It is with great sadness that we announce the death of Bette Jane Cohen, director, producer, and editor of The Spirit in Architecture: John Lautner, which jumpstarted increased interest in Lautner’s work in 1990 that continues to this day. She died peacefully yesterday, October 19, 2016.
Bette was an editor on many films and has won many awards. At the time of her death she had been attending screenings around the world of the 25th-anniversary edition of The Spirit in Architecture, to wide acclaim.
In 2001, Bette wrote about the making of the film. The Foundation edited and printed it. You can read her fascinating story.
In addition to being a superb filmmaker, Bette was a genuine friend to us all on the Foundation Board of Directors and served on the Foundation Advisory Board since its inception. She was always ready with a smile and gave her precious time to us when we needed it.
Bette’s death is a great loss to the Foundation, to the architecture world, and to the world of her many friends. Services will be held Friday, October 21, 2016, at the Hillside Memorial Park and Mortuary at 6001 Centinela Ave, Los Angeles, 90045.
The “Multiple Property Submission” of eight Lautner homes to the State Historic Resources Commission was approved in Sacramento this morning, January 29, 2016. The eight properties are the John & Mary Lautner House, the Foster Carling House, the Schaffer House, the Harvey House, the Harpel (Hollywood) House, the Pearlman Mountain Cabin, the Elrod House, and the Walstrom House.
The commission noted that seven letters had been received in support of the nominations.
The primary authors of the application, Lauren Bricker and Luis Hoyos, both teachers of architecture at Cal Poly Pomona, were present, as was ChristineLazzaretto of Historic Resources Group, who prepared the final revisions, and Judith Lautner representing the John Lautner Foundation. Students in the Cal Poly classes did the initial research and preparation of the application. Commissioners complimented the Cal Poly professors on their efforts in introducing their students to this process.
The multiple property submission will now be forwarded to the State Historic Preservation Officer for nomination to the National Register. The final determination is made 45 days after receipt by the Keeper of the National Register in Washington, D.C. As there have been no objections to the listing and the properties meet the criteria of the National Register they are expected to be listed.
The success of this application opens the door for additional applications by Lautner building owners and others. Much of the base work has been done. The Foundation is happy to assist with research and other aspects of the process. Please contact the Foundation through this form if you would like more information:
The Elrod House, one of the best known of the homes designed by John Lautner, will be listed for sale early this coming week, according to owner Michael Kilroy. Built in 1968 atop a ridge overlooking Palm Springs and the southern Coachella Valley, providing views also of the San Jacinto Mountains to the west and San Bernardinos to the north and east, this home has been featured in the James Bond movie “Diamonds Are Forever” and in many high-end advertising campaigns. As well-known and high-profile as the Elrod House is, Kilroy has helped create different kinds of memories of it for many people.
Judith Lautner first saw the house as a young woman working for her father, when the two visited Arthur Elrod soon after it was built and then later when he was working on the Hope residence. Lautner and Elrod had become good friends during the design and construction of Elrod’s house. Judith says that she loved visiting it at different times of the day because it became a different house every hour. Arthur’s death was a great loss to all who knew him and to the broader design world. He was both a major design force — John Lautner once remarked that no house he designed was better furnished than when Arthur furnished the Elrod House — and a kind man who generously helped many in the various communities around him.
Judith Lautner didn’t see the house again until many years later, when she and her sister Karol Lautner Peterson first met Michael Kilroy after he bought the property in 2003. Judith says, “Michael spoke highly of both the work of John Lautner and of the efforts of the John Lautner Foundation, then asked if Karol and I had ever stayed in a home designed by our father. Moments later, he offered to lend the house to us and members of the extended Lautner clan, so that we could all stay together in a home designed by John Lautner. It was a week-long stay which none of us will soon forget, one during which we drew lots for the privilege of spending the night in the main bedroom and cooked each night in the generous kitchen. I liked the guest bedroom so much I didn’t give it up all week.”
This generous sharing of the Elrod House with others became the norm under Michael’s ownership. When the Hammer Museum was organizing its landmark exhibition of the work of John Lautner, the first comprehensive exhibit of his work, and Michael learned that architectural historian Nicholas Olsberg and the other curators of the exhibit had never stayed in a Lautner house, he lent them his, his only caveat being that they stay for at least three nights, so they could “start to really get some of the subtleties of the design.”
