TIME WITH LAUTNER

JOHN LAUTNER’S  DEATH BROUGHT A FINALITY TO ME ABOUT , YOU ONLY GET ONE CHANCE TO GO TO A FUNERAL.  I WAS LIVING IN OREGON, AND THE COST OF GOING TO THE FUNERAL WAS A MAJOR CONCERN TO ME.  BUT REPORTS ABOUT THE FUNERAL REVEALED, NOBODY GETTING UP AND TELLING THE JOHN LAUTNER STORY WITH CONVICTION AND UNDERSTANDING.  HIS WIFE WAS NOT EQUIPPED TO DEAL WITH HIS GREAT CONTRIBUTION TO THE PROFESSION OF ARCHITECTURE.  I COULD HAVE SAVED THE DAY BY POINTING TO HIS GREATNESS, BUT I WAS IN OREGON.

I DID SOME AFTER THOUGHTS ON HIM IN THE LA ARCHITECT, BUT THAT WAS THAT. HE WAS GONE.

JULIUS SHULMAN PHOTOGRAPHER

ARANGO RESIDENCE, ACAPULCO, MEXICO, 1973

PHOTOS FROM THE BOOK:

JOHN LAUTNER, ARCHITECT

PUBLISHED BY ARTEMIS LONDON LIMITED

THE PROFESSION JUST WOKE UP THE LAST FEW YEARS  WITH  MAJOR INTERESTS OF HIS WORK, TRAVELING MUSEUM SHOWINGS, NEW BOOKS AND DOCUMENTARIES.

MY TIME WITH JOHN STARTED AS A YOUNG MAN IN 1961 LOOKING FOR A JOB IN LA.  I WENT TO THE LARGE CORPORATE ARCHITECTURAL FIRM OF LUCKMAN, AND THE HEAD  DESIGNER LOOKED AT MY PORTFOLIO AND COULD ONLY UTTER ” JOHN LAUTNER”, HE IS YOUR MAN.

JOHN WAS LOCATED ON HOLLYWOOD BLVD. IN A SMALL OFFICE ON ABOUT THE 5TH FLOOR,  HE DID NOT HAVE A JOB FOR ME, BUT HIS ASSISTANTS REFERRED ME TO ANOTHER ARCHITECT THAT EVENTUALLY LED TO ALLYN MORRIS. JOHN IN HIS  BOOK   MENTIONED A NUMBER OF ARCHITECTURAL COMMISSION THAT MR. WRIGHT HAD REFERRED TO HIM.  MY HUNCH IS JOHN WAS VERY RESPECTIVE OF MR. WRIGHT AND WRIGHT SAW IN JOHN AN EVER QUESTIONING AND INVENTIVE EFFORT THAT DID NOT MIMIC HIS OWN  WORK.  OBVIOUSLY JOHN HAD A PERSONALITY THAT ATTRACTED CLIENTS TOO, BECAUSE THERE WAS A LOT OF REPEAT BUSINESS.

IN 1962 I GOT INVOLVED IN SAVING THE BERNARD MAYBECK PACKARD SHOWROOM IN DOWNTOWN LA.  I RAISED QUITE  A LOT OF NOISE  ABOUT UNION BANKS PLANS TO DESTROY THE SHOWROOM.  I SOUGHT JOHNS HELP AND HE CAME TO MY RESCUE WITH A LAWYER RICHARD HECT ASSOCIATED WITH BELLI.  UNION BANK THREATENED ME WITH A LIBLE AND SLANDER SUIT AND JOHN SHOWED UP AT THE TV NEWS SPOT TO SUPPORT MY EFFORTS.  I WAS WORKING FOR SMITH, POWELL AND MORGRIDGE DOING CABINET DETAILS AT THE TIME.   MORGRIDGE WAS NEXT IN LINE TO BE PRESIDENT OF THE LA AIA AND ARTHUR FROELICH WAS THE AIA PRESIDENT AND IN CHARGE OF REMODELING THE SHOWROOM.  THE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR WAS ABOUT TO DO A MAJOR STORY, BUT RECOMMENDED I COOL IT, BECAUSE I WAS MUCH TO YOUNG TO BE CRUCIFIED FOR BERNARD MAYBECK. THE SHOWROOM WAS DESTROYED, LOST TO  CLUELESS BIG  BUSINESS.  I WAS WISER, BUT STILL FELT THAT TRUTH WOULD WIN OUT.

