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RESPONSIBILITY, INFINITY, NATURE 



John Lautner 



Interviewed by Marlene L. Laskey 



Completed under the auspices 

of the 

Oral History Program 

University of California 

Los Angeles 



Copyright © 1986 
The Regents of the University of California 



COPYRIGHT LAW 



The copyright law of the United States (Title 17, 
United States Code) governs the making of photocopies 
or other reproductions of copyrighted material. Under 
certain conditions specified in the law, libraries and 
archives are authorized to furnish a photocopy or other 
reproduction. One of these specified conditions is 
that the photocopy or reproduction is not to be used 
for any purpose other than private study, scholarship, 
or research. If a user makes a request for, or later 
uses, a photocopy or reproduction for purposes in 
excess of "fair use," that user may be liable for 
copyright infringement. This institution reserves the 
right to refuse to accept a copying order if, in its 
judgement, fulfillment of the order would involve 
violation of copyright law. 



RESTRICTIONS ON THIS INTERVIEW 



None. 



LITERARY RIGHTS AND QUOTATION 



This manuscript is hereby made available for research 
purposes only. All literary rights in the manuscript, 
including the right to publication, are reserved to 
the University Library of the University of California, 
Los Angeles. No part of the manuscript may be quoted 
for publication without the written permission of the 
University Librarian of the University of California, 
Los Angeles. 



Photographs courtesy of John Lautner. 



CONTENT'S 

Biographical Summary vii 

Interview History xi 

TAPE NUMBER: I, Side One (April 23, 1982) 1 

"Just a complete natural" — Lautner's mother and 
father — Building a cabin from scratch — "The 
most beautiful life in the world" — Growing up 
in Marquette, Michigan — Changes in Marquette — A 
year in Boston--High school in New York City — 
Trips to Chicago--"! had a beautiful 
childhood." 

TAPE NUMBER: I, Side Two (May 5, 1982) 23 

Enrolling in Northern Michigan University-- 
Choosing a profession — Hitchhiking around the 
United States — "If it works, it works." — 
Getting involved with Taliesin — "Something more 
academic would have been a big bore" — Lifestyle 
at Taliesin — "I was a purist" — Frank Lloyd 
Wright's influence — Getting married — Thoughts 
about Frank Lloyd Wright — "I was very excited 
about everything he said" — Starting Taliesin 
VJest--Supervising various Frank Lloyd Wright 
projects . 

TAPE NUMBER: II, Side One (May 5, 1982) 47 

More on supervising Frank Lloyd Wright 
projects--Attitude towards the contracting 
business — More on Frank Lloyd Wright — "He never 
made any sketches." 

[Second Part] (May 19, 1982)... 53 

Learning the mechanics of architecture — "You 
really got the essence" — "They're all nothing 
compared to Frank Lloyd Wright" — Moving to Los 
Angeles--"It was so ugly I was physically 
sick" — Separating from Frank Lloyd Wright — 
Thoughts on building codes--"Just a pain in the 
neck for architects"--Building John Lautner 
residence--"A marriage between Walden Pond and 
Douglas Aircraft" — Thoughts on Neutra and 
Schindler . 



IV 



TAPE NUMBER: II, Side Two (May 19, 1982) 72 

Trouble with contractors--Starting out in Los 
Angeles during the war--"Real individuals"-- 
Relationships with clients — Creating the Desert 
Hot Springs Motel--Working on commercial jobs-- 
Turning over a building to the owner--"I get 
upset if they wreck it" — Ideas about the use of 
space — Poor state of architecture in Los 
Angeles--"It ' s not for people, it's just for 
rent"--Dif f iculties in working with Los Angeles 
landscape--Designing Arango House--"Just out in 
space with the bay and the sky." 

TAPE NUMBER: III, Side One (June 2, 1982) 97 

Lack of progress in the building industry after 
World War II — Thoughts on lack of response to 
new ideas in architectural technology--Ways 
Lautner would change the layout of Los Angeles-- 
Thoughts on condominium architecture in Los 
Angeles--"Maximum rent for the cheapest kind of 
space" — Talking about new architectural ideas — 
Comparing building materials — Relating building 
materials to style — Teaching at Chouinard Art 
Institute . 

TAPE NUMBER: IV, Side One (June 16, 1982) 118 

Designing Silvertop — "Everything is right from 
scratch" — Developing the perfect building 
materials — Working with Kenneth Reiner — "The 
typical guy wouldn't give a damn" — Thoughts on 
specific features of Silvertop design — 
Reactions to Silvertop--"Overriding ideal 
engineering in favor of ideal architecture" — 
Talking about construction problems--Putt ing up 
with building code problems--Designing the 
Elrod House — "Really built into the desert" — 
"Like being inside of a diamond." 

TAPE NUMBER: IV, Side Two (June 16, 1982) 143 

More on the construction of the Elrod House. 

[Second Part] (June 30, 1982).. 145 

Thoughts on Lautner's relationship with Frank 
Lloyd Wright — Moving to larger-scale projects — 



More on Los Angeles arch itecture--Thoughts on 
the Stevens House--"The money business has 
always been disturbing to me "--Problems in 
getting financing — Thoughts on interior 
decoration and landscape--Thoughts on 
architectural critics — On status quo 
mental ities . 

TAPE NUMBER: V, Side One (June 30, 1982) 167 

"A new idea for every situation" — On "style" — 
"I like more limitations" — Designing for the 
client's requests — "It's a new planet"-- 
Designing "Contemporary Castle." 

[Second Part] (July 14, 1982)... 177 

More on criticism by architectural writers-- 
Thoughts on "Three V7orlds of Los Angeles" 
exhibit — Thoughts on architecture schools — 
Thoughts on changes in recognized styles. 

TAPE NUMBER: V, Side Two (July 14, 1982) 191 

"I liked the look of it" — Lending support to 
the Watts Towers--Maintenance of Frank Lloyd 
Wright, Lloyd Wright houses--Choosing an 
architect for the Museum of Contemporary Art — 
More on architectural writers--Architecture and 
our "automobile society" — Working on the United 
Productions of America (UPA) Studios--Building 
Harpel House — Thoughts on travel — Dislike of 
Los Angeles — Summary thoughts. 

Index 210 

Photographs 

John Lautner, portrait by Judy Lautner frontis 

Arango House, Acapulco, Mexico, 1973 facing p. 1 

Arango House, outdoor living area facing p. 97 

Silvertop, Los Angeles, 1963 facing p. 118 

Elrod House, Palm Springs, 1968 facing p. 143 

Stevens House, Malibu, 1968 facing p. 167 

Malin House, "Chemosphere , " Los Angeles, 1960 
facing p. 191 



VI 



BIOGRAPHICAL SUMMARY 

PERSONAL HISTORY: 

Born ; July 16, 1911, in Marquette, Michigan. 

Education ; Public schools in Marquette, 
Boston , Massachusetts, and IJew York City; 
Northern Michigan University; worked under 
Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesin (VJisconsin and 
Arizona), 1933-39. 

Spouse : Married Mary Faustina Roberts Lautner, 
1934; married Elizabeth Lautner, 1950. 

MAJOR PROJECTS: 

1940 Lautner House, Los Angeles, California 

Bell House, Los Angeles, California 

1946 Maurer Residence, Los Angeles, California 

1947 Desert Hot Springs Motel, Desert Hot 
Springs, California 

Grantvoort House, Flintridge, California 

Henry's Restaurant, Glendale, California 

Polin House, Los Angeles, California 

1948 Sheats Apartments, "L 'Horizon," Westwood, 
California 

Shaeffer House, Montrose, California 

1949 UPA Studios, Burbank, California 

Dahlstrom House, South Pasadena, 
California 

1950 Shusett House, Beverly Hills, California 
Harvey House, Los Angeles, California 
Foster House, Sherman Oaks, California 

1953 Bergren House, Los Angeles, California 



Vll 



Beachwood Market (remodeling), Los 
Angeles, California 

1955 Baldwin House, Los Angeles, California 

1956 Speer Contractors Office Building, Los 
Angeles, California 

Harpel House, Los Angeles, California 

1957 Zahn House, Los Angeles, California 

Pearlman Mountain Cabin, Idyllwild, 
California 

Henry's Restaurant, Pomona, California 

1958 Kaynar Factory, Rivera, California 

1960 Midtown School, Los Angeles, California 

Malin House, "Chemosphere , " Los Angeles, 
California 

Concannon House, Los Angeles, California 

1961 VJolff House, Los Angeles, California 

1963 Reiner House, "Silvertop," Los Angeles, 
California 

Sheats House, Los Angeles, California 

1965 Zimmerman House, Studio City, California 

1966 Harpel House, Anchorage, Alaska 

Alto Capistrano Headquarters Building, 
San Juan Capistrano, California 

1968 Stevens House, Malibu, California 
Elrod House, Palm Springs, California 

1969 Walstrom House, Los Angeles, California 

1970 Natural Sciences Building, University of 
Hawaii, Hilo Campus 

1971 Familian House, Beverly Hills, California 



V 111 



1973 Arango House, Acapulco, Mexico 

1975 Nature Center, Griffith Park, Los 
Angeles, California 

1978 Jordan House, Laguna Beach, California 

1979 Segel House, Malibu, California 

Rancho del Valle, Crippled Children's 
Society Rehabilitation Center, Woodland 
Hills, California 

Rawlins House, Balboa Island, Newport 
Beach, California 

1980 Bob Hope House, Palm Springs, California 

1981 Schwimmer House, Beverly Hills, 
California 

1982 Turner House, Aspen, Colorado 

1983 Krause House, Malibu, California 
Beyer House, Malibu, California 

PROFESSIONAL AND ACADEMIC AFFILIATIONS: 

Associate in the office of Douglas Honnold , Los 
Angeles, 1944-46. 

Private practice in Los Angeles since 1946. 

Lecturer, Chouinard Art Institute, 1960-62. 

PUBLICATIONS: 

John Lautner: architettura organicosperimen- 
tale. Bari [Italia]: Dedalo libri, 1981. 

HONORS: 

Fellow, American Institute of Architects, 1970. 

Architectural Record Award for Excellence, 
1971. 

Distinguished Alumni Award, Northern Michigan 
University, 1975. 



IX 



Architectural Record Award for Excellence, 
1977. 

Cody Award, 1980. 

Los Angeles chapter, American Institute of 
Architects, Man of the Year, 1980. 

Olympic Architect, 1984. 

EXHIBITIONS: 

Exhibition of work at Mt. San Antonio College, 
1963. 

Exhibition of work at the University of 
Kentucky, 1966. 

Exhibition of work at California State College 
at Los Angeles, 1967. 

"The Three Worlds of Los Angeles," United 
States Information Service traveling show, 
1974. 

"12 Los Angeles Architects," California State 
Polytechnic University, Pomona, 1976. 

"A View of California Architecture, 1960-76," 
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 1977. 

One Man Exhibition, Schindler House, Los 
Angeles, 1985. 



INTERVIEW HISTORY 



INTERVIEWER: 

Marlene L. Laskey, interviewer, UCLA Oral History 
Program. B.A. , Political Science, UCLA; has researched, 
organized, and conducted architectural tours of Los 
Angeles. 

TIME AND SETTING OF INTERVIEW: 

Place : Lautner's office, Los Angeles, California. 

Dates : April 23, May 5, 19, June 2, 16, 30, July 14, 
1982. 

Time of day, length of sessions, and total number of 
recording hours : Interview sessions were conducted in the 
afternoon and were generally one and one-half hours in 
length. A total of approximately six and one-quarter 
hours of conversation was recorded. 

Persons present during interview : Lautner and Laskey. 

CONDUCT OF INTERVIEW: 

In preparing for the interview Laskey reviewed several 
articles on Lautner's work. She was unable to view any of 
the local houses since most of them are secluded and 
inaccessible . 

No important problems were encountered during the 
interview taping which began with a discussion of 
Lautner's family background and apprenticeship to Frank 
Lloyd Wright. After Tape III the interview is organized 
around a discussion of topics. 

EDITING: 

Carey Southall edited the interview. He checked the 
verbatim transcript against the original tape recordings 
and edited for punctuation, paragraphing, spelling, and 
verified proper nouns. Words and phrases inserted by the 
editor have been bracketed. The final manuscript remains 
in the same order as the taped material. 

