Carolyn Gootgeld-Levine remembers
Carolyn Levine, daughter of Nouard Gootgeld
about the construction of a house and store for her father, about life in the house, about John Lautner, January 2001:
Hello fellow Lautner admirers.
I was born in 1948 and raised, from age three, in a Lautner home that was located high on a hill in Beverly Hills, California. I believe our house was John’s first residential project, which is not to say it was any less spectacular than his later work. The time I spent in that home was absolutely amazing, and the magic has stuck with me for the past 48 years, as if infused into my soul. It was similar to residing within a many faceted crystal. John’s creations were not merely buildings. They were wonderful, profound energies, the likes of which I have not seen or experienced anywhere else.
Although the house was placed on a flat lot and built solidly on bedrock, those inside enjoyed an illusion of being suspended in space. There was never a feeling of being “inside,” separated from nature, due to creative use of glass, curves, and angles. A perception of endless dimension was achieved through the incorporation of magnificent landscaping into structural design. The sun & moon, clouds, stars, trees, plants and visual elements of weather telescopically encircled outside through lushly planted heated patios and lawns, eased inside through glass walls, around and through indoor plant life, and continued back out, joining inner and outer space in a full, never-ending circle. Various uses of wood hues and textures, such as deep redwood ceiling beams, further added to the dimensional quality of the interior.
Rooms were separate, yet one’s field of vision was never blocked. Each and every room was graced with a spectacular view of some sort, through floor-to-ceiling windows which seemed to be “not there.” Even with all the glass, we enjoyed total privacy, as the house was secluded within an acre of mature, lush trees and exotic plants, and the lot itself was visually inaccessible from the street above. From the living room looking west, we enjoyed a view of Beverly Hills, Westwood, and the Pacific Ocean (even though we were a good hour of driving time from the beach). There wasn’t much smog in those days. So, on a clear day, we could just make out the impressions of sailboats.
The drama of this room was offset by a cozy fireplace at one end. We enjoyed a panoramic view of Los Angeles, stretching as far as the eye could see, from the kitchen window. The bedrooms were more like quiet, deep velvet, with their adjoining patios and insulating gardens, sometimes framed with slight hints of city twinkle. Each bathroom was a different color, with fixtures and tile to match, and windows, windows, windows! The den, which was John’s favorite room by far, was designed specifically for my father. It was an oddly shaped room with a lovely brick fireplace, lined with square windows placed above eye level. The floor was made of cork, which presented a textural departure from the carpeted adjoining spaces. A 360 degree revolving circular bar was built into one wall, and was completely undetectable to the eye when closed. It was quite spectacular, with its mirrored shelves and walls, housing all my father’s gourmet beverage collectors’ items. (My father owned the first gourmet food, wine, silver, china, crystal, etc., store in the United States, and invented a way of wrapping various items nested into baskets that were covered with cellophane and tied with beautiful bows. John’s stepdaughter, Elizabeth, remembers doing this, as she worked with my father for a short period of time.)
My father died of a sudden heart attack in 1958 and, soon after, we came upon hard times. My mother sold our house to a family with the last name of Cameo. They eventually sold it to someone in the Rothchild family. When they moved out and put the house up for sale, I went and looked at it. Much of the plant life had died off and the interior of the house was a mass of stark white – white marble floors, whitewashed walls, white draperies. A gigantic leaded crystal chandelier hung from the dining room ceiling, and a white bust of Caesar stood on a pedestal in one corner. I cannot imagine why this family went to the trouble of acquiring a Lautner home, as the treatment they chose totally did not translate! A Lautner house must be left “as is” in order to preserve the integrity of the design. For the last twenty years or so, Priscilla Presley has lived where I grew up, albeit in a different house. A few years after moving in, she, unfortunately, razed the structure right down to the steel beams, leaving only the fireplaces and plumbing standing, and built a pseudo- Italian villa in its place.
Regardless of the fact that the work of art that was once our home is no longer standing in physical form, it will exist forever in my mind’s eye, and I go there whenever the mood strikes. For, like all John’s creations, it was an energy first, and a building second. I am not alone in my feelings about this house. Everyone who visited was transported to worlds beyond your garden variety of “life as we know it.”
Recently, I found myself in Barnes & Noble leafing through a gorgeous coffee table edition of John’s work. I was, of course, in “another world,” as is usually the case when I am reviewing Lautner creations. Within 5 minutes, I had a crowd of people looking over my shoulder, in a sort of trance-like stupor. I now reside in Raleigh, North Carolina. People in this part of the country generally have not been exposed to anything even close to John’s designs.
I have a few lucid memories of John, The Man, from my early childhood, as he and his former partner, Doug Honnold, were guys my dad hung out with. John taught me how to draw simple shapes, such as boxes & circles, dimensionally, as opposed to flat. Boy! I was sure able to wow! my first grade classmates with that! I remember tripping around the foundation of our soon-to-be house, as my father and John bantered endlessly about how to combine sound structure with heavenly illusion. It meant nothing to me until after we moved in. Even at that tender age, I was in awe! Lastly, I remember John sitting endlessly in the den, staring out through his first masterpiece, in deep reverie. I often wondered what he was thinking. I know now, he was not thinking. He was traveling!
Last, but not least, my mother, who is now 87-years-old, has begun speaking of John and Doug much more than she used to, which inspired me to type “Lautner” into a search engine on the internet a couple of weeks ago. That put me in touch with John’s daughter, Judith. Judith in turn, put me in touch with John’s stepdaughter, Elizabeth. These two contacts have taken on other-worldly qualities all their own, as our lives have crisscrossed back and forth in very interesting ways. I have learned that Elizabeth actually worked for my father when I was 2-years-old, before John built our house, and before my father had even met John, as Elizabeth’s father, Doug Honnold, was a close friend of my father’s before I was born. Elizabeth’s description of my father is the only one I have been privy to, other than those my mother has offered. It is sort of amazing. I am so glad to have electronically met these two wonderful women.
Hopefully, more Lautner memories will begin to fill this web page. I am waiting in the wings to be one of the first to enjoy them.
Good bye all.
Sincerely, Carolyn Gootgeld-Levine