UNKNOWN PHOTOGRAPHER

JOHN LAUTNER NEXT TOUCHED ME WHEN HE RECOMMENDED ME TO WHINEY SMITH IN 1963 AS A DESIGNER.  SMITH AND WILLIAMS IN PASADENA WAS  A THE FIRM  DOING MEANINGFUL STUFF.  I LASTED ABOUT FOUR MONTHS AND DESIGNED A PSYCHIATRIST CLINIC WHICH GOT BUILT IN PASADENA. I VISITED PALO SOLERI DURING THIS TIME. AFTER A FEW MONTHS IN THEIR OFFICE, WHITNEY SMITH CALLED ME IN AND SAID I WAS DOING GREAT WORK AND WHAT DID I THINK OF THE FIRM?  I TOLD HIM IT COULD BE A LOT BETTER.  THE NEXT THING I KNEW I WAS FIRED.  REASON- POOR ATTITUDE. I  REMINDED WHITNEY OF HIS PARTNER WILLIAMS.  HE ALSO SAID THAT HE HAD ONCE MET WRIGHT THROUGH JOHN LAUTNER, AND WRIGHT ASKED HIM IN A HAUTY WAY, WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?  WHITNEY SAID I HAD THAT HONEST ARROGANCE OF WRIGHT WHICH HE DID NOT LIKE.  YEARS LATER IN SAN FRANCISCO ,WHITNEY SMITH SHOWED UP TO  A LECTURE I DID ON THE GREEN MACHINE AND MADE A MOTION TO SUPPORT MY PROJECT  TO BE BUILT.  THAT WAS KIND OF HIM.  I SHOULD HAVE STAYED CLOSE TO HIM.

THE NEXT RECALL I HAVE OF JOHN IS WHEN HE TOOK ME IN HIS PORSCHE TO A LOT HE OWNED IN PASADENA.  HE DESCRIBED A TENSION HOUSE SPANNING A REVINE HE WANTED TO BUILD FOR HIMSELF.

I TOLD HIM HE BETTER GET IT BUILT BEFORE HE DIES.  WE WENT BACK TO HIS HOUSE AT THE TIME, AND HE MENTIONED MY COMMENT TO HIS WIFE, WHO STARTED SCREAMING AT ME ABOUT WHAT A HORRIBLE THING TO SAY.

IN 1970 I WORKED A SUMMER IN JOHNS OFFICE ON THE BOB HOPE HOME IN PALM SPRINGS .  I DID SOME RENDERINGS OF THE POOL AREA AND LIVING ROOM.  I THINK THE LIVING ROOM ONE WAS THE BEST, BUT JOHN DIDN”T THINK THE ANGLE  WAS QUITE RIGHT.  THE POOL AREA DRAWING ENDED UP IN SOME RENDERING BOOK, AND JOHN GAVE ME FULL CREDIT FOR THE DRAWING.

THE DRAFTING ROOM HAD ABOUT FOUR STATIONS,   JOHN HAD HIS OWN ADJOINING NARROW OFFICE THAT WAS STACKED WITH BOOKS, DRAWINGS, AND MODELS.   I WAS AMAZED AT HOW HE COULD TURN OUT SUCH GREAT THINGS IN THAT MESS.  SOME TIMES HE  COULD NOT MAKE PAY ROLL, BUT HE EVENTUALLY PAID.

I WROTE JOHN A FIVE PAGE LETTER ON HOW HE COULD IMPROVE HIS OFFICE,  NO COMMENT BACK, BUT NO HOSTILITY EITHER.

I  DID A SPRING BREAK WITH JOHN,  WHILE TEACHING AL CAL POLY UNIVERSITY POMONA  ON THE ARANGO HOUSE IN ACAPULCO MEXICO. FOR ME THE BEST HOUSE HE EVER DID.  IT SEEMS IT JUST FLOWED OUT OF HIM AND HE GOT IT ALL RIGHT.  JOHNS PRACTICE WAS  RESIDENTIAL AND SMALL SCALE COMMERCIAL, NOT BY CHOICE, IT JUST HAPPENED THAT WAY . I RELATE TO HIS SMALL HUMBLE HOUSES  LIKE THE  FOSTER , PEARLMAN, AND BERGREN  RESIDENCES . THE  DESERT HOT SPRING MOTEL  AND THE SHEATS APARTMENTS.  ALL  HAD A CLARITY THAT CAME FORTH. THE ELROY RESIDENCE  WAS EXQUISITE AND MARKED A DIRECTION FOR MANY OF HIS LATER DESIGNS.  WE ALL HAVE PREFERENCES, BUT  CLIENTS COME FIRST AND HE  HAD MANY  HAPPY AND RESPECTFUL OWNERS THAT REFLECTED THEIR NEEDS.