In September 1985, the edited transcript was submitted to 
Lautner along with a list of queries and names requiring 
identification. He returned the approved transcript in 



XI 



December of the same year. Lautner made only a few 
corrections for clarity and spelling. 

Jacqueline Wester, editorial assistant, compiled the 
index, table of contents, biographical summary, and 
interview history. 

SUPPORTING DOCUMENTS: 

The original tapes of the interview are in the university 
archives and are available under the regulations governing 
the use of the permanent, noncurrent records of the 
university. Interview records and research materials are 
on file in the office of the Oral History Program. 



Xll 



F 




To All My Children 

and 

Family 

J.L. 



XI 11 



TAPE NUMBER: I, SIDE ONE 
APRIL 23, 1982 

LASKEY: Mr. Lautner we generally start our interviews with 
some questions or insights into your family background. 
So, if it's OK with you, we'll start this interview in the 
same way. 

LAUTNER: That's fine. I think it's of interest, what went 
in with the family — The inheritance does have an in- 
fluence, but I also believe, as an architect, that environ- 
ment has an influence, too. But anyway, specifically, my 
mother was Irish, and my father was German or Austrian, and 
both of their parents came directly from Europe. For- 
tunately or unfortunately I am just about fifty-fifty, so I 
haven't been able to be a completely free, wild Irishman or 
a completely mechanical German. But I've had these con- 
trols. 

LASKEY: That gives you the best of both worlds. 
LAUTNER: Yes, I guess it is a — It can be a pretty good 
combination. Also my mother was a painter, and she painted 
all her life. And my father was a professor. My father 
was really an exceptional student. He was brought up on a 
farm in northern Michigan by his family who came from 
Austria. They came by the Erie Canal, by boat, which is 
interesting. I didn't know how they got there till just a 



few years ago. So, instead of a wagon train, they came all 
the way by boat to northern Michigan. 
LASKEY: From New York? 
LAUTNER: From Austria. 

LASKEY: From Austria. Oh, that is impressive. 
LAUTNER: Isn't it. 
LASKEY: Really. 

LAUTNER: That was a sensible, normal way, when you had 
some goods and so forth to carry, you know. Anyway, on the 
farm he didn't get to high school, or he didn't get to 
school until he was about fifteen or something like that. 
Didn't get to school at all. He did eight grades and high 
school in one or two years, then he went to the University 
of Michigan. Before that, he was a rail splitter, like Abe 
Lincoln. So, he's an unbelievable man. Then he went to 
the University of Michigan and graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 
1893; was a champion hammer thrower and other things. Then 
he went to Europe, and he spent eleven years in different 
European universities. The University of Paris, Gottingen, 
Leipzig, [Heidelberg, Geneva], all the famous universities 
of Europe, so he was a real scholar. 

Then he came back, and he taught at the Washington 
University in St. Louis for a little while. And I think 
maybe a little at the University of Michigan. Then he 
found out about the normal school in Marquette, Michigan, 



and he went there because he loved the country which was 
more like his native country, and the lakes and the beauty 
of it. So he decided to teach up there in that — So, he 
taught there the rest of his life; it is now Northern 
Michigan University. 

And we had a house which he built right across from 
the university, so I could get up at ten minutes to eight 
for an eight o'clock class, so I was a real spoiled 
student. But nevertheless, I had the background of a real 
professor. I mean, he taught anthropology, philosophy, 
ethics, French, German, [economics, sociology], you know. 
I got everything under the sun from my parents. So, I got 
off to a very civilized start. 

So you know, when I arrived in Los Angeles I was so 
shocked that — I was physically sick, it was so ugly after 
that kind of life, you know. [laughter] 
LASKEY: Well, it's extreme. The extreme from northern 
Michigan. I'm really curious about your father. Where did 
his impetus come from? Do you have any idea? 
LAUTNER: I don't know. He [was] just a complete natural. 
You know, like many families, one of the boys will be a 
something-or-other , and nobody knows why or how, but he was 
just a fantastic man. And so much so that in teaching in 
northern Michigan — If you ever go to northern Michigan — 
most of the people are probably dead by now, but you used 
to go up there, everybody in northern Michigan knew him as 

3 



the professor. And in fact, so much so that they would 
come to him rather than to a priest for advice if they had 
problems of some sort. 

LASKEY: He sounds like a renaissance man. 

LAUTNER: Yeah, and he almost did become a minister rather 
than a professor at one time, I understand. 
LASKEY: What was his name? 

LAUTNER: Same as mine. John E. Lautner, and I'm John E. 
Lautner, Jr. And my mother's name was Gallagher and nobody 
knows much about her family. I've only seen a few pictures 
of her father, who was a handsome, very handsome, dashing 
man of some sort. But he — I don't know anything about 
him. My mother didn't, never said much about her family, 
so that's a kind of mysterious side. She was twenty years 
younger than my father. My father was married once to, I 
think it was a student at the university, when he was at 
the university. She died, I think, and then when he came 
to northern Michigan to teach, my mother was one of his 
students, so he was about forty or something as a pro- 
fessor, and she was twenty as a student. So, she was a 
beautiful Irish girl. She looked like [a] "Gibson girl." 
Have you seen those pictures of the Gibson — ? She was a 
real Gibson girl. So he had a real doll for a wife. 
LASKEY: What was her first name? 
LAUTNER: Vida. Vida Cathleen Gallagher. 



LASKEY: That's Irish. 

LAUTNER: Yeah, completely. 

LASKEY: Red-haired was she? 

LAUTNER: No, black; black hair. I have pictures of her 

with a hat and the Gibson clothes, and, my god, it's 

unbelievable to see. 

LASKEY: Now, she was living in Marquette? 

LAUTNER: Yes. She was Irish-Catholic, and she, I think 

she was living — She went to a Catholic school in — I don't 

know who was taking care of her. Her family wasn't there. 

Maybe some relative, but all I know about that is that when 

she was in this Catholic school, she was a kind of a daring 

one too. And she — in the auditorium she told me — several 

of the girls would go in the back of the auditorium, and 

they had a chafing dish. And they'd be cooking while they 

were supposed to be doing school work, you know. So she 

was kind of independent, too. [laughter] 

LASKEY: They sound like quite a combination. 

LAUTNER: Yeah, and they both read all their lives. When I 

was in high school, I used to go back and forth to the 

library with ten or fifteen books every week. My mother 

would read ten or fifteen books every week, and my father 

would read ten or fifteen books every week, and so that was 

the life. So, I think that does — I mean, I know it does 

contribute to the total knowledge and feeling in 



civilization that you need to become a total architect. 
I've seen people who know practically nothing compared to 
what I know. I mean, they have no background of any sort, 
and so there's no subtlety or civilized concern; they're 
unconscious. So anyway, I guess that's enough about the 
mother and father; you think so? 
LASKEY: Just whatever — 

LACJTNER: Well, let's see, no. I guess we should continue 
further with that. When I was — This is really the start 
of my architecture. My father liked doing carpentry work, 
construction work, in the summer vacation. And, so my 
mother designed a cabin, a log cabin, like a, it was like a 
Swiss chalet. I was twelve years old, and my father and I 
built it on a rocky point peninsula out into Lake Superior. 
And this was a fantastic family project, with mother 
designing it, and my father and I executing it. 

And, I tell architectural students this, because it's 
even — it's more important now than it ever was. This was 
built the same way that the Egyptians built, because we had 
nothing. We had no machinery, we had absolutely nothing. 
And my father knew how to do everything. So, he rafted 
logs across the lake, and he built a skidway up the moun- 
tainside, and he built a windlass, a vertical windlass, 
that has a long arm out like you see pictures of in the 
Egyptian days. And I ran that windlass, pulling material 



up the mountainside to build. So with two people and just 
hand labor, you could build the whole thing. But, you see 
nowadays, nobody can do anything. 

I mean, like around here, if you want to build a 
house — The first thing, if they got one beam, they have to 
hire a crane which costs $500 an hour, and they don't know 
how to rig up anything; they don't know how to do anything, 
and they of course refuse to do any work. So to do the 
simplest thing it costs $10,000 a day, and you can't get 
anything, you know. And it's because there's no basic 
understanding, or any basic care or nothing, just the 
almighty buck, you know. 

So I tell students that if they really want to build 
something, they can build right from scratch, but they have 
to do it, you know. 

LASKEY: It's interesting, because the log cabin you're 
talking about sounds very much like a germinal part of what 
you're going to do in many of your projects later. 
LAUTNER: Yeah, yeah. Well, I've been working that way — 
real basics, and I've had a — I always had a horror of any 
kind of routine, and that's one of the reasons that I 
ultimately chose architecture. Because I felt when I was a 
student that many professions became ruts and routines — and 
like there's old banker so-and-so, and old doctor so-and 
so, and they're all "walking dead" as Frank Lloyd Wright 



would say. [laughter] But I've, since then, I found that 

it's not necessary that other professions are ruts, but a 

creative individual could do something with any kind of 

work. But inherent in architecture, it involves everything 

in life, so that there is absolutely no end to it. By the 

time you're seventy or eighty, you're still beginning. So, 

that's the kind of life I've preferred to being the expert 

at forty and dead, you know. 

LASKEY: Yes. 

LAUTNER: So, I understood those things. 

LASKEY: It sounds a lot like your father might be 

talking — 

LAUTNER: Yeah, right. 

LASKEY: His example — You were very lucky. 

LAUTNER: Yeah, well I — Let's see — 

LASKEY: Now, you were born in Marquette, right? In 1911 — 

LAUTNER: Yes. The life was beautiful because I loved the 

woods and the lake. I mean everything was beautiful, and 

we didn't need any money, I mean, for anything, because 

just going — Well, I played hockey. And playing hockey, 

and skiing in the wintertime and walking in the woods, and 

swimming and boating in the summertime, you need absolutely 

no money. It's the most beautiful life in the world, and 

it's so different from the city, you know. 



Now, my god, I find that if I take $200 for the 
weekend, I get $150 for groceries and something else. I 
get no pleasure at all, I just spend the money — for 
nothing. So it's a very strange life, nowadays. 
LASKEY: Do you ever get back to Michigan to refresh 
yourself? 

LAUTNER: Oh, yes. I go every chance I get, because it's 
the most refreshing place I can go. Also because my oldest 
daughter [Karol] is there, and she owns her grandmother's 
house, who was my first wife's mother, who engaged Frank 
Lloyd Wright to do a house which was the first house that I 
worked on. So, now my daughter lives in the Frank Lloyd 
Wright house in one hundred fifty acres of woods and lakes, 
and it's the first place that I worked on. And so I go to 
see her, and just take a walk in the woods, in her woods. 
There just couldn't be anything better. 
LASKEY: Now, is this in Marquette? 

LAUTNER: Yeah. In Marquette County. And, my daughter who 
has been head of the zoning for a while, she stopped a 
nuclear power plant from being built on Lake Superior, so 
she's a fantastic gal. So that's exciting too, you know. 
So that, she — 

LASKEY: In growing up in Marquette obviously you weren't 
deprived in anyway of cultural or physical activities. 



LAUTNER: Oh, no. Another interesting thing to me about it 
was that the college at that time had all of the people on 
a lyceum course that you'd have in a big city. Like I 
heard, oh, [Roald] Amundsen when he came from the North 
Pole, you know, and — Everybody you ever heard of, I heard 
at the college, and if I'd been in the big city I probably 
never would 've seen them. So, I heard all of the 
nationally famous people in string quartets and everything, 
because of the college. So, being in a small town in the 
woods was more cultural than being in the big town, really. 
For me, I think it was. 

Like here, you have to search out something. More and 
more things are becoming available, but I can't stand 
driving across town. And when I do see something that I 
think's going to be interesting, usually it's a farce, it's 
a phoney, or an act, or something. [tape recorder off] 
LASKEY: Well, the people of Marquette, at this time, what 
were they like? 

LAUTNER: Well, it was — I was interested in the whole 
cross-section. I knew people from the south — Like any 
town, or more or less like lots of towns, the north side or 
the south side is really the bad side, or something like 
that, you know. So, I knew people who were not considered 
the right people to associate with, and I also knew the 
cream of the town, because of being a son of a professor. 



