This House is a Work of Art, So the Owner is Donating it to a Museum | WBEZ
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This House is a Work of Art, So the Owner is Donating it to a Museum

One of the most dramatic homes in Los Angeles has just been donated to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Designed in 1961 by John Lautner — an influential Southern California architect — the glass and concrete house clings to the side of a canyon. Its present owner, James Goldstein, has been revising and perfecting it for 35 years.

Goldstein — a property investor and basketball superfan — is as striking as his home. On the day of my visit he meets me in a leather cowboy hat, tight black leather pants with rows of horizontal zippers up each leg, high black boots, a blue leather jacket and a jaunty scarf around his neck. ("I'm very involved in fashion," he tells me.)

Goldstein — who has his own fashion line — poses in front of his home. (Danny Hajek/NPR)

To arrive at his house, I've driven up a steep hill, and down a very steep driveway. Los Angeles has its share of stunning modernist homes, but even picky architects salute this one. (Movie-makers, too — you might recognize it from The Big Lebowski or Charlie's Angels.)

High up in a house that's mostly made of glass, you get a bird's-eye, panoramic view of the Pacific Ocean, Fox studios and downtown Los Angeles. The view is so bird's-eye, in fact, that actual birds sometimes fly inside.

"Most birds find their way out quite easily without my help," Goldstein says. "But the exception is the hummingbird — I have to assist the hummingbirds."

Nestled into the side of a canyon, Goldstein's house looks out over downtown Los Angeles and beyond. (Jeff Green/LACMA)

Goldstein's glass walls have almost invisible seams that open and shut at the push of a button. This was not part of architect Lautner's original plan.

"Actually, when the house was first built, there was no glass at all," Goldstein says. There were no walls of any kind in the living room — a device blew warm air into the room when it was chilly, but it didn't work all that well.

After Goldstein bought the house in 1972, he covered its four acres with a tropical jungle. His staff includes four gardeners, two assistants, a pool technician and a housekeeper. No chef, though.

Goldstein's master bathroom features a glass sink with no faucets. A hidden spout offers water with the wave of a hand and drains outside the window. (Courtesy of Barry Milofsky)

"My specialty is cooking turkeys," he says. "I also do a lot of take-out."

The kitchen, like most of the rooms, has a retractable skylight. Meshing outside and inside was a Lautner signature. Before the architect died in 1994, he and Goldstein worked together to fill the house with surprises: The wooden ceiling opens to let down a huge TV. There's a glass sink with no faucets — a hidden spout offers water with the wave of a hand.

Goldstein says he loves living in this spare, uncluttered, elegant home. "Minimal is the word," he says. "I've kept that word in my mind on everything I've done. That's one of the Lautner concepts which is very important. ... Everything is concealed. Everything is simple and at the same time beautiful."

Lautner was an avant garde innovator who had studied and worked with an American master.

"Lautner learned a lot from [Frank] Lloyd Wright — not the least of which was his love of experimentation," explains Trudi Sandmeier of the USC School of Architecture. "But Lautner took it to the next level. He pushed it further."

And, teaming up with Goldstein, he pushed it some more. Goldstein remembers sending Lautner ideas — "and within two days he would be giving me maybe four sketches of alternate ways that he would like to implement my idea," Goldstein says.

Over the years, Goldstein has put in a tennis court and a nightclub (Club James, of course), and he has plans for a theater on the property. He entertains a lot; Rihanna's 27th birthday party — Jay Z, Mick Jagger and Leonardo DiCaprio were all in attendance — was held here.

Integrating indoor and outdoor space was one of John Lautner's signatures. (Tom Ferguson Photography/LACMA)

Hosting parties like that, you have to have the right outfit. Not a problem for Mr. Goldstein.

"I have a very important men's fashion collection," he says. (In fact, he even has his own fashion line.) His closet is full of fabulous spangled and studded jackets. With the push of a button, the clothes rack will revolve — just like at the dry cleaner.


At 70-something, with shoulder-length white hair, Goldstein — who made his fortune in California real estate — leads a playboy life. He attends more than 100 NBA games every year. "I'm known as the No. 1 NBA fan, he says."

Standing by the pool where clothing-challenged Pamela Anderson once posed for a shoot, he's living out a childhood dream.

"I remember building projects in the sand in Miami Beach and everyone coming by and saying, 'You're going to be an architect someday,' " he says.

And he's come close. Design is important in all of his involvements, and he says he doesn't plan to stop working on his masterpiece of a home.

The furniture is custom-designed to fit the angles and design of the home. "Every detail has been worked on," Goldstein says, "including where the stitching of the leather is." (Tom Ferguson Photography/LACMA)

"Every day, I think about little details of what's going on now, what I'm going to do," he says.

In a city with stellar modern residential architecture, and people monied enough to afford it, James Goldstein and architect John Lautner have created a house of wonders.


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