David Tourjé found a place in the construction community after his parents moved to the Northeast Los Angeles neighborhood of Mount Washington when he was twelve years old. “Back then it was a pretty isolated hillside area,” Tourjé remembers. “It kind of cut me off from all my friends. But I made new friends who all happened to be in construction.”
Tourjé tagged along as a teenager as his friends worked on tricky hillside construction jobs. “I became attracted to that, and then I just kept advancing in construction.” As he advanced, he learned more about his area of expertise. “I became acquainted with the idiosyncrasies of actual hillside construction, hillside foundation work, which is an advanced form of foundation work, and I really liked that. I stayed with that. I became well known for building hillside foundations for new homes.”
He also became well known for his art. A founding member of the California Locos, Tourjé is a fixture in Los Angeles’ vibrant art and music scene. His work is described as a contemporary hybrid of low and high art, reflecting his background in the surf, skate, L.A. punk, and graffiti subcultures popular in his Los Angeles neighborhood throughout the 1970s and 1980s.
“It’s all intrinsic to me – building, making art, making music,” he says of what some might consider an unusual combination of talents. “I don’t see a whole lot of distinction between it in terms of what I do with my hands.”
Not only does it all come naturally to him, but each area of expertise builds on the other. For instance, he has applied his construction knowledge to create art exhibits of steel and concrete furniture. And, his desire to pursue art has propelled his construction company forward.
“You could say that my construction business model is always driven by the fact that I was trying to make time for myself to go play my music or make my art. So I don’t think I would have this business model if it wasn’t for that because I wouldn’t have needed to… So it’s always been a parallel thing.”
His business model got its start in the early 1990s during a recession that caused a slowdown in the construction industry. He recognized an opportunity and launched Alpha Structural Inc. “Nobody was building new homes,” he remembers.
That was when Tourjé’s special knowledge of hillside foundation work came to the forefront. “I always had a component of my company of fixing foundations because fixing hillside foundations was like a hybrid that nobody else was doing. So that was profitable, and it was something that continued during the economic crash of ’92. People, I found, were willing to fix their foundations but they were not going to build new homes. So I transferred a hundred percent of my energy to fixing foundations around that time… And then it just kept going from there.”
Earthquake mitigation is a key component of foundation work in Southern California. Tourjé recognized this fact when he built his first home for his family and utilized leading construction techniques to protect the foundation. His skill was proven all too soon. The very first morning he and his family lived in the house, a major earthquake hit.
“I was making a cup of coffee to gloat on my victory finally of building this three-story house, and as I literally took the first sip, the Whittier quake hit,” Tourjé remembers. The Whittier Narrows earthquake had a magnitude of 5.9 and caused 200 injuries, several deaths, and an estimated $213 to 358 million in property damage in the area.
“As I’m spilling coffee all over the place – that was a very big earthquake – I just couldn’t believe it. I was sitting in this house that I built that had earthquake mitigation techniques installed, and I’m watching this thing move all over the place, and in the end, it settled back exactly to where it started. No cracks, no nothing. And I just couldn’t believe it.”
His house was safe, but Tourjé realized others might not be so fortunate. “It was like a wake-up call,” he says. He was determined to construct safe foundations for his clients so they would be protected when the next big one hit. He continued to build on his knowledge and experience, forging a path where one did not yet exist in the industry.
“I was doing retrofitting before retrofitting existed, making up my own devices in the backyard of my building,” he recalls. “There was no trade of retrofitting. It didn’t exist. So we just made up our own stuff, and to tell you the truth, a lot of the stuff that we did is still done, it’s just done officially now.”
Those official requirements started in earnest after the magnitude 6.4 Northridge earthquake of 1994. This was one of the costliest natural disasters in the country with sixty dead, over nine thousand injured, and between $13 and 50 billion in damage.
“Then the codes kicked in, and then the mandatory retrofitting kicked in, and all these things happened that we were ready for. And we became the number one company in L.A. at that point, and we have never relinquished that position.”
A lot has changed since those early days of earthquake mitigation. Today, large corporations make the brackets that Tourjé once fashioned in his backyard. But his commitment to building safe foundations is the same – as is his company’s leading position in Los Angeles’ earthquake mitigation sector. “I have the licensing and engineering horsepower to design and build anything in-house, and there’s just nobody else who is qualified for that,” he says.
Alpha Structural Inc. is also set apart by its female leadership. The majority of the senior managers and executives are women. Construction is typically considered a “very, very male-dominated field,” says Vice President for Viability Melissa Temps. “We’re definitely proud to be breaking those industry stereotypes.”
Tourjé says the women leading his company, and women in the industry as a whole, “are the future.” He adds that he didn’t set out to build a women-led company, but that he gave senior positions to the most capable applicants – most of whom happened to be women. “I don’t care who comes in,” he says. “The most able person is going to get the job.”
Alpha Structural Inc. managed to stay busy over the last year, despite the challenges COVID-19 brought. “When it initially hit back in March of 2020, we all kind of banded together, acknowledged that it might be a little rough – but we all enjoy a challenge,” says Senior Owner’s Representative Alana Reinhart. “We really decided, as a group, we were just going to put our heads down, work harder, and really try to come out stronger, and that’s exactly what we did. We managed to keep all of our employees on board. We are really proud of that.”
The company did so well in 2020 that it even expanded from the original Los Angeles location to open a new office in neighboring Orange County. To achieve this expansion the team asked themselves, “How can we, in spite of all this, move forward and really actually grow this year?” Reinhart remembers. “We had to really take a look, increase our marketing efforts – and the phones rang and they kept ringing and ringing, and it just never slowed down for us. And we acknowledge we are definitely lucky in a sense, but, you know, that wouldn’t give our team due credit because they really worked very hard to ensure that we kept afloat and even beyond that, expanded. So we really credit the whole team.”
Temps adds: “We have a really good team and everyone put their shoulder to the wheel collectively.”
The expansion is the first of many planned for the near future. Tourjé has a long-term goal of opening an office in every county that touches Los Angeles County. “We intend to build [the new location] up, get it going really well, and then move on to the next county,” Reinhart says. “It’s definitely very exciting.”
And, of course, the team plans to maintain the same high standards that put Alpha Structural Inc. on the map. “We are already the leading company in our field in L.A., so we want that same standard that was set here to be the same in every county that we open,” Reinhart says.