10 



My father and I would have social access to any strata of 
the society. And that made it interesting, because I could 
go to a party at the biggest, richest house, or I could go 
to a party at the poorest house, and I enjoyed both, and 
I'm still the same way. I like the real thing wherever it 
is. I mean, I like the absolute, bottom basic, and I like 
the most super-sophisticated, so I get the whole range. 
And, I think that the average — I don't think Marquette is 
really an average small town, because there were more 
sophisticated, wealthy people who were world travelers. In 
fact, my ex-mother-in-law, now deceased of course, enter- 
tained President Taft at her house, for instance. Every- 
body doesn't entertain a president, you know. And, so 
there was — I don't know, did we get that on there before 
about the lyceum of the college? I guess we did, OK. 
LASKEY: Yeah. 
LAUTNER: Well, anyway. 

LASKEY: I'm curious — Marquette is in the northern part of 
Michigan in the upper peninsula. Why would that have 
developed into this sort of nucleus of culture and learn- 
ing — There are two colleges there, right? There's 
Marquette and — 

LAUTNER: No, just one. The college that's known as 
Marquette is Marquette University in Milwaukee, but the 
college that's in Marquette, Michigan, was originally a 



11 



northern state teacher's college and it became Northern 
[Michigan] University later on. 
LASKEY: I see. 

LAUTNER: But I think part of what happened there is the 
pioneers like my ex-mother-in-law's father was a Longyear . 
His name was John M. Longyear, and he was a pioneer of 
northern Michigan and Minnesota, [ landlooker and timber 
cruiser]. And so he acquired timber and mines to such an 
extent that he finally bought the island of Spitsbergen [a 
northern arctic possession of Norway — ed. ] . He owned the 
island of Spitsbergen, and right now the main city on the 
island of Spitsbergen is named Longyear [Longyear City, or 
Longyear byen , founded 1906 — ed.]. That's from him, so he 
got around the world, you know. 

Then there were other people there in timber and 
mining who built the libraries, and were very interested in 
nature and animal photography, and all kinds of beautiful 
things. They had the money, and they were so solid that 
they didn't, that there was no need for any kind of "keep 
up with the Joneses" or any rat race or anything. It was 
just follow some endeavor that you chose. So one of them 
would have his own sailboat, and his own building for 
making sailboats, another one was photographing — flash 
photographing — deer out in the woods, and doing different 
things like that, and for their own entertainment. So it 



12 



was a completely different kind of situation; a solid 
thing. Like one of my friends there: his father owned the 
newspaper. And he had five thousand acres of woods for his 
own private duck hunting, and they still do. I mean, they 
don't want population there. They just want to keep it the 
way it is. 

LASKEY: That was my next question. Has Marquette changed 
much? 

LAUTNER: No, no. Well, it has just in the last few years. 
The army has a big base there. It involves maybe fifteen, 
twenty thousand people near there. And then some of these 
big shopping center people have gotten in there and des- 
troyed the little, old, original downtown, which is unfor- 
tunate. Because it doesn't have that — I mean, they just 
about killed off the local, the little local merchants. 
So, but for — oh, from 1890 to 1970 it stayed about fifteen, 
eighteen thousand population; never changed. Because 
people had to leave. There was nothing to do; there's 
enough to do for the people who own the town, but not 
enough for anybody else. There are developers trying to do 
things, but there's still old landowners who don't want to 
do anything, they really believe in the beauty of nature. 
It's not to hoard it for their own money, but really to 
maintain the beauty of the original country — [taping inter- 
rupted] — pretty unusual. 



13 



My childhood, I had a hundred miles of beaches, 
private beaches, you know; no people, no nothing. I mean, 
just go swimming anywhere you want, and no problem. The 
coast here to me is just ugly, you know, it's crazy. 
Malibu is nothing to me, it's just crazy. 
LASKEY: But this was Lake Superior, that you had the 
coast — 

LAUTNER: Yeah, that fresh, beautiful water too. 
LASKEY: Cold! 

LAUTNER: Yeah, cold. Let's see, what else should we get 
in here? 

Oh, my high school, giving you a clue here. That was 
interesting, too. Because my father was a professor, he 
had sabbatical years, and so when I was in the — I think it 
was about the sixth, seventh grade, I was a year in Boston 
school, public schools. And so I saw all the things in 
Boston. My mother and father were great for seeing every- 
thing. We saw the old Salem House, and everything around 
there. And, the Boston Museum — We lived in an apartment 
right across the Fenway [Park] from the Boston Museum. So 
I used to go to the Boston Museum when I was in the seventh 
grade. And I remember it vividly, because I had a fancy 
book from the school, and I dropped it in the park, in the 
pond near the museum. And I was frantic and I didn't know 
what to do, because it was — The leaves were getting all 



14 



curled up. Anyway, I brought it home, and we finally got 
it ironed, and I don't know how we really solved it, but it 
got saved. Then, it's interesting, when I got my fel- 
low[ship] in the AIA [American Institute of Architects] for 
design — about, I don't know, six or eight, ten years ago 
[1970] — the convention was in Boston, and the ceremony was 
in the Boston Museum. The very same place that I had been 
when I was in the sixth grade. 
LASKEY: How appropriate. 
LAUTNER: Yeah, which was nice. 

Then, later on, my father had a sabbatical, and we 
went to New York. So I was a freshman in high school in 
New York City while my father was studying at Columbia with 
a — Well, he had studied with Dewey, [Santayana], and 
various others. But the latest philosophers, he was 
working with. I went to DeWitt Clinton High School which 
was a real fantastic change for me, because I was in a 
school in Marquette — The total school would be maybe one 
hundred fifty or two hundred kids. So there were five 
thousand in the DeWitt Clinton High School in a five-story 
building. And I had to come from an apartment on Eighty- 
seventh Street and Riverside Drive — on the Hudson River, 
which was nice — over to Broadway and take a subway down to 
Columbus Circle, and then run to the top floor of this 
building to be on time, [laughter] when I was a freshman. 



15 



LASKEY: This is from being across the street in school! 
LAUTNER: Yeah, yeah, so that was some change. And then it 
was interesting because it was international. You know, 
there would be like five hundred kids in the class. 
There 'd be Italians and Poles and Chinese, and I mean all, 
everything, people that I'd never seen before. And, I got 
a top grade in algebra in the five hundred [ -person ] class 
in New York City. So, I was pretty proud of that. Also, a 
thing that I like to tell people which is, again, an 
intelligent application of rules: they were very strict 
about being late. If you were late, instead of some silly 
kind of, I don't know, punishment, they — First of all you 
had to stand in line to get a card stamped stating that you 
were late. And, in a school of five thousand, there were 
usually two or three hundred [late students]. So, you're 
in a line of a hundred, two or three hundred people after 
school to get your card stamped. And, anything I hate is 
standing in line. So, just the fact of having to stand in 
line was enough to cure me from being late. It was an 
ideal cure without any other kind of punishment, a very 
interesting thing. 

LASKEY: But did you find it difficult making that change 
from Marquette to New York from a small school to a large 
school? 



16 



LAUTNER: No, no, I just found it exciting. I mean, 
anything new, it was surprising of course, because — Like 
we went to the Woolworth Building which was one of the 
biggest at that time. And the Woolworth Building houses 
15,000 people which is the total population of Marquette, 
Michigan — can go in that one building in New York. So, I 
was seeing things like that which were fantastic, but I 
loved it. I mean, it was fun. 

LASKEY: Do you think your parents were responsible for 
making it an adventure for you, their attitudes? 
LAUTNER: No, I don't think so; I was on my own. They 
brought me up that way. They say it's more or less the 
John Dewey method: I was to make my own decisions from the 
time I was eight or ten or even younger, I guess. So I 
don't know whether that's good or bad, but I felt respon- 
sible, and I did make my own decisions, and I did my own 
thinking and everything, all the way. 

LASKEY: But, of course, you can only do that successfully 
if you have the background and the support — 
LAUTNER: Yeah, yeah. 
LASKEY: — to do it. 

LAUTNER: So, when I rode down in the subway to get to 
school on time, I walked about forty blocks back on 
Broadway to get home. And that was exciting every after- 
noon, because I looked in all these jewelry stores. 



17 



There 'd be all this fancy stuff, you know. And then 
there's a — at that time — there's a Loew ' s theater on every 
block, every block: like Loew ' s Forty-second, Loew ' s Forty- 
fifth; a theater every single block. And then, all these 
different kinds of stores and restaurants. Restaurants 
with glass sculpture and all kinds of stuff that I'd never 
seen before, so it was just a picnic going home. 
LASKEY: What year was this? 

LAUTNER: That was — 1926. Let's see, I graduated from high 
school in 1929; eight, seven, six, four, maybe 1924. And I 
remember seeing Earl Carroll's follies right across the 
street [in] the theater. The signs and the whole thing, 
but I was too young to go in there. I wish I'd been a 
little bit older. [laughter] 

LASKEY: Just stand outside and drool. [laughter] What 
was New York like then, the architecture? 
LAUTNER: Oh, god, it was fantastic to me, because I 
loved — Of course, I loved suspension bridges, and I loved 
going up to the top of these big buildings. I liked the 
Hudson [River], and I liked Broadway. I liked the whole 
thing. But, I've been there only for a moment, since then, 
once or twice, and it is getting, superficially, very dirty 
and old, and the subways are dirty and old. At that time I 
had no feeling of dirty and old subways. They were clean, 
and they were fantastic, because they had, I remember, they 



18 



had express trains every sixty seconds, and local trains 
every thirty seconds: the best transportation in the 
world. I mean, you never had to wait for anything. It was 
just boom, like that. So, the whole thing to me was just 
the best in the world, the best and the biggest, and it is, 
it still is. 

LASKEY: Well, you had access to the museums in New York at 
that time. 

LAUTNER: Oh, yes. We went to all the museums, and the 
public library, and the aquarium, and — Oh, there were so 
many things. I'd love to go there right now and just spend 
a year. I mean, I've never had that chance, and when I 
read there's something like five thousand museums in New 
York, I think, holy god, the things I'm missing. 
[ laughter] 

LASKEY: The things we're all missing. 

LAUTNER: So, I don't believe in putting down New York. 
LASKEY: Oh, no. Did you travel much else with your 
parents? 

LAUTNER: No, no. Well, those were the major things, and 
as a professor, [my father] couldn't afford anything else. 
We had a few boat trips on the Great Lakes which were great 
at that time. They still had passenger steamers with — 
Like we went to Detroit, and they had a jazz band and 
dancing on the back of the boat, you know. That was 
beautiful. All that stuff to me is so much more fun than 

19 



anything that goes on now. We don't have anything that's 
fun. It's all grim, and so I did get a taste of all that. 
LASKEY: What about Chicago? 

LAUTNER: Oh, Chicago. Oh, I loved that. I got there 
quite often when I was in college. And we went to all the 
nightclubs, and so I danced to all the big bands in 
Chicago. I just had a fantastic time in Chicago. That was 
going maybe once or twice a year, and that was probably the 
most exciting thing that I did when I was in college. So 
that was beautiful. 

LASKEY: Well, you were there, too, in sort of its architec- 
tural heyday. 

LAUTNER: Yeah, everything was just great. Well, I heard — 
Well, there was still prohibition, and we went to the 
suburbs into those night clubs, like where Duke Ellington 
would be, and people like that. It was very exciting. 
LASKEY: It was still the era of the mobs, wasn't it? 
LAUTNER: Yeah, yeah. They were still functioning there. 
I could sense that when we went to some place downtown. 
They looked at me; they knew I was [an] innocent from the 
country, you know. [laughter] You could tell, you could 
feel it. But it was fun for the innocent to see this 
sophisticated crowd, you know. It was very exciting, and a 
lot of fun. 



20 



LASKEY: So what else would you have had access to from 
Marquette? [interruption in taping] 

LAUTNER: One other thing that I did that was beautiful was 
I took a canoe trip up in Canada, north of Minnesota, Lake 
of the Woods, one summer. And, that was a beautiful 
experience because all the roads, everything ends at 
International Falls, Minnesota. From there on, it's 
absolute wilderness, and you're just in a canoe, and it's 
completely silent. And, no people, nothing. And you just 
go in the lakes, in the woods. So that's a fantastic 
experience. That's the first time I really heard the 
coyotes. I mean, they cry like — They sound like babies, 
but they don't hurt you. I mean, you just hear them at 
night. Otherwise, the absolute quiet is just unbelievable. 
To be really away like that — I'll never forget that. 
LASKEY: And to see stars or see skies, which is something 
we can't do here anymore. 

