UFOs. Volcanoes. Supervillain lairs. Soaring structures seemingly imported from a galaxy far, far away.

Michigan-born modernist architect John Lautner is famous for designing buildings that couldn’t be more L.A. if they tried: far-out, futuristic and oozing with space-age panache. While not custom-built with Hollywood in mind, Lautner’s designs from the 1960s and '70s are amongst the most cinematic in town. If you don’t know Lautner’s name, you may know his work from cameo appearances in film and television.

The famous irony here is that Lautner, a protégé of Frank Lloyd Wright, openly despised his adopted home of Los Angeles. As the New York Times wrote in 2008, Lautner, who died in 1994, viewed La-La Land as a “cultural wasteland obsessed with money and devoid of beauty. Yet few serious architects are as closely associated with the city’s blend of pop culture and nature, rugged individuality and lush hedonism.”

One of Lautner’s more iconic works, the Sheats-Goldstein Residence, now really belongs to L.A. with news that the private home, a glass-walled luxury cave of sorts perched high above Beverly Hills, has been donated by its owner to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). The landmark donation marks the first promised “gift of architecture” for LACMA, the largest art museum in the western United States.

John Lautner's Sheats-Goldstein House, Los Angeles, California. Drinking glass skylights: a John Lautner original. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

While the Sheats-Goldstein Residence is now part of LACMA, it won’t live there. (Hey, it happens).

Alongside Wright’s Fallingwater, the Sheats-Goldstein Residence is a notable work of organic architecture in that the air conditioning-free (!) structure was designed in direct response to the somewhat precarious natural landscape surrounding it. As conspicuous as it is, the glass and concrete edifice interacts with the landscape in an attempt to blur interior and exterior living spaces. Relocating/recreating the structure to the LACMA’s Wilshire Boulevard campus is not — and never was — part of the deal given that the site, which boasts knockout city views reaching all the way to the Pacific, is an integral part of the home.

That said, the Sheats-Goldstein will serve as a sort of extension of LACMA — a satellite museum that itself is housed in a gigantic work of art. In addition to the home and the lushly planted hillside 4-acre estate that surrounds it, the gift includes pretty much everything located in and around the home, right down to the art hanging on the walls, the “extensive fashion collection” hanging in the closets and the 1961 Rolls-Royce Silver Could parked in the driveway.

Tennis courts, an outdoor “skyspace” installation by artist James Turrell titled "Above Horizon" and an on-site nightclub, yes nightclub, are also being gifted to LACMA.

So who is the current owner, you ask?

James Goldstein, owner of one of architect John Lautner's most iconic Los Angeles homes. James Goldstein: Los Angeles' most fashion-forward (and basketball-obsessed) architectural preservationist. (Photo: David McNew/AFP/Getty Images)

A man who is seemingly imported from a galaxy far, far away, James F. Goldstein is the longtime owner of the home, having purchased it in 1972 in a youthful but somewhat dilapidated state. (The home was built for Paul and Helen Sheats in 1963 and changed hands a couple of times before Goldstein bought it for $185,000).

Regularly clad in a wide-brim hat (designed by Goldstein himself and custom-made in Paris, naturally) and a snakeskin or zebra print suit with a flashy scarf wrapped around his neck, Goldstein is one of those lovable and instantly recognizable L.A. eccentrics that, sadly, they don't make like they used to.

A real estate investor and art collector of an indeterminate age (reportedly in his 70s, although his exact date of birth is something of a mystery), Goldstein is perhaps best known as a rabid (yet very well-mannered) NBA superfan who spends a bulk of the year prominently perched courtside (can't miss him!) in various arenas across the country. Goldstein's business card says it all: “Fashion, Architecture, Basketball."

A Wisconsin native, Goldstein is also a dedicated preservationist, having spent the last 40-plus years adding to and enhancing his home while staying true to Lautner’s original architectural vision. In fact, Lautner returned to work on the home 10 years after its completion, collaborating with Goldstein on a variety of remodeling — or “perfecting” — projects that spanned decades, including the addition of the home’s now signature plate-glass walls and the creation of the home's signature tropical foliage. While the original home was built on a rather tight budget, Goldstein spared no expense in modifying it to his — and Lautner’s – liking.

