November 01, 2017

Photo Essay: John Lautner's Sheats-Goldstein Residence, Before Private Becomes Public

Lots of architecture buffs such as myself were excited to hear James Goldstein announce that he would donate his landmark, John Lautner-designed home—known as the Sheats-Goldstein Residence—to LACMA upon his passing.

Of course, the millionaire-slash-fashionista-slash-NBA superfan may be aging, but he's still very much alive.

And he's still building and adding and annexing his lots in the Beverly Crest area of LA. He may not stop until he actually does pass.

But fortunately, Goldstein worked so closely with Lautner personally on some of the existing additions that anything not original to the property was approved by the modernist architect. Or, at least, it would've been, thanks to input from a Lautner protégé who stepped in after his death.

There's even a statue that represents Lautner, standing in the entryway as a reminder that he had to give his stamp of approval on every detail. He was always watching everything—and now, it's kind of like he still is.

One of the hallmarks of Lautner designs—as with many of the other Midcentury Modern architects who were contemporaries of his—is the seamless integration of the inside with the outside.

And with the Sheats-Goldstein Residence, it does kind of seem like the koi fish are swimming in a pond that's actually in the living room (separated only by a pane of glass)...

...and that you could rise from the built-in furniture and step right into the swimming pool

...or right off the ledge towards the city skyline, for that matter.

Though no water actually flows into the living spaces, vines do crawl along the concrete walls, slipping behind those flimsy glass boundaries and reaching towards the kitchen.

The most characteristic design element of this Lautner masterpiece is the space-age, interplanetary, pitched overhang above the pool deck...

...dotted with embedded cocktail glasses to create a "camping under the stars" type of feel when the sunlight shines through.

Goldstein has lived in this house since 1972, but Lautner didn't build it for him. He created it in 1963 for UCLA professor Paul Sheats and his wife and children, who moved out after living there for just a few years.

It was Helen Sheats who'd requested some way to let the light in on the pool deck—but not because she herself loved swimming so much.

In fact, she'd let the kids swim in the pool while she stayed inside, downstairs in the master suite. She'd also requested the installation of some underwater windows so she could at least keep one eye on them—and having a bit more sunlight shining in probably helped improve visibility.

Goldstein, of course, has added plenty of his own touches to his dream home in the Hollywood Hills, like an "invisible" sink...

...motion-detector faucets, al fresco showers, and black toilets unfettered by doors or stalls.

He has not, however, changed the view...

...nor has he diminished the feelings of instability, insecurity, and danger of dangling off a cliff like that.

As part of Goldstein's expansion of the property, he actually razed another Lautner house—one that was considered a "lesser" work of his, and one that apparently Lautner told him he should tear down.

It its place is a "floating" court with one of the best views you'd ever get while playing a tennis match...

...and, right underneath it, "Club James."

It's literally a nightclub and event space...

...replete with a bar...

...more built-in furniture to match the design aesthetic of the main house...

...and, of course, that view.

Eventually, once ownership shifts over to our longstanding art museum, the public at large will be able to take it all in and experience the Sheats-Goldstein Residence firsthand (as I have had the fortune to do, twice).

Surely, there will be lots of demand for it, considering its fame as "the house from The Big Lebowski."

But, in the meantime, it remains in the hands of a private owner who still lives there and works out of an office there. And access to it at the present time is incredibly exclusive.

It will most certainly change when it's opened to the public. Not only does the mere presence of people change things, but to welcome a broader spectrum of the populace will require some ADA accessibility retrofitting, handrails, and other safety precautions.

And taking the danger out of it will desaturate the experience of visiting—though, by how much, we don't know yet.

File this one under: Get there while you can.

P.S. All photos but one were taken with a Samsung Galaxy J3 Prime Android cell phone camera, as no real cameras (not even pocket-sized ones) were allowed during my most recent visit.

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