As noted in the film “Infinite Space: the Architecture of John Lautner,” when the Dutch architects and students who were traveling to every known Lautner project arrived in Palm Springs and reached Michael by phone that morning, he asked where they were staying that night, then put them up in the house. Michael also provided the house to numerous groups for charity events, like the Palm Springs Preservation Society’s Retro Martini Party in 2010 (half of the profits went to the Foundation), and a series of TEDActive events in 2012, and opened it to the general public for multiple days of tours during Modernism Week 2012 with the proceeds donated to the Los Angeles Conservancy. Michael continued to share the property while a dispute over lender manipulation of mortgage interest rates dragged on between a multinational bank and hundreds of property owners including himself; the dispute lasted more than seven years and involved more than four years of litigation in half a dozen legal venues before that bank settled with him last year.
Michael’s sharing of the Elrod House in a variety of different ways, for more than a dozen years now, has meant that many more people than would otherwise be the case have been able to experience first-hand one of the greatest works of John Lautner. We are fortunate that owners like Michael Kilroy have been so impressed by John Lautner’s work that they not only buy and preserve these wonderful properties but also go out of their way to share them with others in ways which can greatly spread the enjoyment and understanding of these great designs.
The Elrod House will be listed by Tyler Morgan, Keith Markovitz and Todd Monaghan of HK Lane/Christie’s International Real Estate in Palm Springs.
Sacramento City Hall Council Chamber
915 I Street
Sacramento, Ca 95814
The application was prepared by two Cal Poly professors: Lauren Weiss Bricker and Luis Hoyos, with assistance from their students, and with revisions by Christine Lazzaretto of Historic Resources Group. It was a joint project of the Cal Poly professors and The John Lautner Foundation, which provided information and funding where needed.
The eight buildings are:
Foster Carling House
Pearlman Mountain Cabin
The application is the culmination of several years’ work, primarily by Bricker and Hoyos, and contains historical and architectural detail of each building, along with photographs. If the state commission approves the nomination it will be forwarded to the Keeper of the National Register, who will approve or deny the application.
It is rare for a nomination to be denied after the state office has approved it. If the application is approved, the listing will pave the way for further nominations of Lautner buildings. The Foundation intends to pursue additional nominations either on its own or in collaboration with others and encourages all owners of Lautner buildings to look into the potential for listing their Lautner property. We are happy to assist.
The application is expected to be on the “consent” agenda, which means that it will not be discussed separately. However, any consent item can be pulled from the agenda and discussed. Bricker and Hoyos expect to be at the meeting, along with representatives from Historic Resources Group, and members of the Board of Directors of the Foundation.
While not required, support in the form of letters is encouraged. There is no required format for such letters. We have provided a sample letter (in Microsoft Word format) to get you started.
Letters should be sent to
State Historical Resources Commission
P.O. Box 942896
Sacramento, CA 94296-0001
Or you can send comments by email to firstname.lastname@example.org
The Foundation’s primary purpose is the preservation of Lautner buildings along with the education of the public on the value and importance of Lautner’s architecture. Listing of these eight homes will provide a level of protection for the buildings as well as increased visibility of this architecture. We are therefore very excited about this application and mark it as a significant point in the Foundation’s history.
The announcement of Duncan Nicholson’s death in January 2015 left many of us shocked and saddened. A valued associate of John Lautner for the last five years of Lautner’s life, Duncan worked on many Lautner projects and his work on the Sheats-Goldstein residence continued until Nicholson’s own death. In addition to designing many original projects for many clients, Duncan worked with owner James Goldstein to improve and enhance Goldstein’s remarkable residence and to bring to life the private nightclub on the site, essentially a Lautner-Nicholson joint collaboration.
Duncan was a passionate co-founder of The John Lautner Foundation, and served on its board for several years. His insight, integrity, and hard work made him a valuable contributor to the Foundation’s work as well as a close, trusted friend.
Here, in memory of this great, honorable, and creative man are words from a few of his many friends and colleagues that only begin to explain the value of the man and his work to the world of architecture:
Bette Jane Cohen:
I never got to say goodbye to you Duncan. What a loss for Real Architecture with your passing… I know you loved working on Real Architecture! You made a difference! I am honored I got to know you and grateful for all your hard work! You are an inspiration!
Thank you for all the support you gave me while I was making the film, “The Spirit In Architecture: John Lautner.” Thank you for helping me coordinate all the screenings and exhibitions with John.
What beautiful work you’ve done throughout your lifetime…and the amazing people that you’ve worked with. You are continuing the legacy of Frank Furness, Louis Sullivan, Frank Lloyd Wright, and John Lautner…
I remember how inspiring it was for you while you were working with Eric Lloyd Wright, then your amazing time with John Lautner.
