed. Boom! The rate of population growth 
had reduced from over 200,000 to less than 100,000, but 
even more people had been added to the population than in 
the previous decade. The commission had just been formed 
in time to witness the city's second oil and land booms and 
to try to deal with the population increase from a little 
more than 500,000 to almost 1,250,000 persons. During this 
wild period the unwieldy fifty-one-member commission was 
replaced after five hectic years by a five-member body, and 
the secretary became Manager-director Whitnall. Since 
Secretary Whitnall and one stenographer constituted the 
entire staff during the first five years, such a monumental 
basic task as mapping the city could only have been 
accomplished by the regular field and office staffs of the 
engineering department under Whitnall. Due to pressure 
from the realty board and the chamber of commerce, zoning 


became the first order of business. 
LASKEY: Why was that? 

ALEXANDER: That's a conservative protective measure, 
zoning is. It's to preserve the status quo, to keep 
unwarranted intruders out of the district. "This is zoned 
for R-1, and you've got to keep it R-1. This is 
pristine." And Huber Smutz, a recent graduate of the 
University of California School of Public Administration, 
was selected by Whitnall to serve as zoning engineer. 
Although zoning probably originated in Los Angeles and 
landmark legal cases which established the 

constitutionality of the zoning concept arose in the city, 
Los Angeles's zoning at this time was considered archaic. 
LASKEY: When was the first Los Angeles zoning law? 
ALEXANDER: Well, let's see. I don't know if I have that 
here. It was prior to the establishing of a commission. 
There was a-- 

LASKEY: I can find that. I think I have it in my notes 
somewhere . 
ALEXANDER: Sy [Simon] Eisner would tell you in a minute. 

Oh, in 1904 Los Angeles had established a residential 
district, prohibiting industrial activities therein, and in 
1908 most of the city as it then existed was divided into 
industrial and residential districts. In the following 
decade several special zones were created to cover 


individual uses, such as zones for undertakers, cemeteries, 
poultry slaughterhouses, and so forth. But there was no 
comprehensive, consistent zoning plan. The most prominent 
comprehensive zoning ordinance in existence at that time 
was that of New York City. That became a model for a lot 
of cities, including Los Angeles at the time. Shortly 
after establishment of the five-member commission, an 
ordinance was adopted providing for five use zones: 
single-family residential, multiple residential and 
institutional, commercial, light industrial, and heavy 
industrial. By the time less than half of the city was 
zoned, it became obvious that three or four times as much 
property had been zoned for commercial use as could ever be 
used and that such zoning often blighted the property as 
owners waited for commercial development that never would 

LASKEY: Oh, that's interesting. 

ALEXANDER: And that went on for years and is still the 
case. A similar Imbalance was observed in the two 
residential zones, and these features would persist for 
more than half a century. 

LASKEY: How was the problem finally solved? 
ALEXANDER: Well, it wasn't solved. It is still out of 
balance. There have been major attempts, and some of them 
successful, at what you might call rollback of zoning uses 


or zoning density, intensity of use and so forth. But we 
still have an ample supply of commercial, not industrial, 
but commercial and multiple-residential zoning. 
LASKEY: So it would be to the advantage of the developers 
to have these large areas for commercial and multiple 
residents. Was that the reason? 

ALEXANDER: Well, people have stars in their eyes about 
what a commercial organization will pay for property. They 
heard about this place that my grandfather bought for so 
much and he sold it for ten times that because it became 
First and Main. Well, that's okay for that particular 
piece of property, but if, in fact, you hold out because 
you're waiting for that time when you get ten times what 
you paid for it, you'll never use it, you'll never sell 
it. That's the situation that still exists to some extent, 
but not as bad as it once was. 

In 1930, the Los Angeles zoning laws were amended by 
establishing four residential zones, two commercial zones, 
and two industrial zones. But zoning continued to be 
limited to the use of property, largely neglecting space 
around buildings, intensity of use, and other controls. 
The R-2 and R-3 zones limited heights to two and a half and 
four stories, respectively, and lot coverages to 60 or 70 
percent for a corner lot. The principal improvements were 
administrative: providing procedures for zone changes and 


so forth. The staff proceeded with the enormous task of 
applying the new law to about 200 square miles [which were] 
previously zones A and B, as well as 242 square miles 
unzoned, including 170 square miles in the San Fernando 
Valley annexed May 22, 1915. That was unzoned 
completely. And when I came on the commission we were 
still faced with this crazy patchwork of some places not 
zoned at all, some A and B, and some loosely zoned 
according to these five zones. 

Having been unaffected by a previous nationwide 
recession, civic leaders of Los Angeles were surprised when 
the Great Depression finally included them. [laughter] 
Little action took place in either planning or 
development. The irregular colonial street pattern between 
First and Boyd streets from Main [Street] to Hill [Street] 
was realigned during that period. City mapmaking continued 
and a landing field for airmail was proposed to be built 
over the railroad tracks at Union Station. No one could 
conceive that air travel would eclipse the railroad as a 
passenger carrier. In 1932, a proposal was made to make 
Olvera Street a tourist attraction. And the following year 
a geodetic survey of the city was started using a federal 
grant. And then Frank [L.] Shaw came in and William [N.] 
Thorpe was director-manager of planning, and all hell broke 


In 1935 the [Los Angeles City] Planning Department 
staff included Huber Smutz, [William K.] Woodruff, [Henry] 
Wall, Les Brinkman, Simons, Carl Hourston--although he 
spelled it different ways at different periods in his life. 
LASKEY: That's interesting. 

ALEXANDER: All assembled by Gordon Whitnall, and still on 
the staff after World War II while I was on the 
commission. Plans were proposed for a municipal auto park, 
expansion of the city hall to the east, and a municipal 
auditorium/opera house/convention hall to replace the old 
high school on Fort Moore Hill. 
LASKEY: Now, this was all-- 
ALEXANDER: Nineteen thirty-five. 
LASKEY: Well, that's when Shaw was still mayor. 

LASKEY: When was he recalled? It's either '38 or '39. 
[Frank L. Shaw was recalled from office September 16, 

ALEXANDER: It was recognized that Chinatown would be 
eliminated by Union Station and might be relocated. On 
January 1, 1935, a yard ordinance became effective, 
defining the space, setback from the side lines, front, and 
rear. In 1936, the city received electricity from Boulder 
Dam; the Griffith Observatory was built; and oil drilling 
in Venice was a major subject of planning attention. In 


1937 and '38, in spite of severe storms and floods, the 
local economy started to improve, evidenced by a 35 percent 
increase in building permits. 

Then we get into the forties. The most exciting and 
influential period in the existence of the city planning 
department was the decade of the forties, when, especially 
because of the war coming along, there was so little action 
possible that they had time to think and plan. And there 
were so damn many problems caused by this tremendous influx 
of population in the twenties and thirties that they had to 
do something about it. Fortunately, just before the war, 
the Pacific Southwest Academy, of which Arthur G. Coons, 
the economist and president of the sponsoring organization, 
was president-- They had a conference which resulted in the 
development of a volume called Preface to a Master Plan, 
edited by [George W.] Robbins and L. Deming Tilton, who was 
well-known in planning circles. I don't remember what he 
did, but I knew him at the time. It was financed by the 
[John Randolph] Haynes Foundation. And chapters of the 
book- -contributed by local experts on various elements of 
the physical structure of Los Angeles--outlined the current 
state of the city and became the agenda of tasks to be 
tackled by the recently reorganized planning department of 
the city of Los Angeles. It couldn't have come at a better 
time. Reformer [John R.] Haynes had just been responsible 


for the adoption and legislation whereby a corrupt Mayor 
Shaw was recalled and replaced by Fletcher Bowron, a judge, 
who then became receiver of the city and was elected mayor 
in 1939. 

LASKEY: So Haynes was one of that group-- 
ALEXANDER: Yes, right. 

LASKEY: --in the mid-thirties that was involved in trying 
to clean up Los Angeles. 

ALEXANDER: He was mainly responsible for the recall law 
that made it possible to get rid of Shaw. Then Bowron was 
at first receiver of the city as a judge, and then he was 
elected mayor. Other people who were in that group- - 
[Griffith J.] Griffith, who donated Griffith Park to the 
city, and his son were wildly enthusiastic Bowron 
supporters and denouncers of Shaw. Since a prominent 
feature of corruption under Mayor Shaw had been the open 
buying and selling of planning permits, spot zone changes, 
and variances. Mayor Bowron took a particular interest in 
restructuring the planning process. 

LASKEY: Were these spot variances and spot zoning changes 
a way of combatting or getting around the zoning ordinances? 
ALEXANDER: No, the zoning ordinances of the time permitted 
changes in zone, but there were no minimum boundary 
requirements. In other words, you could change the zone of 
a piece of property in the middle of a block and not the 


rest of the block. That sort of thing. 

LASKEY: But isn't that a loophole, then, in the zoning 

ALEXANDER: Yeah. However, it was obviously never 
intended, and it was obviously not good citizenship to 
offer to buy it [a change in zone] and to offer to sell it 
as a commissioner. 

LASKEY: So this is where the corruption came in. Not in 
the fact that the possibility existed for spot zoning 
changes, but that they were sold, that they could be bought 
and sold. 

ALEXANDER: Well, Mayor Bowron, first of all, chose some 
commissioners who were plainly disinterested, such as 
Charles E. Scott; Remsen D. Bird, president of Occidental 
College; William H. Schuchardt, retired architect, past 
member of the art commission and public lands commission of 
Milwaukee, Wisconsin. And after a nationwide search, 
Charles B. Bennett and Milton Breivogel, of Milwaukee and 
Racine respectively, were selected as director of planning 
and principal planner, bringing vital leadership, public 
respect, and knowledgeable direction to the staff. Under 
Bowron, all variances were placed in the hands of a newly 
created chief zoning administrator, and the office was 
occupied by Huber Smutz, one of the staff members selected 
by Gordon Whitnall in 1926, who filled it with the utmost 


rectitude, probity, and serious industry for thirty-eight 

LASKEY: Thirty-eight years. 

ALEXANDER: Boy, he had a ramrod down his back, you know. 
He was terrific. A little bit too much, sometimes. He was 
honest to the point of pain. The commission was given as 
much power as any appointed body should have, being 
overridden by not less than a vote of two-thirds of the 
city council, or by three- fourths of its members if the 
mayor sided with the commission by a veto. In most cases, 
such as around here [Berkeley], the planning commission is 
simply advisory. They say, "We think this, " and the city 
council by a simple majority vote disregards it. In the 
case of Los Angeles, a case doesn't go to the council 
unless it's appealed. Then, when it does go to the 
council, they have to override--if they do, by a two-thirds 
vote. And if it's something that the mayor can veto and he 
does-- And that's pretty tough. I think it's as far as any 
power ought to go over an elected official. The zoning 
administrator's decisions could be appealed only to a 
three-member zoning appeals board, thus removing variances 
entirely from politics. From there you can only go to the 

LASKEY: I see. 
ALEXANDER: The commissioner's decisions were forwarded to 


the city council, where only extremely rare and presumably 
important cases were reversed. Other charter amendments 
defined the duties and functions of the commission, the 
responsibilities and authority of the director, and created 
the planning department headed by the director and the city 
coordinating committee, of which the planning director was 

LASKEY: Well, since some of these ordinances seem to 
strike right at the heart of the developers, did Bowron 
have any problem getting these, the new--? 
ALEXANDER: No. The public was so alarmed and wrought up 
by the Shaw recall that everybody was gung ho for what 
Bowron was proposing. 

Well, Preface to a Master Plan, that volume- -which was 
seminal--went to the publisher before Pearl Harbor, after 
which the War Production Board prevented any physical 
action to remedy the many pressing problems outlined in the 
book, but giving the planning department staff time to 
address some of these problems in the planning stage in 
preparation for the end of the war, when accumulated 
pressures would explode and make quiet, thoughtful planning 
almost impossible. As urgent as were some of the problems 
caused by unprecedented growth and neglect for ten years 
due to the worldwide depressed economy, the authors could 
not foresee the wartime frenzy of shipbuilding and aircraft 


production, nor the deluge of new inhabitants during and 
after the end of the conflict, compounding and making the 
solution of these urban problems critical after five more 
years of forced neglect. Workers engaged in shipbuilding 
increased from 84 in 1940 to 95,000 in 1944, and in 
aircraft production, from 15,930 in 1939 to 275,000 in 
1944. The L.A. birthrate per thousand, which had plummeted 
from 22 in 1924 to 12.2 in 1936, rose to 18.5 in 1943, 
making prewar predictions even more vulnerable. 

Just to give you an example of the expert estimates of 
the time, there is a background paper on population in 
Preface to a Master Plan by Constant ine Panunzio, one of 
the board of directors of the Pacific Southwest Academy. 
He wrote that "A liberal estimate would set the population 
in Los Angeles city in 1980 at the very most at not more 
than 2,150,000." Actually, the city population almost 
reached that figure by 1950, and by 1980 it was close to 

In 1941, in addition to the basic charter-planning 
amendment adopted by the electorate, the city council 
approved a civic center plan and a master plan for Pacific 
Ocean shoreline development. The commission approved a 
3,332 acre community development plan for Westchester and a 
master plan of parkways. And a WPA [Works Progress 
Administration] land-use mapping project covering 450 


square miles was also completed. That was 1941, the year 

of Pearl Harbor. 

LASKEY: Now, the master plan of parkways was actually the 

freeway plan, right? 

ALEXANDER: Well, no. It depends on what year you're 

talking about. See, there was a parkway plan proposed by 

Robinson way back in 1910 or something like that. I 

mentioned that. 

LASKEY: Yeah, 1911, the first transportation study. That 

was a parkway plan. 

ALEXANDER: Today's freeway plan doesn't vary a great deal 
from that, as a matter of fact. But it was not proposed at 
that time that it be elevated and completely cross-traffic 
free. It was not proposed as a freeway plan, it was 
proposed as a parkway plan--city beautiful. The civic 
center attention came first because that had a sort of 
appeal to the public imagination. The Southern California 
chapter of the American Institute of Architects [AIA] 
collaborated with the planning commission and staff in 

preparing a civic center plan. 

LASKEY: Now, the civic center plan still maintains the 

city-beautiful outlook. 

ALEXANDER: Oh, yeah, sure. 

Well, this plan proposed a concept, most of which is 

evident more than forty years later, and it was one of 


several, starting with Robinson. But in 1923, location 
became a subject of dispute among the members of the city 
planning commission, which numbered fifty-one men and 
women. Some sixty prominent architects had banded together 
for the purpose of rendering personal service for public 
buildings. In the year 1924 they prepared, at their own 
cost, a comprehensive civic center plan, which was approved 
by the county supervisors. But since the architects hoped 
to corner all the architectural work, this was hardly a 
charitable enterprise, and they were soon sued and 
disbanded by the court. Did you hear that from [Albert C] 
Martin, Jr., by the way? Because it was his dad [Albert C. 
Martin, Sr.] that brought the suit. 
LASKEY: Yeah, this is the suit against the Allied 
Architects [of Los Angeles] and their city-beautiful plan. 
ALEXANDER: Right. Avoiding conflicts of interest by 
keeping the authors anonymous, the architects organization' 
in 1940 prepared another civic center plan and 
painstakingly obtained endorsements from every city in the 
county before gaining approval of the city council and the 
county board of supervisors at a joint session. Changes 
made in the plan since then have been highly beneficial, 
such as moving the power and light building [Department of 
Water and Power Building] west to make room for the Music 
Center [of Los Angeles County] and moving the county courts 


onto the mall. The original concept of a grandiose county 
courts complex with Saint Peter 's-like arms embracing the 
passengers arriving at the Union depot would have become 
ridiculous, in view of the fate of rail passenger traffic, 
and would have almost obliterated the remains of the old 
Spanish plaza. Although the existing civic center east of 
the Music Center is lifeless, pompous, dull, and does not 
approach the design quality or the vision outlined by 
Schuchardt, it is nevertheless one of the most impressive 
groups of public buildings in the United States outside of 
Washington, D.C. Schuchardt even had the imagination to 
forecast, "In another few decades, traffic needs may become 
a relatively unimportant consideration. It is even 
conceivable that traffic may altogether cease to be a 
problem in the area and in passing out will leave in its 
wake a disappointing group of buildings on which many 
millions of dollars have been expended." Stranger things 
have happened--to the Union Station, for instance. 

There was another group-- Let's see. Two department 
store heads, P. [Percy] G. Winnett of Bullock's [Department 
Stores] and-- Who was the head of, not the Broadway, but 
the furniture store? 
LASKEY: The Barker Brothers. 

ALEXANDER: The Barker Brothers. Neil Petry, is that the 
name? Anyway, it was mainly P. [Percy] G. Winnett who set 


up a private fund and organization to deal with problems 

that cut across city and county lines [Greater Los Angeles 

Citizens Committee] . And one of those things was, of 

course, the civic center, which was mainly county, but 

included city and federal and so on. So he set up a study 

group on that headed by the architect in charge, Sandy 


LASKEY: Sandy Turner. 

ALEXANDER: Yeah, do you know him? 

LASKEY : No . 

ALEXANDER: Well, he's still around. He goes to AIA 

meetings and so forth. He's well-known, even among current 


Changes in the civic center plan, such as the parking 
garage under the mall, things like that, were still going 
on when I was on the commission in the forties. And in 
1947, the planning department proposed community civic 
centers and prepared plans for twelve branch administrative 
centers in 1949. That was carried out likewise and 
paralleled by the [Los Angeles] County Regional Planning 
Commission. What was especially impressive was to have a 
city set up branch centers all over the place, which was a 
very good idea. 

Then the streets and highways-- At the dawn of the 
twentieth century, most great American cities we know today 


had already attained their prominence and basic form, while 
Los Angeles contained only 102,000 people scattered over 
forty-three square miles. Other big cities already had 
extensive networks of surface-street railways, subways, and 
elevated rapid transit, and by 1910 had largely completed 
these systems on which their inhabitants relied almost 
entirely for nonrecreational mobility. Although the 
Pacific Electric Railway, advertised as the world's 
greatest interurban line, was started in 1900, its mission 
was not the movement of people within the city but the sale 
of real estate at hitherto undeveloped locations in 
Southern California. 

LASKEY: Something that is not pointed out very often. 
ALEXANDER: The L.A. Railway Corporation did provide street 
railway service for the area at the turn of the century. 
But its resources were hopelessly overcome by a tenfold 
increase in both land and people in thirty years. More 
influential than the inadequacy of public transportation 
was the availability of the private automobile, which 
occurred prior to the major growth of the city. Pershing 
Square should have an enormous fountain with a pedestal on 
which there is a fliwer--as the idol of the city and the 
reason for its being the automobile city. The Automobile 
Club of Southern California was founded before 1900 and 
soon served not only the rich pleasure driver but the 


average Angeleno, who found his flivver at first a 
liberator, permitting him freedom to live on inexpensive 
land anywhere in the city, and then an absolute necessity 
to which he became a slave in idyllic bondage. 

For the purpose of real estate subdivision and 
rectangular-lot sales, major streets in the city had been 
laid out about a mile apart, east-west and north-south, 
with the impartiality and lack of focus suited to the 
universal, ubiquitous presence of the family car. In the 
1941 Preface to a Master Plan, the chief engineer of the 
Automobile Club of Southern California, E, [Ernest] E. 
East, could truly say, "With a few exceptions, we have in 
an area of some 1,235 square miles of metropolitan area no 
district given over exclusively to residential purposes. 
Hot dog stands, dairy farms, cattle-feeding pens, cafes, 
cocktail bars, dance halls, schools, churches, 
manufacturing plants, retail stores, gravel pits, 
junkyards, and oil wells are intermingled throughout the 
area. During the past eight years, 200,000 people have 
been killed or injured in motor vehicle accidents within 
the area . " 

The contribution of the automobile to the form of the 
city appeared to be formlessness. Mr. East, however, 
proposed a solution. He proposed "a network of motorways 
designed to serve transportation rather than land. These 


motorways should be developed on a right-of-way, about 360 
feet in width, no crossing at grade at any point--all cross 
streets should pass over or under. Upon the central 
portion of the right-of-way, a four- to six-lane pavement 
should be provided, with a planning strip separating 
opposing traffic lanes. The slopes on either side should 
be planted. In the event motor buses or trolleybuses prove 
to be inadequate for the transportation requirements of the 
future metropolitan district, an excellent right-of-way 
will have been provided for a rail rapid transportation 
system." This most daring futurist proposal became the 
subject of many newspaper artists' pictures of the 
future. "Passing through built-up business districts, 
these facilities could be straight into and through 
specially designed motorway buildings located in the 
centers of the blocks, with connecting bridges over the 
cross streets. In these buildings, as many floors as 
necessary would be developed to parking." Although part of 
the dream never became reality, the development of East's 
motorways exceeded his expectations, with one exception: 
excess condemnation of land for the inclusion of the center 
planning strip for future mass public transportation was 
provided only in rural, suburban stretches, where it may 
never be used for that purpose. 

In 1941, the Arroyo Seco Freeway connecting Pasadena 


with L.A.'s central business district was completed as a 
four-lane highway passing through Elysian Park in a single 
tunnel system. The first such experiment in the country, 
its short on-ramps, with stop signs at the freeway 
intersection entrances, are extremely substandard and 
hazardous today. The Cahuenga Pass freeway connecting 
Hollywood to the San Fernando Valley was built as the 
Hollywood Freeway from the west bypass to the Hollywood 
Bowl, as planned. In 1945 the city planning department 
revised their 1934 master plan of highways, added one for 
the San Fernando Valley in 1946, and both were adopted in 

Meantime, the transportation engineering board, the 
state division of highways, and others were working on 
plans. In 1947 the state division brought before the 
planning commission for comment and approval a plan for 165 
miles of freeway to be built in ten years for an estimated 
$300 million, to be expanded to an ultimate 613 miles. The 
plan was similar in alignment to parkway plans proposed by 
the Robinson plan and the Olmsted [Brothers] plan proposed 
in the second decade of the century. The term parkway 
correctly refers to a linear park containing a limited- 
access and scenic drive, similar to those developed in New 
York State by Robert Moses. The term has romantic appeal 
and was used in most concept plans until the early fifties. 


when "freeway" was substituted--derived from its freedom 
from grade-level intersections, not because it didn't cost 
much. The unparalleled boldness and grace of the freeway- 
system is a marvel of construction which has reshaped the 
city and added new dimensions, stimulating new centers, 
tying them together, and shrinking the time-distance factor 
in civic life. 

Another subject that was tackled by both the Preface 
and by the planning department was subdivisions, which was 
lucky, because at the end of the war they [subdivisions] 
came in by droves. And as a result of state law changes or 
adoptions and city planning-- First of all, with the 
California State Map Filing Act and then the city planning 
department proposals, we had something to hang our hat on 
for handling the subdivisions that came in. Fifty thousand 
or more new lots were recorded from 1943 to 1949. 
LASKEY: Fifty thousand? 

ALEXANDER: Yeah, and every one had to come before the 
planning commission itself after being studied by 
the [appropriate] section of the department and approved or 
disapproved or conditions required. The community 
development plan for 3,023 acres approved by the planning 
commission and the council was a grand subdivision of land 
to be called Westchester near the newly conceived Los 
Angeles municipal airport, another planning project, that 


was referred to in a flier the airport commission [Los 
Angeles City Board of Airport Commissioners] put out called 
"Los Angeles: Tank Town or Terminus?" 
LASKEY: Who put that out? 

ALEXANDER: The airport commission, which was headed by Bob 
[Robert L,] Smith, who was publisher of the [Los Angeles] 
Daily News--which was a really good paper in my view. It 
[Westchester] was planned by Don Ayers in close 
collaboration with the planning department, in 
collaboration with the department to contain all the 
amenities considered desirable for community life, such as 
land for parks, playgrounds, elementary. Junior high, and 
high schools, a balanced amount of commercial land, and 
three times the area of retail commercial space in 
automobile parking areas adjacent to and behind shopping 
buildings. Several builders, such as Marlow-Burns, 
participated in development and construction of the 


OCTOBER 3, 1986 

ALEXANDER: One of the features of the plan was the 
requirement by the planning department that the land 
developers dedicate land for major limited-access highways, 
which necessarily paralleled interior service streets, a 
duplication which enhanced the value of the development. 
The developers sued and forced the city to pay for the 
limited-access highways, which served the city at large but 
also provided access to the city for the community and 
protected the community from through traffic. The suit was 
carried all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where the 
planning commission's requirement was sustained in a 
landmark decision. The wisdom of public officials, 
however, cannot be legislated. The wisest laws sometimes 
protect us from the lack of foresight of even the best 
intentioned of public servants. 

When planning department employees accompanied the 
developer of Westchester to urge the [Los Angeles Unified 
School District] Board of Education to buy the school sites 
shown on the plan at raw land costs. Dr. Evans, the school 
planner, referred to his little black book and said, "There 
are 353 people living in that area now, and when there are 
children, we'll pick them up in buses." Within a decade, 
the population of Westchester was more than 30,000, living 


in 11,000 homes. And the board of education was purchasing 
entire blocks of recently built homes to acquire school 
sites. (I was on the commission at that time, and we were 
approving school sites on blocks of houses. ) 

In a similar way, the city recreation and parks 
commission [Los Angeles City Board of Recreation and Park 
Commissioners] was offered free sites, shown on the plan 
for parks and playgrounds, providing the commission would 
sign contracts agreeing to develop the sites as soon as 
they were surrounded by houses. This offer was turned down 
because no funds had been budgeted for the purpose. Many 
complaints have been made regarding the venality of city 
bosses such as Krump of Memphis. But it is said that at 
least the public got ten cents [worth] of parks for every 
dollar he diverted to his own use. The public may be 
served worse by the stupidity of well-intentioned guardians 
of the public trust. 

And the beaches. My god, the beaches. Before the 
war, the beaches had been condemned because of the 
sewage. The Santa Monica Bay beaches, you couldn't go 
swimming in them. They were condemned by the state and 
signs were posted. And you didn't need the signs for the 
most part. You'd find-- Well, what's his name? The famous 
German author? 
LASKEY: Thomas Mann? 


ALEXANDER: Thomas Mann describes walking on the beach with 
friends, and he couldn't understand these thousands of 
white worms or something. And then he finally found out 
they were condoms on the beach. 
LASKEY: At Santa Monica? 

ALEXANDER: This is the Santa Monica Bay beach, all through 
Los Angeles. And this was all from the Hyperion sewage 
plant [Hyperion Treatment Plant], which didn't even strain 
the darned sewage--it just went into the ocean, just 
awful . 

P. G. Winnett, president of Bullock's Department 
Stores, in pondering the need to bring merchandising to the 
people in a multifaceted metropolis, became interested in 
public planning. A man of public spirit and action, he 
organized in 1943 the Greater Los Angeles Citizens 
Committee, which funded a staff that produced studies on 
airports, auditorium sites, transportation, beaches, 
redevelopment and industry, [studies] cutting across 
political jurisdictions. Their plan of Santa Monica Bay 
beaches, extending from Topanga Canyon to El Segundo, 
including the Marina del Rey small-craft harbor which had 
been proposed by the county regional planning commission in 
1923, became the foundation for the Los Angeles Planning 
Department beach plan, completed in 1944 and adopted in 
1945. Two years later the state appropriated $10 million 


for county beach acquisition, of which Los Angeles County 

received more than $4 million, which had to be matched in 

dollar and land value. Within the city limits, the city 

and county transferred 3 2/3 miles to the state. The state 

purchased 2 1/4 miles and then leased all state-owned beach 

frontage back to the city and county for development and 

administration in contracts that expire at the turn of the 

century. I had quite a thrill signing that agreement for 

the city. 

LASKEY: I bet you did. 

ALEXANDER: To see that it was the year 2000. 

LASKEY: We're protected. 

ALEXANDER: We're almost there. Thus the first major 

recreation project planned by the city appeared ready for a 

unified and coordinated public use. But the next subject 

is sewage. 

LASKEY: I was going to say, what happened to our 

beaches? How did you get those cleared up? 

ALEXANDER: Before it could be used, however, a huge 

project delayed by the war had to be tackled and 

completed. Should I read this stuff or just kind of 

summarize it? Eventually you can see this, but-- 

LASKEY: What did happen? Because there was a major battle 

waged over the placement of the Hyperion Treatment Plant. 

ALEXANDER: That's correct, yeah. 


LASKEY: Which was very important. 

ALEXANDER: Well, the-- 

LASKEY: Were you involved in this? Were you on the city 

planning commission when this was going on? 

ALEXANDER: Oh yeah, sure. 

LASKEY: So what do you remember? 