AFTER THAT I STARTED TO GET SOME PRESS ABOUT MY WORK IN THE LA TIMES AND JOHN WAS ALWAYS CALLING OR SENDING A NOTE OF CONGRATULATIONS.

I GOT  AHEAD FINANCIALLY AND DECIDED TO TAKE JOHN OUT TO DINNER.  THIS WAS AROUND 1989.  I HAD JUST BOUGHT A USED RED PORCHE.  MILICA DEDIJER ARCHITECT, WAS MY WIFE AT THE TIME AND WE WENT TO HIS THIRTIES SPANISH MINIMUM APARTMENT  IN HOLLYWOOD.  THE LIVING ROOM HAD A HARDWOOD FLOOR AND THE WHOLE LENGTH OF THE ROOM ON ONE WALL WAS COVERED WITH PLASTIC FLOWERS, CANDLES AND CROSSES.  JOHN’S  COMMENT  WAS THAT HIS WIFE WAS INTO CLEANING AND RELIGION. JOHN MARRIED HIS LATIN HOUSEKEEPER AFTER HIS  WIFE HAD DIED. AT DINNER AT A   COMFORTABLE LUXURY HISTORICAL RESTAURANT ON HOLLYWOOD BLVD.  JOHN SAID THAT HE HAD AN OFFICE MANAGER THAT  TOOK CARE OF ALL HIS FINANCIAL AFFAIRS.  THE ONLY TIME HE EVER MENTIONED MONEY WAS AT THE INTIAL CONFERENCE WITH THE CLIENT, AND AFTER THAT HE NEVER TALKED ABOUT MONEY AGAIN. HE WISHED HE HAD DONE THAT YEARS AGO. HE WAS IN A BIT OF A SLUMP, BECAUSE HE HAD AN ASSURED TAX RIGHT OFF GO BAD,  THE GOVERNMENT CLAIMED  HE OWED  BACK TAX AND HE WAS BROKE.    YET HE WAS FLOWN AROUND MEXICO BY HIS RICH CLIENTS, AND WAS WINED AND DINED BY THE  AFFLUENT.  AFTER DINNER I TOOK JOHN TO THE LIEBERMAN ADDITION I WAS DOING IN HOLLYWOOD UNDER CONSTRUCTION.    HE MADE SOME  CRITICAL REMARK ABOUT SOMETHING THAT I DO NOT REMEMBER. MILICA AND JOHNS WIFE WALKED BACK TO HIS APARTMENT. WHEN JOHN AND I ARRIVED  AT THE APARTMENT HIS WIFE WAS NOWHERE TO BE FOUND.  HE CALLED OUT FOR HER AND SHE SNEAKED OUT FROM UNDER A BUSH GLEEFULLY LAUGHING.  JOHN WAS RELIEVED. THEY HAD A PLAYFUL LOVE.

WHAT A CONTRADICTION OF THE MAN I KNEW AND CLIENTS HE SERVED.  HE SAID HE WAS IN LA BECAUSE IT WAS BIG ENOUGH TO HAVE SOME INDIVIDUALISTS THAT COULD SUPPORT HIS WORK.

THE ARCHITECTURAL COMMUNITY REALLY DID NOT KNOW WHAT TO MAKE OF JOHN LAUTNER.  HE WAS OUT OF THE FRANK LLOYD FELLOWSHIP AND HAD SUPERVISED THE CONSTRUCTION OF THE STURGIS HOUSE IN BRENTWOOD LA,  WHICH I THINK IS ONE OF WRIGHTS BEST HOUSES . JOHN AWAYS REFERRED TO  MR. WRIGHT, AND TOLD ME  THAT HE WAS DISPLEASED WITH BRENDAN GILLS BOOK ON” MANY MASKS “.HE SAID MR. WRIGHT WAS A PERFECT GENTLEMAN.

HE DID MENTION A FEAR OF HORSES AFTER HAVING SOME BAD RUN INS WITH HORSES WHILE WITH MR. WRIGHT.