LAUTNER: Then, as I mentioned before, I enjoyed playing 
hockey, that was my sport. I played hockey and tennis and 
so I really enjoyed those things. And so I am kind of the 
opposite of a lot of people where they had a bad childhood, 
you know, and they had to do this and that to make up for 
the bad childhood. I had a beautiful childhood, so my 
adulthood has been really frustrating, because its — Half 



21 



the time it hasn't been as good as my childhood. [laugh- 
ter] 
LASKEY: Well, we'll pursue that further next time. 



22 



TAPE NUMBER: I, SIDE TWO 
MAY 5, 1982 

LASKEY: You had a rather idyllic childhood, and we've 
gotten you through high school, and now it's time for you 
to go to college. How was the choice made that you should 
go to the college of Marquette [Northern Michigan Univer- 
sity]? 

LAUTNER: Well, it was practically automatic because, my 
father being a professor there, I felt it was sensible and 
reasonable. I didn't question it particularly, except that 
I had friends in the summertime, and some in the winter- 
time, some that lived in Marquette, who went to Princeton, 
and Harvard, and Yale, and all of the rest of them. And, I 
sometimes thought, well, I don't know, it would be inter- 
esting to see one of those universities, but I was really 
happy with the college that I was going to right there in 
Marquette. 

I just took subjects that I was interested in, and so 
I really enjoyed it. I took astronomy and physics and 
chemistry and — Then I took subjects from my father: 
philosophy and ethics and anthropology, and — You're 
wondering how I got to English. An English major was just 
the fact of the curriculum requiring you to have a major in 
order to graduate. And I had automatically acquired more 



23 



English courses than any other kind and so it wasn't that I 
chose English, it's just that in my last year I took mostly 
English in order to graduate. 

One thing that I did accomplish there, academically, 
was that I took history of architecture, which was the only 
thing related to architecture that this school had, and 
that only applied to a major in art or a B.S. degree so 
they weren't going to count it for an A.B. degree. After a 
big hassle with the administration, I got an asterisk in 
the catalogue that history of architecture can be applied 
to the A.B. degree. So that was a major triumph over the 
academy. [laughter] Which is just nonsense most of the 
time, you know. So I graduated. 

LASKEY: Was there any problem in taking classes from your 
father? 

LAUTNER: Oh, no. It was really interesting, because he 
was such a scholar that — This is a good example that I 
tell people: one year, the term before I had a course from 
my father, I took an ancient history course. And in the 
course that I was taking from my father, people would ask 
him a question, and when he was asked a question, he would 
answer it from tracing it from 5000 B.C. up to the present; 
so it would take him an hour to answer one question. But, 
that's from a scholar, so — And, he answered, within that 
question, stuff that I had already forgotten from the term 



24 



before in ancient history. So he was really way beyond me 
as a scholar. So that was interesting. 
LASKEY: Well, was your interest more in the sciences? 
LAUTNER: Well, mainly, I would say, mainly philosophy, 
really. And so, in trying to arrive at my work or my real 
major, my profession, while I was in college, I did kind 
of — I did naturally think about it, and I tried to analyze 
it very rationally, as well as emotionally. And through 
the years, sometimes I've found that by trying to be too 
rational I really made a mistake. I would' ve been better 
to let — to be more emotional, but that's part of my Irish- 
German, fifty-fifty thing. 
LASKEY: The German aspect of it. 

LAUTNER: Yeah. And so, I looked at law and medicine, and 
all the rest of the professions. At that time, I felt that 
they were pretty fixed, and, they were in a kind of a rut, 
and that most of them were very sort of dead-end things. 
They knew their profession by the time they were forty- 
five, or fifty, they were a complete success, and they were 
more or less dead human beings. But later on I realized 
that a creative person initially — or inherently a creative 
person can bring a new thing to any kind of work, but as a 
student I didn't realize that. So I had a horror of any 
kind of routine or any kind of the same thing over and over 
again, and that certainly happens in the other professions. 



25 



I mean, the doctor does the same damn thing with every 
patient, and so does the attorney and — more or less, you 
know. So I didn't want any duplication or routine or dead- 
end or — I wanted the most free, most interesting, durable 
kind of life. And, I discovered that architecture — I 
didn't fully realize it at the time, but I could see-- I 
rationalized it, again, in the simplest way. 

In my father's basic sociology, or what-have-you , 
there's food, clothing, and shelter, you know, is basic 
life. And so I thought, well, that's great. I can be an 
architect, and I'm working on one of the basic human needs 
and contributing to society as well as doing a special kind 
of work, so that it is completely legitimate from every 
standpoint. And it had to be, for my decision. 

But, of course, after I had got to Los Angeles, I 
discovered that shelter doesn't mean a damn thing. Food's 
the only thing that matters. And so architecture was just 
the first thing to save money on, or the first thing to 
omit, because it was a luxury instead of a basic thing. 
And, unfortunately it's still that way. If they considered 
architecture or understood the importance of its possible 
contribution to human welfare, it would be [as] important 
as food, clothing, and shelter; but now it's not. Shelter 
is just a business. Like in the papers, they have "New 
Facility Being Erected" — and that's what I call it. 



26 



They're facilities, they're not architecture: so many 
square feet of space for office, warehouse, office, fac- 
tory, theater — whatever it is, it's just so many square 
feet for so many bucks, but it's not architecture. 
LASKEY: Do you think that — is that just Los Angeles or do 
you think — 

LAUTNER: No, I think it's pretty much all over, but I 
think it's more in Los Angeles, because other cities I've 
been in, like Chicago, and San Francisco, and New York, 
there is more respect and more consciousness of architec- 
ture than there is here, by far. I mean, like taxi drivers 
and people in the street are interested in architecture, 
and know something about it. But here: nothing, ab- 
solutely nothing. 

LASKEY: And you think that comes out of the fact that we 
don't need it as much, it's not one of our basic needs. 
LAUTNER: Yeah, yeah. And it's just built on advertising, 
and it has been affected by the movie industry: the stage 
set. And they're used to the facade and it's perfectly all 
right. And, the climate permits it and so on, so there's 
nothing real, nothing solid, and nobody cares. [tape 
recorder off] 

I'm too far off my education now, but it's in line 
there. So, in college, I enjoyed it, and it was pretty 
easy for me. I mean I could get a B without any effort at 



27 



all. So, I could always go to the parties and the dances — 

and I really enjoyed the dances, and the parties — and 

playing tennis, and playing hockey and all of that. So I 

had a very easy time going through college. And I was 

elected president of the senior class, and I was in the 

junior class play. So I had the whole thing. 

LASKEY: Did you ever consider theater as a possible 

alternative? 

LAUTNER: No, no, but that was a great experience. It was 

very exciting for me, and the play was Dear Brutus. And it 

was really something to make it come off on the stage, and 

I almost — I had the last punch line and I almost forgot 

it. J. M. [Sir James Matthew] Barrie, Dear Brutus. A 

beautiful little play, very romantic. So that was a great 

experience. 

LASKEY: Did you ever do any more plays, or just that? 

LAUTNER: No, no. 

LASKEY: Did you ever consider becoming an artist? Your 

mother was a painter; you were looking for an area in which 

you had total freedom. 

LAUTNER: No. I liked the construction — Well, I did work 

for my father building our cabin and so forth, and I liked 

the reality of building. And I didn't feel that I had any 

talent as a painter. I mean, I never really seriously 

tried it, but I didn't feel — I wasn't a natural artist, I 



28 



mean as a painter. But I can visualize as an architect, 
which is a different thing. 

LASKEY: Well, did you ever do any other construction after 
the cabin you made with your father before you went to 
Taliesin? 

LAUTNER: Well — No, that's all. What had happened, how I 
got to Taliesin was I graduated in 1933 and Frank Lloyd 
Wright's autobiography had come out, I think in 1932 — just 
the year before — and my mother, being an avid reader who 
read it — So that's how it happened. She read it, and I 
knew — In fact, in high school I had a drafting course, and 
it was so damn boring I couldn't stand it: the picayune 
little man, and keeping your pencils sharp, and getting the 
lettering right — It had absolutely nothing to do with 
architecture. So I knew that if I went to a typical 
architectural school, I'd just be absolutely dead. Because 
I couldn't deal with that picayune stuff. But, when I read 
about Frank Lloyd Wright, I mean it was just unbelievable. 
And so the only thing that I regret about that is [that] 
before my mother found the autobiography and Frank Lloyd 
Wright, and the fact that he started the Taliesin Fellow- 
ship that same year for apprentice training of architects, 
I had been playing with the idea of hitchhiking or bumming 
around the world. I had hitchhiked around the United 



29 



states when I was in college, so I — In fact, I came to Los 
Angeles; hitchhiked to the 1932 Olympic games. 
LASKEY: Did you really? What was that like? 
LAUTNER: Well, that was interesting. But the most 
interesting thing was going around the country. Like, I 
saw the Dakotas and Montana, and went, you know, all the 
way around and back through the Southwest on foot and, you 
know, bumming rides. That's the way you really see the 
country. 

LASKEY: Were there many rides to bum in 1932? 
LAUTNER: Oh, yeah. It was easy, very easy, yeah. Because 
nobody, nobody was suspicious. There [was] practically 
nobody hitching rides. And we — a friend, there were two of 
us, one of my best friends — and we wore white pants; we 
looked good, you know. And we had no problem at all. I 
mean, we got the most interesting kinds of rides. From 
everything from trucks to college professors to whatnot, 
you know. 

LASKEY: How long were you gone? 

LAUTNER: Three months hitchhiking and that's interesting 
too. My father gave me ninety dollars. That's a dollar a 
day. That's all it took. When I came, when we came to Los 
Angeles, [in] 1932, it was twenty-five cents for a chicken 
dinner. That's the difference between then and now. 
That's the truth, so a dollar a day was OK for eating, you 
know, or almost more than OK for eating. 

30 



LASKEY: Did you camp out? 

LAUTNER: Oh yeah, we just had — It was before people had 
sleeping bags, we just had blankets. We each had a 
blanket, and we slept anywhere, absolutely anywhere. 
LASKEY: That's fascinating. 

LAUTNER: Oh, yes. It was really, really interesting. 
LASKEY: Do you think that experience had anything to do to 
push you over toward architecture as a field? 
LAUTNER: Well, no, I don't think it had anything to do 
with architecture. It's just that I've always been in- 
terested in seeing the world as well, you know. I'm still 
interested in seeing the world, and I finally made a trip 
around the world just a couple of years ago. So that was 
the exciting part, was just seeing the world. Of course, 
lots of basic things happen on a thing like that, so it's a 
good part of your education. And also to know that you 
could get along more or less by yourself with practically 
no money anywhere, you know. So, I had experience which 
gave me the feeling that I could go around the world if I 
chose. 

And I probably could have, but — So the unfortunate 
thing about running into Frank Lloyd Wright right after 
graduating was that I didn't get a chance to bum around the 
world which I've always felt probably would 've been better 
for my basic welfare and my total life had I done that, it 



31 



would 've contributed more. I would have understood more 
about the world and I wouldn't have come to the city so 
naive, you know. But anyway — 

LASKEY: Well, you hadn't — You weren't familiar with 
Wright's work prior to the autobiography. You hadn't seen 
it, so that it — 
LAUTNER: No, no. 

LASKEY: — wasn't the impetus. How did you — What was 
involved in you getting to Taliesin? 

LAUTNER: Oh, well that was very simple. You just went for 
an interview, and he said, "Well, you're exposed to this 
environment; either it takes or it doesn't take. We're not 
teaching and you're working as an apprentice and that's 
it." So he just said, "Come," you know, "and if it works, 
it works. If it doesn't, it doesn't." And that worked 
beautifully, because while I was there, the first year I 
was there, there were a couple of boys from Harvard, 
Harvard Graduate School [of Design], and they couldn't 
understand what was going on at all. Because there were no 
courses, there were no rules, there were no regulations, 
and nobody was teaching anything. So those two, they'd sit 
in their room and play cards. And they just automatically 
left, because they didn't know what was going on. It 
didn't mean anything to them. So Mr. Wright used to say he 
preferred kids out of high school to [those] out of 



32 



college, because, he'd say, "They don't have as much to 
unlearn." So he could get them straight the first time. 
[ laughter ] 

LASKEY: So you had to have no particular background in 
architecture to go? 