ALEXANDER: Well, I'll tell you how bad it was. Before the 

war only 55 percent of the sewage was screened, and not 

well at that. The discharge of sewage in Hyperion fouled 

the coast. Permit for operation of this plant was 

officially revoked September 3, 1940. The city was given 

one year in which to make specific improvements. And of 

course the war came along, and by 1945 the problem had not 

been cured, and an increase in 20 percent of the population 

did not improve the situation, 

LASKEY: I was just about to say, now in 1945 what was the 

population of Los Angeles? We were well over a million at 

that point, I believe. And all the sewage from-- 

ALEXANDER: In 1945 the population of Los Angeles was over 

two million. 

LASKEY: It was just being flushed into the Pacific Ocean. 

ALEXANDER: Right. Well, I remember I lived in Baldwin 

Hills, and we frequently went down to where the marina is 

now. We'd walk on the beach, and it was sticky with sewage 

on our bare feet. And I remember the sea gulls by the 


droves would be feeding on the sewage. 
LASKEY: Well, the smell must have been-- 
ALEXANDER: Oh, it was terrible. Well, the [Los Angeles 
City] Department of Public Works wanted to simply expand 
the plant at Hyperion, and the planning department was 
opposed to that, one of the reasons being that we assumed 
if they simply expanded the plant, the action would make it 
impossible to use the tons of sand in the sand dunes at 
that location. And sand is a vanishing resource, because 
dams, both for flood control and for water resource, have 
prevented the flow of new sand out of the rivers and into 
the ocean along the shore. There is constantly a littoral 
drift of sand to the south; sand is always moving along the 
coast of California to the south. And people don't realize 
what's going on because there's always some more sand 
coming from up north, where there are still some wild 
rivers. But the sand that was originally formed and 
eventually formed these great sand dunes was being occupied 
by houses at-- Was it Camino? Where the marina is, 
whatever they call it now. 
LASKEY: Marina del Rey. 

ALEXANDER: The sewage treatment plant, the original one, 
had been built on the top of these sand dunes. So we just 
imagined that they would go ahead and expand the plant and 
would cut off the possibility of using this sand to expand 


the beaches. So we were adamantly opposed. There were a 
lot of other reasons. And finally the mayor called a Joint 
meeting in his office of the planning commission and the 
[Los Angeles City] Board of Public Works, where he had a 
lot of discussion about what was going to happen as to 
location. (We were favoring a site at Venice.) And one of 
the items was the sand resource at the present location of 
the Hyperion plant. Another question was what do you do if 
you do put in a decent plant and you have all of this 
sludge: "What are you going to do with it? Are you going 
to sell it?" "Oh, no, we're going to purify it. We're 
going to purify everything and then flush it in the 
ocean." Well, this raised hackles on the back of my head, 
and it would have made authors of the Preface to a Master 
Plan revolve in their graves. Because the most precious 
resource of Southern California is water, and the second 
most is the soil for agriculture. And here we're purifying 
the water and then dumping it in the ocean; we're purifying 
the sludge and then flushing that into the ocean. 
LASKEY: Which could have been used as fertilizer. 
ALEXANDER: Yeah, that was the theory anyway. So I raised 
the question about the sludge, and they said, "Well, you 
see, we figured it out, and it costs five cents a bag to do 
that. I mean, we'd lose five cents a bag." Well, that's 
because the accountants in their department are in charge. 


and there's no department that says "Look, that's valuable 
stuff. It's valuable to the state, it's valuable to the 
city." Anyway, they weren't going to do it because they'd 
lose five cents a bag. And when it came to water 
conservation, oh, that was horrendous. They wouldn't 
conceive of reusing water. 

LASKEY: This is the board of public works? 
ALEXANDER: Yeah. "Well, the public's not ready for it 
yet. And besides, it's going to cost more because you have 
to pump it uphill." I said, "Now, wait a minute. How 
about putting in sewage treatment plants starting in the 
[San Fernando] Valley and various places downhill from 
there and then reusing it in agriculture only or in 
Industry?" "Oh, they wouldn't stand for it," Well, this 
was the same time the board of public works was asking for 
$10 million to sewer the Valley. Well, you win some and 
you lose some. 

LASKEY: So they got their Hyperion plant. 
ALEXANDER: They got their Hyperion plant. Actually, 
though, there is some good news there. Let's see. The 
board of public works had their way in using the Hyperion 
site and managed to design and construct that in such a way 
that by 1948, 14 million cubic yards of sand had been 
transferred hydraulically from the sewage treatment plant 
site to widen the area of six miles of beach from 75 feet 


to 600-650 feet in depth. 

LASKEY: So they did manage to find a way to at least use 

the sand? 

ALEXANDER: Yeah. The beach quarantine was lifted in 

1950. Since the late forties some treated water has been 

used to inject into wells along the shoreline in an attempt 

to prevent the intrusion of salt water, which was seeping 

inland due to the overpumping of fresh water from wells in 

the coastal plain. And the county has an experimental 

sewage treatment and reuse project. Many provisions have 

been made to enhance percolation in dry riverbeds to 

recharge the natural underground-water reservoir. 

LASKEY: Of course, I don't know whether you have seen the 

papers or not, but Santa Monica Bay has once more become 


ALEXANDER: No, I didn't know that. 

LASKEY: It's a major problem that Santa Monica is dealing 

with right now. 

ALEXANDER: Well, after-- This is a personal note. After a 

joint meeting in his honor's office-- I think I have it 

right here. I'll get it for you. [tape recorder off] 

Well, I had only had a couple of private sessions with 

Mayor Bowron and didn't know him very well. I wanted to 

test his humor because he was rather an austere-looking 

individual. [He was] plump. He could have looked jolly. 


but he always looked stern. So I sent him this copy of 
Gems of American Architecture by Greer, which is a 
compendium of outhouses, including such items as a two- 
story privy with staggered seats, which was inappropriate 
for Los Angeles, I avowed. And I asked him to look through 
and see which one he would support. He didn't go for the 
"sportsman," which had a pair of wagon wheels on it so that 
you could wheel it to a new location in a hurry. But he 
finally picked what was called the "Venetian," referring of 
course to our preference for a sewage treatment plant in 
Venice. This one was built to overhang a stream. And his 
response in his letter was a delightful and humorous 

LASKEY: Where did you find this? 

ALEXANDER: I don't know. It was given to me one time, 
evidently in the thirties, and I just happened to have it. 
LASKEY: So he responded accordingly. 

ALEXANDER: Well, the whole story of handling the sewage 
problem in the county of Los Angeles— Naturally people 
want to handle sewage by gravity wherever possible. It's 
the cheapest way. And in order to do that, you cut through 
all types of administrative lines. Gravity doesn't have 
any respect for city boundaries. So it's been a complex 
and wonderful development, the cooperation. Wherever 
irrigation or water and gravity are of some importance. 


people start to cooperate. In any other field it would be 
called communism. But in the case of water going downhill, 
everybody recognizes that it's a god-given right. 
LASKEY: Especially in Los Angeles. 

ALEXANDER: Yeah. According to a Mr. [Raymond] Goudey, who 
wrote the Preface chapter on sewage, "In 1940 there were 
over two thousand miles of sewers in the Los Angeles area, 
having a total discharge of 205 million gallons per day, 
and twelve independent sewer systems in the metropolitan 
area, which serviced 2.5 million people, or about 90 
percent of the population. The explosive development of 
the San Fernando Valley in widely scattered subdivisions 
posed a major health problem." The Valley, at first, when 
it was first developed for farming dry agriculture, 
depended on mining the lens of pure, fresh water underlying 
the valley. And when shallow wells were first punctured 
into this reservoir, artesian water spouted eighteen feet 
in the air. 

LASKEY: In the Valley? 

ALEXANDER: Yeah, it was just marvelous. Of course they 
thought, "This is here--it's going to be forever." Well, 
of course, in no time flat the wells had to be drilled 
three hundred feet deep and they had to use pumps to pump 
the water out, so that that natural resource was soon 
depleted. And then the Owens Valley water came in. And it 


only came to the northwest end of the Valley. The Valley 
was not in Los Angeles city limits, [but] the water was 
paid for by the people of Los Angeles and, by god, they 
were going to have it come to Los Angeles. So it had been 
foreseen by some smart individuals that it would be a wise 
move to buy up Valley land, which was purchased at around 
$2 to $2.50 an acre. And the city not only needed the 
water to use themselves, but they needed heavy consumers of 
water. Because they paid all this money and they had to 
pay off the bonds, and they needed heavy water consumer 
customers. The natural thing was for farmers who had the 
wherewithal to farm on a big scale and use a lot of that 
Owens Valley water--and they had more water than they could 
use at the beginning. 

So the Valley, of course, was developed without sewers 
and with septic tanks right and left. That was okay when 
it was a farm community, but as the population started to 
fill the Valley, the water built up underground at the 
lower end of the Valley. It kept seeping downhill. At the 
east end of the Valley there turned out to be a dike of 
impervious rock below ground that you couldn't see. So 
that backed up the water as if it were an above-ground 
dam. The water that went through the people of the Valley 
and through their cesspools and septic tanks filtered 
through the Valley gravel to this dam, where Griffith Park 


is. And then eventually it came up to the surface. And 
the people right near Griffith Park who had septic tanks 
found that the tanks were floating in sewage and their 
septic tanks wouldn't work. Because the water table, 
instead of being fifty feet deep, was two feet deep. Or 
there was even sewage running in the streets. 

This was the situation when I came on the commission 
in 1945. Nothing could be done about it in 1945, but we 
had to plan on something. One part of the plan was when we 
came to a new zoning law, after a conference with people in 
the Valley, we found that it would be popular and it would 
be a useful thing to have an area called R-A, or 
residential-agricultural, halfway between [residential and] 
agricultural use. It would really be a suburban use of a 
half acre, and that would be big enough, we figured, to 
have a leach field to serve one residence on that twenty 
thousand square feet . 

LASKEY: A leach field. What is that? 
ALEXANDER: Well, that's the same as a private sewage 
treatment plant. You run the effluent from your septic 
tank through several yards of sand or gravel, and it 
purifies it. Anyway, that was one of the attempts, but 
ultimately, it came to the bond issue that Bowron put on at 
the end of the war, which included about $10 million for 
sewering the Valley completely. 


LASKEY: So it wasn't until this time that the Valley got 

sewers . 

ALEXANDER: That's right. There were no sewers there at 
all. Well, hardly any. I think there was one that went 
out to Van Nuys. 

To relieve the pressure on this water building up 
behind this impervious dike, the city drilled wells in the 
dry bed of the Los Angeles River, and they found, to their 
amazement I think, that the water that had been through one 
use and had taken as much as three years to filter down was 
pure as the driven snow. So they were able to pipe it 
directly into the water system without running it through a 
sewage treatment plant or anything like that. It had its 
own sewage treatment plant in the Valley itself. So I 
think 17 percent of our water supply at that time, after 

these wells were drilled, came from the reuse of water that 

people didn't know was being reused. 

LASKEY: That's interesting. From the Los Angeles River? 

So that was joined with the water from the Owens Valley. 

ALEXANDER: It was water from the Owens Valley, originally. 

LASKEY: It was water from the Owens Valley? 

ALEXANDER: Sure, but it was being reused. It's still 

going on, but people don't recognize it that way. They 

still have this pumping field right at the foot of the new 

and more beautiful Forest Lawn. [laughter] And this bond 


issue provided for completely sewering the Valley. In the 
long run there is no question, in my mind now, that it was 
the thing that should have been done. But I still think 
that the intermediate sewage treatment plants at various 
stages of elevation above the ocean would have been a good 


Anyway, at the same time, a group from the planning 
staff was working on a recreation plan. The bond issue 
provided funds for buildings and equipment, for police 
administration, health centers, and fire department, and 
$12 million for public recreation. That gave the parks and 
recreation department [Los Angeles City Recreation and 
Parks] a good start in carrying out a really magnificent 
plan that the planning department worked out, starting in 
1942 with a survey and helped by the Greater Los Angeles 
Citizens Committee in 1943. And the planning staff started 
to work in earnest in 1945 and adopted minimum standards 

and then-- 

LASKEY: This is for the city parks? 

ALEXANDER: Yeah, this was for parks and playgrounds. And 

the plan, that I thought was terrific, is still being used 

for locating parks and playgrounds. It provided for little 

local communities and for areas that you might call 

regional within the city and for citywide as a whole. It 

had these various levels, and it had excellent standards 


for sports centers, district playgrounds, and neighborhood 
parks and playgrounds. And it is still being used for 
locating new ones where they're needed and when they have 
the funds. By 1945, just two years after the bond issue, 
twenty-nine new playground sites had been acquired, 
fourteen were being developed, two public golf courses were 
completed, three beaches were widened, and new recreation 
buildings, swinuning pools, tennis courts, and baseball 
diamonds had been completed. Hansen Dam and the Sepulveda 
flood control and recreation area had been developed, all 
with the bond issue made possible [by] the planning that 
went before it. 

LASKEY: And you were involved in developing this plan. 
ALEXANDER: Don't forget, I'm talking about the planning 
department [not the commission] . It really gets the credit 
for things like this. But this was a very exciting time 
for the planning commission to be in office and to at least 
see these things and encourage these things to go on. 
LASKEY: How closely did the planning commission work with 
the planning department? 

ALEXANDER: Well, officially, we sat down twice a week: 
once a week was devoted to public hearings and the other 
weekly meeting was devoted to planning matters. 
Eventually, we managed to pass off some of the work. For 
instance, in the conducting of public meetings, we had a 


change in the law adopted to make it possible for a deputy 
of the commission to conduct the hearing and let us know 
what the results were. The idea was to give us time to 
breathe and take a look at some of the policies that were 
necessary and desirable to discuss and develop. But 
informally, such a commissioner as Schuchardt would spend 
quite a bit of time messing around, seeing what the 
employees were doing. I did some of that, but I was trying 
to found a practice at the same time, so I didn't have the 
same amount of time. 

LASKEY: You worked closely with Schuchardt, didn't you? 
You were personal friends as well as members on the board. 
ALEXANDER: Yes. Charlie [Charles B.] Bennett used to say-- 
When I would have some wild, glorious planning dream to 
talk about, he'd say, "You know, we have to get the streets 
cleaned first. First things first." 

Well, waste elimination was another thing that was in 
the Preface to a Master Plan. And to quote: "The Los 
Angeles metropolitan area"--this was in 1940--"is hardly 
removed from the Dark Ages in the matter of a coordinated 
system of waste elimination. In the problem of garbage or 
refuse collection or disposal, there is no uniform plan. 
Combined facilities of the metropolitan area should be 
pooled for collection and disposal of sewage, garbage, 
refuse, dead bodies, and junk." He pointed out that 


"disposal of garbage is made directly to twenty-five 
privately owned hog ranches, which receive a thousand tons 
of wet garbage a day." This was in 1940. "Over 230 dead 
animals are removed every day from the city streets. 
Planning is essential to provide a program which would lead 
to benefits from reclaimed water or fertilizer." 
LASKEY: There was no system for that? 

ALEXANDER: No, this was during the war. People don't 
recall-- Well, let's get on with it. There were no garbage 
disposals, nothing under your sink that would chew up 
garbage and send it to the-- That's one of the problems 
that they have in running a sewage treatment plant today. 
Everybody has a garbage disposal, so they get all the 
garbage that used to go to the hogs. It was recycled when 
it went to the hogs; at least you got some good meat out of 
it. But now it's chewed up and goes to the disposal, where 
it clogs the sewage plant. And at that time we had wet 
garbage and dry garbage. The dry garbage we were supposed 
to burn ourselves in our backyard incinerator. 
LASKEY: That's right. 

ALEXANDER: During the war and before that. And the wet 
garbage went to the hogs. 
LASKEY: How did it get picked up? 
ALEXANDER: Well, it got picked up by-- 
LASKEY: Private — 


ALEXANDER: Yeah, private companies that had--they were 
managed like public utilities, I guess--contracts with the 
city. Now, here [in Berkeley] they pay a monthly charge 
for a garbage can. My recollection in Los Angeles was that 
we didn't have a bill for garbage. It was not on our tax 
bill or anything like that--except hidden. (The city paid 

for it. ) 

Well, smog, first noticed in the early war years, 
caused every potential source to be blamed by those 
responsible for other potential sources. And, of course, 
the obvious smoke from incomplete combustion in thousands 
of incinerators was the first source identified as the 
cause. The planning department was given the unenviable 
task of holding public hearings on a citywide plan locating 
enormous public incinerators, which were said to be so 
designed that they would consume wet garbage and dry trash-- 
except for metal, glass, and ceramics--so completely that 
they would produce virtually no smoke. The citizens at 
public hearings on the subject expressed their disbelief 
readily, [laughter] which put incinerators on a class of 
popularity equal to cemeteries and slaughterhouses. 
Finally the great day dawned when the Lacy Street 
incinerator, the first of a proposed series, was ready to 
be loaded. Private trash collectors, in a line as far as 
the eye could see, were also ready, loaded with 


miscellaneous sofas, bed springs, and other indigestibles 
mixed with the garbage, so that the incinerator soon 
belched, choked, and expired, putting an end to the dream 
of central incinerators. Tons of firebrick used in 
construction of the Lacy Street fiasco lie at the foot of 
Mount Washington--where I used to live. 

And then smog. Well, I remember when I first noticed 
it. I used to take the Pacific Electric red car from 
Pasadena, the Oak Knoll line to Sixth [Street] and Main 
[Street], and then walk from there over to the Doheny 
Building at Tenth [Street] and Figueroa [Street] , And Just 
before the war started, when I was on this routine, I 
noticed smog for the first time in just walking along and 
suddenly getting all the fumes, especially the truck 
fumes. But I remember as president of the planning 
commission, I was invited to a breakfast meeting down at 
San Pedro harbor called by the Western Oil and Gas 
Association to discuss the smog problem. And after lengthy 
discussions and finger-pointing and so forth on the part of 
those present, I asked, "Well, since it's admitted that 
part of the problem, at least, comes from these refineries 
down here, when are you going to do something about it?" 
And the president of the Western Oil and Gas Association 
said, "We'll clean it up as soon as we can find a 
profitable means of doing so." [laughter] So that was 


that. Anyway, we were concerned about it at the time, but 
didn't do anything to stop it. 

LASKEY: What did you feel at the time you could have done 
to have stopped it? Had you had total power, were you an 
emperor-- Would the banning of automobiles have 
substantially stopped--? 

ALEXANDER: Banning automobiles? [laughter] I don't think 
that would have been enough by any means. I think there is 
still a great deal of industrial abuse that goes on without 
having any attention paid to it. But there is no doubt 
that automobiles put a lot of it into the atmosphere. 
LASKEY: Can it be stopped as long as there are six, eight, 
ten million people living in an enclosed basin? 
ALEXANDER: I think so, yeah. I think wherever regulations 
impinge on industry in any way, whether it's the automobile 
industry or electric generating plants or whatever, there 
are squawks and they are paid attention to, and there is 
not strict enough enforcement. And if Los Angeles gets 
stricter enforcement, then the federal government says we 
take priority or something like that. It's a hard thing to 
do, but it can be done, I believe. 

Well, there was a really monumental achievement of the 
planning department in the preparation of a totally revised 
comprehensive zoning ordinance for the entire city of Los 
Angeles, adopted by the city planning commission on July 


31, 1945, The staff and commission, with consultants 
Gordon Whitnall and Earl 0. Mills of Saint Louis, worked 
intensively for more than two years to produce an 
innovative zoning law and a map applying it to 454 square 
miles, the largest zoned area of any city in the country. 
It helped influence the shape of the city. It replaced 
nine separate ordinances directly affecting zoning 
administration, plus other regulations which governed 
directly. Almost half the area of the city had been zoned 
only by excluding nonresidential uses, and the rest was 
covered by two primitive sets of regulations. Before the 
new plan was adopted, the areas of the city where 
residential uses were permitted had a legally permitted 
capacity of 14 million people. To avoid a confrontation 
with property owners who thought mistakenly that commercial 
and multiple-housing designations guaranteed such uses and 
consequent riches, few adjustments in permitted use were 
made in the older parts of the city. Such a head-on 
proposal as that of a rational zoning plan would have 
stopped the ordinance cold. As director Charlie Bennett 
and principal planner Milt Breivogel said after the 
adoption of the new ordinance, "There will still remain a 
considerable surplus of business in apartment house 
zoning. It is hoped that after several more years of 
stewing in the Juice of frustration, property owners will 


see the wisdom of adjusting the zoning pattern to more 
closely conform to the law of supply and demand." It's 
clear that they too were frustrated by the intransigence of 
landowners whose dreams of riches could never be 


Now, just among other things, this zoning ordinance--! 
think for the first time in the country-required 
automobile parking off street in a garage in an R-1 zone. 
One for every house, and a certain number for apartment 
houses. It had to be off-street parking. You can just 
take a look around Berkeley today, which was largely built 
up before the automobile became popular. But even today 
they don't have a law like that. 
LASKEY: Really? 

ALEXANDER: People that are not stupid usually build a 
garage when they are building a new house. There are very 
few new houses around here. That was just one thing that 
was a breakthrough in a zoning ordinance. 

LASKEY: You also zoned the Valley in that ordinance. That 
must have been a major undertaking. 

ALEXANDER: Yes indeed. I have a separate section on the 
Valley that we can talk about. To give additional meaning 
to the scope of the ordinance, a staff analysis showed that 
6 million people could be accommodated in the areas 
proposed to be zoned for residential use, and that on the 


basis of 30 lineal feet per 100 population, this 643 miles 
of property zoned for conmnercial use would serve a 
population of 11 million. Well, that's about the 
proportion. As late as April 1947, there were 125,000 
vacant subdivided lots within the city, 16,000 of which 
were within a closed-in area bounded by Highland [Avenue] , 
Glendale [Boulevard], Pico [Boulevard] and Franklin Avenue, 


OCTOBER 3, 1986 

ALEXANDER: Well, we were on zoning. Of course, for one 
thing, zoning perpetuated the small farmlet shape of 
housing in Los Angeles, which was a midwestern concept. 
Note that the principal planners came from the Midwest, and 
the majority of settlers that came in the vast surge after 
World War I were from the Midwest, retired farmers. They 
thought of a town house as being a small farm, and the 
front yard was a necessity, as far as they were 
concerned. Just the opposite of what I would have expected 
had the Spanish and Mexicans been in charge, where it would 
be typical for them to build to the property line, to the 
street line, and have an interior court that was their 
living environment. Instead, you sat on the front porch 
and talked to the neighbors and mowed your lawn while they 
mowed theirs and so forth. 

It's not that it's any better or worse than other 
ways, but I find a great contrast between the Los Angeles 
situation, that has been frozen into their zoning, 
contrasted with the San Francisco picture, which came from 
an urbanization that was frozen before the automobile 
became popular. And where in the city it was originally 
expected and planned to have a shop owner live over his 
shop, and where there is life in the city twenty-four hours 


a day--in contrast to downtown Los Angeles, where you can 
shoot a cannon down the street and not hit anybody after 
seven o'clock. And where it's quite reasonable to expect a 
two-storied development, at least two stories, sometimes 
higher, in a city that is bounded by water on three sides, 
as in the case of Manhattan or other restricted places, 
where you can see the terminus of the city, the end of the 
land, compared to Los Angeles, where there was no end. But 
I was in favor of making it possible for some areas, if 
they chose, to be developed along the Mediterranean 
lines. I would enjoy seeing that kind of variety being 
made possible if people chose it. But that was not to 
be. I mean to say I couldn't argue my way through that 

LASKEY: It really is in the city ordinance of Los Angeles, 
then, that there have to be lawns, that it has to be set 

ALEXANDER: Oh, yeah, there have to be side yards and rear 
yards and front yards of a defined size. I would like to 
see the possibility of having an entire area of the city, 
at some time, take on a different form, but that is just a 
personal preference for diversity. 

LASKEY: Now, this was, as you pointed out, a product 
partly of having planners who came from the Midwest, who 
were instituting the farmhouse kind of an ideal. How did 


the developers feel about that? Because they're very 
powerful here in Los Angeles. 

ALEXANDER: Well, of course, they're in favor of anything 
that will sell, and people are used to what they see 
there. In fact the developers revel in it. I debated 
public housing with Fritz Burns before the Town Hall [of 
California] audience on one occasion. And he vowed that he 
never heard such music in his ears as the lawn mower every 
Sunday morning in his subdivisions. 
LASKEY: He was perpetuating the American myth. 
ALEXANDER: Well, it's also of some interest, historically, 
in that the first residential lots prescribed by Governor 
de Neve--Felipe de Neve, the first governor of North 
California, Alta California--in his plan for a Los Angeles 
were just about the same size as the typical 6, 000-square- 
foot lot in Los Angeles that is prescribed by law to be not 
less than 5,000. Five thousand is the minimum, and most 
lots in subdivisions are around six thousand. And that was 
just about the size of de Neve's lots that he planned to 
surround the plaza. So the size has a long and honorable 

Another thing that has gone by the boards that I 
regret: In the early days you'll see in pictures of 
downtown Los Angeles, the commercial areas, [that] the 
sidewalks were covered, as they were in many pioneer 


towns. [Now they are] sometimes covered with snow, 
inclement weather, or whatnot, but no one is permitted to 
build over the sidewalks now. In San Francisco it's legal 
to have a bay window project beyond what is obviously the 
property line. It doesn't hurt anybody, and it's a pretty 
good feature. In the case of the Los Angeles law, there is 
an exception made for a movie marquee. The movie industry 
had enough clout to permit a movie marquee to go beyond the 
lot line, but every marquee has to be approved by the fine 
arts commission. 

LASKEY: I knew that all pieces of public art did, but I 
didn't realize that movie marquees were included. 
ALEXANDER: Anything that projects beyond the property line 
has to be approved by the city art commission. 
LASKEY: Well, it's just another indication of what you 
were saying about the Spanish-Mediterranean history of Los 
Angeles being obliterated by Midwesterners. Because the 
colonnades and covered walks are a part of Mediterranean 
life-style still. 

ALEXANDER: Like the old [Governor Pio] Pico House. It has 
a covered arcade all the way around it, and you'll see some 
fairly good examples of that coming back that I applaud. 
They're all within the private property line, I should say, 
such as the building on Sixth [Street] that Bill [William] 
Pereira designed. Not the new Crocker building-- 


LASKEY: Oh, the Ahmanson Center, perhaps, on Wilshire 

[Boulevard] . 

ALEXANDER: No, I'm thinking about downtown on Sixth 

Street. It is a building that has an arcade walk that's 

within the property line, but it does make an arcade that-- 

Do you have it there? 

LASKEY: I think so. Oh, the Security Pacific Building 

that is downtown. I think it's on Sixth. There are two 

Security Pacific buildings downtown. There's the A. 

[Albert] C. Martin [Jr.]-- 

ALEXANDER: I know that one. That's on Bunker Hill. How 

about Crocker? 

LASKEY: I don't see it. There is no Crocker here. 

ALEXANDER: There's a brand-new Crocker Building on Bunker 

Hill, but there's one where O'Melveny and Meyers have their 


LASKEY: Yeah, the Crocker Building. It's a tall 

building. They're all tall buildings, [but] it's 

particularly tall, steel framed. It's just not listed 

here. But it is the Crocker Building, the Crocker Bank 


ALEXANDER: Yeah, that's it. I don't know whether they 

call it the Crocker Bank Building now. 

LASKEY: I don't think so. I think it's under new 

ownership now. 


ALEXANDER: There's a new Crocker Building on Bunker 

Hill. I wonder if O'Melveny and Meyers didn't buy the 

whole building. 

LASKEY: Well, I think so, because it hasn't been the 

Crocker Center for a while. Yeah, the Crocker Center is 

the new one that Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill have done 

down on Bunker Hill. The old one that Pereira did hasn't 

been Crocker for a while. 

ALEXANDER: Okay. Well, it's possible to recapture some of 

that, but I think it would be great to be able to walk 

around the city under some kind of shelter like that, much 

as you do in Bern, Switzerland. Have you been there? 

LASKEY: No, unfortunately. 

ALEXANDER: Arcades all over the place covering the public 


LASKEY: What's sort of fascinating is that we don't have 

arcades or public walks in Los Angeles, that all of our 

shopping centers are inside, covered malls, which doesn't 

make any sense relative to the climate. 


LASKEY: Nor are there many outdoor restaurants. 

ALEXANDER: Uh-uh. Well, of course, the skyline came along 

in 1956, requiring a charter amendment. Up until that 

time-- In fact, when I first arrived at Los Angeles, the 

city hall was new. And the city library [Los Angeles City 


Central Library] was what? Five years old. It was 
finished in '25. And they were the most prominent-- Those 
two things and Pershing Square were the three things people 
remembered about Los Angeles downtown. Kevin Lynch made a 
survey of what people could recall of downtown Los 
Angeles. They identified those three points as the three 
salient memorable objects in downtown Los Angeles. 
LASKEY: That's interesting. 