I’ve kept my eye on your wonderful work up at the Sheats-Goldstein residence for years. I know you loved working with James Turrell and loved working on all those Skyspaces…Great job!
I know how much it meant to you to pass on your knowledge in your office and all those wonderful tours to the students! You will continue to make an impact Duncan!
I met Duncan while working together on a fundraiser for the MAK Center at the Sheats-Goldstein House. From the very start, I was impressed by his honesty and enthusiasm. We instantly became friends talking not just about architecture, but also surfing, his lovely wife, and his great outlook on life. His smile lit up the world. Duncan was one of the most generous, honest, humble, kind, and talented people I’ve ever met.
I think something architect Hans Hollein wrote about John Lautner also applies well to Duncan:
Hollein called his work “significant of Angelenos’ exuberance and generosity, of their undoubted and purposeful seizing and reaching out for the new, fantastic, and unconventional and their longing for built manifestations of freedom.” Naturally, Duncan had incredible respect for John Lautner. But it wasn’t the typical cold posthumous reverence we often display for important architects. Instead, it reflected a shared love for pleasurable sensation and provocation, a contagious affection for life richly lived. Duncan’s generosity and talent are irreplaceable, and architecture has suffered another tragic loss.
Karol Lautner Peterson:
Life is too short. We never know what will happen. Losing Duncan at such an early age is just unbelievable. He turned out to be an amazing architect designing many beautiful buildings and furniture. We have lost a faithful friend,companion, steward, and boss.
I will always be indebted to Duncan for agreeing to be a founding member of the John Lautner Foundation. His dedication was enormous. He was a loyal supporter.
I am very sad to hear of Duncan’s passing. I last spoke with Duncan at the inaugural tennis tournament at the Sheats/Goldstein Residence. I was acting as a docent for a MAK center tour and Duncan passed by, so I asked if he would speak about John Lautner. Even after knowing and working with Duncan, he still brought new insight as he spoke of John, the Residence, and ideas being built on the surrounding properties. Duncan was very direct, even to the point of telling me that “my architecture career would not start until l went to work on-site for a contractor”. I took his advice and for me I think that he was right. I have many good memories of my time spent with Duncan, Michael Wirts, and Roban Poirier. When I was studying architecture in school I imagined architectural teams with creativity and ingenuity that I witnessed in this group. Architecture has changed dramatically in the past decades, but maybe as Duncan Nicholson showed through his life, many of the guiding principles may stay the same.
I am deeply saddened by duncan’s unexpected departure.
a great architect.
I didn’t know Duncan personally. Although we had both worked with John at different times, our paths only crossed once, years later at an open house at the Goldstein residence, where we talked about his unusual work there.
His untimely exit finds me thinking of those sun-dappled clearings discovered unexpectedly by hikers when exploring forest trails. Experienced by only a few, the chance visitor finds their life brought sharply into focus. The moment remains indelibly etched in memory. Making those moments is what certain architects strive to accomplish. Duncan was one of them. I think he had many more to offer. His absence is our loss.
This sad loss also has me reflecting on the ever dwindling number of those who passed through Lautner’s orbit. It’s like the tail of that comet growing dimmer over time.
For us the living, Duncan’s passing is a moment to reflect on what’s still possible in life.
Duncan, come ‘round the office once more!
The exquisite office you created with your talents.
Regale me with stories while Glady patiently wags and waits for her Dad.
Have a scotch with me Dunc…
Talk to me of your visions and the integrity of fine design…
Tell me how much you love your lovely Lee…
Laugh on the phone with me until we both gasp…
Share never heard stories of you and John…
Come ‘round to me Duncan, once more come round
Only just this instant learned of Duncan’s death. He was such a source of light. This scarcely seems possible. My thoughts are with his family and those who loved him. The loss is immense.
I first met Duncan at john Lautner’s office when he first started working there approx. 1988. We mutually disliked each other immediately. He was the new kid on the block in Lautner’s office, and he did have something to prove. I had already been working for Mr. Lautner for 14 years, and had seen Draftsmen and Project Architects come and go. Only the ones who were meant to be there and work and learn from Mr. Lautner stayed, the rest blipped into the Architectural cosmos. Duncan stayed. He did all the low man on the totem pole jobs, and bitched about it. He was arrogant, and almost sometimes too much to take, but he grew on you. He did have talent. A lot of talent. It showed. Mr. Lautner started giving him better jobs to do. He was a great Architect in the making, and learning his craft from the Master. It was not until John Lautner’s funeral that Duncan and I started to bond, having cocktails at the Bar at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. We started doing projects together, and worked well together. I always enjoyed visiting him at his office at the Airport and checking out his latest designs. His work at Sheats-Goldstein is epic, and the rest of his work yet to be built, but in the oven and getting built or getting ready to be built will also be timelessly awesome. I hope to build some of his unbuilt designs myself. He left way too soon. You are seriously missed. Un-replaceable. Goodbye old friend.
