Noel Baldwin was well into his 40s when he quit his job as a mail clerk and turned his Temple City chicken farm into a housing tract.
“I’ll never forget the day my dad walked out into our front yard, where we actually grew sweet potatoes,” said son Alfred E. Baldwin, now 50. “He took some white chalk and drew a square area, then he handed me and my brother two shovels and said, ‘Start digging.’
“And that’s where we built our first house. It took about a year.”
The elder Baldwin started that new business in 1956 and, with the help of Al, who was 12 at the time, and son James, then 16, built five homes in the next few years.
The first house sold for $16,000.
Today, the company is one of the top 15 builders in Southern California and ranks among the top 100 in the nation. It has built more than 15,000 homes.
Piloted by Al and Jim for more than 20 years, the company has weathered several recessions and is now building in six master-planned communities. The largest is the 24,000-acre Otay Ranch in San Diego.
After their father retired in the early 1970s, the Baldwin brothers moved the company to Orange County, first setting up near builder William Lyon on Campus Drive in Newport Beach and later moving to Newport Center.
Jim Baldwin, now 55, is the driven older brother who overcame polio to become a collegiate skin-diving champion. After graduating from Woodbury College in Los Angeles with a degree in business administration, he joined the company full-time in 1964. That same year, he married his fiancee, Nancy.
The father of four is an accomplished off-road race car driver and owner, a former U.S. national spear fishing champion and an avid deep-water fisherman who pilots his motor-sail yacht, the Osprey, on jaunts to his beachfront home in Baja California’s Cabo San Lucas.
Al Baldwin, now 50, shares that passion for fishing, especially fly-fishing, and is also a hunter. He built his first home when he was just 20. The two-story California ranch house with a white picket fence was completed in 1964. Al graduated from USC with a business administration degree and joined the company full-time in 1965. He and his wife, Deeanne--they married the same year as Jim and Nancy--also have four children.
Like many major developers, the Baldwins have given generously to local organizations such as City of Hope, the Orange County Performing Arts Center, Orangewood Children’s Home and the Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian cancer center.
The Baldwins and their wives also support various political candidates, individually and corporately. Each gave Gov. Pete Wilson nearly $2,500 on March 17 for his reelection campaign, for a total of $10,000.
The brothers who grew up on a chicken farm are now known for their lavish lifestyle. They own a ranch in Wyoming, a ski lodge in Sun Valley and a home in Cabo San Lucas--Al is still building his. They travel often. Their primary residences are custom homes in the exclusive Emerald Bay community adjoining Laguna Beach.
Al is the soft-spoken public relations man, while Jim is the tough, blunt brother who handles the company’s finances.
That the two complement each other is the source of the company’s strength, Al said.
“You talk different to your brother or your sister than you do anyone else,” he said. “I mean, you grew up together. . . . There is an underlying relationship of confidence and trust that permeates the company.”
Though several of Noel Baldwin’s grandchildren now work at the company, too, Al said he and Jim aren’t trying to build a dynasty.
“I don’t want to control the destiny of my children,” he said. “Yes, I have a company, and, yes, I want to see it continue. . . . But I don’t want to force them into anything.”