LAUTNER: No, you just did it, or you didn't do it. And 
that was it. And that's perfect. Also, it's interesting 
that, about regulations and stuff, he only had one rule, 
and that was if you didn't get up at seven o'clock for 
breakfast, you didn't get any breakfast. And so if you 
were working like on the farm or doing stone work or 
carpentry work and you started doing heavy labor at eight 
or nine o'clock, if you were late and you had no breakfast, 
the next day you got up in time for breakfast because you 
couldn't make it without eating and do that hard work. 
LASKEY: Well, was this part of what you did, was the work? 
Were you assigned projects? 

LAUTNER: Oh, yeah. Physical labor, yeah. That was part 
of — Everything was part of learning for architecture and 
that's the way he felt about it, and I think it's ab- 
solutely the best, because everything in life is — Architec- 
ture should be concerned with everything in life, so when 
you know how to build physically, and then you know what 
stone is good for, you know what wood's good for, you know 
what to plan for, you know what to design. The typical 



33 



architectural school, they don't even know what the mater- 
ials are. They're making sketches or plans, and they have 
absolutely no meaning. They don't know what they mean. 
So, he [Wright] considers all the architectural schools 
insane. 

The apprentice system is what they use in Europe, you 
know, in Switzerland, in Germany; all over the world in 
fact. The architectural students in Germany--well , they 
start when they're ten or twelve years old, and they work 
as a clean-up boy in an office, and then they do stone 
work, and electrical, and cabinet work; they do everything. 
When they graduate they know what building is. 

And, aside from that, [at] Taliesin, he included in 
the life there — Apprentices would take turns cooking — For 
instance, he had big Sunday night dinners where people were 
invited from Madison or Chicago or something. So he would 
have a conversation with some famous — usually famous — 
person in that area, and always have a string quartet and 
music and — So the apprentices would rotate for doing this 
dinner. You'd have to figure out what to cook for, say, 
fifty or sixty people: cook it, serve it, and clean it up. 
And do the whole thing. 

Well, I was married. I got married right about the 
same time. So, my wife and I did that. So when we left 
Taliesin it was absolutely nothing to have anybody for 



34 



dinner. I mean, if you had four or five people for dinner, 
that's nothing when you know how to do it for fifty or 
sixty. Why, it's fantastic. It changes your whole at- 
titude, you know. And then it's also part of your training 
as an architect. Because you know what goes on in the 
kitchen, you know what goes on in the living room, you know 
socially, you know everything, so it's-- Complete living 
was the training. And, most architects don't know anything 
about that either. I mean, they just read what some expert 
says about a kitchen, but they never worked in a kitchen, 
so they don't know what the hell it is, you know. 
LASKEY: Well, it sounds like from your background, 
Taliesin may not have been as much of a shock to you as it 
would have been to a lot of other people. 

LAUTNER: No, no, that's true. It wasn't any shock to me, 
it was just a pleasure. Something more academic would have 
been a big bore. [laughter] So, that's the difference. 
LASKEY: But how, out of this, did you evolve your architec- 
ture? I'm not finished with Taliesin yet, but I'm curious 
about how you learned actually in this kind of an environ- 
ment to be an architect. Not to understand it, but to 
actually function? 

LAUTNER: Well, I was — Mr. Wright was around all the time 
pointing out things that contributed to the beauty of the 
space, or the building, or the function of the kitchen, or 



35 



the dining room, or what-have-you. And also the details of 
construction: how a certain way of detailing, which he 
would call grammar, contributed to the whole idea, the 
whole, the total expression. And then he kept accenting 
the idea that there wasn't any real architecture unless you 
had a whole idea, so I — He accented that all the time. 
So, I really learned that you have to have a major total 
idea or it's nothing, you know; it's just an assembly. 
What most people do is an assembly of cliches or facades or 
what-have-you; there's no real idea. And, so I kept 
constant — He was usually talking very philosophically, 
too, about human life, and the whole world, and the demo- 
cracy. And architecture is all part of that. So, I 
gradually — Well, I was naturally sympathetic with those 
ideas anyway from my father and mother and I kept working 
on them and concentrating on them. 

And I purposely didn't copy any of Mr. Wright's 
drawings or even take any photographs, because I was a 
purist. I was [an] idealist. I was going to work from my 
own philosophy, and that's what he wanted apprentices to 
do, too: that wherever they went, they would contribute to 
the infinite variety of nature by being individual, 
creating for individuals a growing, changing thing. Well, 
practically none of them were able to do it. I mean, I am 
one of two or three that may have done it, you know, but — 



36 



So I knew that that was my plan for being an architect: to 
work from scratch and from philosophical ideas. So then I 
got looking at nature the same as Mr. Wright did, and 
observing absolutely everything. So when six, seven years 
after, when I came here after Taliesin, I had in my head, 
oh, a million things that I'd like to build. So whenever I 
got — I'd say for twenty years maybe whenever I got a 
job — I didn't have the full control or the full confidence 
by any means, but I had plenty of ideas from previous 
observations. So I could always contribute something new 
and fundamental and real to whatever the problem was, and 
so I enjoyed that. 

LASKEY: What was Taliesin like, physically, to live in or 
work in? 

LAUTNER: Oh, it was beautiful, because — It was a 
beautiful place in the hills of Wisconsin to begin with. A 
beautiful building, and each apprentice had their own room. 
My wife and I had a big room with a fireplace and you were 
pretty much on your own. I mean, you just helped the 
whole — whatever ' s going on. And in my time there, I did a 
lot of steam fitting. 
LASKEY: Steam fitting? 

LAUTNER: Yeah, I enjoyed that, because I found that — In 
fact, I was probably happier doing that than I ever have 
been about anything, because it takes some real thinking 



37 



and real planning with your head and it takes some real 
physical work at the same time. So, you're completely 
involved, and, usually you're just in an office doing 
mental work, or you're outside doing physical labor, but 
you don't get the two together. And when you get the two 
together you're — That's the happiest condition for living, 
really, because you're absolutely involved. And like, when 
you finally get through doing a steam system, then you have 
to measure all these pipes, then you get to these big ones. 
They have to be within a sixteenth of an inch, you know, to 
fit; you can't stretch them, you have to be right. And you 
finally get this all together and you fire up -he boiler 
and there's the steam in the — And the whole place is 
heated, you know. You really accomplish something. I 
mean, it's just sensational, and so I never had a better 
time in my life than doing that. 

LASKEY: Now, you mentioned getting married. Who and when? 
LAUTNER: Well, I married Abby Roberts's daughter [Mary 
Faustina Roberts] in the first year that — We went to 
Taliesin at the same time. 
LASKEY: Now, was she a student also? 
LAUTNER: Yeah, yeah. 

LASKEY: An apprentice? You met her at Taliesin? 
LAUTNER: No, no. She came from Marquette. So we came at 
the same time and Mary's mother, Abby, actually paid for 



38 



our — He [Wright] had the eleven-hundred dollar tuition 
[including room and board] per year. 
LASKEY: In 1933? 

LAUTNER: But that was room and board and everything. And 
it just stayed that way. So she actually paid for that. 
Then, later on, like after you're there three or four years 
and Mr. Wright decides you're of some value in the work-- 
helping with the drafting or superintending construction or 
something--then he cancels the tuition and maybe you get a 
little money besides. But it was — Of course, at that time 
it was extremely tight and — [the] Depression and all of 
that. But that's the way it worked. 

LASKEY: For the fact that it was really at the peak of the 
Depression, in the thirties, did that affect what was going 
on at Taliesin or your view of architecture? 
LAUTNER: No, that's the amazing part: how Mr. Wright 
could cope with the Depression, and practically no work, 
and still enthusiastically describe and do what architec- 
ture should be. He gradually got just enough work to help 
maintain, but he was in debt most of the time. And the 
people around there — the grocery stores and whatnot--they 
loved him so much that they'd say, you know, after he'd 
owed them money for a couple of years, they'd say, "Well, 
we're not going to let him have any more." He'd come into 
the store and he'd say, "Well, Joe, how are you? I'll take 



39 



ten bushels of potatoes." And they'd haul it right out. 
Just absolutely irresistible. 
LASKEY: Was he really? 

LAUTNER: Oh, yeah. There's just nothing you could do [to 
resist him]. I mean, he'd just wipe out anything. [laugh- 
ter] Unbelievable. 

LASKEY: Well, your background wasn't terribly dissimilar 
to his. Did you feel a lot of just natural sympathy with 
him? 

LAUTNER: Oh, yeah, yeah, you know-- And I was very excited 
about everything he said. I mean, he could say — He could 
analyze something and say it in three words so potently 
that other people would take a whole book and still not 
really understand what it was. So he was just unbeliev- 
able. I mean, every time he said anything it was just 
sensational. You know, it was so exciting that thirty 
young boys in their teens and twenties — We very seldom 
went to Madison, Milwaukee or Chicago because — we all liked 
to go to dances, parties, and theater, and so forth — but it 
was so exciting being with Mr. Wright that we practically 
never went. It was more exciting being there with Frank 
Lloyd Wright out in the country than going to Chicago. Now 
that's, that's something! [laughter] 

LASKEY: That was the question I was going to ask, is — 
What was the feeling of the school at that time — of the. 



40 



you know, your fellow schoolmates, your fellow apprentices? 
LAUTNER: We were all — felt that way, pretty much all. I 
mean, there 're naturally odd ones. I mean, there were some 
who were kind of peculiar this way or that way. But the 
consensus just was all for him, you know. There was just 
nothing — nothing better. 

LASKEY: Did you have the feeling that you were the start 
of something monumental when you were there? 
LAUTNER: No, the — When I was first there, he was so 
brilliant that I was too shy to even say anything or even 
ask a question. Because I felt I wouldn't want to bother 
such a brilliant man with anything that I might say, you 
know. So I was just listening, that's all. And that's the 
way — Later on you couldn't — I got up nerve enough to talk 
to him once in a while, but not very much. Mainly, listen- 
ing. 

LASKEY: He must have been very supportive, at least in 
theory, of your desire to follow your own philosophy. 
LAUTNER: Well, that's what he — that's what he intended the 
apprentice training to be, that you should be your own way 
as an individual and your own architecture, and practice it 
to suit the geography and climate of wherever you ended up. 
And everything was basic and nothing to be repeated or 
nothing routine, nothing — So that was ideal for me, and — 
Let's see — 



41 



LASKEY: Were you part of the trek to Taliesin West? Was 
that started when you were there? 

LAUTNER: Oh, yes. We went two or three years to Chandler, 
Arizona, where we built the Broadacre City model and other 
models; and I worked on those models in the — [There] was a 
hacienda belonging to [Dr. Alexander] Chandler, who was an 
old client of Mr. Wright's who [Wright] designed a San 
Marcos Hotel, [San Marcos-in-the-Desert , 1927], which 
wasn't built. But this Chandler owned — more or less — owned 
the town of Chandler. So, there's a hotel there where 
Herbert Hoover and all those people spent the winter. So 
we lived in a hacienda that was part of that hotel, and we 
built the architectural models. And then we did that for 
two or three winters before Mr. Wright bought property 
outside of Phoenix to build Taliesin West. And I was there 
when he first went out there. I was there the first year 
and did a lot of the stonework on the drafting room and the 
vault: the beginning of Taliesin West. I placed most of 
the stones. 
LASKEY: Really? 

LAUTNER: Yeah, so I know what that is. 
LASKEY: What was the trip out like? 

LAUTNER: Oh, it was fantastic. We — Everybody drove, so 
it was a train of maybe fifteen, fifteen cars with a truck, 
a truck or two full of stuff. Then we'd take a different 



42 



route back and forth from Wisconsin to Arizona every time. 
So Mr. Wright was like that. The only — Well, he said, you 
know, the only absolute is change. And so if anything got 
to be a routine, he'd change it. We never had any routine 
in any way whatsoever. We never went the same way twice. 
So it was just fantastic. 

