Wednesday, January 25, 2012

California Home Builder -- 1969 production home builder

Leonard Head (left) and Jerry, Big Bear Lake, CA, 1970

In 1969, I was hired by Kaufman & Broad, Inc. (K&B) to work as a pick-up carpenter on a recently-completed housing tract.  Within two months I was promoted to assistant superintendent for a new project much closer to home.

My first management job (albeit a low-level one) was the construction of a three-acre lake, four model homes, a sales office complex (which would later become a recreation center), and the first phase of 34 production homes on a parcel of land that had been the estate of movie producer Rowland V. Lee.

Becoming an assistant superintendent turned out to be a career-changing opportunity for me.  The superintendent I worked for had a lifetime's experience in production home- building, and he was more than an able teacher.  

He taught me the skills to schedule, coordinate, inspect, and report the activities for a residential housing project.  I also learned a great deal about grading and off-site improvements (streets, curbs, gutters, sidewalks, and utilities), not to mention how to build a lake.

In less than a year I was promoted again and replaced a superintendent on a nearly-completed first phase of a housing project built on another piece of land with a movie connection.  This time the previous owner had been comedian Jack Oakie.

I figured there would be great job security with K&B because they were just starting another phase.  I supervised the second phase construction of concrete slabs and some additional off-site work.   Then another recession hit.  In early 1970, I once again found myself looking for a job.  Little did I know at the time, that recessions and lay-offs would become a way of life in California's home-building industry.

After leaving K&B, I worked briefly as a finish carpenter foreman on an apartment project; when that job finished it was virtually impossible to find work.  At that time I owned a cabin site in the mountains at Big Bear Lake, so I thought I'd see if I could find work there.  When I got there I met another carpenter who had just taken a contract to frame a mountain cabin.  He needed help, so I went to work for him.  It soon became obvious that he was not a skilled carpenter.  In fact, he was so completely overwhelmed he quit, leaving me to finish the cabin framing alone.  I then hired my dad to work with me, and we continued framing cabins in Big Bear for the rest of the summer of 1970.

In the late fall, I returned to the San Fernando Valley and enrolled in Pierce College (under the GI bill).  I found a part-time job working for a remodeling contractor. 

I had stayed in touch with K&B, hoping to work for them again when the recession eased.  In early 1972, they hired me to be their Director of Customer Relations.  I handled the customer service matters for approximately 1500 homes (under warranty) in five southern California counties.  I managed a staff of 12 customer service employees, and I established a quality-control program.  I conducted field inspections on homes under construction, seeking to remedy problems leading to future customer complaints.  

I was still pretty young, and I had difficulty gaining the respect of one older field superintendent on a project about two hours away from the home office.  I had inspected several homes in the framing stage and advised him that the work was not acceptable.  He brushed me off stating he said he was busy now, and he'd take a look when he had time.  

Two days later the framing problems still had not been corrected.  I figured that would be the case, so I brought a single-jack (a short-handled 12 pound sledge hammer) with me.  In one house I proceeded to demolish framing that was unacceptable, then I drove to the field office and told the superintendent that I had "critiqued" the unacceptable framing on lot such and such.  

I got in my car and drove back to the home office.  When I got to the office the division president was waiting for me.  "What the h--- do you think you're doing?" he asked.  I explained to him that his lazy superintendent needed to inspect framing instead of just sitting in his field office holding court.  He laughed, and said keep up the good work.  The next several times I visited that job site I found the superintendent inspecting framing instead of hanging out in his field office :-)

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