Duncan was always happy to talk about John Lautner’s Sheats/Goldstein house whenever I brought visitors there. He was very proud of the house and proud to be a part of its future. He will always have a place there and in our hearts. On a lighter note…. he got me wearing clogs again after I hadn’t worn them since the 70s!!
I knew Duncan for almost thirty years as a friend and fellow architect and he was truly one of a kind. Duncan was a wonderful spokesman for organicism in architecture, and an embodiment of the western, modernist pioneering spirit of Architecture that has created many of our greatest buildings in California. He was very generous with his time and his knowledge, regularly speaking to and touring through his projects with my graduate students and other architecture-seekers from around the world. It is a great loss to us all and he will be sorely missed, we send much love to his family and office from our camp in silverlake.
Duncan and I worked together in John Lautner’s office and then, after John died, collaborated for a couple of years on the development of Lautner’s designs for the Goldstein House. Professionally, Duncan was confident, energetic and inventive; unafraid to try anything once and willing to make it himself if necessary. He was funny and wildly opinionated; a political person who would guerrilla edit Robbie Conal posters in the middle of the night (this was the mid 90’s). I remember him best for his kindness; he was a generous and loyal friend ready to take care of your dog when you went to Europe or bring soup when you were ill.
It’s all very sad. Duncan’s friendship and talent was forthright, yet personal… loyal to John’s creations and vision, yet expressive and insightful. His work truly exhibited that energy. He was one of our founding board members, a tireless supporter of JLF’s main mission… to protect and care for John’s archives. So committed to continuing John’s vision, one only needs to walk around at Sheats-Goldstein since John’s passing to see this… in that all he has designed, with great respect to John’s master plan, while presenting his own strength as an architect possessing great creativity… a master of concrete finishes… beautiful details and forms, and above all he had great ingenuity and an persistence to keep the projects moving and get them built.
Duncan Nicholson was rightly proud of having been ‘the last man hired by John Lautner’. He understood this lineage and the responsibility this brought. Having worked with John for the last five years of Lautner’s life – on projects large and small – Duncan was also intimately involved in caring for his mentor, when the office and his trusted staff did everything to keep Lautner working.
Following Lautner’s death, Duncan became a founding – and central – board member of The John Lautner Foundation. Among other projects he, with Christopher Carr, oversaw the dismantling of the Goldstein Office and its transfer to LACMA. More importantly, Duncan continued the work on the Sheats/Goldstein House, following first Lautner’s designs and plans, but slowly and steadily leaving these behind to put his own mark on this important project. One only needs to compare Lautner’s original intentions, shown in a model at the Goldstein House, to the extraordinary project that was actually built. This building will exist for a long time. And with it, Duncan Nicholson’s name.
During our extensive John Lautner research we visited and interviewed most of Lautner’s former employees. The first time we met Duncan he was a bit distant to us, but when he noticed the detail of our research he changed entirely into a very friendly and open person. On our next visit to LA we had the chance to meet him again and had a lovely dinner in a restaurant. That night we became friends for life. Over a lot of wine he told us the greatest stories about Lautner and the work at his office, which we will never forget. He also impressed us with a very clear vision about how organic architecture should be made. He was extremely passionate about this. His work shows his love for architecture from the overall idea to the finest detail. I would have been so curious to see all his work in the next twenty years or so. However I was shocked to hear that he suddenly passed away and that the last addition of the Sheats-Goldstein house would remain his project for life. This is not fair, I am sure he had many more stories to tell. It is very sad we will not be able to hear them.
I feel very blessed to have been an apprentice under Duncan Nicholson. He took the time to mentor me over the years that I worked under his tutelage. He had the attributes that every man and architect should strive for. He was honorable in every aspect of his work and life, and he taught me that, like in life, one’s architecture should strive to be honest, original, and innovative.
The first time meeting Duncan I quickly realized that he was immersed in historic knowledge, bringing forth references on ancient truths. He was always articulate in his thoughts, on point in his writings, and exact in his drawings. Duncan was a one of a kind Architect and an artist in his own right. He took every chance to design as a profound opportunity to bring something beautiful into the world. No matter how small or how large he would make a lasting design that was unique in its form and true in its function. He was an individual who would rather struggle for commissions than compromise his integrity.