LASKEY: And, you didn't find it disrupting to pack up 
twice a year and move across the country — ? 
LAUTNER: Oh, no — just exciting. I mean, it was just 
perfect, because we got the full three, the full seasons in 
Wisconsin, and then — at that time we went in, like, January 
after Christmas, so we had the Christmas in the snow, and 
then we went only for about two months there to Arizona. 
Now, they go much longer to Arizona. But, that was per- 
fect, because you just — you just got this change, complete 
change, from the middle of winter to the desert, and then 
back for spring, summer, and fall. So you got everything. 
It was ideal. 

LASKEY: Did you live there, live at Taliesin year-round? 
Or was it fully — 

LAUTNER: Oh, yes. Year-round. That was another thing; 
he, once you were an apprentice, he never wanted you to 
leave, for any reason. In fact, he didn't even like 
apprentices going home to their families. I think that was 
mainly so that the architecture — the philosophy — was 



43 



absolutely the whole life. And it's not diluted in any way 
at all — on purpose. 
LASKEY: Sounds ideal. 

LAUTNER: Yeah. Oh, it was fantastic. So, of course, that 
made it difficult later on, because having really known a 
genius of five hundred years, there aren't that many people 
that are very interesting after that. [laughter] 
LASKEY: Where do you go after you've been there? Well, 
you mentioned Broadacre City [c. 1934], Frank Lloyd 
Wright, or his office, did some interesting things during 
the period that you were there. Like Fallingwater [Edgar 
J. Kaufmann House, Bear Run, Pennsylvania, 1935-1936], and 
the Johnson's Wax Company [S. C. Johnson & Son, Inc., 
Administration Building, Racine, Wisconsin, 1936-1939], 
Broadacre City. Were you involved in any of those? 
LAUTNER: Oh, yes. I did most of the plans for [Herbert 
F.] Johnson's residence [ "Wingspread, " Wind Point, 
Wisconsin, 1937], and, I superintended the residence and I 
had a real great time doing that. I also went with Mr. 
Wright and [Edgar] Tafel and Wes [William Wesley] Peters 
[fellow Taliesin apprentices — ed.], who, when he went down 
to superintend the Johnson Wax office building — So I saw 
that from beginning to end while I was working on the 
house, mainly. And so I had the whole experience of all 
that. It was just unbelievable. 



44 



LASKEY: It must have been. Now, Mrs. Beecher's house, you 

said that that was the first house that you supervised? Is 

that right? 

LAUTNER: Abby Roberts. 

LASKEY: Roberts, I'm sorry. 

LAUTNER: Abby Beecher Roberts. One of my daughters [is] 

named Mary Beecher Roberts. And they're from the Beecher 

family in the east. I mean, that's part of that family. 

The writer — 

LASKEY: Harriet Beecher Stowe? Oh, really? 

LAUTNER: Yeah, yeah. 

LASKEY: So how did she end up in Marquette? 

LAUTNER: Well, she married — I mean, she was the daughter 

of Longyear , but (remember, I told you, the pioneer)-- So, 

I guess, [the woman] who Longyear married was partly 

Beecher: my wife's grandmother. 

LASKEY: So, the house that you built [for Wright] in 

Marquette [Abby Beecher Roberts House, "Deertrack," 

Marquette, Michigan, 1936], then the Roberts House, what 

was it like? 

LAUTNER: Oh, it was beautiful. On a hundred and fifty 

acres of woods. In the living room, the ceiling went up to 

the sky, so that you incorporated the woods, and a distant 

view of Lake Superior. So, there was nothing like that up 

there because, you know, most houses have a square or 



45 



rectangular room with a window on each wall, you know. 

Particularly in the wintertime, when you'd go in that 

living room, you're in a woods full of snow, and you're 

just right in the middle of it. And, it's just [an] 

unbelievable place to live. Of course, all spring, summer, 

and autumn, it's just magnif icient , because you're just 

part of the woods . 

LASKEY: And this was built in, what, 1937? '36? 

LAUTNER: Yeah, about then [1936]. 

LASKEY: Finding materials to build a house like that, was 

it unusual? 

LAUTNER: Well, we got the brick, we got a tan brick, I 

think, from Green Bay, which wasn't too far. Green Bay, 

Wisconsin. And then Mr. Wright preferred cypress when he 

used wood. He always used cypress, because that really is 

the best wood. And that comes from Louisiana. 



46 



TAPE NUMBER: II, SIDE ONE 
MAY 5, 19 82 

LAUTNER: Well, the wood for this house was cypress, and 
had to be imported from Louisiana. But, outside of that, 
they [were] normal materials, so it wasn't any problem to 
build. In fact, in those days it was much easier to build 
than now. My experience with building the Johnson resi- 
dence, superintending it, was just a dream compared with 
now. Because they had these, I think it was, a Polish 
contractor from, I'm not sure if he was from Milwaukee or 
Racine. But he had a crew of carpenters who were all 
cabinetmakers that were better than the average cabinet- 
maker we have right now. So I remember authorizing one 
wing of this job to be built. It was all approved and 
everything, and so I told the foreman to go ahead with that 
wing. In one week, it was all framed like a cabinet. It 
was so perfect that you just couldn't believe it, and in no 
time. I mean, nowadays it's just impossible to get any- 
thing like that done. 

And aside from that, the luxury of what was the 
cabinetwork and all of the woodwork was done in a shop in 
Milwaukee: a big cabinet shop where they made full-sized 
shop drawings. You can't get shop drawings in Los Angeles 
at all. I mean, you have to go east if you want to get 



47 



quality, you know. And this was the same shop that did the 
Supreme Court building in Washington and the Waldorf- 
Astoria [Hotel, New York]. So that was an adequate cabinet 
shop. So I got a real kick out of that because they'd have 
tables thirty, forty, fifty feet long. And the drawings 
for the woodwork: full-sized, detailed, fifty feet long — 
absolutely perfect. So when they came out and installed 
it, it was perfect. So it was just pure luxury to be 
superintending that job because the people, the workmen 
were just fantastic. I've never seen anything like that 
before or since. [laughter] So that, that was a dream. 
LASKEY: Well, as superintendent, what did you do or be 
responsible for? 

LAUTNER: Well, you have to watch all the details and be 
sure they have all of the right plans. And I did a lot of 
the drawing, with Mr. Wright's approval, of course, and a 
lot — I detailed windows and doors and jambs and all that 
kind of thing. I really enjoyed it. I detailed a lot of 
that full-sized. So that's part of the learning. And 
aside from that — I mean, you handle all the communication 
between the contractor and the owner and the architect. 
LASKEY: That could get pretty sticky, can't it? 
LAUTNER: Oh, yeah. That gets complicated. And then also, 
you deal with the client. Like, Johnson, Hib [Herbert F. ] 
Johnson, didn't really understand — He loved the house 



48 



because he saw the model before he approved building it. 
But he still didn't really know what it was. I mean, he 
knew partially. And that's generally true, most people 
really don't understand what it is. And so, when he'd come 
on the job, he'd say, "Well, what's this for," you know, 
"this room here, what's it for?" And so I'd have to 
explain it to him. So that's part of the superintendent 
job too. I was able to do that and I enjoyed it. It was 
working with the client, the contractor, with the whole 
thing, 

LASKEY: And Mr. Wright allowed a lot of his apprentices to 
do this? 

LAUTNER: Oh yeah. [It was] part of the training. And it 
was good for the jobs too, because a more or less con- 
tinuous superintendence by the architect — it really had to 
have that, even more now than at that time. I mean, I have 
a hard time here because I have to go or have somebody in 
my office go all the time, because you can't depend on the 
contractor for anything; they just don't care. The build- 
ing business now is just awful. 

They talk about progress. There's no progress what- 
soever. I mean, I used to have a contractor who built 
several of my houses. He built the Town House [Hotel] 
which is now the Sheraton down on Wilshire, in the twen- 
ties. It's a concrete structure, and he told me about it. 



49 



He built one floor per week, in the twenties. Now, with 
fifty million cranes and all of the computers and all of 
the monkey business that they've got, they can't even do 
it. So there's no progress at all. It's just talk. It's 
all talk and all overhead. Excessive overhead and talk, 
that's what it is. But that's our image of progress, 
[tape recorder off] 

LASKEY: So how many of the houses would you say you 
supervised? 

LAUTNER: Well, I supervised [the] Roberts House and 
Johnson [House], Those were the main ones for me [until I 
came to L.A. to supervise the Sturgis and Oboler resi- 
dences]. But while I was there — you mentioned Falling- 
water — I was standing right alongside of Mr. Wright when he 
designed the Bear Run House. It was a perfect example of 
what he — You know, a lot of people say he didn't do what 
he preached, or they like to think he didn't, but he did. 
He's one of the few men in the world who really did prac- 
tice what he preached, and there's no two ways about it. 
He said, "You have to"--he never made any sketches — "you 
have to have it all in your head." That's when you can see 
what a real, total, entity or a real piece of architecture 
[is]. Like, that one in Acapulco that I did [Arango 
House], or in various ones here, I have conceived [it] as a 
whole, one-piece thing, and so with Mr. Wright when he-- 



50 



When he got back from Pittsburgh (he came on the 
train; that was before airplanes--! mean, there was no air 
transportation) he had a survey, and he had the idea in his 
head. And he just took the survey and drew the plan and 
section (which, he also pointed out, are the essence of a 
building; that tells the whole story: the plan and 
section), in twenty minutes, and it never changed. That 
was it. He just put it down like that. 
LASKEY: What was your reaction to it when you saw him do 



it? 

LAUTNER 
LASKEY: 
LAUTNER 



Oh, well, we saw him do it many times. 
But I mean Fallingwater , specifically. 

Well, it was exciting in the end because you saw 
this initial plan. And then when it was finally built and 
photographed, the photographs were exactly like the draw- 
ings, just exactly. There was not a variation. It's 
really something. 

He was so capable that I felt he could probably do ten 
or fifteen jobs a day. He never had the work, you know, 
but he only worked in the office for maybe an hour or two 
in the morning. And then he'd write some letters, and the 
rest of the day he'd go out on the farm because it never 
took him eight hours to do anything. I mean, he was just 
so fast, he could handle ten jobs in two hours and talk to 



51 



five different people at the same time. [laughter] So he 
was really brilliant. 

LASKEY: Did this intimidate you at all? 

LAUTNER: Well, yeah. I mean, it intimidated some people. 
Like, the man — the boy [Albert McArthur, a former appren- 
tice] that he was connected with on the [Phoenix] Arizona 
Biltmore [Hotel, 1926-28; designed by McArthur with advice 
from Wright — Ed.] — I think he and maybe several others 
actually committed suicide because Mr. Wright was so much, 
and they were so little, that they might as well commit 
suicide, you know. [laughter] But I, no, I never got to 
anything like that. It was just a — I had just a tremen- 
dous delight in listening and seeing his brilliance, that's 
all. Of course I did feel, I felt very modest when I 
finally took off to start on my own. I mean, I didn't know 
whether I'd get to really doing anything or not. I mean, 
there's no way you could tell. You just had to — try. 

So as I went along, after I practiced for about twenty 
years, I began to feel that I was doing something, you 
know. But that's all part of it: that it goes on forever. 
And you're always just starting, if you have the right 
attitude about it. 



52 



SECOND PART 
MAY 19, 1982 

LASKEY: What I'm curious about is, at Taliesin — I want 
to rephrase a question that I'd asked you earlier in the 
interview — how did you learn the mechanics of architecture? 
LAUTNER: Well, we learned in the best possible way: by 
actual construction. First of all, we had remodeling and 
additions, physical work with concrete and wood, and 
plumbing, and stone masonry, and everything. So we learned 
first as apprentices how to handle these materials in an 
architectural way, which is natural to the material. So 
that in handling the materials, Mr. Wright pointed out — If 
somebody tried to make something out of wood that was 
inappropriate to the material, he pointed out why and what. 
So that you really got the essence or the nature of the 
material. And so you learned to use the material in its 
natural way, so that when you did become an architect and 
were designing something, you wouldn't use wood where you 
should have used stone or vice versa or, you know, things 
like that. And things like that do happen. I mean, they 
stretch things, and they force things, and they do all 
kinds of crazy things. So that's the first basic part of 
the techniques. 



