Born: Shanghai, China
Education: University of Southern California, 1949
Best known for: Butterfly roofs, the three-level House of Tomorrow with curving rooms and a glass pavilion front, and an unusual gift for merging quality and creativity with almost unthinkable quantity. His designs converge on midcentury modern neighborhoods where tract homes enjoy custom characteristics and a plenty of attention from buyers.
To own a Palm Springs home designed by William Krisel is an honor and a pleasure, but not a miracle. Throughout the heyday of affordable vacation homes in the 1950s and ’60s, Krisel was an architectural powerhouse. Along with partner Dan Palmer (of Palmer & Krisel) he designed not only homes but entire neighborhoods built by prominent developers like the Alexander Construction Company. Some have credited Krisel’s work for almost doubling the city’s population with the influx of people drawn to his sleek abodes that inspired a poolside living. Thanks to lead designer Krisel’s open floor plans, abundant glass, clerestory windows, and inspired rooflines, one would be hard-pressed to find someone before or since who has brought such modernism within reach of the masses.
After the firm worked with the Alexander Construction Company to design a profitable modern tract in L.A., the collaboration continued off South Palm Canyon Drive. The boxy Ocotillo Lodge sprang up in 1956, attracting potential homeowners to a new development behind it. In Twin Palms, Krisel rotated the floor plans, varied the facades, and alternated rooflines. This successful formula led to the design of more than 2,000 Alexander homes by Krisel, filling out complete areas with modernist sensibility.
In Krisel’s Las Palmas Estates neighborhood the House of Tomorrow, originally conceived as an experiment in modern living, so impressed the Alexanders that they moved in and called it home. Elvis and Priscilla Presley spent their honeymoon there in 1967.
From a childhood in China to Beverly Hills High to USC, Krisel proved adaptable. He had been a licensed landscape architect since 1954 and left a profound legacy in the design of more than 30,000 modern living units across Southern California.
Years after earning his star on the Palm Springs Walk of Stars in 2009 for the magnitude of his 51-year career, Krisel was partnering in the restoration of his homes. He was a living legend with a voice of truth.
“Yet, on this 75th anniversary of the city,” Krisel told Palm Springs Life for a 2013 story, “I would like to say that Palm Springs should be very proud that it is known as the capital of the world for midcentury modern architecture, and it is the one city in America that really protects that design, advocates that design, and is proud of that design. I think if it wasn’t maintained, restored, and appreciated the way it is here in Palm Springs, it would be a bygone event, and you wouldn’t see it anywhere in the world. So I give the city and the people who live here full credit for the fact that midcentury modern is still appreciated.”
A film on his life and contributions, William Krisel, Architect, premiered during Modernism Week 2010.
Other Notable Properties:
- Ocotillo Lodge, 1956
- Smoke Tree Valley Estates (Twin Palms), 1957
- Valley of the Sun Estates in Rancho Mirage, 1957
- Las Palmas Estates (Vista Las Palmas), 1958
- Racquet Club Estates, 1958
- Sandpiper Condominiums in Palm Desert, 1958
- “House of Tomorrow” (Elvis Honeymoon Hideaway), 1960
- Canyon View Estates, 1962
- Kings Point, 1968