When he drew, I knew it was always an informed thought with a deep understanding and significance. I knew this because he taught me that I could hone that same skill to form and develop a design, and by controlling and training my mind I could quickly imagine, iterate, and then solve the idea. And only then was the complete idea worthy to be put down on to paper. This was just a glimpse of the love that he put into his work as he continued a long legacy of great design.
Duncan enjoyed surfing and rode countless waves at his favorite spot at Topanga, where it is only fitting as the place he would first meet his wonderful wife Lee. He had an amazing laugh and was youthful in his ability to get the joys out of the everyday. He was generous, and loyal, and always playful in his natural zest for life.
And above all of this he was also my friend, and I will miss you.
He was never short of words of wisdom, and I would like to share a few of Duncan’s sayings:
-The answer is always to be found in the problem.
-The first answer to a problem is often not the best answer.
-Only a Jackass assumes.
-Fact follows fiction.
-If God had a partner the world may not have been as beautiful.
Duncan and I worked together for 25 years on the completion of my house, the James Turrell sky space, and the adjacent tennis court/night club/office complex. There was never a project that was too big or too small for Duncan to tackle. He had tremendous vision along with great attention to details. If there was ever any problem on my property, I knew that a quick call to Duncan would get it solved. His years of working under John Lautner served him well, so that Duncan and I were always on the same wavelength when it came to the goal of designing every project in the way that John would have done it. I will miss Duncan very much.
For information on the memorial service for Duncan Nicholson, see this article. If you would like to contribute your memories of Duncan to this article, please send them to email@example.com
Duncan Nicholson, founding member of The John Lautner Foundation and fine architect in his own right, died this month after a short illness. Duncan was always a good friend and valuable contributor to the Foundation as well as a dedicated architect in service to the truth. Duncan’s office and family have consented to our sharing their information on a memorial service for Duncan:
A memorial service will be held for Duncan at St. Martin Catholic Church on Saturday, February 7th at 11:00 am.
Or by mail:
The John Lautner Foundation
P.O. Box 29517
Los Angeles, CA 90029-0517
We hope to see you there to honor the life of a great man, architect, and friend.
We will publish a tribute to Duncan in this space next week. If you would like to contribute your own memories or thoughts on this great man, please send them to Judith Lautner at firstname.lastname@example.org by Sunday, February 1. Later submissions may be added to the tribute.
Fausto Giovannardi, one of the founders of the Italian architectural and engineering firm Studio Giovannardi e Rontini, has completed a 52-page illustrated paper on Edgardo Contini. Contini worked with John Lautner on a number of projects in the 1940s, notably the trio of Jacobsen, Polin, and Carling, all of which use the same hexagonal steel horizontal frame supported on three tapered steel trusses.
One of the events in the celebration of John Lautner’s birth in 2011 was a panel discussion, “Preserving Lautner’s Legacy”, held at the Wilshire Christian Church in Los Angeles. This discussion is now available on youtube, at http://youtu.be/rINak85pUzk and can be seen here as well:
The panel was hosted by The Los Angeles Conservancy and The John Lautner Foundation, with the support of the Getty Conservation Institute. Linda Dishman, Los Angeles Conservancy Executive Director, moderated the discussion. Members of the panel were:
Helena Arahuete, Principal, Lautner Associates; architect consultant to the Harvey Residence (1951); Advisor to The John Lautner Foundation Frank Escher, board member of the John Lautner Foundation; Principal, Escher GuneWardena Architecture; architect consultant to the Malin Residence (Chemosphere) (1960); Member of the Board of Directors of The John Lautner Foundation Mark Haddawy, current owner of the Harpel Residence (1956); Advisor to The John Lautner Foundation Michael LaFetra, board member of Los Angeles Conservancy; current owner of the Rawlins Residence (1980); Advisor to The John Lautner Foundation Ron Radziner, FAIA, Principal, Marmol Radziner; architect consultant to the Garcia Residence (1962)
The biography of John Lautner, originally written by Melissa Matuscak for the exhibit on Lautner at the DeVos Art Museum last year (2011), has been expanded and illustrated for inclusion in the magazine of the Michigan Historical Society. You can download a copy of the article John Lautner Biography.
The Historical Society of Michigan features a substantial illustrated biography of John Lautner, written by Melissa Matuscak, Director and Curator of the DeVos Art Museum in Marquette, Michigan. Matuscak curated the popular exhibit on Lautner last year, in the DeVos Museum. The text of the article was reviewed for accuracy by members of the board of directors of The John Lautner Foundation.