ALEXANDER: Of course, the 1956 change in building-height 
limit from thirteen stories, or 150 feet, to the equivalent 
of thirteen stories times the area of the property being 
the maximum in any form-- It could be half the area of the 
property and twice thirteen stories high in the most dense 
area. So that the intensity of use was not increased, but 
the flexibility of height was changed. And it may be to 
someone's sorrow one of these days when they have a really 
big earthquake, which I don't think will knock buildings 
down, but on the upper floors of tall buildings it's apt to 
make people projectiles and their furniture lethal and 
throw people out of windows and so forth. It may not 
actually knock buildings down, but it's hazardous, really, 
to go as tall as they're going in an earthquake-prone area. 
LASKEY: Well, even the mild quakes that we've had tend to 
have the upper stories swaying pretty far, even as it is. 
ALEXANDER: I wish I had the quotation right now--I've been 


looking for it. I wish I had [G.] Gordon Whitnall's 
quotation from something he wrote many years ago now, 
foreseeing the future of Los Angeles. He forecast what 
it's becoming, which is a multiple-centered city, which was 
made obvious by this change in the building height. Up to 
that time, there wasn't very much difference between 
thirteen stories and a six-story area, and that sort of 
thing. But with the liberation of the height limits, you 
can see clearly that it's a multiple-centered city. It 
still has a major downtown, which I think it should and is 
necessary, but it's a unique city in that respect. 
LASKEY: Well, if you ever go up to the planetarium 
[Griffith Park Observatory] on a clear day and look out 
over the city, you can see that. 

ALEXANDER: Oh, this is the Gordon Whitnall — There's a 
quotation from Gordon Whitnall in 1923: "This great 
metropolitan district shall be not one great whole, but the 
coordination of many units, within each of which there 
shall be the most ideal living conditions," and so forth. 
"That, to me, seems the great ideal American city, a 
community of the future--the recognition of a small unit 
and its perpetuation." Gordon Whitnall, 1923. 
LASKEY: That was before Los Angeles had really started to 
expand. I don't think Bullock's Wilshire had even been 
built then. 


ALEXANDER: That's right. 

LASKEY: That was built a couple of years in the future, 

and that's considered the first major monument to the 

decentralization of the city. So that was rather 

farsighted. It was very farsighted. Did you know 


ALEXANDER: Oh, yes. 

LASKEY: Did you work with him? 

ALEXANDER: Well, I never did any work with him, but yeah, 

I knew him. [I] saw a good deal of him after he retired. 

We were both members of Lambda Alpha, which is an 

organization of people interested in land planning and land 

economics and land generally. He was a regular attendee. 

He was eloquent, as most Welshmen seem to be, and sometimes 

too verbose to suit me, but he was certainly a force in 

planning in Southern California. 

Then conditional uses and special conditions were 
addressed by the ordinance for the first time. The 
ordinance was approved at that time. That made it 
necessary for Forest Lawn [Mortuaries] , for instance, to 
ask for conditional use. Conditional use may be permitted 
in any zone whatsoever. For instance, it's reasonable to 
permit a church to exist in a residential area and not be 
confined to a commercial or an industrial area. But it's 
also recognized by the conditional-use technique that its 


use ought to be controlled somewhat. For instance, it 
should have parking for its meetings; it should have 
perhaps, visually, some surrounding hedges around the 
parking lot; it should confine its meetings to certain 
preordained hours when the neighbors know it's going to be 
noisy, when they're going to sing their heads off at a 
certain time on a Sunday morning, that sort of thing. So 
that is permitted in any zone, but only with certain 
conditions that may vary from place to place. You can't 
always predict what the conditions are going to be. It 
depends on the situation. And that applied, among other 
things, to cemeteries, which before that time had sort of 
special cemetery districts, which didn't make any sense at 
all, because it just applied to that parcel the size of a 
postage stamp, or whatever it was. It could be a little 
one or it could be a great big one. 

You mentioned the San Fernando Valley. The [Los 
Angeles City] Department [of Planning] worked out what I 
thought was a magnificent planning proposal for the 
development of the Valley, which had hardly been developed 
at all in 1940, '45. However, the plan depended for 
implementation on the permanence of a zoning pattern, and I 
found that that's nothing to rely on at all. That is, for 
the first time in anybody's zoning law, we had, as I 
mentioned, the suburban zone of a half acre per lot, as 


well as the R-1, and in addition to that, agricultural 
zones of two orders: one a two-acre and one a five-acre 
piece. And at the time this was planned, there were 212 
square miles in the Valley. Sixteen small centers of 
population had developed, widely separated by agricultural 
land. Well, this plan proposed to increase the size of 
each of these sixteen small centers, to surround the 
commercial, industrial, and residential land--multiple- 
residential and single-family-residence areas--with 
suburban lots. And those in turn [were to be] surrounded 
by two-acre agricultural lots, and those surrounded by a 
five-acre maximum. This doesn't mean that every ownership 
in the five-acre area would be five acres. That would be 
the minimum subdivision and suitable to an intensive 
agricultural area. This, in effect, was expected to 
produce greenbelts around these sixteen communities. 

And, as it was laid out, the area of the city within 
the Valley was large enough to contain the entire city of 
Chicago. It was anticipated that the Valley, as formed by 
the zoning that I just mentioned with the sixteen centers 
surrounded by agricultural greenbelts, would accommodate 
900,000 people. It was not expected to reach that 
population until the year 2,000. But nevertheless, it 
would have contained 900,000 people if developed according 
to the original zoning plan. And, as it was originally 


contemplated, if the zoning had been intensified in those 
sixteen centers outward, it could contain the present 
population and still have greenbelts. 

But the greed of the developer immediately after World 
War II, as well as the frantic demand for housing, made 
Congress, the city council, and everybody else bow down to 
the developers: "Please get us housing." They frustrated 
the plan and wrecked it completely in no time flat. 

The Japanese surrender came only one month and two 
days after the [Los Angeles City] Planning Commission 
adopted the comprehensive zoning ordinance. The population 
of the city had increased 20 percent, adding about 300,000 
in the previous five years. The white population had 
increased only 17.7 percent, while blacks had increased 
108.7 percent and others, mainly Mexican-Americans, 
increased 49.9 percent. Few residential units had been 
built during the war, and the pent-up demand [was] 
estimated in 1947 to be an immediate need of 123,159 
dwellings, or 150,847 through 1948. 

In response, 804 subdivisions, creating almost 40,000 
new lots in the Valley, were approved in the four years 
from 1945 to '49. More than 98,000 new dwelling units were 
built in the city during the same period, most of them in 
the San Fernando Valley, where the speculators had a field 
day. With the vast pent-up demand and a sure market, it 


would have been quite profitable for developers to buy 
undeveloped lots in any of the existing town centers or 
even to acquire adjacent unsubdivided land, applying for 
changes in zone from R-A [residential-agricultural] to 
suburban R-1. But nothing would satisfy their greed. 
Instead, they obtained options for practically nothing to 
buy the cheapest land zoned for agricultural use, and 
applied for changes in zone to R-1. Sometimes, accompanied 
by a veteran with an American Legion hat, they found 
willing cooperators in the planning director and four of 
the commissioners, who needed no urging to respond to the 
hysteria of the housing shortage. And they gained untold 
riches as they converted greenbelts, so-called, to densely 
packed urban town lots. To compound this wave of 
destruction, the county assessor was not only forced by law 
and custom to assess a new subdivision according to its 
value as intensely used urban property, but he assessed the 
adjacent farmland as potentially the same--a self- 
fulfilling prophecy which spread like wildfire. 

I took some Xeroxes of one of the hearings that had to 
do with the extinguishing of the Adohr [Ranch] dairy farm, 
which was the largest dairy in America, right in the city 
limits and far removed from any one of these centers. A 
character named [Spiros G.] Ponti developed it, and, well, 
it was just a field day. A president of the National 


Association of Home Builders in his district, a man who 
successfully completed a great many projects, Mr. Ponti 
submitted a petition submitted by people in favor of the 
application (not nearby residents) and said that he had 
built 947 homes in the past year that sold for over $10.5 
million and stated that the proposed subdivision was well 
planned, recognized the proposed freeway, and included 
sites for a school, playground, and business property. He 
said he was not an investor or speculator but "just a home 
builder, " and that he had built homes for seventeen 
years. He boasted that lots would contain a thousand 
square feet more than the minimum, which was five thousand 
square feet. In response to a question by the chair, he 
said that they had set aside eight acres for a school site 
and five acres for a park and a playground, and that the 
property will be held until the department concerned has 
the necessary funds to purchase the property. The homes 
would be for veterans and other citizens of the community, 
he explained, and the homes will be a credit to the 

The next speaker in favor of the proposal was J. W. 
0' Sullivan, commander of the Los Angeles County Council of 
Am Vets [American Veterans] , who made a minor career 
supporting the applications of home builders and opposing 
public housing. Flaunting his campaign hat, he testified 


that three years after discharge the veterans' first need 
was low-cost housing, that the only way to get it was by 
mass production, and threatened that if they didn't get 
their homes this way, "They will get them in some other 
manner- -government subsidy 1" He explained how the 
magnanimous builder would pass any savings on to the lucky 
veteran, who would realize a profit of $5,000 if he had to 
sell his bargain, and that this was not a get-rich-quick 
scheme, [laughter] that Mr. Ponti appropriated additional 
sums of money to landscape the surrounding grounds, making 
the community a beauty spot. To assure the commission of 
the purity of his motives, Mr. 0' Sullivan said that he 
spoke, "in the interest of public welfare and convenience." 
LASKEY: Oh, my. Where was the Adohr Ranch? 
ALEXANDER: Where was it in the Valley? Well, that's a 
good question. I couldn't tell you exactly, except that it 
was on the south side of the Valley, out quite a ways, I 
suppose. Would it be near Tarzana? 
LASKEY: But it did get developed by Mr. Ponti. 
ALEXANDER: Oh, yeah, it did get developed by Mr. Ponti. 
It was developed under a creative section of the zoning 
ordinance, which contemplated planned unit developments, 
PUDs, and they would get favored treatment if they were 
planned comprehensively to have amenities that the 
community needed. They were to offer the land for 


community needs, such as schools and that sort of thing, 
free to the community. But he didn't see it that way. 
LASKEY: I'm not surprised. 

ALEXANDER: He was asked if he had made an analysis of 
developing the property in half-acre lots as currently 
zoned. It was already zoned so that it was possible to 
change this dairy to suburban areas. Mr. Ponti said it was 
impossible, since development costs ran from $3,000 to 
$3,500 an acre, making it impossible to offer homes for 
less than $10,000, which he had to do. 
LASKEY: Did he finally do that? 

ALEXANDER: About two months later, the commission received 
a letter from Mr. Marlow, who had spoken on behalf of 
Ponti, questioning the right of the commission to require 
land for municipal facilities, which the Adohr Ranch owner 
had been asked by the commission to donate free of charge 
if the application were approved. Instead of exceeding 
their authority, as Mr. Marlow charged, however, they were 
complying with the ordinance permitting self-contained 
communities with town-lot subdivisions, provided adequate 
open spaces and municipal facilities, utilities, and 
services are made available in a manner satisfactory to the 
commission. The case was too important and the stakes too 
high for the landowner and the builder to give up their 
assault easily. Subsequently, the city council overrode 


the commission by the two-thirds vote required, the mayor 
vetoed the council's action, and the council overrode the 
mayor's veto by the required three-fourths majority. Don't 
tell me they weren't paid off. 

Well, one significant thing that happened during the 
period while I was on the commission was studies by our 
department of a new concept called redevelopment. The 
studies of the [Los Angeles City] Planning Department, 
studies for redevelopment, were used both nationally in the 
development of a federal law and in Sacramento in the 
development of state law, enabling local communities to set 
up redevelopment agencies or to establish redevelopment 
agencies as city councils. And while I was still on the 
commission the laws came into effect, and [Fletcher] Bowron 
appointed the first redevelopment agency of the city [Los 
Angeles City Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA)]. Bill 
[William T.] Sesnon [Jr.] was appointed chairman, and he 
remained chairman for over twenty years. Milton [J.] Brock 
[Sr.], vice-chairman, was a home builder, a reliable one; 
Howard L. Holtzendorf f , secretary-treasurer, was a director 
of the [Los Angeles City] Housing Authority. One of the 
requirements of the law of redevelopment was that if 
redevelopment displaces people, housing for those people 
must be found for them within the price range of what 
they've been paying. That required, in many cases, a 


housing authority. Ed [Edward W.] Carter of the Broadway 
and Phillip [M.] Rea were also members of the first 
redevelopment agency. William T. Sesnon, Jr., a descendant 
of the pioneer ranch family, stuck with it for twenty years 
through thick and thin (it was mostly thick), during the 
years when the law was being challenged in the courts. And 
the Bunker Hill redevelopment area, which was the largest 
of its kind in the country, was being challenged right and 
left. He finally saw it through to the first major 
building in that redevelopment, which was the Union Bank 
Building at the corner of Fifth [Street] and Figueroa 
[Street], and then second was Bunker Hill Towers, where I 
was involved. This [agency] has become the most powerful 
planning force in the city. 

LASKEY: Why would the CRA have more power than the 
planning commission? 

ALEXANDER: They have money. They can do things, they can 
act. The planning commission can regulate, and I didn't go 
into that part. Part of the regulation was subdivision 
zoning, for instance. Those are all limitations, 
conditional uses and special conditions. Those are laws, 
and they're not very creative in that they don't have any 
dynamo to make them go. But in the case of redevelopment, 
which started out with a good deal of subsidy, in order to 
get them federal subsidy, to give them leverage to acquire 


the land that was considered blighted--and actually, 
unproductive economically is what it came down to--the way 
it finally got through Congress, the definition of-- 
LASKEY: What was your opinion of the way that Bunker Hill 
was redeveloped? 

ALEXANDER: Well, I don't expect a pear tree to produce 
fish. The way the law was enacted by Congress finally-- It 
started out as a slum-clearance idea, and I was very much a 
part of the national and statewide scene in this effort. 
The way it finally was enacted by Congress, a blighted area 
was defined as one which is uneconomic- -in other words, 
where it costs the city more to maintain it than it pays in 
taxes. You have a ledger, and you receive so much in taxes 
and you know how many fire calls you get in that area and 
how many cases of TB are there. They add all this cost up, 
and it's a costly thing to have this millstone around your 
neck, this old place. Of course, it had its charm at a 
certain period. As a matter of fact, I forgot about 
this. Before the redevelopment law that finally got in, 
there was a Works Progress Administration [WPA] attempt at 
redevelopment in the prewar period under the Roosevelt 
administration . 
LASKEY: Oh, really. 

ALEXANDER: I worked as an employee, not as a principal, 
with a group of architects who were proposing to redevelop 


Bunker Hill under this law. And it was declared 
unconstitutional when we had gone through-- We went through 
the business of planning and what should be done and so 
forth, and we went back to Washington to get this thing 
approved. And we found stiff opposition from some very 
influential forces in Los Angeles, who just happened to own 
some of the best whorehouses in the city. 
LASKEY: Oh, okay. 

LASKEY: Just happened to be on Bunker Hill. 
ALEXANDER: And also, what property was rented to Chinese 
and other low- income people had the highest rent per square 
foot per person that you'd find anyplace. Much higher 
than-- You think about high-rent things as being a thousand 
dollars a month places. But if you figure out the square- 
foot cost of rent and you figure that you have a whole 
family living in one room in an old slum in Bunker Hill, or 
maybe two families, they're paying through the nose for 
that little space. 

Well, anyway, we were frustrated by finding that there 
was all this opposition from these Presbyterian landowners-- 
only to find that the WPA effort was found unconstitutional 
in a project in Atlanta before we got it any further. But 
when Congress finally enacted a legal thing, it applied, 
for instance, to the Monterey Hills, where there isn't a 


single house and there's no malaria. There's nothing at 
all going on there, because in the first oil boom in the 
city, where oil wells were built right in what is downtown 
now, cheek by jowl, the whole Monterey Hills area was 
assumed to have a lot of oil under it. And engineers laid 
out tracts of land there on a rectilinear basis, with 
streets that nobody could possibly climb because they're so 


OCTOBER 3, 1986 

ALEXANDER: These lots that were not feasible to develop 
were sold throughout the United States, from Maine to 
Florida, to people who wanted to speculate in this oil that 
was coming right out of the ground in downtown Los 
Angeles. And this was only a half a mile or so away from 
downtown, and it was just a perfect place for oil to be 
found. They'd buy these lots, and then two or three 
generations later, these people who had inherited these 
lots would look in their safe-deposit box and see that this 
lot must be valuable now. And it was not valuable to build 
on. It didn't have oil under it, as far as anyone could 
tell, and yet people were hanging onto this darned stuff. 
And it was an uneconomic situation. So since it was not 
economically viable, it became subject to redevelopment. 
As far removed from slum clearance as you can possibly get, 
but this was according to the law. 

Now, you get to Bunker Hill, and that was a 
combination of things. Bunker Hill redevelopment had been 
planned one way or another for many, many years. One plan 
was to bulldoze the thing down to make it honest and level 
with the rest of the downtown city. That was the [Henry 
A.] Babcock plan, by an engineer whom I respected very 
much, but he made this for some downtown property owners. 


I think that it was inevitable under the terms of the 
redevelopment law [that] it should be redeveloped the way 
that it was. 

LASKEY: Was it possible to save part of Bunker Hill, at 
least some of the older buildings that were part of the 
heritage of the city? Was it ever considered? 
ALEXANDER: I don't think it was ever considered. Of 
course they were not respected the way they are today. So 
politically it wasn't feasible. Practically, I don't see 
how it could have been done. In that [John Randolph] 
Haynes Foundation thing that I wrote, the second half that 
was not published was devoted to a specific plan for the 
development of Chavez Ravine as a place, a decanting place 
for the people from Bunker Hill, in that plan right there. 
LASKEY: This is Rebuilding the City: [A Study of 
Redevelopment Problems in Los Angeles]. It's done in 
1951. This is a map book. 

ALEXANDER: Nineteen fifty-one, was it? Then it was 
after. It was a long time before they got around to 
redeveloping Bunker Hill. 

LASKEY: But you do talk in this book, which I'm going to 
come to a little later, about Bunker Hill being one of the 
major areas considered for redevelopment. I think there 
were eleven different areas that you list, and you talk 
about Bunker Hill, and then the pictures and the 


discussions on Chavez Ravine. And then the need for 
revitalization or redevelopment of these areas because they 
cost the city so much money. 

ALEXANDER: Well, in a way it was a major victory to get a 
portion of Bunker Hill devoted to residential use at all. 
And it was a pioneering venture that seemed risky to people 
who seemed interested in residential development. Because 
why is it that people don't live downtown anymore? Well, 
unless they had just come out from living on Park Avenue 
[New York City], they couldn't imagine living downtown. 
"Who would want to do that?" 

LASKEY: Well, all the development had been away from 
downtown, too. They were developing our valleys. 
ALEXANDER: Well, we had to figure out how much it cost for 
people to commute and how much they would save if they 
lived in an apartment there and walked to work. I lived in 
the twenty-three-story Bunker Hill Towers. I had an 
apartment there in the seventies. Anyway, it was 
inconceivable to a lot of people, especially developers or 
people with money. 

LASKEY: We're getting a little bit ahead of ourselves 
here. We'll come back to Bunker Hill Towers. In talking 
about the differences between the CRA and the city planning 
commission, I think one of the watershed points, or what 
you started to talk about some time ago and we never got 


back to, was what happened to Forest Lawn. 
ALEXANDER: How does Forest Lawn fit in with 
redevelopment? Were you trying to get a connection there? 
LASKEY: No, I think what happened to Forest Lawn is that, 
well, essentially the planning commission was powerless in 
the long run to stop what Forest Lawn did. Because you 
don't have the powers that eventually the CRA would have. 
You don't have that kind of clout. 

ALEXANDER: Yeah. For instance, before the construction of 
the freeway passed, well, what became Riverside Drive-- 
Before-- I don't know. What is that, the 605? 
LASKEY: The Golden State [Freeway]. 

ALEXANDER: Before the construction of the Golden State 
Freeway and before land was taken for various reasons 
around there, the Forest Lawn property constituted an ideal 
addition to Griffith Park in that it would provide a great 
deal of relatively flat land, some of which has been taken 
up by other uses since then. So, many people were plugging 
for its use as Griffith Park. Well, we didn't have any 
money. The [Los Angeles City Recreation and] Parks 
department didn't have any money for that purpose. But if 
we were the redevelopment agency, we'd say, "That's the 
best use for that land. We'll buy it." And the planning 
commission doesn't have that power. It can regulate, but 
they can't say, "That's a great idea. We'll chip in on 


it," which is what the redevelopment agency can do today. 

The way that law works has its pros and cons, I 
think. Especially since Proposition 13 a lot of counties 
are raising hell with cities for having redevelopment areas 
that detract from county taxes. The state law that permits 
the redevelopment agency to impound the difference in taxes 
between the taxes prior to development and the taxes after 
redevelopment-- And I'll be darned if I know how they 
handle inflation. But in any event, that gives them a hell 
of a whack of money for something. Well, even in the city 
of Carson, it was a big factor. And they tried to be good 
citizens. I think they've done a remarkable job throughout 
the state. I haven't heard of any real scandal in the 
handling of this buying and selling of land. I mean 
scandal in the usual political sense. They may be 
scandalous in some people's eyes about some of the things 
they do, but it's remarkable to me that in all that money 
involved, there hasn't been, as far as I know, a big blowup 
that there should have been, following history. I think 
that once any redevelopment agency has paid through the 
nose for land--in other words, the community in effect has 
paid through the nose for acquiring land substandard in 
some way--that the community should retain title to it 
forever and simply lease that land. Eventually that might 
mean that all cities would be leased land, which I think 


would be good. I think the major curse of the cities is 

caused by land speculation. 

LASKEY: Did you propose this when you were on the planning 


ALEXANDER: Yes, I talked about it. 

LASKEY: They must have found that incredibly scandalous. 


ALEXANDER: Oh, yes, that's communist, communist talk. 

Especially regarding mass transit, I did a great deal of 

calculating to convince myself, first, that it could be 

done. If a mass rapid-transit system is planned, and 

especially if it's planned not to compound the present 

strangulation of congestion, but planned in areas that 

would benefit most from a system, in other words, [areas] 

not too highly developed at the present time-- And if, 

before implementation, it would buy land in a half-mile 

radius from each proposed station and then build the system 

and lease the land after the system is in operation, the 

system wouldn't cost them a nickel, except to the people 

who leased the land, which would then be desirable as next 

to a station. 

Well, I even wrote about this proposal in great detail 
with facts and figures and examples in history, in Canada 
particularly, to a congressman whom I considered one of the 
most liberal in the Congress, George [E.] Brown--great guy 


as far as I'm concerned. He's the only congressman in 
history who has twice voted one to 100 percent--! mean one 
[against] everybody else. And each one was a Vietnam 
appropriation. Anyway, he said, "It won't fly. It will be 
called communist. You can't do it." Well, anyway, it's 
not communist, but it makes great sense. We struggle on 
and don't have any kind of a system. In planning the San 
Francisco BART [Bay Area Rapid Transit] system they didn't 
even think to look into what the price escalation would be 
in land around their stations until it was already half 
built and they were in trouble. That's too late. 
LASKEY: I'm always surprised when something like that 
happens, because I assume that people who are involved in 
these multibillion dollar operations, that's what they're 
there for, to consider these aspects and to consider what 
kinds of influences and inputs these major changes will 
have on our lives. And so often these important elements 
get overlooked. So what did happen with Forest Lawn? 
ALEXANDER: Well, let's try to make it brief, I guess. Mr. 
Eugene U. Blalock was the attorney and a member of the 
board of Forest Lawn who planned everything and appeared 
before the commission. He was an eloquent spokesman for 
Forest Lawn. And he was quite aware of the new planning 
law, in which he would have to apply for conditional use. 
So he wanted to test it, he wanted to test the 


cominissioners. I didn't realize this until much later. 
But we got an innocent little application for a nineteen- 
acre extension of the existing Forest Lawn into the city of 
Los Angeles near Eagle Rock. It really didn't amount to 
beans, but I found in reviewing it recently that it took 
seventeen pages of minutes to record that little stinking 
case that hardly anybody objected to. We surely didn't, 
but we did require certain conditions. This was the first 
conditional use we were asked to address, and during that 
review he found only one commissioner who raised an 
objection to something and that was Sam [P.] Lev, a real 
estate man from the Valley who was naive and sweet as could 

And later we got the first case of "a new and more 
beautiful Forest Lawn" to serve the San Fernando Valley, to 
be adjacent to Griffith Park on the Providencia Ranch. It 
was a ranch that had been used by the movie industry for a 
jillion westerns and right near Hollywood, very 
convenient. I guess Warner Brothers [Inc.] did a lot of 
pictures there. And we were alerted, just before it came 
before us, by an editorial in the Hollywood Citizen News 
that forecast just about what was going to happen. Well, 
we soon found that Commissioner Lev was invited by Forest 
Lawn to make an appraisal of the ranch. This was before it 
was known to be proposed for a cemetery. And he even came 


to the commission for their approval of his plan, that if 
they [Forest Lawn] came before the commission with any 
action, of course he would disqualify himself. So the 
commission agreed that that was okay, not realizing that if 
Forest Lawn could get three commissioners in that position 
they would avoid going to the commission at all. Sure 
enough, he did have to disqualify himself. And [Glen E.] 
Huntsberger, another commissioner, a Cadillac automobile 
dealer from the Valley, disclosed to us that his mother's 
estate included a very large and valuable painting and 
Forest Lawn was considering buying it. So he disqualified 
himself. And a person that I had considered a good friend, 
who lived in the [Baldwin Hills] Village as I did and was a 
commissioner on one of the other commissions, approached me 
one evening with the news that Forest Lawn would very much 
like me to change my attitude, which had already been 
revealed, and that if I did, I would get no end of 
commissions from Forest Lawn--and they had a great big 
building program. 
LASKEY: Who was this? 

ALEXANDER: The commissioner who approached me? An 
advertising man. Bob Hixson, That's not important, anyway. 
LASKEY: What was your response to that? 

ALEXANDER: Well, I was disgusted. My response was, "I'm 
not starving yet. My practice isn't in very good shape 


yet, but Lord deliver me from that one." I was not 
interested anyway. I didn't realize the implications until 
later, after I had resigned from the commission in 1951. 
After [Samuel W.] Yorty became mayor, I got a call from 
[Charles] Luckman saying, "Yorty would like to appoint me 
president of the planning commission. Would that interfere 
in any way with my getting any city work?" I said, "Well, 
it might not, but Roger Arnebergh, the city attorney, has 
told me that it would be a felony." He said, "Well, thank 
you very much." And he didn't accept the appointment. He 
instead got the zoo. [laughter] 

Well, anyway, it went through the first hearing. I 
conducted both hearings. Because [William H.] Schuchardt ' s 
[sense of] hearing was bad and he didn't feel able to 
conduct a hearing, and Lev, who was vice president of the 
commission, had disqualified himself. So Schuchardt asked 
me to conduct the hearing in both cases. In the first one, 
in 1946, we had five commissions 100 percent opposed. It 
would be the [Los Angeles City] Board of Public Works-- You 
see, the site proposed for this new and more beautiful 
Forest Lawn was to have the Whitnall freeway go through 
it. There was already a right-of-way for the city water 
and power for a big power line through it. It drained into 
the pumping station in the bed of the Los Angeles River, 
[the source of] almost 17 percent of our water supply. 


where it was feared by some that the embalming fluids in 
thousands of bodies would contaminate the water system. So 
we had the health department-- Well, there were five 
commissions adamantly opposed. So in spite of Dr. Fifield 
and all his pompous religious chicanery, we turned it 
down. And the city council didn't have enough votes to 
override. Incidentally, it was found that the conditional 
use does not require the mayor's approval or veto. So he 
had no chance to veto a conditional use. If it had been a 
regular ordinance or a regular resolution, he could veto 
it. So all [Forest Lawn] had to have was a two- thirds vote 
to override us. But they couldn't get it that first 
time. In the following two years, there was an election 
and there were three new members of the city council. One 
of those new members was immediately appointed chairman of 
the planning committee of the council, a plum which no new 
councilman had had before. And he later became a 
supervisor and came into real ill repute on other things, 
in any event. 
LASKEY: This is Debs? 

ALEXANDER: [Ernest E.] Debs, yes. Debs. In the second 
go-around the council could override us and did. In the 
meantime it was revealed in the Hollywood Citizen News that 
the state law provided for a cemetery being automatic 
wherever six or more bodies are buried. This was to take 


care of a ranch, for instance, where people were buried on 
their own property. And wherever six or more people were 
buried that became automatically a cemetery; you couldn't 
do anything about it. So in the period between the first 
and second hearings. Forest Lawn, according to the 
Hollywood Citizen News, found eight people who had died in 
penurious circumstances, such as the deaf-mute husband of a 
deaf-mute wife, who were in straits and to whom they 
offered the full treatment of a Forest Lawn funeral, 
flowers, cemetery, the whole bit--providing the widow would 
sign an agreement that at their will Forest Lawn could move 
the body at a later date to "a new and more beautiful 
Forest Lawn. " So when the council was about to vote. 
Forest Lawn had these eight bodies on ice outside the 
fence, and the minute they got news via their walkie-talkie 
that the council had overridden the planning commission, 
they jumped the fence and started to bury bodies. There 
were some other heartrending tales which I can go into. 
LASKEY: That's incredible. 
LASKEY: It really is. 

