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Firm Comes Long Way from Chicken Ranch : Baldwin Co. Celebrates 30th Anniversary as Succesful Home Builder in Southland

May 04, 1986|RUTH RYON | Times Staff Writer

Ike was President, Elvis was king, and Noel Baldwin was a mailman who decided to become a builder.

That was in 1956. This year, Baldwin's sons Alfred (Al) and James (Jim) are celebrating their family owned building firm's 30th anniversary.

But when Al Baldwin says, "We are among the few builders today who know how to build houses," he is referring to the Baldwin Co.'s earlier days. "Most builders our size come from the financial world, not from construction. So they can hire people with technical knowledge, but we grew up building."

He's not kidding. He was only 12, and his brother was 16, when their father hung up the mailbag. "My father was 42, the same age that I am now," he recalled. Noel Baldwin quit the Post Office to subdivide his three-acre Temple City chicken ranch.

Feeding the Chickens

"I welcomed the home building because then I didn't have to come home every day from school to feed the 25 or so chickens," Al Baldwin remembered, "but then I found out that feeding the chickens was easier than wheeling concrete."

Feeding chickens was certainly easier than digging a foundation without heavy equipment. "It took my dad a long time to build his first house," he said.

Noel Baldwin actually started work on the first house a couple of years before he quit being a mailman. "He drew a line on the ground in a sweet-potato patch and told my brother and me to start digging," his son recalled. "We dug the (foundation for the) first house by hand." That house was sold in 1957.

By the time they were done with the ranch, the Baldwins had built five homes there. Then they acquired other sites, primarily in the San Gabriel Valley, where they built about 600 homes before Noel Baldwin retired in 1972.

Sees Improved Sales

Since then, the company, now headquartered in Irvine, has built and sold more than 5,000 homes. At the end of 1985, the firm had a sales volume of about $130 million, Baldwin said. In a Professional Builder magazine listing of the top 475 builders in the United States, the Baldwin Co. placed 88th in dollar volume and 178th in number of units built. In The Times' 15th annual Survey of Residential Construction and Sales Activity in Southern California, published in March, the firm ranked 13th out of 144 building companies.

"We sold just under 800 homes in 1985, and this year we have the potential to substantially increase that number," he noted. The firm expects to sell about 1,500 homes in 1986.

These will be a variety of types--single-family, condominiums and town houses--and prices--from $80,000 to more than $200,000. And they will be in 18 subdivisions in six locations, all in Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego counties, with an estimated 70% of the units in two projects: Carmel Del Mar in San Diego and Portola Hills in El Toro.

It's no surprise that the Baldwin brothers do business strictly in Southern California. It's where they were born and raised, graduated from college (Jim from Woodbury, Al from USC), married and had families.

Brother on Sabbatical

Each of the brothers has four children. Al's range from 13 to 21, Jim's from 10 to 20. "They're somewhere out there, sailing," Al said of Jim's family. Jim took a 2 1/2-year sabbatical to sail and skin dive around the world. "But my family and I are going to join them, probably in Australia, for awhile this summer," Al said.

The Baldwin brothers also have two sisters. "They used to work for our company, but after my dad retired, he started a small business with them, and they build about 10 homes a year now," Baldwin said.

The Baldwins are a close family, he acknowledged, and a big one, which he attributes in part to their religious background--"Catholic, you know."

He considers himself a religious person and proudly admits that he goes to church every Sunday and is "very involved in church activities, because I feel that life moves so fast these days, you need religion to maintain a degree of morality and purpose."

Proud of Product

One of his purposes as president of the family's firm is to build housing that he can be proud of years later, housing that sometimes offers a little something extra, such as swimming pools and tennis courts in single-family projects.

"I'm always proud to go back to a neighborhood that we built," he said. Even in Montebello, where buyers complained of faulty work in 1975?

"Oh, Montebello, that's where we had a roofing contractor go broke on us," Baldwin remembered. "He did defective work, then did repairs but not properly. We had to hire another contractor to fix everything."

While the new contractor was making repairs, the Baldwins offered to buy back houses of dissatisfied customers. "Nobody took us up on it," he recalled.

Made Donations

Such experiences are just part of doing business, he figures, like fighting no-growth advocates. "People like the status quo, and we face this in every community we go into," he said, "but I think there is more understanding now than in the past because communities realize that people need places to live."

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