Break out the Champagne! One of John Lautner’s greatest houses, located on a view site in Beverly Hills, has been promised to LACMA by its owner, James Goldstein. This is cause for celebration on several counts. It ensures that a major landmark will be preserved and put to good use. It’s the first of John Lautner’s fifty completed houses to be made publicly accessible. And, as Goldstein says: “Hopefully, my gift will serve as a catalyst to encourage others to do the same to preserve and keep alive Los Angeles’s architectural gems for future generations.”
Like so many of the classic modern houses, this one was commissioned in the early 1960s by a couple whose ambition exceeded their means. That compromised the design, and the Sheats lived there for less than a decade. Soon after Goldstein bought the property, in 1972, and he reached out to Lautner and invited him to employ the latest technology to realize his original vision for the house. Over the next two decades, every part of the house was upgraded—notably in the elimination of unsightly mullions from the glass walls of the living room and master bedroom. The hillside was landscaped and new structures were added under the supervision of Lautner’s successor, Duncan Nicholson. They include an entertainment center and a James Turrell Sky Space, additions that play off the angular geometry of the house.
In Beverly Hills, money rules and the city has squandered much of its heritage. Lautner’s Shusett House was demolished by its owners, who ignored offers to move it to another site. Happily, Goldstein realizes that he is the custodian of the house he has done so much to enrich. His bequest follows an earlier gift of his Lautner-designed office, which had to be disassembled when he lost his lease in Century City. That also went to LACMA and museum director Michael Govan hopes to resurrect it as soon as the new administrative wing is built. —Michael Webb