ALEXANDER: Well, that's what happened. 

LASKEY: That's what you had to deal with. I think it was 
interesting because you wrote, "This was only one example 
that led to my conclusion that the planning commission had 


enough power to keep politics out of planning, except in 
the most important cases." 

During those years that you were on the planning 
commission and before, you were also beset with political 
problems and personal attacks. 

ALEXANDER: Most of this had to do with my support of 
public housing as a concept. During the Depression, it was 
not only the Boy Scouts, but solid American citizens who 
were lauded for their interest in helping the poorest 
people. And I grew up with the understanding that part of 
my life should be devoted to the community. During the 
Depression I had personal experience in feeling poverty, 
and I thought it was only natural and entirely the American 
thing to do to support a movement that I thought would help 
solve one of the most pressing problems in the land. This 
view was shared by many, many people in the country, 
especially in eastern older cities. And the people with 
whom I associated in conferences on the problem, of course, 
were all in favor of it. So it was somewhat of a shock to 
find the virulent opposition of the real estate lobby in 
California to the whole concept. 

Mayor Bowron, for instance, had associates in the 
National Council of Mayors, most of whom thought the public 
housing movement was a great thing for cities. It was help 
for one of their most pressing problems. He always took a 


position to support me in my position regarding public 
housing, as long as I made it clear that I was speaking for 
myself and not for the city. His opponents and mine tried 
to get me in various ways. They always would have to come 
to the conclusion that I was nobody's employee, and hence I 
could not be fired. Mayor Bowron supported me so that I 
could not be discharged from the commission, and they had 
no way to get at me except by innuendo and false statements 
made in the press. This was part of the era that became 
known as the McCarthy era, which I felt severely at times. 
I remember, as a member of the American Planning and 
Housing Association, I was invited to go to the first 
international conference on development and elected to go 
to the conference held in London. [I] stayed at a ladies' 
college, with no ladies in it at the time the conference 
went on, in Regents Park. It was Regents College, right 
around the corner from Baker Street, where Sherlock Holmes 
had lived. The opening address was to be given by Mr. 
[Edward A.] Ackerman, who had been head of the TVA, the 
Tennessee Valley Authority. I was approached the day 
before with a request that I substitute for him, because he 
was not going to speak "on advice." I found that "on 
advice" meant that his State Department had told him not to 
speak, because there were communists, people from behind 
the Iron Curtain, attending the conference. So I agreed to 


this. I don't know what I spoke about, but it wasn't the 
TVA. But later, I visited some friends in Welwyn, one of 
the original new towns, built about 1902, something like 
that. It was one of the products of Ebenezer Howard's book 
[Garden Cities of Tomorrow] . We were watching the telly, 
and the Home Office was being questioned by one of the 
members of the house: "Why are you opposed to this 
meeting? This is the first time in recent English history 
that we have objected to people speaking freely, no matter 
where they're from or what they are speaking, as long as 
they simply speak." He said, "Well, it's not their papers 
and what they say at the conference, it's what they talk 
about at teal" [laughter] Anyway, for the first time, 
McCarthy got to the English. So I didn't know whether my 
passport was going to be picked up or what. 

Meantime, back at the ranch here, at Los Angeles, I 
was a member of an organization that was fighting in favor 
of Proposition 14, a statewide housing amendment or 
measure. Such stalwart characters as Monsignor O'Dwyer, 
Mrs. Sumner Spaulding, Frank [B.] Wilkinson, Shirley 
Siegel, Hal [Harold F.] Wise, I think it is, and I, were 
members of this committee [the Citizens Housing Council]. 
And there was an opposing committee, of course, with enough 
money to hire a team of political promotionists . Without 
our request or knowledge, some young lady who favored our 


cause applied for and got a job as a secretary working for 
this political group that was opposing us. And every 
evening [she] would drop off into our mailbox a copy of an 
interoffice memo or two. So that I soon found-- One memo 
would ask, "Who's his boss? Who's Alexander's boss? Have 
him fired." Who's this, that, and the other. It was 
really a scream to get this inside view. However, I always 
found it a comfort to realize that I was my own boss and 
couldn't be fired and could speak my mind without rebuke. 
LASKEY: Well, did they genuinely feel that you were a 
communist, or were they using this as a means-- 
ALEXANDER: Sure they were using it. 
LASKEY: --to get you out of their hair? 

ALEXANDER: I used to sometimes speak in a lion's den such 
as the Wilshire Realtors Association. I would start out by 
saying that I was pretty sure that my opponent, as I did, 
had driven there on socialized streets, under socialized 
streetlights, and had walked on socialized sidewalks, had 
just drunk a glass of socialized water, and had even been a 
product of socialized education. And that our very country 
was founded, our constitution was the result of a meeting 
called by George Washington to discuss two socialist 
enterprises, which the fledgling government carried out. 
One was the Cumberland Road and the other one was the 
Potomac Canal, both of them socialist enterprises. So I 


supposed I was a socialist, along with my opponent. 
Anyway, it was an exciting time and a frustrating time. 
What else can I say? 
LASKEY: Well, I know they-- 

ALEXANDER: Oh, another thing. I was in the index and in 
the text of three successive Tenney Committee [California 
State Legislature Joint Fact-finding Committee on Un- 
American Activities] reports in the state of California. 
The Tenney Committee was the state equivalent of the un- 
American activities committee, HUAC, the House Un-American 
Activities Committee. I was charged with absolutely 
nothing; I was simply mentioned in the text. And any time 
that some stalwart Bircher wanted to hurt me in some way, 
he would simply say that I was in the Tenney report, and 
this would scare the hell out of people. And this occurred 
for years afterward. 

After I was appointed consulting architect to 
UCSD [University of California, San Diego], I was also at 
the same time doing a city planning job for Escondido. 
Escondido has almost as many retired admirals as Coronado 
Island. It's a rock-ribbed Republican scene, which I knew 
when I got the Job. And I was informed on one occasion by 
the city manager that I was being accused of being a 
communist because my name is in this Tenney Committee 
report. [Jack B.] Tenney, incidentally, was ultimately 


sent to jail for some corruption--! don't remember what. 
And [I was informed] that [University of California] 
President [Clark] Kerr had sent an emissary down from the 
university to listen to my presentation before the council, 
where it was bound to come up. So he said, "You had better 
go around and see the newspaper editor or publisher, " the 
local [one] (this was Escondido ) . Which I did. And he 
asked me if I had had a security clearance. I said, "Yes, 
I just happen to." And he said, "What was it and how did 
you get it?" I just told him it was low clearance--it was 
no special deal. But the Rand Corporation at one point 
wanted me to be a consultant, and they said it would help 
my work with them if I would get a security clearance, 
which I had gotten. He said, "Can you get me a xerox?" So 
I said, "Sure I could." Well, I hadn't gotten it before 
the meeting, but the meeting went off without any problem 
at all. I'm sure President Kerr was satisfied. But that's 
just one of many instances where somebody would attempt to 
interfere with my work or keep from having me hired to do a 
job. It would happen many times, especially in school work, 
LASKEY: And this would have been somewhat after the fact 
of the McCarthy period. 

ALEXANDER: Oh, yeah. That's 1961 or '62. 
LASKEY: So the af teref fect-- 
ALEXANDER: It was ten years. 


OCTOBER 3, 1986 

ALEXANDER: The accusations, for the most part, in the 
Tenney Committee [California State Legislature Joint Fact- 
finding Committee on Un-American Activities] reports were 
that I was seen leaving a certain meeting with a certain 
Frank [B.] Wilkinson. Frank Wilkinson was the public 
affairs officer for the [Los Angeles City] Housing 
Authority, [and] therefore a suspect character. And of 
course, he became infamous in their eyes by refusing to 
answer questions about his party affiliations at a later 
date. A solid American citizen. And I personally felt 
very close to the founding of our country (my ancestors had 
been here three hundred years ago) and intimately concerned 
with the American ideals, which of course made me more 
suspect in the eyes of newcomers, witch-hunters. [laughter] 

Well, at the same time this was going on, one of the 
most important commissions I got at the time was to work 
with Orange Coast College. Does that tie in with what you 
were thinking about? 

LASKEY: Yeah, just the fact that you did have a career, 
that you had made the decision in 1945 to resume your 
architecture career, and that you had a career that was 
running concurrently with your time on the [Los Angeles] 
City Planning Commission. 


ALEXANDER: I was trying to get it started, yeah. One 
thing, the Baldwin Hills Village organization was not 
permitted by the War Production Board to build a commercial 
center until after the war. I was commissioned to design 
some shops and a Thrifty Mart. And at the same time, the 
Baldwin Hills Company agreed to finance what amounted to an 
office for me, as a field office in which I acquired a part 
ownership, jointly owned by them and by me. So I had an 
office which was a sort of a shack on skids. It was very 
well lighted, served very well as a drafting room. 
LASKEY: Now, was this at the site? 

ALEXANDER: At the site on South La Brea Boulevard. So 
from that I oversaw the design of shops and the 


One of the first important commissions, important in 
my future, was being hired by Orange Coast College. They 
had sought the services of Herb [Herbert J.] Powell--Smith, 
Powell, and Morgridge I believe was the firm name--who had 
done community college work. As part of their [proposed] 
contract to provide a master plan, they had insisted on 
being the executive architects of [all] the work to 
follow. And Basil Pederson, the president of the college, 
refused to go along with such an idea. So I think I had 
sort of a stall for an exhibit at a meeting, a statewide 
meeting of school administrators, and Pederson and his 


assistant in charge of business. Bill Kimes, approached me 
for an interview and told me the story. I called Herb 
Powell, and he said, "By all means, go ahead and take the 
job if you want to have it on the basis that they will go 
for." And I was only too eager to do so. The 
understanding was simply a gentleman's agreement that I 
would be paid on a time basis for the master planning. 
There was no formal agreement that I would get to design 
all the buildings in the master plan, but that I should be 
assured of their good will, and that as long as I provided 
satisfactory services, I would do their work. Well, 
Pederson was a careful Mormon who abhorred being in debt 
and refused to go along with any thought of a bond issue 
(which was going into debt) and insisted on a tax-rate 
increase of ten cents a hundred or something like that, so 
that he could build one building a year. 
LASKEY: Cash. 

ALEXANDER: Cash on the barrel head. So every year for ten 
years I had a budget for a certain building and I was to 
spend as much of that budget as I could in building what I 
was building, but I was not to spend any more. This was 
quite a trick, especially when the Korean War came along 
and all of a sudden we had inflation. But over a period of 
years, we performed very well as far as our estimates 
versus the final costs were concerned. And in each case, I 


designed the building and had a joint-venture agreement 
with [Dick] Pleger, who had his office in Newport Beach in 
the district and who performed the construction services. 
This went along swimmingly until Orange County architects 
split from the Southern California chapter [of the American 
Institute of Architects (AIA)] to form their own Orange 
County chapter, at which point they sent a committee around 
to see the board of directors of the Orange Coast College 
district, insisting that an architect with an office in 
Orange County should be hired instead of me. So the 
directors, with tears in their eyes, at the next meeting 
told me that they had decided what they should do, in spite 
of the fact that my services were satisfactory and so on 
and so forth. So I found myself in the unenviable position 
of being a firm AIA supporter and finding the goddamned 
organization doing something that an individual architect 
was prohibited from doing. In any event-- 
LASKEY: Did you protest? 

ALEXANDER: No, it would just have caused more bad-- I 
mean, would it get me anywhere? No, I didn't protest. 
LASKEY: How much had you done for Orange Coast College at 

this point? 

ALEXANDER: Well, I ' ve a record somewhere. I think there 

were fifteen projects in ten years, one right after 



LASKEY: You'd done the master plan, and then you had done 
quite a number of buildings. 

ALEXANDER: Well, I think there were probably ten 
buildings, plus underground electric, this, that, and the 


LASKEY: Was your master plan followed after you were no 

longer associated with them? 

ALEXANDER: No. I mean, they didn't tear anything down. 

You see, this was started before Disneyland, at a time when 

more than half the campus was devoted to agriculture, 

because one of the prime employers in the area was 


LASKEY: Now, we haven't established where the college is. 

ALEXANDER: Well, it's in Costa Mesa, which is northeast of 

Newport Beach and Balboa. The place has grown so 
drastically--that is, changed drastically--and the entrance 
at one time when it was originally founded-- Oh, 
incidentally, the site had been owned by the air force as a 
training base, not an airfield, and it became surplus 
property after the war. So a public agency like the junior 
college district or community college district could obtain 
the land free of charge, as well as any buildings on it. 
So they started the college [with] the existing air force 
buildings, all of which, except the chapel, were condemned 
by the state as unsatisfactory for seismic forces, and they 


permitted the college to continue to use them, providing 
that within a certain period of time they had supplanted 
all of the air force buildings or brought them up to 
code. So we had to play hopscotch; we couldn't tear down a 
building until we had something to replace it, and that 
should go in the right place in the ultimate plan. So this 
was kind of a hopscotch trick. 

LASKEY: So the school was being carried out in the 
abandoned barracks of buildings, and you had to build a new 
campus almost around these extant buildings. 
ALEXANDER: Yeah, since that appeared to be the best site 
for the buildings and the least desirable for agriculture-- 
that was a big important point. And the entrance, the main 
drag, still exists, but the frontage on the main drag has 
long since been sold by the junior college district for 
millions. And so the entrance to the college is from the 
opposite side from where we started; however, it's much 
closer to the center of the buildings. Well, having a new 
type of building with new requirements each year meant that 
I-- Since I was being a student of the situation, I had the 
time and took the energy to explore the specific needs of 
each building in detail and compare it and go around and 
look at other buildings of the same use on other campuses 
to see how they can be improved and so on. So that I 
became intimately familiar as an individual person, aside 


from the staff, with all of these academic and community 
needs and uses. 

Dr. Pederson was one of the prime movers and leaders 
in the community college movement in California. He based 
the college curriculum on a study of the job opportunities 
in the area. Of course, over a period of years, before he 
left his position, the needs of the community had changed 
radically. In fact, I remember in the first building, 
which was a technology building, in the portion devoted to 
classrooms we recommended removable and reusable 
partitions, not knowing that within the first year of use, 
they would find that TV repair suddenly became an important 
employer. Nobody had ever heard of such a thing during the 
war. I mean, it was known that there was such a thing, but 
nobody knew that it was going to go boom! So we had to 
change the use of certain rooms in that building to TV 
repair rooms and to different sizes and so forth. And it 
meant that in the first year of use, the additional cost of 
using removable and reusable partitions was paid for, but 
it was just by luck. But things changed radically. Where 
cattle raising and feeding was an important part of the 
program at the beginning--and I designed a cattle-feed shed 
as one of the items and a cattle-feed mill--today it's 
LASKEY: Do they even use it anymore as an agricultural 



ALEXANDER: No, I think it's been scrapped. 
LASKEY: Well, I noticed on the list of credits for the 
college that Eckbo, Royston, and Williams were the 
landscape architects. Garrett Eckbo became an important 
name in landscape architecture--maybe he was then. How did 
you happen to get involved with him? 

ALEXANDER: Well, I had gotten to know him in the heady 
public housing days. He was about as patriotic and radical 
as I was. Before establishing my office in that little 
building on South La Brea at the end of Baldwin Hills 
Village, I told Ray Knisley, the head of the Baldwin 
estate, who was also the head of Baldwin Hills Village, 
that I did need office space and did he have any 
suggestions. And he said that right across the street was 
the Sunset Fields Golf Course, and part of the installation 
was a little nineteenth hole where they had sandwiches and 
coffee and some drinks and so forth. 
LASKEY: This is across La Brea? 

ALEXANDER: Across La Brea. And next to this little 
nineteenth hole was a breakfast club that had not been used 
since before the war. It was a great big lamella-roofed 
warehouse- type building. I could have had two hundred 
draftsmen in there. He said, "You can use the whole darned 
thing, or part of it, free of charge. We're going to tear 


it down one of these days." They tore it down when the 
shopping center on Crenshaw Boulevard was built by A. 
[Albert] C. Martin [Jr.]. Well, anyway, there was a great 
big window looking out over the golf course right next to 
the little building that had the food in it. So I put some 
plywood partitions across, sixteen feet from the wall, and 
this wonderful wide window. And I had myself and the 
drafting board in there and-- 
LASKEY: That was it? 

ALEXANDER: That was it. Well, I had some big drafting 
board tables that I bought from Lockheed [Aircraft], 
surplus postwar stuff. One day, after I had been 
commissioned by the church at Baldwin Hills Village to 
design a church for them at the corner of La Brea and 
Coliseum [Street], Garrett Eckbo walked in and said, "We've 
decided to start a southern branch of Eckbo, Royston, and 
Williams, and my wife and I are down here to start it." 
LASKEY: He'd been operating in the [San Francisco] Bay 


ALEXANDER: Yes, oh yes, and I knew him pretty well and 
liked him very much. So I said, "Okay. You have an 
office?" He said, "No." I said, "You're welcome to use 
the space. And I have my first job for you, which is this 
church." So he designed the landscaping for the church, 
and before he put up a shop elsewhere he had drafting 


space. And that's how I knew him. He did all of my 
landscape work until I got a major project for the air 
force to design family housing, and he refused to do any 
work for any military establishment. I took the position 
that it was for the poor bastards and their families who 
were in it, but he took the position that it was still for 
the military and he would have none of it. So I went to 
Bettler [C] Baldwin for a few projects. Eventually I went 
back to Garrett's firm, so that he's done almost all the 
[landscaping] work for me during my entire career. And I 
see him frequently now. 

LASKEY: I was going to ask you if you see him now. 
ALEXANDER: Oh, yeah. Good friend. 

LASKEY: Well, when you got the contract for Orange Coast 
College, which was just two years after the church, how 
large was your office then? Was it still just you? 
ALEXANDER: No. By the time the commercial project at the 
end of Baldwin Hills Village was a contract, I could move 
my office right down there where the action was. So then I 
had an office. It was mostly Bobs: Robert Pierce, who was 
with me forever, almost forever, and Robert Hindinger and 
Robert [A.] Kennard. 
LASKEY: Oh, good grief. Was it requisite that they be 

named Robert? 

ALEXANDER: No. But it turned out that way. 


LASKEY: What did you call each other? 
ALEXANDER: Bob. Just say Bob. 
LASKEY: Just say Bob and everybody looked up. 
ALEXANDER: By that time, Walter Graydon was with me. So 
we had the Baldwin Hills shops (I started one building), 
the master plan, and a building at Orange Coast College. 
LASKEY: Now, in the process, at the same time, you had 
become involved with UCLA. 

ALEXANDER: Yeah, I was going to mention that next, yeah. 
That was an amusing thing. A list of projects was in the 
paper on the building program for UCLA, and it was an 
ambitious, big program. I could see that I didn't stand a 
prayer of a big job, but I would take a look at anything I 
could get. I took a look at one of them; it was the UCLA 
elementary demonstration school [UES] , which was a very 
small project compared to the others. So I asked Carl [C] 
McElvy, whom I had known when he was in charge of a private 
group working on a beach plan for Southern California 
beaches. I was on the planning commission and he was in 
charge of this office set up by P. [Percy] G. Winnett. He 
had become the head of the architectural engineering office 
of the campus at UCLA. So I knew him, and I called him and 
I said, "How do you get a job there?" He said, "Well, the 
consulting architect is Dave [David C] Allison. If he 
gives the green light you're pretty sure to be recommended. 


and you'll probably get it if it's not overly contested by 
a lot of other people." So I said, "Oh, yeah, I know Dave, 
but he doesn't know anything I can do. I mean, I don't 
know him well. He doesn't know my architectural ability." 
But Dave had an art studio. He had retired from the 
office, and he painted in a little studio out in the [San 
Fernando] Valley somewhere--I forget where. So I called 
him and made an appointment to see him. My school 
experience had been in designing new elements and 
remodeling and so forth for a Los Angeles city school. I 
forget which one right now, Manchester Avenue or 
something. Anyway, I was not proud of the results. So 
when Dave asked me, "What schools have you designed?" I 
said, "None." He said, "Well, you may be just the guy for 
the job. You know, this UCLA outfit is crazy. They're not 
like a normal school." He said, "How would you go about 
it?" I said, "Not knowing them at all, I would attend 
classes, I would see what they're doing, I would ask 
questions, I would try to find out what their requirements 
are." And he said, "That sounds good." He said, "I think 
I'll recommend you, as long as you haven't done another 
school." [laughter] 

So that was the first prestige job that I got because 
I hadn't designed anything like it, or said I hadn't. This 
resulted in a very satisfying relationship with the 


faculty, and Bob Pierce was my mainstay and at my side at 
all times. I conducted meeting after meeting, hundreds of 
meetings, I guess, with the faculty. I even sent my two 
kids there to summer school to see how it was from a 
worm's-eye view, and I attended classes when it was over in 
the neighboring-- Was it Nelson Street? Corinne [A.] Seeds 
conducted a demonstration school in a nearby public school. 
LASKEY: Oh, I didn't know that. 

ALEXANDER: Yeah, did you know about Corinne Seeds? She 
founded that teaching school when UCLA's predecessor was 
the [State] Normal School on the site of the library. 
LASKEY: Downtown. 

ALEXANDER: Then it was [for] the library that people put 
up $400,000 in gold coin to buy the site from the state, 
[which] gave the state the ability to set up a school on 
Vermont [Avenue] . And from there it went to UCLA. She 
followed it all the way from the library site out to 
UCLA. She had studied under [John] Dewey and [William H.] 
Kilpatrick and espoused the Dewey system of learning by 
doing. And I found it fascinating. The first elements 
that we designed and built at that time were influenced by 
the fact that they said 50 percent of their instruction 
would probably take place outdoors. And it takes a half an 
hour for your eyes to adjust from indoors to outdoors, 
usually. So I put in skylights, which had advantages for 


that, but they [the faculty] also wanted to be able to show 
slides. Then that resulted in an ugly contrast between the 
wonderful light. But we had to devise shades. I mean, we 
didn't know anything about mechanical shutters or anything 
like that. But I thoroughly enjoyed working with every 
project that they had for all six grades and kindergarten, 
and devising a place for a log cabin in the middle of a 
grove of redwood trees that had been planted twenty-two 
years before. 

LASKEY: You might describe the site. 
ALEXANDER: The site is at the end of Stone Canyon, 
parallel to Sunset Boulevard, adjacent to the north 
entrance to the campus. And since it was not really part 
of the campus as [George B.] Allison conceived of it, he 
said it did not have to conform to the Etruscan or 
whatever- - 

LASKEY: Northern Italian Renaissance. 

ALEXANDER: Right. So I was freed by him from conforming 
to style. And everything derived from observations and 
discussions with the faculty and students. One of their 
projects-- Each year there was a theme [for each class] 
that ran through, sometimes only half a year, that had been 
developed by some graduate student and tried out and found 
out to be the most successful for engaging the interest in 
that age group. Included [in the plan] was something 


called the museum, which contained artifacts which would be 
brought out at the beginning of a term of instruction and 
would provide an exhibit for each grade which would pique 
their interest in a subject. So from then on, their entire 
course of study was motivated by their questions and 
curiosity aroused by these artifacts. For instance, one 
course of study would be built around the theme of the 
westward movement in America, and as a part of that 
exercise there would be a log cabin--or it wasn't a log, it 
was actually a board and bat cabin — rustic, out in the 
redwood grove, and unknown to the building inspector. Not 
that it was unsafe or anything like that, but it wasn't a 
part of the official plans. There would be a waterwheel 
for the sixth graders to see how power was made, in this 
stream that flowed through the property. 

I was told at the very beginning by McElvy, "You're 
going to have to put that stream in a culvert." And I 
said, "Are you sure?" So we had a major contest in which 
the city brought in experts from the health department to 
show how it [the stream] was going to cause all kinds of 
diseases to the poor students: "They are going to fall in 
and get wet, mosquitoes are going to breed and sting them 
to death, and there is a hotel upstream and you don't know 
what they might put in the water." And I stuck by my guns 
and got the wholehearted backing of not only the students 


and the faculty, but the parents. And the final clincher 
was that it was going to cost $300,000 to put it in the 
culvert . 

LASKEY: That's always the final clincher. 
ALEXANDER: Yeah, Anyway, they built a replica of Los 
Angeles harbor into which they could divert stream water. 
The Spanish heritage in Southern California was for-- I 
forget which grade, but they built an adobe oven outdoors, 
outside of the classroom, for baked bread and stuff like 
that. And in the process, I found that they learned simple 
arithmetic naturally, as a by-product of living and of 
studying these various things. What do you call it? A 
core curriculum? 

LASKEY: What were the classrooms like, aside from the 
skylights? Did you make special adjustments for the 
inside-outside teaching? 

ALEXANDER: Well, the inside-outside teaching was simply 
sliding glass doors and skylights. But this was a 
demonstration school, and that meant graduate students 
would come in to observe how teaching was taught. And I 
originally thought, well, we're going to have to provide 
long slits of one-way mirror, one-way vision glass. Not at 
all. I was told that that would result in curiosity on the 
part of the kids. They'd find out soon, and then they'd be 
anxious about what was going on back there. So in visiting 


many classes, I found that the kids didn't pay any 
attention. The older students, the graduate students, 
would take their places in the classroom in a segregated 
area. The kids by that time were so excited about what 
they were doing they could care less, and they got used to 
it. Maybe the first time that happened, that wasn't true, 
but I saw that it didn't make any difference. So that was 
a lesson well learned. We did position certain outdoor 
activities related to certain classes, classrooms. 

And one thing about this means of teaching that few 
people realize until they try to do it is that it takes 
more work on the part of the staff and teachers than 
teaching by rote and doing what the school board tells you 
to do. A setup was devised in which two classrooms were 
joined at one end by a teachers' preparation room. There 
would be a student teacher in each of the classrooms and a 
master teacher overseeing both of them. And behind the 
scenes, in this big teacher's preparation room, they did 
all the things that made the system work. It was just 
difficult and more exciting, and the children learned more 
and better. Every year or so there would be an uprising of 
concerned parents: "Johnny hasn't even learned such and 
such a table. He doesn't know the table of the sixes or 
the sevens." Well, they didn't teach it by rote until the 
fifth or sixth grade, whereas in the elementary school or 


in the public school system, they start out day one with 
these tables until it becomes like brushing your teeth. 
Anyway, it was found in several studies that the kids who 
went to Emerson Junior High [School] from UC UES 
[University Elementary School, UCLA] had a better 
preparation for arithmetic than those who came from public 
elementary schools. Well, that was very exciting, and I 
enjoyed it thoroughly. 

And it was many years later when McElvy, still at 
UCLA, called me and said, "They're going to have an 
addition for kindergarten and nursery school, and our 
policy, normally, is to go to the original architect. 
Would you like to continue it?" And I said, "You bet." So 
that's the way Neutra and Alexander are credited with the 
addition for the kindergarten and nursery school. 

There was a funny thing that happened on the way to 
the elementary school. The entrance was planned in such a 
way that there was an enormous sycamore tree right next to 
the entrance to the administration building and hence to 
the whole classroom complex. 
LASKEY: Right near the Sunset-- 

ALEXANDER: On the Sunset side. There's parking along 
there in the strip. It was a sort of a sentimental 
relationship between this enormous sycamore tree and the 
entrance to the school. Two weeks before construction was 


to start, the tree fell down right on top of where the 

school was going to be. And it turned out that everything 

had looked solid on the outside and the inside was all 

hollow, eaten out by insects, termites. Just luck. 

LASKEY: Absolute luck. 

ALEXANDER: The site was so beautiful. When I first saw 

it, I saw a pair of fawn and their nursing mother on the 

far bank of the little stream. I saw raccoons. It was 

just a delightful little dell. 

LASKEY: It still is. 

ALEXANDER: Well, it's been spoiled to some extent. They 

put a school for the deaf or blind or somebody. 

LASKEY: Oh, the [Grace M.] Fernald School, that sort of-- 

ALEXANDER: Whatever it is. 

LASKEY: Sort of at the end. 

ALEXANDER: They did put the stream in a pipe there. But 

that took a piece of the site. That was too bad, anyway, 

LASKEY: It still functions well. 

ALEXANDER: I enjoyed meeting with the parents, who were an 

intelligent lot and gave me a lot of support when it came 

to questions about this strange-looking edifice. It was 

very strange looking. 

LASKEY: Because of the skylights, the configurations of 

the skylights? 