JOHN INVITED ME TO A SHOWING OF A DOCUMENTARY FILM “THE SPIRIT OF ARCHITECTURE: JOHN LAUTNER”, OF HIS WORK AT SANTA MONICA AIRPORT MUSEUM AROUND 1991.  HE WAS PLEASED THAT A POSITIVE MOVIE HAD BEEN MADE ON HIM, BUT A BIT FLUSTERED ABOUT  SOME OF THE PEOPLE USED IN THE FILM  TO COMMENT ON HIS WORK.  TAKE IT FROM ONE THAT HAS HAD A DOCUMENTARY FILM MADE ON THEM AND GIVING LIBERTY TO THE FILMMAKER,  THE STAR DOES NOT CALL THE SHOTS.  GOES WITH THE TERRITORY.  NOW IF YOU ARE HEAVY HANDED ABOUT THE PROCESS YOU CAN GET AN AVERTISEMENT.  WHICH IS REALLY WHAT AN ARCHITECT WANTS.

JOHN KEPT DOING BUILDINGS THAT WERE DIFFERENT.  ALTHOUGH HE WAS AN  FAIA.  HIS WORK WAS NOT OF THE INTERNATIONAL STYLE, NEUTRA SCHOOL,  CASE STUDY HOUSES, NOR MID CENTURY MODERN STYLE. THEY WERE NOT THE ORGANIC SCHOOL, ALTHOUGH EVERY ONCE IN AWHILE HE WOULD GO THERE. HIS WAS A FRESH LOOK .  HE WAS INNOVATIVE AND EXPERIMENTED WITH  THINGS LIKE THE AIR WALLS, MOTORIZED LIFTS, SITE BOULDERS ETC.   I LOVED HIS DISGUST AND RANTING AND RAVING ABOUT BANKS, THE ARCHITECTURAL PROFESSION, BUILDING DEPARTMENTS, AND THE WORLD. ALL OF WHICH I  NODDED MY HEAD IN AGREEMENT .  HE HAD A HEARTY LAUGH AND USED SARCASTIC HUMOR.    OTHER PROFESSIONAL COMMENTED ON HIS  BITTERNESS, THE THING I LOVED MOST ABOUT JOHN.

JULIUS SHULMAN PHOTOGRAPHER

ONE OF  THE LAST NOTES I GOT FROM JOHN   WAS ON THE DANIEL HAFID HOUSE  ON MULHOLLAND DRIVE.  MICHAEL RENDLER AND I DID THIS HOUSE WITH A SMOOTH TROWEL CEMENT FINISH THAT LOOKED LIKE A CONCRETE HOUSE. AFTER JOHN GAVE SOME PRAISE,  HE ASKED IF IT WAS OUT OF CONCRETE? KNOWING FULL WELL IT WAS  STUCCO OVER A FRAME BUILDING.  HE ALWAYS HAD A BIG THING FOR PERMANENCE.  THAT IS WHY HIS LATTER BUILDINGS WERE BUILT OUT OF CONCRETE.  LAST FOREVER WAS IMPORTANT  FOR HIM.  THE OTHER ISSUE BEING SHOWING A MATERIAL FOR WHAT IT IS.  A NICE THING IF YOU CAN AFFORD IT .  BECAUSE WITH CUSTOM CONCRETE IT REQUIRES TWO BUILDINGS TO BUILD.  ONE BUILDING OF FORM WORK AND ONE BUILDING OF CAST CONCRETE.

IF THERE WAS EVER AN ARCHITECT THAT COULD SAY, “I DID IT MY WAY”. IT WAS JOHN.  IT WAS A HONOR TO KNOW HIM, BUT I REGRET NOT SPENDING MORE TIME WITH HIM.  HE HAD A LOT TO SHARE.  STANDING ALONE IS TOUGH.  IF YOU ARE LUCKY ENOUGH TO KNOW GREATNESS,  STAY CLOSE.

WISHING YOU THE BEST,

GLEN HOWARD SMALL

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  • http://www.marc-architecture.com mark lymer

    Glenn- an acquaintance here, not currently in much contact, says he worked for Lautner. Michael Sayre. sorry to hear JL died. been out of touch with news, etc. AZ has plenty of news lately, so much that is bad, that have to take it in small doses.
    looking forward to July 29, not that SB 1070 will go in effect, but that i can finally carry a concealed weapon without a license. not really. will not go out to a bar for the next month on a weekend. will be tabulating the shooting deaths at local bars. it’s just nuts here right now.
    -mark

  • http://[email protected] Enoch

    To hear you tell it, a lot of these colleagues you mention such as Whitney Smith have fragile egos. Have you found this to be the case?

  • http://jeniferpalmer-lacy.com Jenifer Palmer-Lacy

    What a great piece about Lautner; I once mentioned to him that all my modern achitecture friends were critical that I had built a log cabin addition to our 1908 house in L.A. Lautner said his first house was a log cabin, too, and there was nothing wrong with that. Of course his (still standing?) was much more innovative, all in the details.