In July 2021, when Alex Rasmussen, president of the aluminum fabricator Neal Feay, invited me to check out the company’s Goleta headquarters, I rather uncharacteristically didn’t ask if I could take photos. I think I was overwhelmed with the impressive machinery and technical information. “If you’re offered the chance to see it, go,” I wrote. So when Rasmussen recently reached out again, I jumped.
Neal Feay was founded in 1945 by Alex’s grandfather, Neal Fay Rasmussen (pictured below). Metropolis explains its genesis nicely:
The company, called Neal Feay—Rasmussen’s early training as a typesetter instilled a love of symmetry that led him to add the ‘E’ to his name—started out making bracelets. Taking advantage of the post-war glut of aluminum, they were anodized aluminum cuffs, stamped with midcentury names (Doris, Betty, June) that sold like shiny, silver-colored hotcakes at Neiman Marcus. […] As Neal Feay evolved, it went from designing and manufacturing anodized aluminum bracelets, cigarette cases and matchboxes, to making anodized aluminum parts for hire. Demand was high for the processed metal—which is up to 50 percent more durable than aluminum on its own, thanks to an anodizing process that uses an electric charge and a dilute acid bath to create a layer of oxide on the surface of the metal.
The company further distinguished itself by pioneering the process for colored anodizing:
Vats are filled with either the diluted 15-percent sulfuric acid solution that activates the anodizing process, or with the organic-based dyes used on clothing, which, when applied to aluminum, yield gleaming, cool-toned hues.
The Goleta building was the first one on the street when it was built in 1958.
After Alex Rasmussen came onboard, he got the company involved in high-end audio components—but after that market dropped out in 2008, he followed his passion for design, inviting creative types to come check out the facility. And it worked: the company pivoted toward the fields of architecture, interior design, fashion, and art.
The first place they take visitors to is a room showing some of the many ways they have molded, perforated, dyed, and otherwise manipulated aluminum for clients. One popular use is on yachts and jets, because anodized aluminum is both lightweight and holds up so well.
For me, the more exciting part is the warehouse-size space where much of the action happens. The whole four-acre complex hums with noise and activity. And even though you’ll see few people in my photos, they were there—and, in fact, the facility is in production 24 hours a day.
…and some of the machines—”mills, laser cutters, CNC machines, hydraulic presses, and more,” according to a promotional deck—that do the work. Several reminded me of the Wayback Machine from the Mr. Peabody and Sherman segments of the Rocky and Bullwinkle show.
They really should have one that says to watch out for dropping names. Kidding! And anyway, who can blame them? Neal Feay has worked with a who’s-who of collaborators and clients: Marc Newson, Zaha Hadid, Jean Nouvel, Frank Gehry, Jony Ive, Peter Marino, Peter Alexander, John Mellei, Holly Hunt, Hermès, Louis Vuitton, Perrier Jouet, Kenzo, Dr. Dre, and the list goes on. Of local note: Lynda Weinman and Bruce Heavin, David Flores, Hank Pitcher, Mary Heebner…. Examples of the company’s work are sprinkled throughout the complex (and also on Flickr).
And Alex Rasmussen is an artist in his own right—the sculpture below has already been bought, but the buyer’s new house isn’t ready yet. Until then, it’s displayed in a perfect spot to catch the light from outside. Here’s hoping you get to see it for yourself.
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