ALEXANDER: Well, it curved along the stream bank. It had 


a jagged roofline with the skylights facing north. Before 
this happened, I had thought a lot, philosophically, about 
what I should do as a typical approach to a building. One 
thing was to engage the fine arts in some way at the 
beginning, so that from the very start something would 
become part of the building and not something stuck onto 
it. So I had interviews with sculptors. Pigot Waring was 
one and Tony Rosenthal was another. I selected Tony, and 
then I told Carl McElvy that my plan was to have sculpture 
as part of the thing. He said, "You can't get that by the 
regents." I said, "Well, if it's within the budget?" He 
said, "Well, maybe, but you won't know that until you get 


So I refused to lead the guy [Rosenthal] on to spend a 
lot of time on what he was going to do until we got to a 
point of having everything designed and we took bids. And 
of course at that point it's too late to really make it a 
part of the building. But there was money left over, and 
McElvy said, "What if you forgot something?" I said, "I 
don't think we forgot very much." "Well," he said, "there 
is money, so you go ahead and do what you can do." So I 
talked with Tony, who talked to the faculty and some of the 
students, and we found that they would like a theme symbol 
for the school. The symbol, as Tony conceived it, would 
consist of a pylon supporting a bronze platform on which 


there would be three animals representing the three great 
land masses of the earth, and it would represent "one 
world." The other thing was just outside the library in 
the little court, what I call the reading court, there 
would be a fountain or something like that. Well, they 
didn't want any water that people would drop books in. 
They didn't want a pool, but it might be okay if we had a 
spray pool. So Tony devised some fish on stilts with 

Well, Welton Becket by then was the consulting 
architect--Allison had resigned--and Welton called me into 
his office to demand to know what's this about sculpture. 
And I told him enthusiastically. He said, "One world-- 
that's Henry Wallace, isn't it?" I said, "No, it's Wendell 
Willkie." He said, "Oh. Well, you better be careful about 
those fish. Someone's going to fall and put his eye out in 
those." I said, "Well, if I get the permission of the 
parents, what do you think?" 


OCTOBER 4, 1986 

LASKEY: I noticed that you won a distinguished award from 
the Southern California chapter of the American Institute 
of Architects for that building. 

ALEXANDER: That was the Southern California chapter 
award. There was no national award program at that time. 
Southern California led the nation in having that event. 
Actually, to explain that honestly, I had-- As soon as the 
war ended, I had certain objectives that I had made up. I 
mentioned the one about involving fine arts in any 
project. I also thought I would try to obtain projects in 
the very highly scientific field of health services, 
hospitals, and that sort of thing. And to counterbalance 
that in the opposite end of the spectrum, as I saw it, I 
would try to get religious-related works, where emotion and 
spirit were the main considerations. And in the process I 
became involved in the Baldwin Hills [Community] Church and 

so on. 

Well, another part of what I decided to do, and 
carried out, was to join the AIA, go to every convention. 
Over a period of fifteen years I went to every one, maybe 
more than that. This had a background of having been asked 
by Dave [David J.] Witmer--was that prewar?--when there was 
going to be a convention in Los Angeles. That was 


prewar. Dave Witmer was the chairman of a committee of the 
Southern California chapter to host the convention, and he 
said nobody on his committee had the time to put in and 
would I agree to put in full time for a modest salary. And 
I jumped at the chance because it gave me an opportunity to 
get to know people. Among other things, I searched for a 
principal speaker, keynote speaker for the convention, and 
got to know Wally [John E. Wallace] Sterling, later 
Stanford University president, but at the time head of the 
[Henry E.] Huntington Library and Art Gallery, I should 
say. And he had become well-known by giving foreign-events 
commentary on the radio, and I found him to be a very 
exciting, charming character. So this humdrum legwork for 
the AIA proved very interesting and rewarding. As a result 
of that effort I joined the AIA, the Southern California 
chapter, and figured at the end of the war I would become 
as active as possible in the organization and also that I 
must get nationwide publicity. So I went out of my way and 
sacrificed to make trips to the East Coast, stopped in New 
York every occasion I could, got to know the editors of the 
three main architectural magazines, and that, again, over a 
period of time paid off. Well, this is background to talk 
about that award for the elementary school. 
LASKEY: What did you see as the function and goals of the 


ALEXANDER: Well, getting to know architects in other parts 
of the country on a noncompetitive basis. I mean, getting 
to know architects in the Los Angeles region was getting to 
know your enemies, [or] whatever you want to call them. In 
some cases they acted that way. But there was a vast 
difference between somebody like Herb Powell, who looked 
upon a colleague not so much as a competitor but as someone 
who could be helped by sharing experience, and on the other 
hand, a prominent member of the AIA Southern California 
chapter. When I called to ask him if I could see his 
working drawing plan for a student center at a community 
college, he said, "Why, that's unprofessional." I said, 
"What do you mean it's unprofessional? I'm not going to 
copy the darn thing. It's not unprofessional." Well, he 
insisted that it's unprofessional. I said, "Well, I don't 
need to see your drawings. I'll go around and see the 
building, anyway. I've been asked to do that by my client, 
and I'm going to do it. You can't stop me from seeing 
it." But there are two diametrically opposed viewpoints. 
One is highly competitive and secretive and the other wants 
to share everything that he does and knows. 

Well, okay. I wanted to say something about awards. 
It didn't occur to me at the time, but it has since. What 
happened at the time that the UES got the distinguished 
honor award, at the same award ceremony I received awards 


for-- Let's see, were there three? They were not 
distinguished awards, but they were honor awards for three 
buildings at Orange Coast College and a special award for 
the feeding shed at Orange Coast College. Well, the story 
behind that, as I look at it now, is that number one, my 
classmate from Cornell [University], Larry [Lawrence B,] 
Perkins of Perkins and Will [Partnership], was on the 
jury. And whereas I think his partner Phil [Philip] Will 
[Jr.] wouldn't be swayed by friendship and so forth, a 
thing like this, Larry was the kind, if he knew or thought 
that I had been involved with something, he'd probably be 
inclined to favor it. But the main thing was that Bill 
[William W.] Wurster was a member of the jury, and at a 
previous convention, a national convention, I was one of a 
few upstart young squirts who objected to the trend in 
selecting officers of the AIA nationally, which seemed to 
confine those elected to a rather small group of eastern 
architects who we looked upon as very stuffy and not very 
damn good designers and so on and so forth. So we put on a 
minicampaign at this convention to get Wurster elected as 
president of the AIA. We did not succeed, but Wurster, I 
think, was swayed by that in my favor. This is the way I'm 
looking at it now. You see, at the time I thought, good 
god, am I not something! I had five honor awards in one 
meeting. [laughter] 


Well, be that as it may, the designs had something to 
do with it, I'm sure. Of course Larry Perkins, especially 
with schools-- At that time the firm Perkins and Will did 
nothing but schools, and the UES design was an absolutely 
radically different design. It had a lot of thought behind 
it, had a lot of faculty and student involvement, and so 
forth. And he recognized that. 

LASKEY: It was also your first published work, wasn't it? 
ALEXANDER: It could very well be. 

LASKEY: I think it was in John Entenza ' s Arts and 
Architecture . 

ALEXANDER: Oh, yeah, but before that-- Maybe that was the 
first one, I'm not sure. Anyway, there was a marvelous 
editor of the [Architectural] Forum--I forget his name now-- 
prior to Haskell. What was his name? [P. J. Prentice] 
Anyway, there was a really great architectural editor of 
the Forum magazine before Doug [Douglas] Haskell, who saw 
me, I guess, just as I was working on UES. And he said, 
"You know, the people around the country would be 
interested in this. This is a good one. I'd like to have 
it published in the Forum." So I said, "How does one go 
about things like this?" He said, "Well, the best way to 
do is to offer your work to one publisher. Don't broadcast 
it. And if the publisher or the editor says, 'Okay, we're 
interested,' stick by that and don't dilute your efforts." 


So I did that. 

And at the next convention of the architects, [the 
AIA] national convention, I met Doug Haskell, and he had 
been the editor of the Architectural Record. I remember we 
were in a hotel room. Doug was getting chummy with me and 
he said, "How about the UES? Is that ready for publication 
yet?" I said, "Yes, but I promised it to the Architectural 
Forvim. " He said, "Well, I'm the new editor of the 
Forum." So he was a wonderful guy, just great. 

Well, that's about that. Where are we? 
LASKEY: Well, we were talking about the AIA and UES. Then 
at the same time you were doing UES, you were doing the 
Baldwin Hills Elementary School. 

ALEXANDER: Well, there's really no connection there, 
except that I wanted to design the school where my kids 
would go. I think you should understand- -anyone should 
understand--the system in an enormous public school system 
like that of Los Angeles. In order to keep peace in the 
family and keep people quiet, the people in charge of 
passing out school work seem to have a rotary index file, 
which they turn in such a way that they pass the work 
around. They'd be so highly criticized by concentrating on 
one superb firm dealing in nothing but schools, so they 
attempt to spread the work. So if you get your turn, then 
you don't get another turn for a while. And since I lived 


in Baldwin Hills Village, I called on the school board [Los 
Angeles Unified School District Board of Education] to get 
work. They knew I was on the planning commission, which 
sometimes has school matters brought before it. I was 
accused by one of using my supposed influence in order to 
get work, but that was not my intent, at least. Anyway, it 
was just logical that I get the Baldwin Hills school. 

At that time-- Here I go. It is hard to remember 
names when you haven't dealt with them for fifty years or 
something. But the main representative of the state 
division of school planning was a very exciting guy whose 
main push was excellent day lighting for schools. And 
being interested in things like natural day lighting, I 
figured where the sun rises and where it sets and what time 
schools open and when are the most important periods of the 
day to-- Well, for instance, in the Baldwin Hills area, 
when do you want to keep the direct sunlight off your 
desk? This resulted in finding out that, sure enough, in 
the summertime, the sun sets pretty far north of west and 
rises pretty far north of east, and that the sun was 
welcome early in the morning when the kids first go to 
school, but late in the afternoon, especially in Southern 
California, it's hotter than hell and the glare's 
terrible. So this resulted in orienting the school 
classrooms to the southeast. [tape recorder off] 


LASKEY: Okay, before we go on, I think I should correct 
something that I said, which was that your first published 
project was actually the Baldwin Hills church, and that was 
published by John Entenza in [Arts and] Architecture 
magazine in 1946. So the UES was published in the Forum, 
am I right? 

ALEXANDER: That is correct. And I don't know what the 
date of that was. 

What was it you suggested we get into? Oh, the Schmoo 
House. Oh, that was an amusing incident. Through my 
efforts on behalf of public housing, I found that my main 
official enemy was the American Association of Home 
Builders, and I was simply flabbergasted when they 
officially asked me to design a postwar house for the 
returning veteran. I figured that the returning veteran 
was someone who, typically, was just forming a family and 
he didn't have the money to start with to support the size 
of house that he ultimately might need, and yet he might 
like to stay in the same place if he could. So one 
objective of the design was to have something that was 
expandable. Another objective, of course, was economically 
to make it as inexpensive as we could and still offer 
amenities that were not customary at the time in housing 
that was available to them. I figured that just as a 
matter of principle, a square plan is less costly than a 


long, thin, rectangular plan and that a two-story cube 

should be the most economical plan of all. So I designed a 

two-story cube with the adaptability of adding rooms to it, 

and the concept of this adding rooms indefinitely reminded 

me of the cartoons regarding the Schmoos. Now, who was the 

author of those cartoons? Do you recall? 

LASKEY: Al Capp. 

ALEXANDER: Oh yeah, Al Capp. 

LASKEY: Part of the "L'il Abner" strip, wasn't it? 

ALEXANDER: So I wrote Al Capp asking permission to call 

this design the Schmoo House. He responded graciously, 

giving me permission and pointing out that he had never 

given permission to anyone before to use the Schmoo, except 

in his own cartoons. 

LASKEY: What were the Schmoos? 

ALEXANDER: The Schmoos? They were little animals who 

could grow and grow and grow or reproduce and reproduce and 

reproduce and expand at will. The main concept was their 

expandability at will. 

LASKEY: Didn't they also gratify everybody's wishes? 

ALEXANDER: Oh, yes. 

LASKEY: They were sort of altruistic little creatures. 

ALEXANDER: That's right, that's right. They'd do anything 

to make you happy. Yep. Okay, well, we made cost 

estimates and proved the economy of the darned thing and 


that it could be made attractive in appearance. But the 
two-storyness was anathema to the Southern California home 
builder, who figured the public wasn't ready for that 
yet. So it went over like a lead balloon and was never 

LASKEY: You had a similar situation with Donald [W.] 
Douglas [ Jr . ] . 

ALEXANDER: At the end of the war, I was still working at 
Lockheed [Aircraft] or some period after V-J Day. My main 
chore there at the time was to reduce the number of 
indirect workers--that is, workers that were not actually 
working on the assembly line building something that was 
necessary to be built. It's easy enough when you have so 
much to build and so many rivets to place and you can see 
how many men you need, or women, and you can reduce the 
manpower easily in proportion to the work that has to be 
done. In the case of indirect workers, those who are not 
right on the assembly line but who are necessary to perform 
some function, it's very difficult to get a handle on their 
need or usefulness. Yet you know darn well if you're 
trying to run the company that you ' re going to have to 
reduce that area in proportion to the workers. So that was 
quite a chore. 

Anyway, it was a time, this brief period at the end of 
the war was a time when every big airframe manufacturer in 


the country was scratching his head: What am I going to do 
with this plant and with all these employees? Almost 
universally they came to the conclusion that the biggest 
postwar need that had not been met all during the past five 
years was housing for the returning veteran, and that they 
could get into prefabricated housing, which became the 
great dream. It had been a prewar dream, for that 
matter. But this was going to be the great opportunity: 
they had the plant, the equipment, the people, the need, 
and they were going to meet the demand. Well, Bucky [R. 
Buckminster] Fuller designed a house along the lines of an 
airframe, aluminum. Everything came rolled in a big roll 
of aluminum, all the parts for the house, and it was made 
in Wichita, Kansas. I forget the name of the aircraft. Is 
it Fairchild? 

LASKEY: I'll check it. [Beech Aircraft Company] 
ALEXANDER: Also, of course, Donald Douglas [of Douglas 
Aircraft Company] had several plants around the country-- 
and there was talk of it at Lockheed. I was approached one 
time by the representative of United Auto Workers [UAW] to 
head their task force on housing, including prefab 
housing. Shortly after I left Lockheed, Howard [L.] 
Holtzendorff called me. He was the director of the housing 
authority and told me that he had been asked by Douglas to 
work on their dream, on Douglas's dream of prefab 


housing. The reason he was called in was that he had 
developed a very good rapport with organized labor, both 
from a standpoint of their sympathy with the cause of 
housing poor people and from the standpoint of good labor 
relations being required to get public housing built. He 
had been quite successful in working with organized labor, 
and this appealed, of course, in the building trades, about 
which Donald Douglas knew nothing. (He wanted this 
protection from the beginning. ) 

Howard asked me in on the design of the house as a 
consultant and told me that Douglas had a crew of some 
sixty engineers working on getting the bugs out of using 
the Lincoln panel as a basic building material. The 
Lincoln panel was a sandwich of anything, such as aluminum 
or hardboard or flitches of plywood, on two sides of a 
honeycomb. And in this case the honeycomb was made of 
craft paper, and it was similar in design or in principle 
to the Christmas bells which come all folded up, and which 
you open as if they were a butterfly and they turn into a 
three-dimensional Christmas bell. These come in at all 
sizes. They consist of paper that is pasted together at 
intervals, so that when they open there is revealed a sort 
of a honeycomb of air surrounded by these paper things. 

Well, this had been developed by a man named Lincoln 
as a concept, and it was a great concept, especially if it 


worked perfectly, if the gluing was just right. Because 
very often what would happen would be the uneven 
application of the glue in such a way that when prongs are 
put on two sides of this wedged paper block, which when 
expanded is supposed to become a honeycomb-- [It] would be 
pulled apart, hopefully to become a honeycomb, except that 
it would be great big egg crates in one location, little 
teeny-weeny close together ones in another. And it was a 
very uneven process. So one thing that Douglas engineers 
did was to design a machine that succeeded in gluing the 
craft paper uniformly, so that unerringly it would expand 
evenly when pulled apart. And the craft paper then became 
the vehicle for plastic, which was sprayed on it, and this 
liquid plastic would harden the paper. This plastic 
honeycomb then would hold the two sheets of whatever you 
used on the outside, would hold them apart, and also become 
very strong. 

Well, this Lincoln panel has become widely used in 
such things as inexpensive doors, interior doors. And with 
aluminum on both sides it becomes used on things like 
panels in aircraft construction. If you want to put a 
floor in above the baggage compartment, it's the lightest 
weight for its strength of any such material. And, in any 
event, that was the basic thought behind the prefab. The 
problem with any kind of prefab concept is that it's a 


cinch to work out something that will build the shell, but 
that's overlooking the fact that we've become used to 
having indoor plumbing and wiring all over the place, and 
people have become used to having a plug wherever they need 
it. And it's rather difficult to make things work in 
panels that can go together and also have all these 
advantages. In any event, we had worked up a plan for a 
typical house--I should say for a model house. This was 
going to be used in arctic regions, because these 
sandwiches did have an excellent heat insulation value, 
considering their weight and construction and so forth. 
Anyway, we had a full-size mock-up, or a full-size 
model, of the house built and erected in the parking lot of 
the Douglas "blackout plant, " which was the Douglas plant 
down in Lakewood, or maybe it's called Long Beach now. 
It's just on the border of Lakewood and Long Beach, and it 
was then the "blackout plant." So the great day came when 
we were to make our presentation. An engineer described 
the manufacture of the thing, I described the plan, Howard 
Holtzendorff described the labor, and so on and so forth. 
And at the end of my pitch I said, "And in order to reach 
the widest market, of course, we have to get the cost down 
to a reasonable extent. We therefore propose that the 
profit be not more than 10 percent." And Mr. [Donald W. ] 
Douglas, Sr., rose in righteous indignation and said, "Ten 


percent, forget it." And that was the end of the Douglas 
dream of prefab housing. 

Actually, what happened in history, when any 
specialized organization such as an airframe manufacturer 
gets into a bind in his own field and figures, well, he'll 
use his plant and equipment for something else, he becomes 
enthusiastic about that about as long as his regular 
business is in the depths of depression. And the minute 
somebody puts in an order for an airframe, he just forgets 
about the other thing. It takes tenth place in his 
dream. So it just hasn't worked that way. 
LASKEY: Well, prefabricated housing certainly was the 
dream of a lot of architects, particularly after the war 
because of advances in technology and concern, like 
yourself, with social housing. Is it the lack of 
spectacular returns that kept it from ever being 
implemented on a large scale? Because the need was 
certainly there. 

ALEXANDER: I don't know. There are so many factors. 
Fingers have been pointed at the building laws and at 
labor, and I just really don't know the reason that it has 
been so far completely unsuccessful. I know that where 
people have claimed prefabrication--they have factory-built 
parts and so forth--and they claim these great objectives 
of speed in erection and so forth, they have not come very 


close to the rate of housing production that we reached at 
Lakewood City. I know that the costs have not reached the 
low cost of pounding things together with nails in the 
field. But tremendous economies can be developed along the 
Lakewood City lines--that ' s traditional methods, 
traditional framing, and so forth. Public acceptance, of 
course, of the appearance has been a big factor, a claimed 
factor, anyway. I've just noticed quite recently, and not 
until recently, that some of the housing that is the 
nearest thing we have to real prefabricated housing-- I 
just passed a lot the other day with houses [mobile homes] 
that begin to look like attractive housing. I just don't 
know. I think the relative cost is quite a bit cheaper 
than housing that's built by traditional methods today. I 
still think there's hope for it. 
LASKEY: Do you really? 

LASKEY: After all this time. Are you involved with it at 

ALEXANDER: No, but I just noticed on our trip up to 
Sonora, we passed a big lot full of, not trailers, but 
they're houses that they put on wheels and take to a site 
and they never move. 
LASKEY: That's true. 
ALEXANDER: I didn't price them, but I believe they're very 


much less expensive than houses that are being built by 
traditional methods today. 

LASKEY: In many ways, they are about the only houses that 
are available to lower- or middle-income people who cannot 
possibly afford the cost of a new house. 

LASKEY: I wanted to ask you before we move on to the next 
section, did your political stand, especially in the late 
forties, hurt you particularly in your private practice? 
ALEXANDER: Well, it probably did. But people forget about 
that. In any event, I got along, and that's all I wanted 
to. I mean, I wanted to do what I wanted to do by myself. 
LASKEY: Well, you had made the statement-- I think this is 
1945, when you had decided to return to architecture after 
leaving Lockheed. You said you had determined to turn down 
any commission in which a predetermined form or style was 
demanded. Why did you come to that conclusion? 
ALEXANDER: Well, I wasn't--at least I don't think I was-- 
trying to be a Howard Roark, but that ideal of 
individualism did affect me. I think I talked before about 
Ayn Rand, didn't I? 

LASKEY: No, but I was just about to say, speaking of 
Howard Roark, you might talk about your meeting with Frank 
Lloyd Wright and with Ayn Rand. 
ALEXANDER: Well, I believe The Fountainhead must have come 


out about 1936 or '8, somewhere in there. I was back in 

New York in 1938 working on Parkchester at a time when it 

was on the newsstands and when The Fountainhead was in 

drugstores and office girls would buy it, principally for 

the rape scene, I understood. Well, I came back here to 

California and was living in Baldwin Hills Village during 

the war. 

LASKEY: Let's see, '49 is when you ran into Frank Lloyd 


ALEXANDER: Yeah, but I was thinking about-- I saw Rand 

first. I heard that Rand lived in Los Angeles and found 

out that she lived on Tampa Boulevard. It turned out that 

she lived in a house designed by [Richard J.] Neutra for 

Sternberg, [Josef] von Sternberg. Did I talk about this 



ALEXANDER: Well, I called her on the telephone, cold 

turkey, no introduction, just said I wanted to see her. 

LASKEY: Had you read The Fountainhead? 

ALEXANDER: Oh, yes. 

LASKEY: And did you know her politics? 

ALEXANDER: Well, if you call it politics. Her philosophy. 

LASKEY: Her philosophy. 

ALEXANDER: Yeah, I didn't connect it as much with 

politics. But I knew that the book had caused in me a real 


disturbance; that is, I was trying to make up my mind at 
that time, partly as a result of reading that book. I 
admired the concept of The Fountainhead : that 
individualism was one of my ideals. I also could not abide 
the thought of the anarchy in Howard Roark, in having 
designed a housing project, having it changed in design 
without his consent, and then blowing it up. She was 
obviously opposed to any social action to solve problems 
and in favor of individual actions only. And I was torn 
between the two in making my own philosophy. That's the 
reason I looked her up. I went to her house several times 
and had her to dinner at Baldwin Hills Village a couple of 
times. She became very interested in me and in trying to 
get me to make up my mind on her side, you see. We'd have 
arguments late into the night. One of them, the final 
argument, she was talking about how a private post would 
handle the mail much better than a public post and private 
fire companies like the volunteer fire company that 
Benjamin Franklin established would do the job better than 
a public one. 


OCTOBER 4, 1986 

ALEXANDER: A private organization might very well do a 
better job on most of the things she was mentioning, but 
when she said all roads should be private, she lost me. 
[She said] every road should be a toll road. Well, I had 
been to India, where there were toll stations in between 
several separate states (most of those separate states are 
collected now into larger states), but it was a ridiculous 
concept and I didn't want any part of it. And then I also 
found that her solutions for pressing social and economic 
problems that I could see really would not solve those 
problems, as I saw it. So I came down on the side of her 
enemies . 

Much later-- That was during the war. And then about, 
I think it was 1949, there was a national convention of the 
AIA [American Institute of Architects] in Houston. I was 
one of the delegates, and before the delegates left we were 
treated to a preview of the movie The Fountainhead at 
Hancock Hall at USC [University of Southern California] . 
We all, I think the very next day, hopped on a train and 
went to Houston by train--that was the thing to do in those 
days--past the Chocolate Mountains and so forth. And this 
happened to be the convention at which Frank Lloyd Wright 
was to get the gold medal. That was the reason for having 


given us the preview of The Fountainhead. 

Well, I met him on several occasions during the 
convention. I was with a group of Texans whom I had met 
for the first time--three of them became very good friends 
of mine over a period of time after that. We were standing 
at a cocktail party when Frank came in. He had his usual 
cloak and was being introduced to people. Several times he 
was asked, "May I get you a cocktail, Mr. Wright?" And he 
would say, "No, I was born intoxicated and I do not need 
alcohol." And nevertheless, he did have human 
characteristics, which I soon found when a young Texan came 
rushing back from the men's room and he said, "You know 
what happened, I peed right next to Frank Lloyd Wright." 

Well, anyway, Wright's address was electrifying. I 
mean, I enjoyed it and liked his plain speaking and his 
references to "Houston there and the Shamrock" --that was 
the hotel-- "here, and in between the streets and on the 
streets the gutters and in the gutters the people." And 
his discussion, as usual-- Not only his discussion of the 
brick. I'd heard that one before. He spoke at USC once 
and I heard him, and I'd thought, "Well, this guy's a poet, 
he's not an architect." I learned later he was an 
architect for sure. 
LASKEY: And a poet. 


ALEXANDER: Well, on the way home on the train I was 

sitting next to John Rex, and John said, "You know, Frank 

Lloyd Wright got on the train, the same train." I said, 

"Well, let's see if we can get an interview." So we sent a 

card by a porter asking Mr. Wright if he would see us. The 

news came back, surprisingly, "Why sure. Come on down." 

So we went through the rocking train to Frank's place. We 

sat across from him, and he talked scathingly about this 

[Richard J.] Neutra in California. Well, I had actually 

worked with Neutra by 1949, so evidently, I guess that was 

for my benefit. 

LASKEY: He knew you were working with Neutra. 

ALEXANDER: He must have, yeah. 

LASKEY: Well, Frank Lloyd Wright was not a great admirer 



LASKEY: --the modern movement. 

ALEXANDER: That's right. 

LASKEY: He didn't like Le Corbusier. 

ALEXANDER: Yeah, Wright said, "And as for Corbusier, 

Corbusier is to an architect as the human heart is to a 

pump . " 

Well, anyway, he made his usual caustic remarks, this, 
that, and the other. It was a lot of fun. And we 
mentioned that just before we left we saw the movie The 


Fountainhead in a preview. He said, "That reminds me of a 
funny story. When they were working up their nerve to make 
the picture, people kept trying to get in touch with me. 
They'd go the most roundabout ways to get somebody who knew 
somebody who knew somebody who knew somebody who knew me to 
get me to contact them. I just waited until finally a 
young man came from the movie studios to knock on my 
door. He came in--" 

[Wright] said, "Delighted to see you. What's going 

"Well, we're making that movie The Fountainhead, and 
Ayn Rand says you were her hero" --she told me the same 
thing--"and we'd like to have you design the sets." 

And Frank said, "Well, that sounds like an interesting 
assignment. " 

"Well, Mr. Wright, what would your fee be?" 

Mr. Wright said, "Everybody knows my fee is 10 
percent." And he [Wright] said, "I could see the young man 
calculating, 'Let's see. Those sets are going to cost 
maybe $150,000, $300,000, and 10 percent of that--'" 

"Oh, Mr. Wright, that sounds great." 

Mr. Wright said, "Maybe you didn't understand me. 
It's always, in the case of movies, 10 percent of the 
take." He said, "I never saw the young man again." 


LASKEY: That's too bad. It's sort of a missed 
opportunity, Frank Lloyd Wright not having designed the 
sets for The Fountainhead . 

ALEXANDER: Maybe he didn't want his building blown up. 
LASKEY: That's a real possibility. Did he ever admit in 
your conversations to being a model for Howard Roark? 
ALEXANDER: Well, I think he knew it, oh sure, sure. Well, 
he said Ayn Rand had told him that. But I don't think he 
knew anything about it before. She had not met him until 
she sent him a copy of the book and he sent it back 
autographed with a note in front. She showed me the 
book. She had not been in direct contact with him before 

LASKEY: When she was writing the book, she wasn't in touch 
with him? 