53 



Then you were encouraged to do little projects of your 
own or make or build whatever you liked to build, small or 
large. And then on top of that, after you'd been there a 
while, you got to doing drafting on certain jobs. And 
you'd learn from Mr. Wright, and from all the other work 
that was going on, how to detail and how to draw these 
things, in a [way] not only suitable to the nature of the 
materials but suitable to the essence of an idea. Like, he 
stressed most of all that anything that was architecture 
had to have a real idea. So whatever the building was, 
[it] had a major idea. And once you understood the idea, 
all the other parts fell in place, if you understand the 
whole thing. And just being there — that's why he said 
you'd have to be there four or five years, six years 
minimum, before you really could absorb or really under- 
stand. 

There's no picking this up superficially like a three- 
months course in college and learning it, you know. It 
doesn't have any meaning. So then you find how — and he 
points out all the time — how in finishing the drawings or 
plans for the building, how every detail and every element 
is sympathetic with the whole idea and accentuates the 
whole idea, or extends the whole idea but never conflicts 
with the idea. So the way he would put it was the details 
were like the grammar. The main story or the main idea is 



54 



the whole building, and then the techniques and the final 
details of construction are the grammar. So that grammar 
is different for every different idea. 

His whole architecture is so much more than any other 
style because every one's a new one. Nobody believes that, 
you know. They think, oh, he copied from the Japanese and 
he copied from the Mexicans, and — They can't give him 
credit for anything, you know. They still pick at him when 
he really was a genius. 

LASKEY: They sometimes pick on him through you, too, which 
we'll come to later. 
LAUTNER: Yeah, yeah. 

LASKEY: While you were in Taliesin, in fact, just about 
the time you started, the [Henry-Russell] Hitchcock [and] 
[Philip] Johnson book on the International style [The 
International Style, Museum of Modern Art, 1932] came out. 
Did that have any particular effect on you, or on Taliesin? 
LAUTNER: No, none at all. Because we knew that [Ludwig 
Mies] van der Rohe was like a — almost like an apprentice to 
Frank Lloyd Wright in 1910. When Mr. Wright had his 
exhibit in Holland and Germany, and he got those books out, 
van der Rohe wrote to him as "My Dear Master." So he was 
just another pupil. And most people don't understand that 
either. 



55 



LASKEY: Well, it's very ironic, the irony of it. So 
weren't there any other influences at Taliesin? Did other 
architects come and talk to you, for example? 
LAUTNER: Well, van der Rohe came for a visit once. 
LASKEY: He did? 

LAUTNER: Yeah, from Chicago. And oh, yeah, several 
others. I don't remember who — quite a few who were sym- 
pathetic, and I guess some who were just curious, but I 
don't remember who they were. None of them had anything 
like Frank Lloyd Wright. 

I mean, like, when students ask me — I actually heard 
in person [Walter] Gropius, [ Le ] Corbusier, van der Rohe, 
and all of the big ones. And they're all nothing compared 
to Frank Lloyd Wright. They're just nothing. So when 
people want to discuss it with me, it's crazy, that's all. 
[ laughter] 

LASKEY: Well, you did find that you particularly had to 
fight against the International style then as a student? 
LAUTNER: No, no. We were entirely concerned with what Mr. 
Wright calls organic architecture. And any style that 
became a style or became a fad, became a superficial kind 
of nothing. We wouldn't even consider it architecture, but 
they still do consider — I mean, most of them took me years 
to figure it out. I mean, I could see that a lot of styles 
were just styles, and anybody could learn a bunch of styles 



56 



and do a modern or a colonial or what-have-you , but that's 
an empty nothing as far as creating architecture. So we 
learned that, you know, from Mr. Wright. 

So what we did find out was that (not so much right 
when I was there, as later on, when van der Rohe was 
running the Illinois Tech [Illinois Institute of Tech- 
nology] and all) that they were avidly trying to put down 
Frank Lloyd Wright in dirty ways. My mother was there and 
my sister too. Sometimes they'd take a course once in a 
while, and they knew some of the people personally. And 
they did and said a lot of absolutely untrue, dirty stuff 
to put down Frank Lloyd Wright. 
LASKEY: At Illinois Tech? 

LAUTNER: Yeah. Just disgusting. And they still do, I 
guess. It's a crazy thing. 

LASKEY: [This is] sort of a what-if question, but what if 
Frank Lloyd Wright hadn't opened Taliesin at that time? 
Have you speculated what you might have done? 
LAUTNER: No. As I mentioned before, I was ideally an- 
alyzing everything, and if Taliesin hadn't occurred, or Mr. 
Wright's autobiography and this apprenticeship school — I 
had in mind to bum around the world. And that's the thing 
that I miss. I wish I had been able to do that, because I 
feel that I missed freedom and some experiences outside of 
architecture that I would like to have had. And so I think 



57 



that's what I would have tried to do. And if I hadn't 
succeeded in that, there's no telling where I would have 
ended up, you know. 

I think I still would have been interested in some- 
thing definitely creative, definitely no repetition, no 
rut, and constructive and for human welfare, you know. 
Idealistic, whatever it was. It would have to fulfill all 
of those things — which, I guess, many things could but not 
as obviously as architecture. 

LASKEY: But architecture schools at that time were pretty 
pro forma, weren't they? 

LAUTNER: Oh yes. There would be no alternate there 
because, as I also said, after taking a drafting course and 
not being a neat draftsman, I knew that the typical aca- 
demic approach would be so deadly that I just wouldn't want 
to do it. And in fact, at that time, I don't know whether 
you know it or we should say it, Mr. Wright's books were 
not allowed in the universities. I mean, that's how bad, 
how narrow minded the so-called "free" U.S. --the country of 
U.S.A., which is supposed to be a free country--how narrow- 
minded the academic world is, as well as the business world 
and the whole thing. His books were not allowed in the 
universities. 
LASKEY: For what reason? 



58 



LAUTNER: Too radical. And it's still like that. I mean, 
the academic boys still go for old styles or tricks or 
something, and they leave him out, you know. 
LASKEY: That's astonishing. I didn't know that. 
LAUTNER: Oh god, it's unbelievable. So, like, it was 
funny. The students practically had strikes. I mean, they 
reacted to this. They knew about Frank Lloyd Wright. 
Like, at the University of Michigan, the students would get 
together and invite him and come and talk some place, but 
he would be outlawed by the university. But the students 
would get him. 

LASKEY: That's astonishing. 
LAUTNER: Isn't that something? 
LASKEY: It really is. 

LAUTNER: It's unbelievable. But it's understandable, too, 
because it's just like any genius in the history of the 
world. I mean, it just proves it all the more. They were 
run down, kicked out of town, or had to struggle, or never 
get published because they were too new, too radical, one 
way or another. And any genius has had that problem. So, 
like, later on when Mr. Wright got a job in, well, I think 
he said it when he first — no, they wanted him to do the 
civic center in Madison, which they didn't build — but he 
said, "I must be slipping because I'm winning my own 
precinct." See, that's the way it is. I mean, he was 



59 



treated as an outlaw almost all his life. And the fact 

that he got recognized before he was dead is unusual for 

geniuses . 

LASKEY: Of course, he lived a long time. That may have 

had something to do with it. 

LAUTNER: Yeah. But he had to live that long before he 

really — Well, he was recognized in Europe when he was a 

young man but not in this country until he was eighty or 

ninety. And this is supposed to be a free country, and 

it's not. It's very reactionary. 

LASKEY: Did you have any difficulty because you were a 

student of his? 

LAUTNER: Oh sure. When I came here if I told somebody I 

had studied with Frank Lloyd Wright, they'd kick me out. I 

couldn't get a job. I couldn't get a job in any office, 

because that's too radical. 

LASKEY: Amazing. 

LAUTNER: That's right. 

LASKEY: Now, you came out here in 1939, right? And you 

had been here before for the Olympics. What did you feel 

about Los Angeles when you came out? 

LAUTNER: Oh, it was depressing. I mean, when I first 

drove down Santa Monica Boulevard, it was so ugly I was 

physically sick for the first year I was here. Because 

after living in Arizona and Michigan and Wisconsin, mostly 



60 



out in the country, and mostly with good architecture, and 
string quartets and things of beauty, this was the ugliest 
thing I'd ever seen. And so I was just sick, that's all. 
LASKEY: Even in 1939? Before the smog and — 
LAUTNER: Oh yeah. The buildings, you know. If you tried 
to figure out how to make a row of buildings ugly, you 
couldn't do it any better than it's been done [here]. I 
mean, they're just ugly, naturally ugly all the way. There 
isn't a single legitimate, good-looking thing anywhere, you 
know. [laughter] 

LASKEY: How did you happen to come out? 

LAUTNER: Well, I came initially as a superintendent for 
Mr. Wright on the [George D. ] Sturgis House in Brentwood 
[1939]. And then I also had my first child [Karol, May 29, 
1938], and I decided I had to separate and get started on 
my own. And that all happened at the same time. 
LASKEY: How did you feel about that, separating from Mr. 
Wright? 

LAUTNER: Well, it was very difficult because it was such 
an exciting and beautiful and happy life, you know; every- 
thing was great. And so trying to get started here, during 
the Depression, on your own, was terrible. I mean, I had 
things like — Well, I attracted a few people who wanted to 
do something, after I built my own house, and some of 
them — Like, I remember one — Well, at that time, of 



61 



course, [the] Depression, and no architect had any-- I mean 
they all had problems, but starting was even worse. And 
what people did as far as houses were concerned, they 
normally wouldn't use an architect at all. But they would 
say, "Well, if you want to submit a plan, we've got seven 
other architects who've submitted free plans, and if we 
like it we might pay for it." That's the way it was. And 
so it's hard for me to understand now kids getting out of 
architectural school. You know, they want fifteen dollars 
an hour, and they don't know what they're doing. 
LASKEY: That hasn't changed any. 

LAUTNER: No. So I had one client — they had a steep 
hillside lot, and they wanted a house with an apartment to 
rent and a badminton court, for twenty-five hundred dol- 
lars. I built my own house for four thousand at that time, 
but I worked with them for a whole year. I got the plans — 
in fact, I got a price that was something like two hundred 
dollars more than they wanted to spend, and nothing hap- 
pened. I got absolutely no money and no building. So talk 
about tough — I mean, the kids now don't know what tough is. 
They haven't got the vaguest idea. 
LASKEY: It must have been somewhat frightening. 
LAUTNER: Oh, yeah, it was. I mean, the only reason that I 
was able to keep on was that I had this in the back of my 
mind when I first started — since I did all this plumbing 



62 



and steam fitting, particularly at Taliesin, I said to 
myself, "Well, if for some reason I could never make it, or 
get through, with architecture, at least I can become a 
plumber or something like that for a living." So I had a 
kind of, a sort of a backup feeling that I could do some- 
thing regardless. But it was a horrible, long stretch, and 
really, my first wife's mother had to help us every so 
often financially, or I could never have made it at all. 
LASKEY: Before we get too far away from it, I'd like you 
to talk a little bit about the Sturgis House because I 
think it's a remarkable house. 

LAUTNER: Well, I had complete charge of getting it built, 
so I took the plans through the building department. And 
at that time the head of the building department was a real 
individual with guts enough to use his authority and not, 
you know, [was] not the picayune letter-of-the-law ad- 
ministrator. He was the kind that Mr. Wright had when he 
was doing his concrete block houses here. He wrote about 
it and said that he finally persuaded the head of the 
building department to be his building inspector, but all 
of the stuff was illegal. 
LASKEY: Really? 

LAUTNER: Yeah. I mean, everything was against the code, 
and the same way with the Sturgis House. And the same way 
with almost every job I've done — there ' ve been twenty, 



63 



thirty, forty, fifty things that are against the code, the 
letter of the code, which doesn't necessarily mean there's 
anything wrong. It's just that those things are in the 
code to try and protect the people from crooked contrac- 
tors, you know. It's just a pain in the neck for archi- 
tects. But anyway, that was what happened with the Sturgis 
House. I had forty or fifty points against the code that 
had to have special approval. I got to the head of the 
department, and he just checked them all off, signed them 
all off. 

LASKEY: Good grief. 

