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R.E. Alexander; One of Nation's Top Architects

December 02, 1992|BURT A. FOLKART | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Robert Evans Alexander, one of the most respected architects and planners in the nation, whose innovative ideas for affordable housing produced the Baldwin Hills Village in Southwest Los Angeles, has died of cancer.

His wife, Nancy Jaicks, said Monday from their home in Berkeley that her husband, whose many other projects include the campus of Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa and buildings at UCLA, USC and Caltech, was 84 when he died of cancer in Berkeley on Nov. 17.

Alexander, a former Los Angeles Planning Commission president, was only the third recipient of the American Institute of Architects 25-Year Award, presented in 1972 in honor of his work at Baldwin Hills Village, now called Village Green.

Alexander also designed several other Los Angeles residential housing landmarks, including Estrada Courts and Bunker Hill Towers.

In a 1990 interview with The Times, Alexander said he first became aware of the need for public housing when he was a young architect during the Great Depression and "couldn't find any."

That realization led him to envision and design clusters of residential homes around green spaces. The highest rent was $80 per month for each of the 629 units on Rodeo Road land that had been carved out of a bean field on the northern slopes of the Baldwin Hills.

In its citation, the AIA called the village a "notable landmark of innovative planning and design for the automobile age." The Museum of Modern Art termed the English-style garden homes "one of the most significant works of architecture in the nation."

The village was designed to make the automobile a servant, not a master, Alexander said in 1990.

"The basic idea was to keep the 64-acre estate intact, not sliced up by streets. . . . We created a series of garden 'commons' meant for walking and relaxing and getting together."

Converted to condominiums in 1973, the one- and two-story apartment blocks now start at about $110,000 and are occupied by young professionals.

Born in Bayonne, N.J., Alexander received his architecture degree from Cornell University, where he coached the freshman football team after graduation because architectural firms were not looking for help.

He came to California in 1935, joined an existing firm and worked for Lockheed Aircraft during World War II. After the war, he formed R.E. Alexander and Associates in Los Angeles. He later formed a partnership with Richard J. Neutra, considered one of the great style designers of this century. With Neutra he built the Corrine A. Seed University Elementary School on the UCLA campus. The experimental school encompassed a series of post-and-beam pavilions oriented to adjoining play areas and patios that encourage indoor and outdoor use. It has been used as a model for school design since its construction in the late 1940s and early '50s.

With Neutra he also designed the visitors center, museum and cyclorama at the Gettysburg National Historic Park, the Petrified Forest Community in Arizona, the Los Angeles County Hall of Records and the American Embassy in Karachi, Pakistan. His other city projects range from Juarez, Mexico, to Anchorage, Alaska.

He had lived in Berkeley with his wife since 1982. She said he had most recently been working as a volunteer in the prison hospice at Vacaville, concentrating on prisoners with AIDS.

Besides his wife, he is survived by three children from earlier marriages, four stepchildren, six grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

Donations in his name may be sent to the prison hospice through the Holy Name Society, in care of the Catholic chaplain, P.O. Box 2000, Vacaville 95696.

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