ALEXANDER: She had been born in Saint Petersburg Square 
and saw the Kerensky rebellion, the victims in their 
coffins being carried in front of her house in a torchlight 
parade, and then she escaped from Russia. She had gone to 
college and became a visitor guide for the USSR. She 
became disgusted with the way socialism was working there 
and got out of the country and came to Long Island and 
decided that she had to write a book explaining her point 
of view and explaining socialism and its terrible 
consequences. And she consciously selected architecture as 


being the profession which is intimately tied with the 
economy and society of its time, unlike the writing of a 
book or the writing of music as a composer or painting a 
painting or developing a sculpture. The architect had a 
client; he was bound by economics and so forth. So she 
consciously picked the subject of architecture to 
illustrate her points. In order to get the lingo of the 
architectural profession, even though she had no training 
in architecture at all, she got a job in an architect's 
office in Manhattan. I think it was [Cyrus L.] Eidlitz. 
I'm not sure. But in any event, she got a job in an 
architect's office. It was not as a typist, or maybe it 
was. Well, she did odd jobs in the office, and it made it 
possible for her to write about the profession with some 
credibility, as if she knew what she was talking about. 
But she was a terrible witch. She wore the pants in the 
family. She had married a pansy of a-- Well, I call him a 
pansy, a very effeminate actor, who when he came to dinner 
wore a blue sort of sailor jacket with gold buttons. Well, 
it looked like an unlikely match. 

LASKEY: I'm sure it was. When you met her at the [Josef] 
von Sternberg House, you weren't involved with Neutra 
then. This was-- 

ALEXANDER: No, this was during the war. 
LASKEY: What was your reaction to the house? It was a 


very modern house. It's sort of a streamlined modern. 
ALEXANDER: I don't like that much austerity. It had an 
aluminum wall around the swimming pool with a curve at the 
end, as I recall it. It was very mechanical, and it had 
what looked like an automobile headlight at the foot of the 
stairs. It was a solid banister railing and plaster, and 
in the plaster there was this thing like an automobile 
headlight. It was a thirties, Neutra, International-style 
house. Well, it was certainly typical of its kind. A good 

LASKEY: It was very typical of what the modernists were 
doing here in the thirties. 

Well, you were president of the [Los Angeles] City 
Planning Commission in 1948. Were you still president at 
the time that you left? 
ALEXANDER: No, not when I resigned. 

LASKEY: And you resigned to go to India. How did you get 
involved in India? 

ALEXANDER: Okay, a Marie Buck had, twenty- three years 
before, married a Mr. Buck who had just graduated from the 
Springfield YMCA [Young Men's Christian Association] 
college, and his dream was to go to India to represent the 
YMCA in setting up recreation facilities, especially for 
the young men of India. His name was Crow Buck. She had 
been born in Derby, Kansas, incidentally. She had gone to 


India with him on their honeymoon expecting to come back 
within a year. But he got over there and became so 
fascinated that he wrote a letter back to the YMCA 
headquarters asking for support for his dream to stay there 
and work out these vast programs for the Indian youth, and 
he was turned down. He found that there had been athletic 
events sponsored by the British, for which they had put up 
silver cups and gold cups and god knows what, and all of 
these awards had been placed in vaults in various banks. 
And he asked these groups of young men who, as 
organizations, owned these things, "If we get them out and 
sell them and I make you wooden replicas, carved wooden 
replicas of these things, which we wouldn't have to put in 
the vault, we could start a college here. Wouldn't you 
like to do that?" So they all agreed to do that, and this 
was the beginning of an effort to establish a YMCA college 
in Madras, India. And that's where the Bucks stayed the 
rest of their lives. 

Crow Buck died, either immediately at the conclusion 
of the war or prior to the end of the war. Marie Buck was 
a little gal with the greatest energy I ever ran into in a 
little person--she was probably not more than five feet 
tall. A wonderful, exciting individual. A group of 
companies that they knew very well asked her to head a 
welfare effort on their behalf for their employees. Now, 


this group of companies, called Simpson's-- No, the group 
of companies was called Amalgamations, Ltd. You can 
imagine-- I mean, it was a conglomeration. But it had 
started as Simpson's, a company that had built carriages 
for the young British sports who came to India in the 
earliest days. Clive and Calcutta and all over India. 
They built these sport carriages and eventually built 
wagons and trucks, and they got into transportation. Then 
they bought a book publishing company. They printed little 
inexpensive books to be sold in the newsstands of all the 
railroad stations in British railways in India. When they 
found that they needed a lot of paint for the wagons and so 
forth, they had developed a paint company. And then they 
were interested in automobiles--! guess it was the Morris 
car--and then they imported the parts and assembled them 
there. The new Indian liberated government had a policy to 
work out the manufacture so that one by one this company, 
which got started simply assembling the Morris car, would, 
part by part, develop the facilities to manufacture the 
entire thing eventually. But at first it was simply piston 
rings, and then they'd manufacture piston rings until they 
didn't have to import any more, and then they would have 
piston rings for other manufacturers, and so forth. And 
their long-range goal was to develop automobile manufacture 
in India completely. 


Then Marie started by setting up a clinic. The clinic 
took care of cuts and bruises and god knows what, the 
sicknesses of the men. And the objective, from the company 
standpoint, was to keep the men healthy and keep them on 
the job and as productive as possible. She had a family 
day once a week when they could have their ladies come in 
with all kinds of-- Childbirth and god knows what 
problems. So then finally Marie came to the conclusion 
that there was no way she could improve the health and 
well-being of these people without treating their entire 
lives, and this would mean--the way she saw it-- 
establishing an entirely new life-style. 

At that time there were over four thousand villages in 
the state of Madras, which is a lot of little pepper 
villages, little teeny-weeny, sort of joint family, ten 
families, that sort of thing. And they were losing faith 
in the agriculture in their little villages, which were 
falling apart, and they were attracted by the reports of 
wages and so forth in the city. So this was coming in out 
of a civilization over thousands of years old--where the 
support system had been built into this society--into an 
entirely new environment, socially, economically, and 
physically, where it was just disastrous. They might only 
be living in a grass shack in the country, but that was 
better than being crowded three families to a room in some 


slum in the city. And also, in the little village 
everybody in the family had something to do. The women and 
the little kids worked in the rice paddy, or whatever. In 
the city they were removed from that and they had no social 
security, which they had in the little village, a built-in 
social security. 

So she convinced the owners of Amalgamations, Ltd. , to 
develop a welfare fund, putting 6 percent of their 
earnings--I don't know what it was, a percentage of their 
earnings--into a welfare fund that would start-- The first 
thing was to buy land adjacent to Madras and make that a 
place for these employees to live and where they could grow 
some vegetables and improve their housing and food. So as 
part of the effort, they started to buy land, and they had 
their eyes on a vast area that extended ten or twelve miles 
south of the city along the Buckingham Canal, which every 
monsoon had tidal bores coming up the canal and inundating 
this area. Therefore it had never been used very much 
because it was subject to flooding. She expected there was 
a way to stop that and to reclaim the land. And of course 
because of their inheritance rules, every piece of land in 
this area would be owned by maybe thirteen families 
scattered from hell to breakfast. 

Nevertheless, they had been doing a magnificent job in 
assembling the ownership to this marsh called Pallikkaranai 


swamp. It was called Pallikkaranai because that means "the 
place where the Paliva kings had their heads cut off." The 
place was overrun by Mohammedans for six hundred years, and 
then the British came in for two hundred years and it was a 
semblance of its former self. I had maps that showed the 
remains of sort of catchment basins that had been at one 
time tended by every little village to retain the water 
that came with the monsoon. These had all been let go to 
pot, because under the British administration, everything 
was centralized, and you were to look to the public works 
administration, an Indian public works administration, but 
this is not the same as the village being responsible. So 
the whole system had fallen apart, and she visualized 
putting it back together again somehow. 

She came to the United States looking for an expert in 
planning who might help them plan this demonstration; it 
had assumed some national importance. You couldn't get a 
rupee out of the country. Therefore she had to get outside 
help, to get someone to come in. She had an idea that 
maybe she could get UN [United Nations] help on something 
like this. Okay, so she came over and she interviewed 
Neutra and various other people. She had a niece who lived 
in Baldwin Hills Village. She went to visit her niece and 
she looked around and said, "Oh, my goodness, what's this?" 
and came to see me. And she soon decided that I was the 


person she wanted, and we went together to the UN, which 

was out on Long Island at Flushing, it was at Lake 

Success. We met with the appropriate people in the 

cultural-- What do you call it? The social and economic 

division of the UN and also the agricultural division, 

because we had to get one other expert, she figured, who 

was an expert in land reclamation, and we got their 

support. They wouldn't recommend approval of this project; 

they would simply provide traveling money. So there was no 

great gain in this thing. And they approved my 

engagement. I got to know the architects there at the time 


LASKEY: At the UN? 

ALEXANDER: Yeah, they would have been-- 

LASKEY: [Oscar] Niemeyer? 

ALEXANDER: No, no. That's another story. These were the 

young characters from Massachusetts who were in the social 

and economic division interested in state planning and 

architecture and design and so on. 

Well, anyway, I then went with her in search of the 
agricultural expert, and we found him on Swan Island 
outside of Seattle, Carl Kohler, who was an expert in soil 
reclamation. We arranged everything so that he preceded 
me. He found a strain of long-grained rice that would 
thrive in brackish water. He was an engineer and figured 


ways to avoid this annual flood and ways to drain the 
swamp, which would be necessary. And then I was to follow 
him. I had works in progress at Orange Coast College, and 
I left Bob [Robert] Pierce in charge of the office. I 
asked Mayor [Fletcher] Bowron about the planning 
commission. He said, "Well, I'd like to have you stay on, 
but the city charter provides that if a commissioner is 
absent from the city for more than a month, he has to get 
permission from the city council to retain his position. 
So why don't you go to the city council." Of course, when 
I went to the city council they cheered my leaving. 

So in January of 1951 I left and stopped at-- Well, 
this was at a time when the Boeing Stratocruisers were used 
by Pan Am, and they flew twice a week across the Pacific. 
One could stay at any place three days without a visa. So 
every time they stopped I stayed for three days to see the 
place. I saw Hawaii for the first time, and I had 
introductions wherever I went. An Indian named Wattamul 
had founded a departnjent store and then a series of 
branches, the Wattamul Department Store, I think it was, in 
Hawaii. He had married a Vassar [College] gal who was 
interested in the welfare of India and the relationship 
between India and the United States. She persuaded him to 
set up the Wattamul Foundation, which supported an exchange 
of students and this, that, and the other. I had 


introductions to that crew. I went out to see the 
University [of Hawaii] library, where they had received a 
shipment from China of rare volumes from Peking, just 
escaping the revolution. I went on to Japan--this was 
1951--where I saw my classmates. At the time I was at 
Cornell [University] in architecture, there were no less 
than six architectural students from Tokyo. Three or four 
of them were still surviving. Two of them were very close 
friends of mine [whom] I've seen many times since. 
LASKEY: Wasn't that unusual? 
LASKEY: In 1925. 

ALEXANDER: Well, in 1923 there was one hell of an 
earthquake in Tokyo. I mean, there was a devastating 
earthquake. It just leveled the city. At that point the 
father of my best friend there sent him to the United 
States, first to go to prep school, where he could learn 
the English language, and then to Cornell, where he could 
study architecture. I don't know the intimate stories of 
the others going there, but his going there was on account 
of the earthquake. 

LASKEY: That's interesting, because I think in 1924 
restricted immigration legislation was put into effect in 
this country specifically to keep Asians out. So that must 
have been a very touchy time. 


ALEXANDER: Could be. 

LASKEY: Probably very difficult for the students 
themselves. Anyway, that's very interesting. 
ALEXANDER: Well, that was a very exciting three days 
there. Just before I left, one night they had taken me to 
a new nightclub to show how their society and customs had 
been degraded by the war. And then the final night they 
took me to, in contrast, an old-style geisha house, where 
we danced country dances and where I played one of their 
little phony guitars and we sang Cornell songs and had a 
hell of a good time. 
LASKEY: In Japanese? 

ALEXANDER: No. We tried to teach [the songs to] the 
gals. Well, anyway, as I was getting in the cab on the way 
to the airport, my friend Shigeo came and said, "You must 
see our classmate in Bangkok when you get there." I said, 
"Well, you better put [his name] down here." So he wrote 
it down in my little notebook. 

Well, we came into Okinawa, one of the two places on 
earth forbidden on our passports--the reason being that 
Okinawa was being used as the base for our B-17 bombers in 
the Korean War. We lost an engine on the way into the 
airport, and the nearest engine in the world to replace it 
was in Hong Kong harbor on a ship. And it was a Sunday, so 
we were going to have to be there for three days or so. I 


don't think I should tell you the whole story. But let's 
go on--just this one about getting to Bangkok. We then 
went to Hong Kong and had some adventures there and went on 
to Bangkok. And at the Oriental Hotel, I spoke to the 
young man at the desk, who spoke some broken English, and I 
explained that I wanted to see this man. Since I had it in 
writing, I showed him the name, and he said, "Yes, I know 
that man. I will get you a meeting with him tomorrow 
morning . " 

So he arranged a meeting. We got a taxicab and we 
went barreling out along these clongs and into the slums 
and turned a corner, and all of a sudden we came to a 
great, enormous palisade fence of teak, great ponderous 
teak doors, the gates to this place. And the taximan 
honked the horn, the doors groaned open, we went up under a 
porte cochere. I asked the taximan to wait. I knocked at 
the door, the door opened, a little Siamese girl had a 
little china tray for me to put my card on. I had had 
cards made for the UN mission to India. She closed the 
door and then opened it again and invited me to come in and 
wait for my host. Pretty soon I saw my host coming down 
the stairs--there was an open balustrade, so I could see. 
He was wearing something like pantaloons, that is to say a 
purple sarong, and when he came down further, I saw he had 
this white and gold embroidered vest with cloisonn6 


buttons, and he was obviously not one of my classmates. 

So he came over and I said, "I made a mistake." 

And he said, "That's okay. What are you doing?" 

I told him. 

"Have you seen the palace?" 

I said, "No, I just got here last night." 

He said, "You must see the palace, and I'd like to 
show you through. " 

I said, "Don't bother with that. I'm just a 
tourist. " 

He said, "That's okay. My office is down there. I'd 
be glad to show you through." 

I said, "Okay, if your office is there." So I asked 
what time and I made arrangements, and I said, "By the way, 
I'm on my way to India, as I told you. And today, I 
understand, is India Home Rule Day, and I have been invited 
by the Indian embassy to come to their reception." 

He said, "That's fine. My wife and I will be there 
too. I'll see you there." 

So I then went to an appointment I had for lunch with 
a newspaper publisher, the most prominent publisher in 
Bangkok. And I noted that the couch in which I sat had 
several pillows, and each pillow had symbolic five 
umbrellas, stacked one above the other, as if it were a 
tree. I remarked about it, and my host was very proud to 


say, "I'll tell you what that means. Because the kings in 
the past have had so many concubines, they've had so many 
offspring that almost everybody in Thailand is a prince, so 
they have to make some distinction. Actually, nine 
umbrellas is only used on one occasion. That is the 
coronation of a new king. The king is entitled to 
seven." He identified each one down to five. He said, 
"Five, that's pretty darn high, you know." So I was very 
proud to go to the Indian reception with these people after 
lunch, my five-umbrella friends. 

So we're standing in the reception line, waiting to be 
received, and I noticed my friend from the morning up at 
the head of the line. So I said, "Excuse me just a 
moment." I went up and said, "Hi, glad to see you. You 
said you'd be here and that I'd see you." 

I came back and my hostess said, "My god, where did 
you meet him?" 

I said, "Oh, I met him by mistake this morning. I was 
at his house and we did this and that." I said, "He said 
he's going to take me through the palace tomorrow. He said 
his office is down there." 

She said, "Do you know who he is?" 

I said, "No. He just said his office is in the 
palace, and I'm going to meet him tomorrow morning." 

She said, "He's the king regent. The king is sixteen 


years old and he's in Switzerland at school, and his uncle 
is acting king. And he's the guy-- Of course his office is 
at the palace." [laughter] 
LASKEY: The palace is his office. 
ALEXANDER: Yeah, right. 

LASKEY: Well, how did your friend give you his name? 
ALEXANDER: Well, it was a mistake on the part of the desk 
clerk at the hotel. The names were very, very similar. As 
soon as I told the king regent the next morning the mistake 
and how it happened, he said, "Oh yes, I know that guy. He 
went to Cornell and he's an entomologist, and he's very 
important to our agriculture here. I'll get you in touch 
with him." So he put me in touch with the guy, and I went 
to a play that night with these two characters. 
LASKEY: Did you get the tour of the palace? 
ALEXANDER: Oh, sure. Another thing, the palace is really 
a large compound containing many buildings, several 
temples, and that sort of thing. The king regent had 
explained to me that he was going to have to include 
another couple besides me and he hoped I wouldn't mind. I 
said, "Not at all. Who are they?" He said, "The president 
of the Sydney, Australia, Rotary Club is here with his 
wife, and I'm taking them through. You know," he said, 
"I'm president of the Bangkok Rotary Club." [laughter] 
LASKEY: Do they have Tuesday morning meetings? 


ALEXANDER: I don't know. 

LASKEY: Did you get to see the famous Thailand shadow 

ALEXANDER: Oh, no. I couldn't explain myself properly. 
What I saw was probably something I'll never see again, 
which was a series of skits or plays that were not the kind 
I had expected that you're talking about. But I did go to 
a dance in which I danced with these lissome maidens whose 
hands-- They can fold their fingers back so they can almost 
touch their wrists. The dance was called the ramwon. It 
was sort of a country dance. It was fun. I also went to-- 
Well, this has nothing to do with architecture--the hell 
with it. But to get on to India. I stopped in Calcutta, 
where I landed in India, and proceeded to-- 


OCTOBER 4, 1986 

ALEXANDER: I mentioned arriving at Calcutta simply to 
contrast it with south India. Calcutta, as was the case in 
Hong Kong, had been invaded by millions of refugees after 
the war. In this case they were from Bangladesh. And so 
the entire so-called infrastructure, the sewers and water 
supply and so forth, were strained way beyond their 
capacity. The population had doubled overnight, and people 
were dying on the sidewalks and sleeping overnight all over 
the place. It was a miserable place. Everything was gray, 
colorless, and dull. There were some exciting monuments, 
of course, of the old days of Clive, but in general it was 
a sick city. I flew from there to Madras in south India, 
where suddenly everything was gay and delightful and 
colorful: every bullock would have one horn painted 
vermilion and the other green and would sport a bell that 
was jingling along. And every time I'd turn a corner I'd 
hear a flute, somebody playing inside of a window. The 
sounds and the color and the laughter, in spite of misery, 
was in stark contrast to north India. And I was to be 
there three months. 

The very first thing that happened was that I was 
taken to the office of the president of Amalgamations, 
Ltd., who had already ordered a tailor to be there, who 


measured me. I was amazed, because I'd brought clothing. 
I soon found out why. The next morning I had six pair of 
white ducks and six shirts, and from then on I could walk 
anyplace in the city without fear of being accosted by 
urchins begging or by beggars in general. I was assumed to 
be just simply-- I couldn't see the difference in the cut 
of the clothes. There was a difference, and it was 
discernible, and I was suddenly a native. I'd obviously 
been there years, and it was fruitless to try to attack 
me. Whereas if I'd worn my regular clothing, I would have 
been tagged as a European immediately and would have been 
deluged (and I saw people just being hounded to death). 

If I were going there today for a similar mission, I 
would have found a way to live in Indian style with-- Well, 
today I could stay with my friend Sarma, an Indian 
architect, who was the one I selected to work with me. I 
had interviews with several who were British. This was the 
only Indian-trained and Indian architect who had stars in 
his eyes for everything American, starting with the 
Revolutionary War and on. This was at a time when the 
United States could have been hero to the world, and we 
proceeded to squander our values right and left. For 
instance, as I went through Bangkok I found that I would 
not be permitted to see Angkor Wat--which I would like to 
have seen--because of the war there. I then found that 


while the United States had just given $2 million to the 
UN, we had given $2 billion to France to support their 
colonial control over Indochina, including Vietnam. We 
were the heroes of the world because of our revolutionary 
past, and we threw this position away, ever since then. 
Well, anyway, where were we back at the ranch? 
LASKEY: You're in Madras, You have just arrived. 
ALEXANDER: Yeah, I got proper clothing, I selected an 
architect-- Oh, I was going to say that today I would try 
to live with people. However uncomfortable, I would like 
to sort of participate in their lives--instead of which, it 
had been prearranged that I would have the maximum comfort 
and protection. In other words, I was to live in a mansion 
that was leased by an American oil company. The head 
representative of this oil company had it as his 
residence. It had been built by the East India Company as 
a summer residence for their employees. It was an enormous 
masonry house surrounded by a great big compound, high 
walls, great flowering trees. 

To protect my health, every single morning I received 
two large bottles of spring water that Marie Buck would 
bring around, guaranteed to be safe. Otherwise, I was said 
to be subject to all types of diseases from unboiled 
water. I had contracted something that put me in the 
hospital at Calcutta, presumably from eating six-inch- 


diameter shrimp in Bangkok. But I never did find out what 
that was. I had a recurrence on my way home. Anyway, it 
was a disease that the doctors at the clinic could not 
figure out. 

Well, Marie was quite an institution. She had gotten 
the company to buy a farm, quite a bit outside of town, 
that had gone to pot. And she was developing this into a 
place to raise seed for the future dream that she had--it 
was a seed farm. It had lacked sufficient water, so that 
she had found an ancient well. A well in that part of 
India was usually a cylindrical hole in the ground, thirty 
or forty feet across. And this thing had a stone lining 
and stones cantilevered out to form steps from the bottom 
to the top. 
LASKEY: Of the well? 

ALEXANDER; Of the well. It was dry, but she was working 
on making it productive. So she had gone to the library 
and gotten a book on Welsh coal mining that described how 
you blast rock. She had bought dynamite. She would carry 
these crates of dynamite down to the farm by putting them 
in her jeep. She'd sit on the dynamite on this bumpy road 
on the way down to the farm. [laughter] What a gall And 
then nobody else would dare touch the stuff--I guess she 
wouldn't let them light it. She would set the stuff the 
way that the book had said, and she'd set the fuse and 


light it and come running up these stairs. Everyone was to 
lie down on the ground behind some barrier, and she would 
join you, and then it would go off with a great crash. 
Rocks would fly in the air. It was wild. She managed to 
get more water out of it, though it wasn't really 

Among other things, I noticed that she was a nut on 
green-manure farming. None of this chemical fertilizer 
business. That is, you raise something--in this country it 
would be something like vetch, or something like that-- 
which you would plow under when it grew. You wouldn't use 
it for itself, you'd use it for enriching the soil. And 
she showed me one stand--I suppose it was not more than an 
acre--of the most luxurious stuff. It looked more or less 
like a field of corn very closely grown together. I didn't 
recognize what it was. It was six to eight feet tall, 
luxuriant. I said, "What's that?" She said, "That's green 
manure. We're going to plow it under." She told me what 
it was. It was san hemp. And only thirty, forty years 
later did I discover that san hemp was one of the finest 
marijuana plants you could get. 
LASKEY: I see. 
ALEXANDER: So that was the green manure there. 

Well, anyway, I purposely spent a lot of time soaking 
up the culture. Every village around the city would have 


its sort of patron saint, its little temple, and a 
particular weekend when they would have their fiesta, you 
might call it. So there was a fiesta going on any weekend, 
if you knew where the village was that was having one. 
Marie would tip me off where to go, and I'd be rushing 
off. She had, of course, engaged for me a driver, and his 
name was Ganesha. In other words, he was named after the 
elephant god that removes all obstacles, and this would be 
good for our enterprise. She had all of the rigmarole of 
fortunate days, auspicious days, auspicious hours. She'd 
say, "Oh, look, it's twelve o'clock," and something just 
happened. "This is the day for so and so, " and it would 
happen . 

She had also engaged for me a bearer. I said, "Marie, 
what the hell am I going to do with a bearer?" "Well, he's 
going to hold your hands." I said, "I don't want him." 
She said, "It will be misunderstood. If you don't hire as 
many people as you can put to work, you're a very mean 
man. It's the custom for you to have at least a bearer and 
a driver." That's what I had. She'd call in the morning 
and say, "Such and such a temple is taking their gods down 
to the sea in a ceremony this morning. Go down to the 
beach." So I kept my driver, and we barreled down to the 
beach. And I got to know a lot about what was going on. 

Then Marie and I took a long drive with our driver, a 


trip through Bangalore, the Nilgiris, and the mountains far 
to the west, the Eastern Gahts, I guess they call them, and 
to the south almost to Travancore, then to Pondicherry, and 
so forth. She had listed just about every place where we 
could find workers being housed in large groups, such as 
the Carnatic Mills, fabric mills in Bangalore, and the 
Kolar gold mines and a place where a big dam was being 
built. Any place where we could find housing for workers, 
to see what was actually being done and what was considered 
disgusting by ourselves or the workers or whatever, or 
what's popular with them. And as we went, I made little 
sketches of the plans. 

When we got back, I told Sarma, the Indian architect 
with whom I was working, that I wanted to have models made 
of all of these little houses or dwellings. He had several 
employees, at least a dozen. He had a puja [place for 
worship offerings to Hindu deities] in the office. Every 
morning they bowed before this little alcove and in effect 
prayed for good fortune and for an auspicious day. And I 
said, "Let's distribute these [plans] to the employees and 
have them work on making little models. They can make them 
out of cardboard." And Sarma said, "I'm sorry, but that 
won't work." And I said, "Why won't it work?" And he 
said, "Well, see, I'm a Brahman and every one of my 
employees is a Brahman. One of the few professions or one 


of the few occupations that is available to a Brahman is 
architecture. Any kind of clerical work is perfectly all 
right, but you don't infringe on somebody else's occupation 
that is available to him. And for a Brahman to draw a 
house is all right--that ' s clerical. But to make a model, 
that is labor. That really belongs to another caste." 

And he said, "I'll tell you what we'll do." He said, 
"You and I will start making models of the house, and we 
won't say anything to the employees, but they will see what 
we're doing, and we'll see what happens. We'll leave the 
plans around." So the next morning they brought these 
little models in that they had made. They couldn't do it 
in front of another Brahman. They could do it in the 
privacy of their own bedroom. They could produce this 
thing and they wouldn't have to say who had made it or 
anything like that--there it was. I used these little 
models to conduct a series of meetings with workers who 
were brought together by the union to get some reaction. 

Meantime, for the first two months I didn't do any 
real planning of what the concept would be. I was just 
trying to figure out what was going on. Finally, all of a 
sudden, I was galvanized to action by I don't know what. I 
just came to a point where I felt I had an idea that would 
make a real contribution in concept. And that was instead 
of having a suburb of Madras, which Marie had visualized, a 


suburb of 50,000, which I figured would get us right back 
into the same old slot as the city-- This was to be a 
suburb of 50,000 and a place for them to go and engage in 
agricultural work to the extent that they were not employed 
in the factories, the members of the family that were 
not. So instead, I devised a system of ten villages, each 
starting out at 2,500 population, eventually expanding 
possibly to 5,000, and they would be separated by 
agricultural land to grow rice. Each village would have a 
role in the total complex so the total complex might work 
as a city. A central village in this complex of ten would 
be designated the assembly plant, we'll say, from a 
manufacturing standpoint, whereas each of the other nine 
would have its little sub-assembly contribution to make to 
the total. Another different one would have its high 
school and eventually a college, whereas each of the other 
nine would have its elementary school. There would be also 
a central health village. Each of the villages would have 
a clinic visited, perhaps daily, by a nurse in a jeep from 
the central area, where there ' d be a hospital. There 
wouldn't be twelve hospitals or ten hospitals, there 'd just 
be one. 

LASKEY: Well, how large was the area on which these ten 
villages would be placed? How big an area are we talking 


ALEXANDER: I don't recall the acreage and that sort of 
thing, but it's big enough so that not too dense a village 
would be separated by more than a mile from the center of 
the next village. Villages would be more than a mile on 
center and would have agricultural land in between them. 
And each village would be 2,500 population to start, 5,000 
maximum. Each cottage or each dwelling accommodation would 
have a little private garden next to it for their personal 
use and a communal place to go to raise rice, which would 
be for everybody. So that each village would have its 
little bazaar, or a place where you go to shop, but once a 
week you go to the tandy, which is the central village 
where you get an exchange. It's not only commercial, it's 
social. Everybody wants to go. They go trekking in their 
bullock carts, take the things to exchange for other 
things, things to sell or buy, but mainly to gossip. So I 
called this the rural city, looking at the thing as a whole 
as a city. It was to be a staging area between the people 
who were living in their little villages out in the sticks 
who were then coming into this teeming city. Between those 
two stages there would be this stage where you were half- 
country and half-city. 

So we had to get into materials and that sort of 
thing. On the way over I had read a UN publication 
regarding the use of a machine that had been developed in 


Rhodesia with which one could make cement blocks. It 
looked like a foolproof thing. It was useful in a 
primitive area. So I asked about this the minute I got 
there, if we could get one of these things. Well, they 
didn't know: it's kind of hard to go to Rhodesia to get 
it, and so on and so forth. It wasn't until I was almost 
all ready to leave when I saw an ad for one of these things 
in the paper, and the companies for which I was working 
were selling them. Well, I just used the wrong 
nomenclature. I think I called it a cement block machine, 
you know, an earth-cement block machine, and I used "block" 
instead of "brick" or something like that. Anyway, they 
got one out of the warehouse right away and got it out to 
the site. So we started to make these things, and Sarma, 
this Brahman who wasn't supposed to get his pinkies wet, 
got right into the mud with me. He was really terrific--he 
still is really terrific. 
LASKEY: Is he still in India? 

