Remembering William Krisel, who made tract homes interesting

Krisel died June 5 at age 92 in Beverly Hills.
Chris Menrad

Soaring butterfly rooflines, glass walls, decorative concrete blocks, palm trees and swimming pools—this is the iconic look of mid-century modernism. And architect William Krisel brought it to the people. His designs were realized in 40,000 tract homes across the American Southwest, most famously in Palm Springs but also in Las Vegas’ Paradise Palms neighborhood. Krisel died June 5 at age 92 in Beverly Hills.

“His legacy is bringing modern housing to the average person,” says Michelle Larime, director of education and advocacy at Nevada Preservation Foundation. “While he didn’t do that much building here, his principles, which were very well-published in design magazines, had a lot of influence on other architects here. Copycat details pop up in the Valley.”

Amid endless fields of beige stucco, Krisel’s style has recently enjoyed a renaissance. Enthusiasts published a book last year, William Krisel’s Palm Springs: The Language of Modernism. In February, the Paradise Palms neighborhood received a historical designation from Clark County. And the resale market is strong. “People in the know specifically ask for a Krisel house,” says Jack LeVine, broker/owner of Very Vintage Vegas Realty. “It’s his homes that make Paradise Palms stand out as such an exceptional community. … I’m really glad that Krisel got rediscovered as a folk hero in the last years of his life, because architects’ names get lost, while builders are remembered.”

True to word, Paradise Palms builder Irwin Molasky has definitely not been forgotten. “If I had a nickel for every time somebody called me for the original plans, I’d be a rich girl.” says Pamela Puppel, the community relations executive for the Molasky Group of Companies. “People love those homes and want to put them back to their original splendor.” So does she give out the plans? Puppel directs callers to the county. “We have no idea where they went over the years.”

Paradise Palms resident Dave Cornoyer, a Las Vegas city planner and mid-century modern enthusiast, has owned four Krisel homes over the years. As a hobby, Cornoyer seeks out Krisel designs, sharing tips with other fans and exploring historic neighborhoods. Cornoyer has found Krisel floor plans in Palm Springs, Anaheim, Tucson and even El Paso. “[Krisel] would take these simple plans and twist them and reclad them for different markets,” Cornoyer says. “You can see his hand in his neighborhoods; you can always tell what’s his design.”

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