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!

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