Oral Histories

Interview of Robert E. Alexander

Architect and co-owner of the firm R. J. Neutra and R. E. Alexander. President of the Los Angeles City Planning Commission.
Architecture, Planning, and Social Responsibility
Interviews not in a series, part one
Urban Planning and Land Use
Urban Planning
Architecture, Landscape Architecture, and Design
Biographical Note:
Architect and co-owner of the firm R. J. Neutra and R. E. Alexander. President of the Los Angeles City Planning Commission.
Laskey, Marlene L.
Alexander, Robert E.
Persons Present:
Alexander and Laskey.
Place Conducted:
Tapes I to II: Laskey 's home in Los Angeles, California; Tapes III to XIX: Alexander's apartment in Berkeley, California.
Supporting Documents:
Records relating to the interview are located in the office of the UCLA Library's Center for Oral History Research.
Interviewer Background and Preparation:
The interview was conducted by Marlene L. Laskey, UCLA Oral History Program; B.A., political science, UCLA; has researched, organized, and conducted architectural tours of Los Angeles.
Processing of Interview:
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 1988.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.
25.25 hrs.
Regents of the University of California, UCLA Library.
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 life style--Odd jobs during the Depression--Working as a laborer in construction--First projects--John Parkinson.
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 life style--Odd jobs during the Depression--Working as a laborer in construction--First projects--John Parkinson.
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.
Recreational facilities at Baldwin Hills Village--Siting of public park and elementary school--Alexander's projects in early 1940s--Lakewood City.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
Frank B. Wilkinson--Developing the master plan for Orange Coast College--Garrett Eckbo--Designing the UCLA University Elementary School (UES).
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 Rand.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Alexander and Neutra fired by the new governor of Guam in 1953--Division of responsibilities in the Alexander-Neutra partnership--Staf f in the office--Al Boeke--Simon Eisner--Breakup of the Alexander-Neutra partnership in 1958--Establishment of a new office in downtown Los Angeles-- Joining the California Club.
Proposal to redesign the Avenida Fuerzas Armadas in Caracas--Pedro and Napoleon DoPouy--Work for Saint John's College.
A plan for Adelphi University--The Gettysburg Visitors Center — The Petrified Forest National Monument Visitors Center- -The Dayton Museum of Natural History--The Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America Building.
The Miramar Naval Base Chapel--The San Pedro Hotel--Designing the art building at California State University, Northridge--The state architect's office--The Church Fine Arts Complex, University of Nevada at Reno--Getchell Library--Lift-slab construction techniques.
More on the Getchell Library--Eero Saarinen-- Sitting on the jury for the 1952 Alcoa competition--A competition to redesign the Chicago Loop--Hired as consulting architect to prepare the long-range plans for University of California, San Diego, campus--A plan for clustered colleges--Awarded contract to build first residence halls and dining facility at UC San Diego.
A humane design for university dormitories. --[Second Part] (May 12, 1987) --Design of the UC San Diego dining facility-- Carlos Tovares--The style of UC San Diego as a whole--Evoking the feeling of San Gimignano-- Competition with William Pereira--Conf licts with the campus architects and engineers office-- Opposition to Alexander designing the UC San Diego medical facility--Alexander finally awarded contract.
Studying the operation and design of other medical schools--The Basic Science Building--Flexibility of function built into the design--Resignation as consulting architect because of continuing conflicts with the campus architects and engineers of f ice--Replanning the Anchorage, Alaska, business district after the 1964 earthquake.
More on work in Alaska--More on red-baiting of public housing advocates in the 1950s--The Hollywood Independent Citizens Committee of the Arts, Sciences, and Professions--The 1948 Henry Wallace presidential campaign--Designing married students housing for the University of Southern California--The International Students Center at UCLA.
More on the evolution of the Bunker Hill redevelopment project--The Bunker Hill community in the 1940s and 1950s--Controversy over Angel's Flight--Opposition to the Bunker Hill project--Redevelopment in the United States designed to upgrade property rather than to assist low-income people- -Rebuilding the City: A Study of Redevelopment Problems in Los Angeles- -Historic preservation and redevelopment- -More on opposition to Bunker Hill project--Howard L. Holtzendorff --Plans for low-cost housing.
The evolution of Bunker Hill Towers--Lewis Kitchen--Prudential Life Insurance Company-- Changes in the design of the towers required by the investors--City zoning laws prevent mixed residential-commercial uses within the towers — The articulation of the towers with the hillside site--Plans for public art cut from budget-- Structural engineering of the towers and selection of materials--Earthquake studies.
Membership in Town Hall of California--Organizing forums in opposition to the Vietnam War--Involvement with the World Trade Center and other commercial ventures in downtown Los Angeles- -More on the Bunker Hill Towers--Conflict with Dorothy Buffum Chandler--Relocating office to the Bradbury Building in 1970--Ef forts to preserve Los Angeles City Central Library--Proposals for rapid transit in downtown Los Angeles.
More on mass transit--The Pershing Square competition--Hired as consulting architect for the California Institute of Technology--The Baxter Hall of Humanities and Social Sciences--Ramo Auditorium--Beckman Behavioral Sciences Building--Advising Claremont Colleges on campus expansion--Architectural history of the Caltech campus.
More on Caltech--Reconceptualizing classroom function and design--More on Ramo Auditorium--More on Baxter Hall--Building a home at Mammoth Lakes--Designing the Ridgecrest Mental Health Center in Ridgecrest, California.
Designing the city hall in Carson, California--Advising the Federal University of Brazil on campus expansion--Impressions of Brasilia--Work on schools for American military bases in Japan.
Work with AIDS patients at Vacaville Medical Correctional Facility--Support group meetings--Ideas on prison reform- -More on the American Institute of Architects (AIA)--AIA support for public housing--Developing a code of ethics for architects- -Elected an AIA fellow in 1956.
More on Alexander ' s membership on the Los Angeles City Planning Commission--The 1945 San Fernando Valley zoning plan--The political clout of real estate developers--Divisions among the commission's members--More on the Forest Lawn Mortuaries case--Evolution of Alexander's ideas on planning--Disagreements between urban and architectural planners--Work for El Paso and for San Diego border zones.
Involvement with the Hollywood Independent Citizens Committee of the Arts, Sciences, and Professions--Work on AIA committees--Term as president of the AIA's Southern California chapter--Speaking out against the Vietnam War--Establishing an intern program for architectural students--Involvement in the historic preservation movement- -The changing membership and functions of the AIA--More on developing a code of ethics--Registration of architects.
Julius Schulman--Neutra' s influence on Schulman--Arthur Parker and Jack Zhender--Boris Lemos--Other professionals involved in the Alexander architectural f irm--Garrett Eckbo--Decision to retire--Building a new home on the Big Sur coastline--Alexander ' s second marriage ends in divorce.
Alexander's third marriage--Philosophy of architecture--Observations on Le Corbusier--Conflicts between architectural theory and practice--Client relationships--Competition for jobs--More on Alexander's 1951 trip to India.
Antonio Carnero-- Impressions of Hong Kong- -Work in Micronesia--Pacif ic Architects and Engineers--Ponape--Retireinent--Personal relations with other architects.