Category Archives: April 2008

Artez Academy of Architecture expedition

Desert Hot Springs Motel
Students and leaders of the Architecture Academy from The Netherlands accomplished a remarkable feat this last spring. Their goal was to visit every Lautner building in southern California. The Foundation board of directors loved the idea, but to protect the privacy of Lautner building owners, did not provide addresses or contact information for most of these buildings. The Arnhem group was the most determined and hardest-working we have seen, and very nearly accomplished its goal.

But let’s start at the beginning. Jan-Richard Kikkert, one of the organizers, starts the story in this issue of the newsletter (edited slightly for clarity). The remainder will be told in one or two additional newsletters.

Artez Academy of Architecture Lautner 2007 expedition.
By Jan-Richard Kikkert with Tycho Saariste
Artez Academy of Architecture, Arnhem, the Netherlands

Part 1: Preparation

It all started in a high-speed train on our way home from Germany.

Ko Jacobs of the Artez Academy of Architecture of Arnhem had asked me to organize a trip for the students in 2007. The Academy considers architectural expeditions crucial in the development of an architect. In addition to the excursion the whole school makes at the end of the academic year to a location somewhere in Europe, smaller groups of students from specific years make their own tours. I was asked to put together one of these smaller trips.

With a bit of evaluation, I came up with the format of the perfect trip: not too many participants and focused on one architect whose works are located within a reasonable distance to each other.

Beyer ResidenceA few months later, my wife and I found ourselves being shown by Jim Goldstein around his house, garden and his James Turrell pavilion. My curiosity about Lautner’s work had been triggered by John Lautner’s (edited by Escher) book years before, but I found that the house was so much better than the gorgeous pictures already promised. At that moment I knew what I wanted to do for the excursion: to visit all remaining Lautner buildings.

Sheats-Goldstein Residence

This is where the work began. Just a handful of projects are mentioned in the architectural guidebook for Los Angeles. The official sources such as the foundation were protective of the names and addresses. Then a friend gave me a copy of Barbara-Ann Campbell-Lange’s book on Lautner. In the back was a reproduction of the map of LA on which Lautner indicated his built work until a certain date. With the help of Google-Earth and the plans in Lautner’s book it was possible to start locating most of the works. At that point, I told everybody in the field about my mission. Lots of friends wanted to join a Lautner expedition, all of them intoxicated with Lautner’s work through Escher’s book. One was Tycho Saariste, practicing Architect and son of one of my most inspiring teachers. He had seen Silvertop and the Chemosphere as a student and told me he just had to join me, no matter what.

Working with Tycho was excellent. We inspired each other not to give up until we found every last Lautner building that still existed, stretching the patience of our wives. Using all possibilities that the Internet provides and with the help of all the people who were willing to share what they knew about Lautner, it took us about a year of research to find all addresses with most of the current owners. Our definite list is a combination of all the lists that are available in various sources, completed with the help of Martin Daoust, Canadian Lautner connoisseur pur sang.

Crippled Children's SocietyThe next step was to convince all the homeowners to receive us. We sent 84 letters of request that included a reply form with return envelope and a letter of recommendation from the foundation. We received eight yes and three no replies. It took four weeks of intensive phone calls during the narrow window between LA and NL time to talk to everybody, confirm we would come and try to persuade the peoplewhot were still not sure they would like to receive us. The yeses came from proud homeowners with houses in pristine condition, happy to share them with us, from happy homeowners who never had a request for a visit before and homeowners who understand the importance for students (and their teachers) to experience striking examples. The nos came from homeowners who never allow visits (in one case, not even the architect was allowed to visit once the house was finished), from embarrassed homeowners with a house in a desperate need of renovation and from homeowners who were renovating and did not want to receive us for liability reasons.A third group was the people who had not responded to our letters and whose phone number or e-mail addresses were unknown to us. (Once in LA, at the Deutsch residence we found our
own unopened letter laying on the doorstep of a beautiful restored house.) To contact the last group we phoned their neighbors to pass on our request. In the end we scheduled 43 appointments, complete with 22 outdoor drive-bys.

Jordan ResidenceWe also wanted to involve a circle of people around Lautner, such as his daughters, Frank Escher and Helena Arahuete. In this way we could get first-hand inside information and exchange thoughts and observations to enhance the experience of the visits.

