When legendary architect John Lautner moved to Los Angeles in 1939 and completed his first building, architectural critic Henry-Russell Hitchcock hailed it as “the best house in the United States by an architect under 30.” Incredibly, you now have a chance to live in that house. Located in Silver Lake, the 1,244-square-foot residence has three bedrooms, two baths, and a patio extending outside the kitchen & dining area that expands the sense of space, and highlights the spectacular view. The hillside residence is listed at not quite $1.6 million and is listed with Ilana Gafni at Crosby Doe Associates.
Lautner built the house for himself and his first wife, Mary Roberts, at a cost of $4,000, and it’s astonishing how far he stretched that money. Lautner had the sensibility of a sculptor and a reverence for nature, and all of his buildings are essentially homages to the natural environment that surrounds them. He didn’t impose this house on the hill where it resides; rather, he integrated the building into the slope by employing multiple levels that stagger down the hill. Executed in long, clean lines, the house is detailed in wood with a warm, rosy tone that harmonizes with the surrounding trees. Esteemed architectural historian Esther McCoy described the house as “a marriage between Walden Pond and Douglas Aircraft,” and that sums it up nicely.
There are no fussy embellishments in the interior, which resonates with rigor and clarity. Built-ins include a fireplace executed in pale pink brick, and long, low couches upholstered in salmon colored leather. (Fans of “The Big Lebowski” will recognize those couches; some of them appear in the film’s party scene, which is set in another Lautner house that’s now in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s permanent collection. The Dude is sitting on a Lautner couch when someone slips him a mickey.)
Raised in northern Michigan, Lautner came to Los Angeles directly from Frank Lloyd Wright’s school, Taliesin West, where he served a lengthy apprenticeship with the master. Although Lautner lived in Los Angeles for all of his adult life, he hated the city. “When I arrived in Los Angeles I was physically sick, it was so ugly,” he recalled in a lengthy interview conducted in 1982 for UCLA’s oral history program. (Google it! You’ll fall in love with the guy; he was hilarious and had an infallible bullshit detector.) The one exception he made in his general loathing of the city was Silver Lake, which he described as “a beautiful, convenient place where people build houses to live in, not to sell.” As for the rest of it? “I can’t stand driving across town,” he said, “and Malibu means nothing to me.”