ALEXANDER: Yeah, he had three daughters, each of whom 
married an Indian who had aspirations to go to the United 
States--they ' re all living in the United States now. His 
wife's brother [Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar] is a famous 
Nobel Prize winner in astronomy at the University of 
Chicago. He's just retired. He has a room named after him 
and so on. They're whizzes, you know. 


Well, so we went out to the site and we made blocks. 
This is soil cement, as it's called, with a small amount of 
cement and laterite soil, which was on the site. 
LASKEY: What is that? 

ALEXANDER: Well, it ' s a soil that results from-- I 
couldn't tell you what it is, to tell you the truth. I 
mean, I've forgotten. But it results from having had a 
tropical forest on the land and having leached something 
out of it. I had seen pictures of laterite soil, and there 
are a lot of hard nodules that are on the surface of the 
land. I noticed these, and then I got into dealing with 
what it was and found somebody at the university who knew 
what it was. Sure enough, it was what they had used in 
Rhodesia to mix with a small amount of cement, instead of 
cement and gravel. It made stable blocks. I had them 
tested, and they're not very strong--but they're a hell of 
a lot better than plain old mud. 

LASKEY: What is the climate of Madras? Is it relatively 
like Los Angeies? 

ALEXANDER: Well, once a year, if they have a successful 
monsoon, what we call the summertime is unbearable. An 
enormous amount of water. Of course, when I was there the 
monsoon had failed three years in succession, causing a 
drought and causing widespread hunger and some starvation, 
mainly because of the lack of a distribution system. I 


mean, in the city itself I saw no signs of hunger; I'd go 
outside the city into a little hamlet, and it was 
pitiful. The United States was sending vast quantities of 
grain over there for a price. You know, we hear about our 
magnanimous gestures in saving these starving people just 
for money. But they were buying large quantities of grain 
from the U.S., larger quantities from Thailand and Burma. 
There was a Russian ship that came into the harbor one 
day. Our Senate was debating whether to let them have any 
grain or not, and a Russian ship came in with rice that 
they were very proud of. They showed the long grains, and 
the quality of the stuff was high. And it was a gift, not 
what you buy. Well, anyway, of course they have an idea in 
India that when a senator makes headlines, it must be the 
policy of the United States, but we know damn well it's 
just a senator popping off. 
LASKEY: Making headlines. 

ALEXANDER: Yeah. Another strange thing about their own 
situation there: For two hundred years, they would 
identify a need and somebody would write back to London, 
and if it were pressing enough the need would be 
answered. So they had this two hundred years of history of 
getting up and making a speech in their parliament and 
having something happen. And, at least when I was there-- 
and I think a lot of it still exists--somebody would get up 


in the parliament and make a speech about a new aluminum 
factory. And then they would all brush their hands and 
say, "Well, that's done now. What will we do next?" And 
nothing would happen. This change from the traditional 
individual village responsibility to keep the road in shape 
and keep the little catchment basins in shape, to the 
centralized authority where they depended on the public 
works department to do this, that, and the other--that had 
converted this place partly into swamp, this Pallikkaranai 
swamp. Incidentally, that was right in the shadow of Saint 
Thomas Mount, where Saint Thomas the Apostle is buried. 
And when I went through Pondicherry, they had just had a 
flood that had revealed Roman wine jars and coins of the 
time of Christ--Roman trade with Pondicherry in the south 
of India. 

LASKEY: That was exciting. 

LASKEY: Well, given this kind of horrendous weather, would 
the bricks you were making withstand erosion? 
ALEXANDER: Yeah, well, compared to adobe and that sort of 

So we built a sample model house and I made plans in 
general. I planned one village as a sample and had the 
total overall plan. [I] got approvals from various 
ministries [and] from the company. And then there was an 


organizational plan. The whole idea was that this would be 
built by this group of companies over a period of time and 
that it was for their employees. If somebody left their 
employ, what are they going to do? Are they going to turn 
them out or what? And who's going to run the villages? 
Who is going to determine the policy? Well, we devised the 
theory of a plan in which the administration would start 
out completely company owned and company run, and in 
prescribed periods of time the management and ownership and 
operation of the whole thing would be converted to a 
largely occupant-owned-and-run operation. Yet there was a 
provision--I forget just how it worked--that would keep 
occupancy available to families with at least one person 
working in one of the companies. Otherwise, it would 
become like everything else in India, all squalid. 

Well, we started out with these experimental or 
demonstration houses, demonstration rice crop, and so on. 
The plan was shown to the board of public works, and they 
said, "That's fine. You build it and we'll own it." And 
the company said, "No, that's not the idea." And the 
department of agriculture wanted their cooperation. They 
said, "That's a great idea. You build it and we'll own 
it." The labor unions said the same thing. This went 
on. Nobody got together on how it was going to be owned 
and operated. So finally the company said, "To hell with 


it. We just can't handle it. We can't get any 

agreement. If the government is going to take it over, 

forget it." I didn't hear about it again until years later 

when I was speaking to some people in Great Britain about 

it, and, yes, they had heard of it and it had some 

influence on how housing was being treated there and in 

other parts of the country. But it never came about as a 

full-blown experiment, as I had hoped, for demonstration, 

LASKEY: That's very sad. But it's rather amazing that the 

company hadn't attended to that or hadn't realized in 

advance that this was going to happen. 

ALEXANDER: Well, this was entirely new of course. 

LASKEY: Was this the expectation in India? That anything 

that was built would automatically be taken over by the 


ALEXANDER: Well, everything was new. I mean, 1947 was 

home rule I think, wasn't it? 

LASKEY: I don't know. 

ALEXANDER: I think so. 

LASKEY: So they weren't used to governing at all? 

ALEXANDER: Well, there was a transition. This was four 

years after independence. Where were we four years after 

our independence? Nowhere at all. It took twelve years to 

get anywhere with the constitution. 

The country was being run by the ICS men, that is to 


say, Indians who had been trained in the Indian civil 

service. They were brilliant individuals, and they've all 

died by now, I believe. But nobody had any experience of 

what to expect, and so nothing happened. Except I was told 

it was influential later--I don't know. 

LASKEY: How long were you there? 

ALEXANDER: Three months there, and then I spent another 

month traveling around the world. I found that it cost ten 

dollars less to go around the world than to go there and 

back over the Pacific. 

LASKEY: How did you do that? Just the plane fare works 

out that way? 

ALEXANDER: Yeah. The round-trip to Madras, in either 

direction, was ten dollars more than the round-trip around 

the world. So I came back through Bombay and Egypt and 

Greece . 

LASKEY: When you came back, did you regret at all having 

severed your ties with the planning commission? 

ALEXANDER: Oh no, I don't think so. No, I didn't. That 

was six years, really. That's enough. Almost six years. 

LASKEY: So when you came back, about that same time you 

were involved in Guam. 

ALEXANDER: No, shortly after that. 

LASKEY: Oh, shortly after that. 

ALEXANDER: Yes. Having been to India for the UN actually 


was instrumental in the first place in hearing anything 
about the Guam situation and then in being selected. 
LASKEY: That was another frustrating experience. 


OCTOBER 4, 1986 

LASKEY: Shortly before your trip to India, and while you 
were still with the [Los Angeles] City Planning Commission, 
you had your first engagement with Richard [J.] Neutra. 
ALEXANDER: Right. I think it was 1948. One evening when 
I was at home I received a call from him. I'd never known 
him well at all. I had not particularly liked his 
architectural results. I could see how they were 
innovative and new and exciting, but my own bent was not in 
the same formal direction. He called me at home and said 
that he had just had a call that day from the planning 
director of the city of Sacramento, who was interested in 
having a study made of the old Sutter subdivision in the 
central part of Sacramento, which included skid row and 
areas that were dilapidated and needed to be redeveloped. 
And the objective of the study would be to demonstrate the 
need for a redevelopment agency and a need for the city to 
carry out the purposes of the [Community] Redevelopment 
Act. He had just returned from Puerto Rico, where he had 
had a great experience, I think, in designing schools and 
so forth for Rexford [G.] Tugwell. 
LASKEY: Oh, [Franklin D.] Roosevelt's person. 
ALEXANDER: And he had also had a heart attack while he was 
there . 


LASKEY: In Puerto Rico? 

ALEXANDER: Yes. And he said to me on the telephone when 
he called that night, "You know, I've had a heart attack 
and I don't think I can handle it. Would you be 
interested?" I said, "Why, certainly I would." And he 
said, "Well, here's the name of the director of planning 
and here's his telephone number, and he will expect a call 
from you . " 

So the next day when I went to the office I called the 
guy, and he said, "Sure, I know you're interested in 
planning, and I know your former position. How soon can 
you come up to visit with us in Sacramento?" I said, "Next 
Friday's free. I'll be up then." He said, "Fine." I made 
arrangements. And in fact, I called the airline and made a 

That night Neutra called me again at home, and said, 
"How did it go? Did you call him?" "Yeah," I said, "sure, 
I called him." "Well, what happened?" "Well, I'm going up 
there. I'm flying up on Friday to have a first meeting." 
He said, "Well, you know, my doctor says I can't fly." And 
I said, "For heaven's sake, I thought you said you weren't 
interested and couldn't handle it." He said, "Well, I 
would like to be involved if you would like to handle 
it." I said, "Okay." He said, "But you know I can't 
fly." I said, "Okay, I suppose we can go by train. I 


haven't traveled in a train in twenty years, but we can 
take a crack at it." 

So I got an upper and a lower--an upper for me, of 
course--and we went up by train. And we were met at the 
train by a couple of young fellows from the planning 
department of Sacramento. They put us in the car and said, 
"Well, let's first go to the city hall, and we'll see some 
maps of the area that we're talking about." Instead of 
which, as we were passing through skid row on the way to 
city hall, Neutra said, "Stop the car!" So he stopped the 
car. He said, "May we get out?" "Surely." So he and I 
got out, and he said, "Let's see what this place is 
like. " 

So we went to a flophouse, on the side of which was a 
sign: "Cots forty cents a night, mats twenty cents." And 
there was a sort of marquee at the entrance, as if it had 
been a movie house, with a guy in there who was in charge 
of seeing people going in and coming out. When we asked, 
he said, "Surely you can go up and see what it is like." 
These wide stairs, at least six feet wide, had signs on a 
couple of risers to the steps saying, "No girls upstairs, 
please." So we went up and took a look around, and each 
space for a cot or a mat was separated from another space 
by an orange crate on end, which, in other words, meant 
that the man had three shelves, one at the floor, one at 


midrange, and one at the top, where he kept his belongings-- 
nothing could be locked up. There was central plumbing and 
so forth. 

And then we went over and we found a cheap apartment 
for a single family. We walked around and we found a place 
where one could check his suitcase or any kind of a bundle 
he had for five cents a night. We found a barbershop which 
was a "barber college, " of course in quotes, where you 
could get a haircut for ten cents. The whole thing was 
designed to take care of what we had heard about and what 
the people that took us there in the automobile, the 
employees of the department, said were migrant 
farmworkers. We had heard of it through Carey McWilliams's 
writings, and we expected to find migrant farmworkers, 
instead of which, on inquiry, we found that virtually all 
of the "bums" in the flophouse were old-age pensioners. 
The entire complexion of the place had changed to permanent 
residence, for the most part. Not migrant farmworkers, but 
a place that offered very cheap rent and the very least 
cost of living for people who had fixed and very low 
incomes . 

Well, the whole attitude that Neutra showed on that 
occasion grabbed me--that is, the idea of not looking at 
maps first, but looking at the people. I later came to the 
conclusion that he had done this consciously. In any 


event, I also, at a very much later date, came to believe 
that one factor in his calling me to get me engaged in this 
thing with him was that when he had been at Puerto Rico and 
the war was just over, several young firebrands, including 
me, had been interested in getting some entirely different 
leadership for the AIA [American Institute of Architects] 
chapter. As usually happens, most of the people interested 
in running for office over a period of years--and I think 
it's true--are not generally the most vital forces in 
architectural design. We had our little meeting, Whit 
[Whitney R. ] Smith and Sy [Simon] Eisner and I don't know 
who else. Several of us young squirts were interested in 
changing this, and we came to the conclusion that we would 
nominate Neutra, even though he was not there. We would 
guarantee in our nomination to perform the chores necessary 
for the office, but we wanted a leader of the organization 
who would command respect and renown in the community and 
way beyond the community. And Neutra was the best one we 
could think of who was a member of the chapter. And I 
think possibly my advocacy and nomination of him at that 
time may have had something to do with his turning to me. 
But it wasn't until many years later that that occurred to 
me, in fact long after I had become disassociated with him. 
LASKEY: You hadn't worked with him prior to this in any 


ALEXANDER: No. Not in any capacity. In fact, on one 
occasion when he was a speaker at a small meeting in 
Pasadena, I had taken exception to his point of view 
regarding architecture and had somewhat of a minidebate 
with him. Perfectly friendly, but opposing the sparse-- 
The lack of design decoration, you might say, and that sort 
of thing. 

LASKEY: How would you have described your architecture at 
this time? 

ALEXANDER: Oh, in the forties. Well, I was just trying to 
make up my mind. I had developed certain objectives during 
the war when I was not actively engaged. I think it was to 
put people first, people who were going to occupy and use 
the architecture, to make things useful for them, make 
things work, you might say. And I mentioned before wanting 
to become engaged in spiritual architecture and also high- 
tech architecture and wanting to involve fine arts directly 
in architecture and not as something you buy and stick on 
it. Well, I wanted the form of architecture, to the extent 
that I was interested in form, to be sensual and not dry 
and inert. I appreciated the decorative forms that I had 
seen in my three months in Europe in the summer of 1930. 
And I did not want to lose that grace. I'd like a few 
curves to go along with the straight lines, in other words. 
LASKEY: So the functional sparseness of the International 


style was not one you would have chosen for yourself. 
ALEXANDER: Right, and also I would say that I ccrsidered 
architecture, from my standpoint, not to be an object to be 
looked at as the most important thing. It was not an 
object. It was spaces to be experienced, to uplift a 
person's spirit, to make him feel better about his 
surroundings from within. 

Well, anyway, we found that Harold [F.] Wise had been 
selected by the city council to work on the nonarchi- 
tectural parts, demonstrating the need for redevelopment of 
this area. And I had gotten to know him pretty well when 
he was just mustered out of the marines after World War II 
and was living in the Quonset huts that the city put up in 
part of Griffith Park. 
LASKEY: Griffith Park? 

ALEXANDER: Yeah, in the flatland at the base of Griffith 
Park. This was a temporary thing. And he had worked along 
with me on statewide housing. Proposition 14. It was 
probably he who suggested to the planning director getting 
in touch with Neutra. Then Neutra brought me into it, and 
the three of us were finally under contract to develop this 
plan on what to do about the central Sutter subdivision. 
So we got to know the city pretty well by walking that 
area, which was not too big to conceive. It was easy to 
walk around and see the charming streets of Victorian 


houses, three stories high, with the ground floor, once 
used as servants' quarters, now used for low-rent housing-- 
the main floor of every house being a full-story height 
above the land that was annually flooded at one time, 
before the levees went in. The Sacramento River annually 
overflowed its banks and made the ground floor 
uninhabitable. That was a typical physical scene. 

The demographic scene was studied in a survey that 
Wise made and showed that every block was multiracial, 
every block in this Sutter subdivision. It was not 
homogeneous black or Chicano. We found within the area the 
only mosque in North America at that time; a Buddhist 
temple, which was still serving its original population, 
quite a few members of which had become well-off and had 
moved away from the center of the city, but still came 
there for services; a Philippine mission; and in fact 
something that catered to every wave of low-cost workers 
that had come into the San Joaquin Valley to help the 
farmers raise crops, including railroad building and so 
on. There was a Japanese element, a Chinese element, but 
they weren't sectioned off. There were these institutions 
that were designed, but you would find the people mixed 
together in every block, according to this demographic 
survey . 

We found that the layout of the Sutter subdivision was 


very uneconomical from the standpoint of percentage of land 
devoted to streets, and we showed that by combining blocks 
we could recover a great deal of useful land. We 
recommended a great many things, such as the redevelopment 
of the riverfront--which has still not taken place as we 
envisioned it. But many of the things we have recommended 
have taken place twenty, thirty years later. And this is 
one trouble that I found with my attempts at city planning 
(which constituted perhaps about 10 percent of my 
practice): that things that we found and would recommend 
doing to improve the city life, in whatever little town it 
might be, didn't happen for a generation after we 
recommended them. They might eventually come through, but 
I didn't want to wait that long for satisfaction. 

Well, in any event, we published a report looking 
ahead ten years, making recommendations by inference. It 
included many illustrations of the reasons or the signs 
that would show that this area, for the most part, was 
subject to redevelopment legally. It would qualify as a 
blighted area. And this was used to convince the council, 
and the council appointed themselves a redevelopment 
agency. Of course we were no longer involved, and we were 
several hundred miles removed from the scene while the 
redevelopment took place. Then after they had a 
redevelopment agency and a staff, a couple of years later I 


think, Joe [Joseph T.] Bill--who later came to Los Angeles 
in redevelopment--was the redevelopment agency director. 
And he engaged us to come back a second time and make 
additional studies. Neutra looked on this, especially the 
second go-around, as an opportunity to revive his "Rush 
City Reformed. " 
LASKEY: Oh, okay. 

ALEXANDER: Which he had envisioned years before. So we 
got in a lot of sketches of high-rise things that I think 
were inappropriate for the place, but nevertheless it was 
fun to work in. Well, I thought after finishing our little 
report, in which I used the technique of Looking Backward 
to write the report-- 

LASKEY: The technique of the [Edward] Bellamy book? 
ALEXANDER: Yeah. That is, I wrote a letter dated ten 
years ahead. I wrote it to "Dear Richard" about what I 
found in Sacramento ten years later. I wanted something 
that would be read and would be for popular reading in 
Sacramento, rather than a thick, dry report. And this 
worked. Well, I thought after I finished the report that 
was the last I would see of Mr. Neutra, except I would see 
him at meetings occasionally and so on. Instead of which, 
to my amazement and that of everybody else in the local 
chapter, [Harry S.] Truman's housing bill was passed by 
Congress. They didn't think it was possible. All of a 


sudden, here was a whole wad of public housing that was 
going to be built all around the country, with 10,000 units 
allocated to Los Angeles. 

Recalling the previous FDR housing days, when one 
objective was to spread the work among architects-- The 
federal government had required three or more architects to 
group together for each project, so that they would employ 
as many as possible. And rather than seek a big project, 
where such a thing would be mandatory, when [Howard L. ] 
Holtzendorff asked me what I would like-- And obviously I 
was in line, having supported the program and having stood 
out as about the only architect who had spoken in favor of 
It. He was quite friendly to my being employed. I told 
him, having looked at the series of projects that was laid 
out, "I just want that little one out there at Pacoima to 
house the Chicano population in the area of the olive 
groves. I think it's small enough so I can do it myself, 
and that's what I would rather do, [rather] than be 
involved in a big job with a lot of other architects." 

He chewed on that for some time and then called me one 
day and asked me to come to the Jonathan Club, and at lunch 
he said, "The apple of my eye is the Chavez Ravine 
project. " 

And I said, "Well, that's a great big job." 

He said, "Just so you know, I want you to handle it. 


but you've got to have an architect collaborate with you 
who has more prestige than you have nationally and 
internationally. " 

I said, "Well, I have a pretty good name 
nationally. " 

He said, "Well, you've got to get a big name." 

I said, "I don't want that big a job in the first 
place. " 

He said, "Well, I want you to do it. I don't trust it 
with anybody else. And I like what you've done with 
Baldwin Hills Village, " and so on and so on and so on. 
Okay. So he said, "Come on down to the office." 

And in the boardroom there was a table loaded with 
brochures from architects. I had not submitted one, but 
just practically every architect in the chapter had put in 
a brochure. So I waded through these things. When it came 
to Neutra, I said, "Well, I have worked with this guy and 
he has prestige." 

And he said, "Oh, yeah, that's a good one. That would 
probably sell. I could sell you and Neutra to the 
board. " 

So I called Neutra and asked him if he would work with 
me on it. He said, "Oh, I'd be delighted." So we were 
selected to handle this thing in Chavez Ravine, which 
started out ambitious enough. Then they increased the 


number of units until there were 3,350 units, about a third 
of the total 10,000-unit program on this site, which was an 
interesting site. But my god, when you get that many, 
you've got to get into high rises, unless you're going to 
have a rabbit warren. In any event, we signed a contract 
on this thing. It took some time to get it going, to get 
input from Washington, part of which was this increase in 
the numbers, the density. People in Washington, in the 
housing game, were inclined to think in terms of New York 
and Philadelphia and Boston, instead of Los Angeles; they 
still couldn't conceive of what Los Angeles was about. So 
we were given a project which inherently could have been a 
disaster when and if built, and I'm glad personally that it 
never was built. What we developed, I think, could have 
been as great a disaster as [Pruitt] Igoe. 
LASKEY: Pruitt Igoe in Saint Louis. 

ALEXANDER: Yeah. Maybe not. It was out in the country. 
But in order to accommodate this mass of units, we had to 
include nineteen thirteen-story buildings. 

LASKEY: What was the site like? You might talk about what 
Chavez Ravine was in 1950. 

ALEXANDER: Well, it was a ravine and a series of 
subsidiary canyons that came into the ravine. It was a 
high-class slum area. That is, if you were from Brooklyn 
or Manhattan you might not conceive of it as a slum, 


because it was all one-story shacks, but it was packing 
cases, people living in old chicken coops. It was squalor 
of the worst kind. But, you know, children growing up in 
that area must have had an enchanted life, in a way. I 
mean, they were surrounded by Elysian Park. Their ravine 
itself had not very many trees in it, but it was country 
living, as if it were a little place in Mexico. It wasn't 
all that bad from the standpoint of living conditions. 
From the standpoint of sanitation and so on, not too hot. 
The housing was not the greatest. There was no toilet or 
bathtub in every unit, you know. The housing criteria 
devised by the census bureau to define whether the housing 
was safe and sanitary, as they say, don't tell the whole 
story. In a way it was an idyllic situation, in spite of 
its squalor. 

LASKEY: The people who lived there were a rather close- 
knit community. 

ALEXANDER: That's right. There was nothing they could do 
with this steamroller of a federal program. 
LASKEY: Well, who determined that it should be developed 
in the first place? Why was that area picked? 
ALEXANDER: Well, after all, Drayton Bryant and I picked it 
in our illustration of what redevelopment could do. 
LASKEY: So your book Rebuilding the City: [A Study of 
Redevelopment Problems in Los Angeles] predated this 


development . 

ALEXANDER: Oh, yeah. We had no idea that we would be 
involved in any way in it. We were looking at the 
redevelopment of Bunker Hill as being desirable. But what 
do you do with those poor people? Well, we looked at a 
nearby--walking distance--area of Chavez Ravine, which had 
relatively low density, very few people living there 
compared to the acreage, and figured, "Well, that's a good 
place to take the poor people on Bunker Hill and put them 
with additional poor people in better-quality housing." 
LASKEY: Oh, I see. I hadn't realized that Bunker Hill and 
Chavez Ravine had originally been part of a whole. 
ALEXANDER: Well, in our minds. They were so close 
together. And we didn't think in terms of what actually 
happened. Most of the people from Bunker Hill voluntarily 
moved out to MacArthur Park. They call it now-- 
LASKEY: Westlake Park? 
ALEXANDER: Westlake Park. 

Well, anyway, we were stuck with a program which we 
tried to resist, but you know, there's no way to get around 
the federal government. And, in fact, even with the 
initial program, there were too many people that were to be 
put on that site. And as I say, the final design was, in a 
way, brutal. In order to accommodate this many people on 
that extremely hilly site, with the modern, contemporary 


concept that you have to have vehicular access to every 
dwelling-- You have to get a fire truck there for one 

LASKEY: Of course. 

ALEXANDER: And you have automobiles, which influence 
street grades and so on. In the first place, it called for 
very high density in portions of the plan; that is to say, 
I think it was nineteen thirteen-story buildings, and then 
the rest two-story. And in order to accommodate this on 
that site, it meant a massive grading program. That meant 
creating a synthetic desert before you started to put in 
the utilities, the streets, the sidewalks, the landscaping, 
and so forth. Then eventually it would be quite a 
community. From one standpoint, it was a marvelous 
opportunity to attempt to build what has been called, since 
then, a "new town in town." That is, this was to be 
virtually a self-contained establishment with housing and a 
shopping center, a major one, and church facilities and so 
on. Everything but employment. Of course that's where it 
falls down, compared to the Ebenezer Howard ideal. 
LASKEY: Of course, being in the city itself, employment is 
Implied, right? 

ALEXANDER: Yes. And of course a bus. You'd have to 
contemplate buses to take people to their places of 
employment. Well, anyway, this was exciting, and it wasn't 


evident to me during our work on it for a period of two 
years what a disaster it might have been. It is Just in 
looking back on it now that I believe it would have been a 

LASKEY: You mean humanwise, the dislocation of all those 
people and taking -^ em from essentially a rustic community-- 
ALEXANDER: And putting them in thirteen-- 
LASKEY: Putting them in thirteen-story high rises. 
ALEXANDER: Thirteen-story buildings, yeah. Compared to 
that, what we had recommended-- Well, that plan in the 
expanded book, a portion of which was not published, shows 
the type of living accommodations that we were able to 
devise at that time with a lower density. And it's still a 
pretty high density--I forget what it was. But we 
developed, oh, three- to five-story buildings, which in 
effect were low-rise. That is, you'd have a street access 
to a center floor, which would have single-family 
apartments on that first floor. Then you'd walk up one 
floor above that to a first floor of a two-story unit, with 
the living room at that second floor and the bedrooms on 
the third-floor level. And then you'd walk down one floor 
to a living room level of another two-story unit. So it 
was on a hillside with access to it in the center of this 
five-story unit. If you were an occupant, you'd never have 
to walk up or down more than one floor to your living room. 


LASKEY: Well, that's an interesting concept. 
ALEXANDER: Then, beyond that, you had a bedroom above or 
below you, depending on where you were in the five-story 
building. That kind of thing I had already worked out in 
this plan, but when it came to trying to get the density 
that they were talking about into it and to work with 
Neutra ' s concept, well, it turned out to be impossible. It 
was not a humanistic plan that we developed finally. 
LASKEY: Now, Neutra was still working in the International 

ALEXANDER: Oh, yes. 

LASKEY: How did the city or the state plan to deal with 
the people who were already living in Chavez Ravine, 
particularly those who were living in the small shacks that 
were indeed their homes? Would they have been able to even 
afford living in these buildings had they wanted to, or 
were they essentially being displaced? 
ALEXANDER: Well, I don't recall now. I know that 
Holtzendorf f , the director of the public housing authority 
[Los Angeles City Housing Authority], was still on the board 
of the [Los Angeles City Community] Redevelopment Agency, 
and his agency was responsible for housing these people if 
they could not afford the housing that would be developed 
there. My recollection is that we had affordable housing 
for the people living on the site, through cooperation with 


the housing authority. But, ideally, it would follow the 
recommendations in this little book. What do you call it? 
LASKEY: Rebuilding the City. 

ALEXANDER: Rebuilding the City. In which you would have a 
wide range of economic groups living in the same site. 
Some of it would be subsidized public housing and some of 
it would not. The objective would not be to build Bunker 
Hill-type housing. I mean current Bunker Hill-type 
housing. The objective would be to house the people on the 
site, people from other sites too, and a variety of 
economic classes. I don't know how it would have worked, 
but I know that was the objective. 

Okay, while in the process, before we knew what was 
going on, of course the real estate lobby labeled the whole 
program communist, and they finally succeeded in getting 
two out of something like ten projects eliminated from the 
program. One was ours and one was Rose Hills, and those 
two together made up about five thousand units out of the 
ten thousand. There were still five thousand units that 
were actually built under that program and have been 
successful public housing projects. 

LASKEY: Where were they built? Were those the ones down 
in East L.A.? 

ALEXANDER: The entire Chavez Ravine project would be 
public housing, sure. 


LASKEY: When you were working on Bunker Hill redevel- 
opment, would that also have been public housing? 

LASKEY: That was not public housing. 
ALEXANDER: No, no, no. 