The generosity of Ko Jacobs, the director of the Arnhem Academy, made it possible for all of us to travel to Southern California for ten days, cruising around in two red Dodge Caravans from 08:00 AM until sunset. All of the houses were much better than anyone could have had imagined. For Europeans with a media-controlled, preconceived idea about US citizens, we found that the way we were accommodated by the homeowners was unbelievably kind and welcoming.

It was just perfect.

More details and photos to follow in future installment(s).

Reminder about the archive

As noted in the last email newsletter, the Getty Museum Special Collections has accepted the John Lautner Archive. The Getty has begun work on the items needed for the Hammer exhibit (also see the previous newsletter for details), in accordance with an agreement with the Hammer, and has begun the fumigation, cataloging and preservation needed to preserve the remaining materials. During this time the archive will not be available. Do not contact the Getty to request materials until we announce that the collection is available again.

Eisele Guest House: a forgotten treasure

Some of John Lautner’s buildings are known throughout the world. Others have somehow slipped to back burners, lying in wait to be rediscovered. Such a house is the treasure known as the Eisele Guest House. And here, briefly, is its story.

Back in 1946, John Lautner designed a “guest house” for client Arthur Eisele. The small (a little over 1,000 s.f. including a separate “guest bedroom” attached to the separated garage) house was set on a large lot in the Hollywood hills, off Mulholland Drive, that had spectacular views of the city. The house was not visible from the street or from nearby streets, making it very private and virtually unnoticed. Arthur built the wood and brick house for his mother, Hazel, who moved in as soon as it was complete, in 1948. When Arthur later fell upon hard times, he was forced to sell the house. Hazel was so in love with the house by that time that she hoped its new owners would appreciate its special qualities as much as she did (a note to this effect is still in existence).

In 1956 Arthur sold the house to Lloyd Rigler, who had secured his fortune by selling Adolph’s Meat Tenderizer (in partnership with his long-time friend Lawrence E. Deutsch). After Rigler sold the business in 1974 he became a major supporter of the arts and a founding donor to the Los Angeles Music Center. He bought the house because he liked it, but he never lived in it and he didn’t rent it out or have visitors there. He protected the amazing views by buying up surrounding lots and not building on any of them.

Over the years Lloyd and his nephew Jamie visited the house from time to time. The house suffered a kind of benign neglect, aging gracefully in spite of a lack of maintenance. In the early 2000s Lloyd considered restoring the house and even went so far as to hire designers to draw up plans. Ultimately he did not want to pursue what the firm proposed and he cancelled the contract. The house continued to sit, unoccupied, unvisited, appreciated only by a few.

In the early 1990s, when John Lautner worked with Frank Escher on his monograph, he told Escher that the guest house was “not important”. Photographs and drawings of it did not need to be in his book. By that time he had moved from one project to the next, always answering the question, “what’s your favorite house?” with “the next one”. The guest house was small, not dramatic, not “flying concrete”, and such was Lautner’s view of himself that he himself did not recognize its jewel-like beauty.

And so the house sat. Until just recently. Lloyd Rigler died in 2003, leaving his estate to the Lloyd E. Rigler-Lawrence E. Deutsch Foundation. The house was in a living trust and transferred automatically to his nephew, James (“Jamie”) Rigler.

Jamie, who is gregarious and outspoken, has taken on the job of restoring the house to its initial glory. He has lovingly replaced sliding glass windows, repaired minor damage, replaced a trellis between the house and the garage, and installed new landscaping. He has removed items that were stored there and furnished the house with furniture that could have been sold during the time the house was built. He has even restocked the pool house with little bottles of coke. Most importantly, though, he has opened its doors to visitors.

We expect a significant increase in interest in Lautner’s works after this exhibit opens, and are working to accommodate that interest by increasing the size of our web space and adding more material to it. Many of you have been asking for more pictures for a long time. If you maintain a site that focuses on Lautner, we’d love to add a link to our site. Let us know. If you have royalty-free photographs that you’d love to see on our site, send them along!

Membership changes

Some of you may have noticed that we now use regonline to process memberships. This service allows us to maintain a database of members that is always up to date and that can be used easily for mailings to members. There are benefits for members as well: you can choose how you want to pay and you can choose whether to renew your membership automatically or simply get a reminder when it’s due.

Those of you who have memberships through Paypal will gradually be shifted over to regonline. If you see a notice of your “new membership”, therefore, in your inbox, don’t be alarmed. It only means that it has been moved over to the new system.