The big gift: John Lautner’s Sheats Goldstein house bequeathed to LACMA

The big gift: John Lautner’s Sheats Goldstein house bequeathed to LACMA

With its sloping angles and clam-shell-like structure that boast striking views of Los Angeles, the iconic Sheats Goldstein residence should be a home that goes down in history. Designed by architect John Lautner in the early 1960s, and immortalised in pop culture through films like The Big Lebowski and fashion shoots by legends like Herb Ritts, Helmut Newton and Michel Comte (as well as ads for Jimmy Choo), its owner – businessman and fashion/basketball aficionado James F Goldstein – has ensured that the house will be experienced for generations to come.

Last week, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) made a big announcement: that Goldstein – who purchased the house in 1972 – has bequeathed his home, its contents and surrounding estate, which includes a night club and an infinity tennis court, to the museum. The historic gesture marks the first gift of architecture to the LACMA, and includes an endowment for maintenance and preservation of the historic house, gardens and contents, as well as programming.

Goldstein said that the decision to give his home to the museum was a simple one. ‘I wanted to have the house as an inspiration for architects in the future, as an inspiration for people in general in Los Angeles; to try and continue to make Los Angeles more beautiful, and to open it up to the public for many years to come, so that they can see the great work of John Lautner, and see the possibilities in contemporary architecture,’ he explained to an audience of journalists and trustees at the property.  

LACMA director Michael Govan highlighted the building’s influence on modern architecture. ‘I hope everyone noticed the extreme choreography that Lautner described for us as you come in. You’re restricted in the height, and the width, you come through that corridor, you hear that sound of water, you have the plant material... and then, you have this kind of clam shell opening to the view, that I think so many architects have copied — I think that so many buildings have been influenced by this building in that sense,’ he said.

Goldstein recalled meeting with Lautner in 1979 to help renovate the house. ‘I never knew what he was thinking, but as soon as I came up with an idea, he jumped on it, gave me several alternative ways of doing it and always left it up to me to pick the one I liked,’ said Goldstein. Goldstein and Lautner ended up replacing steel moldings that disrupted the view with glass.

Included with the promised gift are Goldstein’s extensive fashion collection, and works by artists like Ed Ruscha, DeWain Valentine, Bernar Venet and Kenny Scharf, among others. Not to mention a 1961 Rolls Royce Silver Cloud, and a James Turrell Skyspace installation. ‘My idea was to have a collaboration between John Lautner and James Turrell,’ recalled Goldstein, who ended up collaborating with Turrell on the space. ‘Unfortunately that didn’t happen because John passed away before the final plans were done.’

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