John Lautner's Sheats-Goldstein House, Los Angeles, California. All Lautner-designed furnishings in the Sheats-Goldstein Residence are included in the LACMA gift. (Photo: David McNew/AFP/Getty Images)

After Lautner’s death, Goldstein continued to tweak, improve and expand alongside the late Duncan Nicholson, himself a protégé of Lautner.

"It was never my goal to bring the house back to where it was originally, because it wasn't perfect originally," Goldstein tells the Los Angles Times. "My goal was to make it perfect."

Says Goldstein in a statement released by LACMA:

Over the course of many meetings with [museum director] Michael Govan, I was very impressed with his appreciation for the history of the house and the role it has played in the cultural life of Los Angeles, as well as with his vision for continuing that tradition when the house becomes an important part of LACMA's collections. Following last year’s 50th anniversary gifts to LACMA, I decided now was the perfect time to announce that I will leave my house and its contents to the museum. Hopefully, my gift will serve as a catalyst to encourage others to do the same to preserve and keep alive Los Angeles’s architectural gems for future generations.

Generous doesn’t even begin to describe Goldstein’s gift, which also includes a $17 million endowment for the home’s upkeep and maintenance.

John Lautner's Sheats-Goldstein House, Los Angeles, California. Now that's a guest bathroom sink. (Photo: David McNew/AFP/Getty Images)

As a promised gift, the home will officially be bestowed to LACMA upon Goldstein’s death, at which point the museum plans to open it to the public for exhibitions, conferences and more. According to the L.A. Times, the museum will also offer “limited tours and events” while Goldstein continues to live in the house.

Calling the Sheats-Goldstein Residence a "tremendous legacy in our own backyard," Govan notes: "Great architecture is as powerful an inspiration as any artwork, and LACMA is honored to care for, maintain, and preserve this house, as well as to enhance access to this great resource for architecture students, scholars, and the public."

While the bequest will no doubt increase accessibility of the Sheats-Goldstein Residence to the general public (and legions of "The Big Lebowski" fans, but more on that in a bit) while fueling renewed interest in the influential work of Lautner, Goldstein hasn’t been shy about showing off his striking digs in the past. That is to say, the home hasn't exactly been hiding behind a veil of obscurity over the years.

John Lautner's Sheats-Goldstein House, Los Angeles, California. A built-in desk fit for a super-villian — or a shaggy-haired art collector in tight leather pants. (Photo: David McNew/AFP/Getty Images)

In addition to organized tours and the aforementioned nightclub on his property, Goldstein — a rightly proud homeowner who just happens to be away frequently on NBA-related travels — has opened up the beyond-photogenic home to numerous private events, parties and about 1,001 music videos and fashion photo shoots.

And, of course, there’s been a couple of choice film appearances including “Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle” and the Coen Brothers' cult classic “The Big Lebowski,” in which the Sheats-Goldstein Residence served as den to loan shark and "known" porn impresario Jackie Treehorn, a role played by the late, great Ben Gazzara.

The clip below portrays the Sheats-Goldstein Residence in all her glory right down to the built-in leather sofas, which the Dude himself looks pretty comfy sprawled out on, obligatory White Russian in-hand. (Please forgive the distracting Italian dubbing).

Other Lautner-designed homes in the Los Angeles area to be immortalized in film include the Schaffer Residence (“A Single Man”), the Malin Residence/“Chemosphere” (“Body Double”), the Elrod House (“Diamonds are Forever”), the Reiner/Burchill Residence/“Silvertop” (“Less Than Zero”) and the Garcia House (“Lethal Weapon 2”).

While all of these Lautner cameos are memorable in their own right (I'm partial to the Chemosphere's voyeuristic turn in Brian De Palma's ultra-sleazy Hitchcock homage, "Body Double") none have received quite the recognition as the Sheats-Goldstein Residence. With Goldstein's gift to LACMA, this lovingly cared-for slice of midcentury California cool will gain an even broader fan base well beyond the Archievers.

Via [LA Times]

Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

'Big Lebowski' house heading to Los Angeles museum (well, sort of)
The Dude-approved transaction places the iconic modernist abode in the care of LACMA.