Category Archives: John Lautner

Lautner in the News

Lautner Pilgrimage

At Midgaard, John Lautner’s childhood cabin, with Karol Peterson in 2010

John Lautner has been in the news lately. First, one of his most famous houses, the Elrod in Palm Springs, is up for sale. Yesterday, Jim Goldstein announced he was donating his home, aka the Sheats-Goldstein House, to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, meaning, hopefully, one of the architect’s buildings will finally be open to the public. This is significant, as one of the reasons Lautner has not always gotten his due for being the key transitional figure between the two Franks (Lloyd Wright and Gehry) is that his buildings are almost all private homes.

Perhaps just as significantly, eight of those houses — the John & Mary Lautner House, the Foster Carling House, the Schaffer House, the Harvey House, the Harpel (Hollywood) House, the Pearlman Mountain Cabin, the Elrod House, and the Walstrom House — have been submitted to the State Historic Resources Commission, in the hopes that they will be eventually nominated to the National Register. The multi-property application, prepared by students and faculty at Cal Poly, opens the way for preservation of additional Lautner properties.

Lautner Pilgrimage

The ceiling of Midgaard, painted by his mother, the artist Vida Lautner

On a much sadder note, I only recently discovered that Lautner’s oldest child, Karol Peterson, passed away last year. I met Karol several years ago when I visited her father’s family homes in Marquette, Michigan. We kayaked together on Lake Superior, and I instantly loved this tall, outspoken, warm-hearted woman. It was she who suggested that someone should write a biography of her father, a task I have been picking away at during the last couple of years. Last summer I spent an intensive week with Karol going through her father’s and family papers at Deertrack (John’s first commission) in Marquette. Karol was in and out of the hospital then, and I knew she was not doing well, but I guess I was in denial when she stopped returning my messages several months ago. She was a great steward of her father’s legacy and memory, and I will miss kayaking with her dearly.

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Leonard Malin’s Dream House: The Chemosphere


The John Lautner-designed Chemosphere rises out of the Hollywood Hills like a redwood and glass mushroom. The architect built the house for an aerospace engineer who had recently graduated from Loyola University, Leonard Malin. Malin raised his young family there, among the owls and squirrels. I interviewed him and his daughter Judith, also a LMU graduate, for the award-winning LMU Magazine.


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Town Mouse and Country Mouse

Delta Millworks plank

Delta Millworks plank

The Dwell on Design show taking place at the Los Angeles Convention Center this weekend is like a porn extravaganza for design fetishists. Cypress burned and finished until it looks like alligator skin. Washers you can operate with your smart phone. Giant glamping tipis stocked with velvety bean-bag chairs. Bluetooth stereo systems that look like children’s building blocks. Outdoor kitchen setups — i.e. pumped-up bbqs —  that cost more than three-bedroom houses in my husband’s hometown. (Admittedly that’s not saying a whole lot.) Hundreds of vendors hawk cutting-edge household products, and the occasional jewelry and back rub — everything you want for your urban wet dream.

In the middle of the San Fernando Valley, there’s a place where you can glide in your kayak past blue and green herons between banks of lush vegetation — a mix of palms, deciduous trees, and bamboo. Water from the Sepulveda Basin gets recycled in this rare stretch of the Los Angeles River that has not been turned into a concrete trough. It’s a reminder of the natural beauty that was here before over-consuming dwellers put up a parking lot, in the words of Joni Mitchell. Sadly, you have to paddle past the occasional partially submerged shopping cart — how symbolic is that.IMG_6341

Yesterday I experienced two sides of LA, a city that prides itself on both its cosmopolitan pleasures and its natural beauty. As someone who has always prided herself on being both a town and a country mouse, I appreciated both experiences. But I have to say that despite the trend of makers going green, the forces of urbanization still have the upper hand in our city. Continue reading

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Desert Modernism

We spent a few days in Desert Hot Springs last weekend, grazing Modernism Week and visiting the Living Desert, one of the most beautiful zoos I’ve ever seen. Mostly, I paid my homage to John Lautner at the Hotel Lautner‘s cocktail party. Leonard Malin talked about how and why he and Lautner built the Chemosphere. Two of the architect’s daughters, Karol and Judith, were there representing the Lautner Foundation. Then the sun set behind the wind turbines and mountains.

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Bob Hope’s Lautner house for sale

Bob Hope once said about the house that genius architect John Lautner built for him: “At least when they come down from Mars, they’ll know where to go.” The Martians can now buy their landing pad: the concrete Palm Springs palace is for sale. For $50 million.



via Bob Hope’s John Lautner house for sale at $50 million –

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Lautner Land

I’m up in John Lautner’s homeland, hoping I can catch a fraction of the inspiration the great architect got from the UP. Sadly, I’m going to miss the birthday celebrations in LA. Go in my stead, and check out my LA Weekly article.

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Lautner Pilgrimage

MidgaardJohn Lautner grew up with ancient rock under his feet and towering pines above his head. His mother painted the walls and ceilings of their house with flowers and clouds, and his dad filled it with learning. From the family’s log cabin high on a bluff, you can see miles of Lake Superior water and Michigan forest. Midgaard lives up to its Norse name, meaning between heaven and earth.



I’ve written before about my obsession with Lautner, the mid-century modernist maverick architect and native Yooper. Sunday, I got to walk in his footsteps. Thanks to the generous time of his daughter Karol Peterson Lautner, I visited Keepsake, the house he grew up in, and Midgaard, the camp he helped his parents build in the 1920s. We even kayaked to see Midgaard from the lake. It was a last-minute visit to Marquette and a highlight of the trip, right up there with the eagle.
Midgaard Ceiling
Keepsake and Midgaard are both based on European styles, German and Norse. Lautner’s professor dad was of German descent, his artist mother Irish. And yet in their use of native wood (cedar and pine), anchoring to the rock (boulders lead underfoot up to Midgaard’s door), and fervent embrace of their landscape, these are thoroughly American homes — the America of optimistic embrace and progressive ideas. Marquette may be an obscure outpost in a remote region, but it’s also a university town. John’s parents were well-traveled bohemians, cosmopolitans in the American woods. They picked the site for Midgaard — perched among rocky spines atop a cliff — because it reminded them of the Alps.
Midgaard Fireplace
One can see the imprint his UP upbringing left on Lautner as he went on to Taliesin to study and work with Frank Lloyd Wright, then founded his own company in Los Angeles, building such landmark homes as the Chemosphere and Pearlman Mountain Cabin. For one, those boulders reappear — he uses them as furniture in houses he built in Malibu. Lautner wasn’t the first American architect to make a fusion of indoor and outdoor spaces central to his work — he learned it from Wright, for one. But I think he took it further than anyone else. There’s a spectacular, spiritual quality of the environment up here in Michigan that’s indelible, that shapes your outlook. It’s why Lautner embedded glasses in the ceiling of the Sheats-Goldstein house, to recreate the dappled light of the forest. It’s why at the Arango house in Acapulco, he embraced the same kind of limitless horizon you get on the widow’s walk at Midgaard. It’s why I return to the Upper Peninsula ever summer, this eternal quest for an Edenic restart.
Migaard Plaque
We also visited Bud’s brother Bob and Bob’s wife Kelly in Marquette. Cole jumped into their pool over and over, dancing and shouting, “I’m happy!” Kelly took him for spins around the water on her air mattress. He got mad when she dumped him but forgave her, and they sat on her front porch talking about pets. Cole doesn’t see his aunts and uncles all that often, but he’s been getting some quality time on this trip.Midgaard view


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