LASKEY: I know that when it was developed, it was not 
developed that way. So your original concept for the 
redevelopment of Bunker Hill was not that it would have 
been a public housing program, that it would have developed 
essentially the way it has developed, as a combination of 
things. But Elysian Park-- 

ALEXANDER: That was a public housing project. I forgot 
that--got so wound up here. [laughter] So it became the 
most prominent project in the public housing program in Los 
Angeles and, therefore, the most desirable from our 
enemies' standpoint to knock out. And they knocked out 
ours and Rose Hills. Their clinching victory came when 
[William F.] Knowland and [Richard M.] Nixon, senators at 
the time, put a rider on some appropriation bill that gave 
the city council the funds to purchase the site from the 
housing authority, both the Rose Hills site and the Elysian 
Park site. And that's what they did, and then of course 
the next step was to convert it into [Walter] O'Malley 
land. And they now had this great site right near the 
center of town, and Roz-- What's her name? 


LASKEY: Oh, Roz [Rosalind] and Victor Wyman? 
ALEXANDER: Yeah, she was the pet of the Dodgers, as I 
recall . 

LASKEY: Roz Wyman was? 
ALEXANDER: Wasn't she? 

LASKEY: Oh, I don't remember. I was just new to the area 

ALEXANDER: There was this lady on the city council-- I 
have nothing against her, and I don't resent whoever it was 
on the council. They were part of the movement of the 
time. They had this land now, and what were they going to 
do with it? They want the Dodgers; the Dodgers want Los 
Angeles (they wanted out of Brooklyn). Anyway, O'Malley 
got the site, and the regrading was fabulous. They knocked 
down the hills and filled in the valleys and made this 
great big place to park, enough cars to handle 50,000 
people in the ballpark. That was the end of a two-year 
effort on our part. Most of our attention went into it. 
We had such people as Sy Eisner, who had been an 
architectural employee of the [Los Angeles] City Planning 
Department and before that, I believe, the [Los Angeles] 
County Regional Planning Commission. He was one of our 
employees. And my office staff came over. Bob [Robert] 
Kennard and other Bobs. 
LASKEY: The Bobs. [laughter] 


ALEXANDER: And Garrett Eckbo. We started out in Neutra's 
two-car garage behind his Silver Lake house. In the 
meantime, he was finishing work on what was to have been a 
real estate investment for him, which was something 
designed for a couple of shops on Glendale Boulevard, just 
half a block away from his Silver Lake house. This became 
a nightmare for me to try to run my office over at La Brea 
[Avenue] and supervise what was going on behind Silver 
Lake, and finally I said, "I'll just break up my spot 
here." This was at a time when I had just come back from a 
Guam trip and got hepatitis and found that I also had the 
eviction notice. I had spotted a piece of property on 
Mount Washington that was inexpensive and looked straight 
across the valley at Mount Wilson. It had this wonderful 
view and this rural atmosphere, and yet it was six miles 
from either the Pasadena or Los Angeles city hall. So I 
said, "Okay, I'll move the office over here." So he 
offered this storefront building as our joint office, and 
when that was finished we moved in there. It was plenty 
big, too big for just an architectural office, so we tried 
an integrated office of architects and structural 
engineers, [Arthur] Parker and [Jack] Zhender; and a 
mechanical engineer, Boris Lemos; and an electrical 
engineer, Swickert. And I don't think we got the landscape 
architects in there, but we had room for them. 


In any event, we had room to spread out and have an 
integrated force. Even though we did not employ these 
people, we had an arrangement that they could do work for 
any other architect, but they were not to go into a 
brochure with anyone but us, that is, as a joint force. 
And I had come to a point in the Orange Coast College work 
where I was notified that they were going to interview 
other architects as well as myself, the first time in 
several years of work from the very beginning. So on one 
occasion I asked Neutra how he'd like to go into that on a 
joint venture with me. 


OCTOBER 4, 1986 

ALEXANDER: Well, as a result of my question regarding 
Orange Coast College, we were then in two joint ventures at 
the time. We sort of drifted into a partnership. I don't 
know how many times over a period of ten years I would try 
to work out a partnership agreement and would always be 
frustrated in some way by Neutra ' s Germanic style of 
thinking, as I think of it. It was just impossible to come 
to an agreement with him which was simple and not so 
complicated that I could understand the darn thing. And I 
kept thinking, "What the hell. We're getting along all 
right now without a written partnership agreement. Let's 
not worry about it." Well, we went ahead with an unwritten 
understanding . 

The number one understanding was that he insisted that 
all of his single-family residential work would be his 
alone and carried out in his "studio," in quotes. In other 
words, in his residence. And that any other type of work 
we would do jointly. Well, he didn't stick to that, and 
over a period of time there were several instances where I 
was really disgusted to find that, without saying anything 
to me, he had broken this agreement, which was, I admit, an 
oral agreement, but nevertheless I considered it a real 
agreement. That was one bone of contention. In any event, 


we went on from essentially 1948 to 1958 on what was really 
a joint-venture basis, but we each signed any contract with 
a client. Do you want to discuss any other projects in 
that period? 

LASKEY: Yeah, because I think a number of things that you 
did with Neutra were particularly noteworthy. You talked 
about Orange Coast College, the auditorium that you came up 

ALEXANDER: That was the first Orange Coast College project 
we did in common, and from then on, any Orange Coast 
College project we did together. In fact, anything that I 
did from then on up to 1958, I did in connection with 
him. There may be some exception toward the end, where I 
did some consulting. I know there was for some consulting 
work, but as far as an architectural project was concerned, 
that was it. The speech arts building at Orange Coast 
College was the first one, and that was the one where they 
were going to interview other architects. But when they 
interviewed me on that occasion, I had Neutra with me, and 
that changed their idea that they were going to seek other 
architects. In the design of that he pulled out all the 
stops that he had been dreaming about, I guess for years, 
of staging affairs. In many ways and on many occasions, he 
was a joy to work with, as long as he was what I could call 
himself, as long as he was not putting on an act. He found 


it irresistible when a six-year-old came into the room--he 
just had to put on an act for that six-year-old, let alone 
a ninety-year-old general of the army. 

On one occasion on the way to Guam in the airplane, we 
had nineteen hours to spare, so what the hell, we might as 
well talk, and that was always fascinating. But on the way 
to Guam on our first trip there, he said, "When we get 
there, I want you to act as the business person and I'll 
act as the artist." I said, "What the hell do you mean? 
I'm going to act as myself." He couldn't understand me and 
I couldn't understand him on this subject, and this 
happened time after time where he wanted to put on an 
act. I found that to be phony, and in many cases it was 
perceived as phony by the potential client. But the 
stories that he told about his experiences in the First 
World War on the Dalmatian Coast-- His old-world habits or 
ways-- For instance, we're walking along the street, each 
of us with his wife, and due to the old American custom, 
coming from pioneer days, we know that the street's going 
to be muddy and there are carriages splashing along there 
and the clopping hooves of horses are going to splash mud 
on our lady's garment, so we always go on the street 
side. He always goes on the right side, because that's the 
side on which he carried his sword, or maybe the left side-- 
LASKEY: Left side. 


ALEXANDER: That's right. He always walks on the left 
side, wherever the hell the street is. Well, I heard a 
great deal about the early days in Vienna. I did not hear 
about what I've heard since. I did not hear what must have 
been heartbreaking for him, and that was the discrimination 
against Jews in Vienna. He described, of course from his 
own standpoint, his working with [Erich] Mendelsohn, going 
to his office, and then corresponding with-- What's his 
name, in Southern California? 
LASKEY: [Rudolph] Schindler. 

ALEXANDER: Schindler. And coming to America, going to 
Chicago, and stopping there. And his admiration for Frank 
Lloyd Wright, and especially the way Wright had succeeded 
in getting international publicity. Well, I soon found 
that Neutra had, in effect, five females working for him 
around the clock to make him internationally famous. I 
mean, he had his wife, who was a marvelous character, Dione 
[Niedermann Neutra] ; and her sister, [Regula Niedermann] 
Thorston [Fybel]; and three hired secretaries. Literally, 
he would sleep most of the time. He would take long 
naps. When he woke up in the morning--it might be ten 
o'clock or something like that--Mrs. Neutra would, in as 
near thunderous tones as possible, say for everybody in the 
studio, "Mr. Neutra is awake." And then all the little 


apprentices would take their little boards of drawings up 
to him while he was lying in his bed for him to make his 
written comments and marks on them, 

LASKEY: Was this because of the heart attack or because--? 
ALEXANDER: Well, he used that heart attack all the time I 
knew him, for ten years. He used it blatantly and 
consciously. One day when we were designing the [Los 
Angeles County] Hall of Records, we found that-- Well, in 
the first place, I think I ought to talk about the Hall of 
Records. That's an important thing we did together. 
LASKEY: Together, okay. 

ALEXANDER: He was on a trip to the East somewhere, while I 
was guarding the store at home. We had, before he left, 
gone into a letter of intent with Pereira and Luckman to 
joint venture this hall of records job and sent our joint 
letter of interest and our credentials into the [Los 
Angeles County] Board of Supervisors, requesting that we be 
considered for that job, that specific job. And [William] 
Pereira had gotten the cooperation of Booz, Allen, and 
Hamilton from Chicago, a management consulting firm, as 
part of our team. I was watching the papers and listening 
to what was going to happen. We had gone down and we had 
seen our favorite supervisor, who, of course, was John 
Anson Ford--great guy. And suddenly one day, quite 
unexpectedly (I was told about how it happened afterwards). 


one of the supervisors said, "I think it is time for us to 
choose architects for the hall of records. It's a big 
prestige job, and I appoint so-and-so." The next 
supervisor said the same thing, appointing somebody else; 
the next one said the same; and this went down until the 
fifth supervisor, Kenny [Kenneth] Hahn. Kenny Hahn said, 
"I appoint--" And they said, "Wait a minute, Kenny. You've 
had the last three jobs," or two jobs or whatever it was. 
"You don't get anybody in on this one." So here were four 
supervisors appointing four guys who hadn't talked to each 
other, knocking our heads together. Well, I called Bill 
Pereira right away and said, "I didn't do it, we didn't do 
it. We didn't know anything about this." And he said, "We 
know this. It's just too bad. I'm sorry for you guys." 
LASKEY: Just to ask you a question here, were Pereira and 
[Charles] Luckman together at this point? 
ALEXANDER: Oh, yes. 

LASKEY: I knew that they were at one time, but I didn't 

ALEXANDER: Well, Luckman couldn't have been together with 
anybody. I mean, he'd have to be together with somebody as 
an architect to start out. He had an architectural degree, 
but he had never practiced and he was new to the Southern 
California scene. So he came out and went to his old 
classmate Pereira, and he had enough business contacts to 


make it attractive. 

Anyway, Bill was very understo..ding . Neutra came back 
with a great glow of excitement. Well, the only people 
that we knew in these three other characters were [Douglas] 
Honnold and [John] Rex, and I knew Honnold intimately and I 
knew Rex very well. This was fine. The other two-- Herman 
Light, I don't know whether I had ever heard of him. But 
we didn't know him. And [James R.] Friend of Long Beach 
was of course appointed by the Long Beach representative on 
the supervisors. 

LASKEY: Were these essentially political appointments? 
ALEXANDER: Oh, yes, of course. And incidentally, at that 
time there was no question that the board of supervisors 
customarily took bribes from architects for jobs, and this 
is not unusual. John Anson Ford is probably the only 
exception in history who did not. Well, I don't know about 

LASKEY: Kenny Hahn? 

ALEXANDER: Well, Kenny Hahn is a slick friend of mine. I 
worked for him when he first became a councilman. I went 
out and rang a few doorbells for him. 1 was on the 
planning commission. I liked his cut, and he was a young, 
enthusiastic guy. 

Well, anyway, the architects selected got together and 
decided we couldn't function on every aspect of the job 


together. So the others agreed that we should be in charge 
of design. Both Neutra and I had made a name at that time 
in the design field, they agreed. Honnold and Rex were 
assigned to program the job. That is, the county didn't 
hand us the program. They said, "Here you have to go to 
the staff that's going to use the building and find out 
what they need." 

LASKEY: So you had to even create your own program? 
ALEXANDER: Right. These days we'd have to charge for it, 
but this was part of the game at the time. Herman Light 
took great pride in his specification writing and working 
drawings too. And [to] Friend, whom none of us knew, we 
said, "Well, maybe you can handle the construction 
services . " 

Well, it took a long time to get started on this, 
because I kept urging Neutra, "For god's sake, this is the 
greatest opportunity in your career for a big building, so 
design the thing, lay it out." Nothing would happen. And 
I remember one night coming back from Orange Coast College, 
after a board meeting down there with our engineers Parker 
and Zhender-- I found that they were wondering what's 
happening here. I said, "I'm waiting for Neutra to come up 
with the design." They said, "Well, you know it's been a 
couple of months. What's going on?" I said, "This is his 
greatest opportunity. I'll get my opportunities like that 


later." Finally I got fed up myself and I went down to the 
office on a weekend, and in two days I worked out what 
became the layout and plan of the thing. It was not, 
naturally, the whole working plan, but it was a plan based 
on the needs that had been identified by Honnold and Rex. 
We called a meeting of our group, and I had a series of 
sketches to show the genesis of this plan and the way it 
was developed. And they all approved. I got a letter from 
Honnold: "Thank god somebody's taking charge of getting 
this under way." Of course Neutra, in the process of 
developing the design and working drawings, got some of his 
trademarks on the thing in the way of colors and what he 
called spider legs and louvers and so on. Although the 
tall louvers on the southwest side were my idea. He was 
flabbergasted at the daring of the 120-foot high louvers 
that would operate. 

LASKEY: They were controlled by the sun? The louvers? 
ALEXANDER: They were controlled by an astronomic time 
clock that would, through the period of the year as the sun 
changed, change as to when it would be open. It was also 
controlled by an electric eye on the roof that would turn 
the louvers until they were straight out, perpendicular, in 
case it became a cloudy day. I mean not just one cloud 
passing over, but if it became a series of clouds passing 
over, a cloudy day, they would stand straight out. And 


another occasion in which they would stand straight out 
from the wall was in the danger of high wind. Anytime the 
wind exceeded certain knots or miles per hour, the 
whirligig or anemometer on the roof would tell it to come 
out to its vertical position, which was its most strong. 
Otherwise it might fly away. We got an engineer who had 
designed a lot of Disneyland gimmicks to work with us on 
making this work, and we had a creative structural 
engineer, much to the disgust of the structural engineers 
that had worked for me during my entire career-this was, I 
think, the one occasion when they didn't. We had to make 
accommodations; we had four architectural groups to talk 
with. so we had some of our men and some of our people and 

some of their people. 

well, at some point pretty soon, we found that within 
our group of four we had a competing design going on. This 
guy Friend, in Long Beach, had gone down to the county 
architectural and engineering staff with a design that he 
had cooked up himself. It was not our agreed-upon design. 
LASKEY: This was when you were in the process, when you 
had decided among you that you and Neutra would be in 
charge of the design. And while you're creating this 
design, he's created an alternate design. 

ALEXANDER: Right, right. And without telling us. And he 
had gone down there to sell it to the staff. Well, this 


was really too much. It was only some time after that I 
looked up the guy's self -written biography in a book of 
architects' biographies, and I found that he was a 
disappointed designer from the start. He had never done 
anything that was truly noteworthy, but it was obvious from 
the things that he mentioned about his career that he 
considered himself an outstanding designer. That was all 
right, but this was a crazy thing to do. 

So we requested a meeting with Art [Arthur J.] Will, 
who was the CAO [chief administrative officer] of the 
county. And in Will's office, we showed Will what we had 
proposed, and we told him about the competing design coming 
in from one of our members. In the midst of describing 
this thing, Neutra put on a heart attack. Well, Art Will 
had had a heart attack himself fairly recently, and here 
goes Neutra on this heart attack, which I thought was real, 
but afterwards he said, "Did I do all right?" And it was 
not infrequent that he would use that heart problem to his 
advantage or refuse to go to a certain place or demand, "I 
must have my nurse with me." And "my nurse" turned out to 
be his wife. Which I understand, and that was great. She 
acted as his ambulatory secretary and she just went through 
hell, but she would call it wonderful. Although she very 
often would say to me, "Isn't he a terrible man?"-- 
laughing. But I had to agree. Well, let's see-- 


LASKEY: Well-- 

ALEXANDER: The Guam thing. Well, it was shortly after I 
came back from India that I went to Washington to a 
national housing convention. The National Housing and 
Planning Association, I think it was, of which I was a 
member. I met lots of colleagues there, guys that I had 
known in the AIA or met at these meetings. I had gotten to 
know very well the top leaders in the public housing game 
nationally, the ones who were in at the very beginning. I 
had been appointed by the national AIA to be the West Coast 
member of a five-member committee on housing and 
planning. The chairman for maybe five years or several 
years in which I was on it was Louis Justement of 
Washington, D.C., who had written a seminal book called New 
Cities for Old. And [Henry] Churchill of Philadelphia was 
on it and Albert Mayer of New York, let's see, and Jerry 
[Jerrold] Loebl of Chicago--those were the five. Jerry 
Loebl was not on the entire five or seven years or whatever 
when I was, but he was succeeded by someone, I forget who 
it was. Anyway, I knew the people in office, the 
appointees in the bureaucracy of housing and planning. 
LASKEY: Was this as a result of your India experience, or 
was this a result of your AIA experience? 
ALEXANDER: No. It was a combination of AIA and Chavez 
Ravine. This was a prominent project nationwide. It was 


the only what you might call comprehensive, "new town in 
town" experiment. So the people in Washington were very 
conscious of that. 

Okay, one of the people at the conference, a friend, 
said, "By the way, you should stand a chance of getting the 
Guam job." Guam had just become a territory. For fifty 
years it had been similar to a battleship run by the navy, 
ever since the Spanish-American War. Finally, at the end 
of the war the Guamanians were demanding some home rule. 
In view of the fact that they had been stalwart, valiant 
defenders of the United States and democracy during the 
invasion and recapture of the island. Congress had given 
them territorial status. So Truman had just appointed a 
governor; his name was Carlton Skinner. He had been Wall 
Street Journal representative in Washington, D.C. I became 
very interested. This was up my alley. It was an 
opportunity that I could see would be fascinating to 
develop a plan. The scuttlebutt was that Carlton Skinner 
had stars in his eyes about regional planning for the 
island and needed some architectural work and so on. I 
then found from somebody who knew the inside situation that 
a very close friend of Carlton Skinner was none other than 
Agronsky . 

LASKEY: Martin Agronsky? 
ALEXANDER: Martin Agronsky. So I got to see Martin 


Agronsky; I became a pest to Martin Agronsky. He was a 
very dear man, very likable. Very decent to a young, 
stupid whippersnapper like me. And as I say, over a period 
of time going back and forth to Washington, I called on him 
many times. But in any event, he gave me an inside view as 
to what Carlton was like and how to approach him, and maybe 
he even gave him some of my line that I had given him about 
Neutra and myself. Well, it turned out that Carlton 
Skinner was very much enamored of Neutra ' s publications and 
his books and so forth, and that he was very much 
interested in my background in planning in India and so on 
in connection with the UN [United Nations] . So we had a 
long telephone conversation, ten dollars a minute or 
whatever it was, in Guam, and we went over together. I 
think it was twenty- three hours from Los Angeles, stopping 
in Honolulu, getting to Guam at that time. And of course 
there was a date change just before you get there. 
LASKEY: This is about 1952? 

ALEXANDER: Yes, that was the start of it. Nineteen fifty- 
two and '53, I think, were the main years. Well, Skinner 
was very enthusiastic about this opportunity. He had in 
mind that over a period of his tenure there that he would 
change the economy from a beer and tin can and cigarette 
economy to a viable long-term civilian economy. That is, 
everything up to that time, as I say, had been just run as 


a battleship by the navy. And they had the utmost scorn 
for Guamanians. They said, "The guys won't work, so we 
have to import the Filipinos to do our jobs." 

As far as not working goes, I found, for instance, on 
one occasion when I stepped off the plane into a puddle of 
water waiting to greet people, some person getting off the 
plane was my bank manager from the Bank of America, the 
branch near Baldwin Hills Village. "What are you doing 
here?" "Well, I'm opening a new Bank of America branch 
here." I said, "How's it going?" Well, I got to know his 
operation. He said, "Why, these employees are the best, 
hardworking employees I've had in my experience at ten 
different branches." It turned out that these guys had 
been treated like dirt by the navy, and they had found all 
different ways to frustrate the navy, like speaking 
Chamorro. They were soldiering on purpose, as far as the 
navy was concerned. But when it came to a job where they 
could have some money and respect, they were just 

Furthermore, all the construction work on the island, 
of which there was a tremendous amount-- Like $30 million a 
month, was it? Anyway, it was big. I forget, it's been so 
many years. I've lost track of the cost index and 
everything else. But it was a tremendous continuing 
contract. Everything was being done on a change order. 


Brown Pacific Maxon, BPM, which was a joint venture of big 
construction firms from the United States, had originally 
had a contract with the navy to do construction work on 
Guam. Towards the end of that specific contract, there was 
more work to be done, so they said, "Let's make it 
simpler. Let's make it a change order." Everything was 
being done on cost plus a percentage (the percentage being 
the profit), and the more it cost, the higher the 
percentage. I mean, the same percentage would bring in 
more dollars if it was 10 percent of a million. The thing 
that might have cost a million, they made cost two 
million. Then on the next job they'd get that kind of a-- 
I think it was not cost plus percentage, it was cost plus a 
fixed fee. But the fixed fee was based on their previous 
experience of percentage. Do you get the idea in general? 
LASKEY: I got the idea, yeah. 

ALEXANDER: Okay, so we found that they would be building 
barracks, we'll say, of reinforced concrete, superb 
construction. No question about that. No question that it 
was going to fall down or anything like that. But to make 
it cost more, they would get a whole crew of Philippine 
workmen to holystone the whole building, to polish the 
outside concrete until it was just like marble. I mean, it 
was a wonderful way to increase the cost. 
LASKEY: What did you call that? Holystone? 


ALEXANDER: Well, you know what a holystone is on a ship. 
That is a pumice stone or whatever they use, a big piece of 
stone with which you scrub the decks. 

Well, in addition to making a master plan of the 
territory, or regional plan, we had the contracts to design 
a house for the governor, which would be called the Palasyo 
after the original governor's house, which had been 
destroyed by the retaking of the island by the navy. 
They'd just sat off in their ships and bombarded the hell 
out of Agaha, the capital city, until it was leveled. The 
Marine Corps general in charge after the landing had 
bulldozers push the rubble into a long peninsula that you 
can still see there. 

Well, anyway, that was one project. Then we were to 
design an elementary school for Agana, something like 
thirty classrooms, and two or three other schools. So we 
were interested in the construction cost. What can we say 
about it? I mean, here we are in the middle of nowhere, 
and we've got to get contractors, we've got to get 
materials, and so on. What do things cost here? Well, we 
found-- I don't know what it was now. Maybe it was $30 a 
square foot. This seemed outrageous to us. Nevertheless, 
we were apprehensive. What would we find if we actually 
put something out to bid? So we put this thirty-room 
school, Agana Elementary School, out to bid, and we got 


bids of $12.50 a square foot, like a third or something 
like that of what the navy was advising us would be the 
minimum cost. Well, I must admit, it wasn't up to navy 
standards as a building. But they were flabbergasted and 
embarrassed, and we were dirt. We were persona non grata 
on the island. 

LASKEY: Because you blew their cover, so to speak? 
ALEXANDER: Well, we got out bids. That's something that 
showed up there. I don't know. There were some navy 
people that were that way and others were not. But 
certainly Brown Pacific Maxim wanted to get us the hell out 
before anything blew up. 

LASKEY: It hasn't changed much today, has it? 
ALEXANDER: I started to say that Carlton Skinner-- Yes, it 
has changed a great deal. But Carlton Skinner dreamed of 
turning this economy around, so part of our mission, as he 
described it over a period of our working with him, would 
be a social and economic one to change the economy to a 
viable native economy. So, for instance, I had meetings 
with Del Monte cannery people to see if they would be 
interested if we got fisheries going. I got into what kind 
of fishing can you do here to get tuna, and I found that 
the Japanese long-line method has been most successful in 
the area. "Where could we get fishermen to do this? Would 
they come from Japan, which is close, only fifteen hundred 


miles away, or from San Diego, which is thousands of miles 
from there?" And "What will we do? We can't sell the tuna 
here. We have to can it and sell it. Would you be 
interested in setting up a cannery for tuna in Agafia 
harbor? What about pineapples? The sweetest pineapples 
I've ever tasted are here. Aren't you interested?" "Well, 
no. The thing of it is that we have found that we must 
have a pineapple that is tart and is about can size, so 
that our machine can take the core out and not lose too 
much pineapple when it cores the thing and skins it at the 
same time, and then we slice it and so on. And those sweet 
pineapples I know are delicious, but the public won't go 
for it, you see. We found that." [laughter] 

Well, anyway, our mission was to try to get things 
like that started, trying to get some real economy based on 
the natural resoL^rces there. I had several frustrating 
meetings back here with people, specific people invited, 
like the best economist I knew and the best sociologist and 
this, that, and the other. I tried to round up a team that 
would work on this problem with us. The first frustration 
was that Neutra would talk a big deal on this line, but he 
did not want any limelight taken away from him, I found 
out. Another thing, the real clincher was that it pretty 
soon became evident that the navy didn't want any part of 
this kind of activity, so they had Carlton Skinner called 


back on the carpet to Washington, D.C., and told him to lay 
off: "The navy does not want anymore additional civilian 
activity than they already have. So just forget it. 
They're doing fine just the way it is. Just lay off." So 
Carlton had to tell us, "Well, forget about that part of 
the program. We won't get any support on it, and we can't 
do it." 

Anyway, we did get the Agana school built, the Palasyo 
built, a little school down at Umatec right in front of the 
beach where Magellan landed (he was the first European to 
discover the island) and one other school, Interajan, 
something like that. Well, meantime we started to develop 
a regional plan. They had stars in their eyes about a 
major high school. And in preparation for that, we started 
to work on elements of an educational institution, in view 
of the fact that the island would be a focal point where 
people would come to high-school-level education from 
islands all over the Pacific, the trust territories. 

And we also had a change of administration. Truman 
didn't last forever, and [Dwight D.] Eisenhower came in. 
And as is the case in many cases we ran into, Guam was 
looked upon as a sort of Siberia to which you send people 
to which you have an obligation, but to get them out of the 
way more or less. One obligation [Dwight D.] Eisenhower 
had was to a lawyer in Seattle whose name I shall forget. 


I may have written it down. 
LASKEY: Eldridge? 

ALEXANDER: Oh, yeah. The governor's house had been 
completed, and here's a new guy coming in who had nothing 
to do with the programming and with the thinking that went 
into the house, coming in to occupy it. 
LASKEY: Now, the house was rather a departure for a 
residence of that kind, wasn't it? 

ALEXANDER: Yeah, the problems that the governor of Guam 
would have-- We found firsthand on one occasion when we 
were there-- There was suddenly a telegram saying that Vice 
President [Alben W.] Barkley will land in Guam tomorrow or 
the next day, whenever it was, quite unexpected. The vice 
president of the United States suddenly comes. Another 
thing, we were there for Liberation Day. On Liberation 
Day, that's a big celebration, and at least two thousand 
Guamanians expect to be invited to the governor ' s house for 
a bash. And what are you going to do with things like 
that? in the first place, we could see that we had to have 
sort of hotel accommodations. There was no hotel 
whatsoever on the island (a Quonset hut was where we 
stayed). There was nothing. So what are you going to do 
when the president of the United States comes here? You 
have to have a place to put him. What are you going to do 
when you have two thousand people to entertain at one 


sitting? In effect, we had to divide the program for the 
Palasyo into two things. One would be a thing for these 
state functions, and the other would be a modest, American, 
three-bedroom house for the governor. So the Palasyo was 
looked upon by some critics as being outlandishly 
extravagant--those were the people who did not understand 
about the state functions--but when you took a look at what 
the governor was to live in, it was very modest. 

Now, Skinner was there long enough to appreciate the 
fact that the climate on Guam, during seven months of the 
year at least, is quite delightful due to the trade wind. 
And if you can simply arrange things to capture that and to 
provide shade for your dwelling-- There are no insects to 
speak of. Lots of little lizards that have suction cups on 
their feet run around on the ceiling and catch what insects 
come in. The living there could be quite delightful, at 
least for a large part of the year, without air- 
conditioning. In fact, they had some air-conditioning in 
some places, like some attempts in some restaurants, which 
at that time were quite primitive. They'd have a navy-type 
air conditioner right outside that roared, and you go in 
and there would be a 20-degree drop in temperature. And 
changing from one to the other was really not healthy and 
was enervating. So Skinner said, "No air-conditioning. 
We're going to have louvers to get the shade properly 


oriented, and we're going to capture the trade winds, make 
life as pleasant as it can be. And when the really muggy 
tropical weather sets in, we'll endure it, the way 
everybody's done it here for centuries." That wasn't 
Eldridge's idea at all. He wanted everything glassed in. 



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