LAUTNER: [laughter] But you couldn't do that now. Now 
it's worse. But you can still fight the code, which I've 
had to do all my life, with special appeals to the dif- 
ferent appeal boards, you know. So if you're doing some- 
thing reasonable, you can finally persuade them, but it 
takes a lot of work. 

LASKEY: Is the code basically to protect people from the 
shenanigans of [contractors], or is it just to keep things 
in a sort of a status quo? 

LAUTNER: Well, the way I see it is that they've been 
trying for years to make it an airtight legal document that 
protects people from bad building. The contractors, you 
know, they'll cheat on everything. They'll put in lousy 
plaster, lousy concrete. They'll omit the reinforcing 



64 



steel. They'll do anything for a buck, so that's what the 
code's for now. But then it gets down to so many crazy 
things that they don't really make any sense. 

Like, a little thing: [in] my first house I decided 
the shower — I didn't like that big ugly curbing across the 
shower. If you have a good drain — I decided I'd have a 
stainless steel pan and it would be down about an inch, 
just enough to drain. And that's a good shower, but it's 
against the code. The code requires a four-inch curb 
across there, see. Well, that's because of crooked con- 
tractors or poor construction or something, you know. But 
you have to fight. Anything I thought of was against the 
code for one reason or another, you know. 

LASKEY: Well, your own first house was rather unique in a 
lot of ways wasn't it [John Lautner House, Silver Lake, 
1939]? 

LAUTNER: Yes. What I've always recommended — I mean, 
theoretically, what it's supposed to be for is to protect 
the public health and safety, but it's so far beyond that, 
that it's crazy. At that time, when I was just starting, I 
had a visiting architect from Rio de Janiero. (I had a lot 
of friends stop in from all over the world, and had a lot 
of fun.) He did the — I can't remember his name now, but he 
was a famous architect down there — he did the ministry of 
foreign affairs building, a great big building in Rio. And 



65 



he said that, at that time, they were concerned about the 
building [code] because it had become something like — oh, 
something like one hundred pages, which is, like nothing 
compared to our code. But that was too much for them, so 
they cut it back to the original [strictly] public health 
and safety [needs]. 

First of all, the architect down there, and in other 
countries, is responsible, and there the architect's also 
the builder. That makes all the difference in the world. 
So what the code is — They had a list, he told me, of 
seventy-five things, like: you're not allowed to dump 
sewage in the middle of the street, and you're not allowed 
to do this, and you're not allowed to do that, in relation 
to the public health and safety. Otherwise, you could do 
absolutely anything you wanted to do. And if you did 
something wrong, you never got hired again. You were dead, 
that's all. But the code was absolutely no interference, 
just like — And that's the way it should be. 

My client for Silvertop — we worked on that to try and 
revise this code to allow architects to work like doctors. 
You know, a doctor doesn't have to have some checker decide 
whether he can remove an appendix. I mean, some clerk 
would say, "Well, you can't remove it," or something. 
[ laughter] 



66 



LASKEY: Well, I remember reading of an architect just 
about the time we're talking about, in the late thirties, 
early forties, who couldn't build a house with a flat roof. 
He had to have a peaked roof. What's the point? 
LAUTNER: Yeah, oh yeah. All kinds of crazy stuff. It was 
really worse when Mr. Wright built here, because the code 
was more commercial. It had built in to it a required 
certain proportion of different materials — like: so much 
cement, so much wood, so much plaster — so that the people 
in the building business could figure out how much profit 
they're going to make because they had a certain percentage 
allocated by the code. Now, isn't that disgusting? 
LASKEY: It's amazing! 

LAUTNER: Well, that's, you know, our country, as far as 
I'm concerned: nothing but the buck, you know. They say, 
"Why don't we have architecture?" Well, I say we're not 
civilized, that's all. So we won't have any until we're 
more civilized. 
LASKEY: That's amazing. 

Ahxjut your own house, Esther McCoy once called it — and 
I love this quote — "It was a marriage between Walden Pond 
and Douglas Aircraft," the first house that you built. 
LAUTNER: Well, that is nice, a nice description. It has 
the kind of a natural, warm, interior feeling — in space. 



67 



The roof is free and sort of soaring, you know, like an 
airplane, so that description is pretty good. 
LASKEY: And it had only two doors? 
LAUTNER: Yeah, yeah. 
LASKEY: How did you do that? 

LAUTNER: Well, one door was the entrance door, then the 
living-dining-kitchen was one room, and what normally would 
be doors, a door out of the kitchen, were actually windows. 
And then there was one door to a balcony where there were 
bedrooms with windows. Well, actually there were two more. 
There were two doors on the bathroom and two doors for the 
whole house. So in a small house you get all the space and 
all the freedom. 

LASKEY: Did your building that house help you any to gain 
credibility in Los Angeles? 

LAUTNER: Oh yes. That was the best thing that I could 
have done. I recommend it to students. If they really 
want to get started, they have to build something, because 
just drawings — they don't mean a thing. I mean, you've got 
to show them something real, unless you're in some poli- 
tical, crackpot scene, you know. Like, some of the guys 
now, I don't know why they have any reputation because they 
haven't built anything, but they do. Anyway, I found that, 
like, oh, ten, fifteen years later, somebody would come to 
me, and they'd say, well, they saw this little house that I 



68 



built for myself ten years ago, and they remembered it, and 
they wanted me to do something. And that's what did it. 
So I started right from scratch the way Mr. Wright did and 
built up my practice from my own work, without any PR or 
promotion or sales or anything. 

LASKEY: Your house was in Silver Lake, and there was a lot 
of building that went on in Silver Lake, again in the thir- 
ties and forties. Why Silver Lake? 

LAUTNER: Oh, I think the easy answer to that is that 
Silver Lake, I think it's still true, is one of the few 
areas in the whole of Southern California where people own 
their house and stay there. Because it's a beautiful place 
to be, and it's extremely convenient. I mean, it's easy to 
downtown, easy to Hollywood, easy to anywhere. They used 
to say there were a lot of doctors there, and I guess there 
still are, because it's easy to all the hospitals and it 
just got to be that kind of a solid community. So the 
houses were not for speculation. They were to live in. So 
Harwell [Hamilton] Harris and Gregory Ain and [Richard] 
Neutra and all of them had houses there — [Rudolf M. ] 
Schindler. Because that was a place where people built 
houses to live in, not to sell. You know, [in] the rest of 
the town, a house is just a piece of merchandise, a thing 
to trade up, so that next year you can get to Beverly 



69 



Hills. I mean, that's the way all the rest of the town is. 
[ laughter ] 

LASKEY: All the architects you just mentioned were more or 
less of the same style. I think that they were, most of 
them, in fact, students of Neutra or Schindler. You were 
very different than they were. Did that cause you prob- 
lems? 

LAUTNER: No. I was sort of recognized early as a good 
contemporary architect, but I had my own work and my own 
name, so that I just kept building that up. It took me a 
long time to understand why Neutra was a big name at all, 
because, as far as I was concerned, all he did was one 
thing, and he kept repeating that same thing. 

Years later, after I'd been practicing for maybe 
fifteen or twenty years, I suddenly realized that (I should 
have realized it sooner, but the simple things are hard to 
really understand) there are a lot of people — I thought 
that to be an architect you should contribute and create a 
whole new thing for each client, and that was the ultimate 
service and the ultimate pleasure for everybody. But then 
I suddenly realized that there are these people, they look 
for what they want, they see it, and they want a copy of 
that. So that's what they did with Neutra. When they went 
to him they wanted another one of those, and so it was 
really easy. All Neutra had to do was make a different 



70 



plot plan and use all the same details, all the same stuff, 

so he had the same house over and over again. It was OK 

because the people got what they asked for. They got just 

what they saw. Those people would be afraid to do anything 

with me because they didn't know what they were going to 

get. So it's another world completely. 

LASKEY: Why Neutra rather than Schindler just — 

LAUTNER: Well, I think that's the same reason. Schindler 

was more experimental and created more interesting spaces 

and tried different materials. Neutra just did the same 

thing over and over and over. 



71 



TAPE NUMBER: II, SIDE TWO 
MAY 19, 1982 

LAUTNER: I talked to Schindler one time in his later 
years. He did all of his own building, and I don't blame 
him because you couldn't find a contractor, then or now, 
who wants to do anything different or at a reasonable 
price. And so Schindler really tried to provide an inter- 
esting space at a reasonable price. So even though he was 
interested in concrete and so forth, and did his own pre- 
cast concrete, most of the later things were just regular 
studs and plaster: the cheapest, fastest way you could do 
it. I couldn't blame him either, because he did give the 
client a space that didn't cost too much, and he did some 
experimenting with the space as well. He liked what I did, 
what little he knew before he died. 

LASKEY: Did you ever consider doing your own contracting? 
LAUTNER: Well, I more or less did for years because in 
working with the clients with a contractor, they would come 
in, and they'd say, "Well, do you realize you've got ten 
thousand dollars worth of brickwork here," you know. And 
I'd have to take off everything myself and price it, know 
all the unit costs, and I knew I had something like two 
thousand dollars worth of brick business for [a masonry 
subcontractor]. So, I'd just have to tell the contractor 



72 



to go to hell and hunt for another one. So, I had to get 
all the subbids and hand it to the contractor in order to 
get a decent price. [Steel bids still vary 500 percent; 
contracting is like horse racing.] So, I've more or less 
done that all my life, but I haven't been paid for it. 
What I should do is — But I didn't go into that way because 
the architects had this so-called or theoretical ethic that 
if you're a contractor, you can never be engaged as an 
architect for a public building or big building or anything 
else. So I naively hoped that I might get some kind of a 
building sometime, and I didn't want to jeopardize that. 
But since then I've found that, you know, they do all kinds 
of unethical things, and they still get hired, and it's all 
bunk and so on. 

LASKEY: Well, when you first Ccime out here, you were 
associated with Douglas Honnold for a time? 
LAUTNER: Not when I first — I started on my own first. 
LASKEY: Oh, you did? 

LAUTNER: And I did several jobs. I did my own, and I did 
the Bell House [Hollywood Hills, 1940], and I did the 
Springer House [Echo Park, Los Angeles, 1941; cost: 
$2,500], and I did — Then I had about twelve or fifteen 
clients built up over the first two or three years, and 
then the war stopped everything. 



73 



Then rather than work for an architect during the war, 
I worked for a contractor as a contractor superintendent 
because I wanted to know more about the contracting so that 
in the future I could do more architecture. And that's 
what's enabled me to, because the typical architect doesn't 
know enough about contracting or building. They're scared 
to death. They all succumb to the contractors. So any- 
thing that a contractor says, goes, and it's still that 
way. I mean, that's why we don't have any new office 
buildings. It's just "get the contractor who does this 
kind of a thing, at this kind of a price." You don't do 
anything else. 

So then it was almost the end of the war when I went 
to work with Doug Honnold, and we did some black market 
work in Beverly Hills, because you weren't allowed to build 
anything, and you couldn't get any materials unless you had 
the priorities and, you know, all that kind of stuff. And 
that was all baloney too. If you were rich in Beverly 
Hills you could build anyway, so that's the way it was. 

So I worked with him for, I guess, two or three years. 
And I designed about one hundred and fifty jobs while I was 
with him. And, I don't know, maybe ten or fifteen were 
built. But he knew how to — he had all the contacts, you 
know. He knew how to get jobs. 



74 



LASKEY: Well, during the war were there jobs to be had? 
Was there material available? 

LAUTNER: No, no. During the war there were no jobs except 
army or navy. The big architects were drawing army bar- 
racks. And this was the most insane thing I've ever seen 
in my life. I tried it for one week. I couldn't do it 
all. I mean, they had big, big army contracts and they'd 
have three or four hundred draftsmen, and literally they'd 
be drawing — you've seen the army barracks like this, 
[gestures] It's a rectangular building like that? And it 
has crossbarred windows? Two hundred draftsmen drawing 
these crossbarred windows. [No new ideas allowed.] So, 
you know, the whole architect profession, to me, was just 
stupid, absolutely stupid, but anything for a buck, you 
know. And it's still like that; that's a total farce. So 
working as a contractor was much better because I was 
learning something and I was outside and it was healthy 
work and real. What the architects were doing was just a 
farce. I mean, completely unneccessary but a trick way of 
making money, because it was traditional. They were making 
traditional plans of army barracks. [laughter] Crazy! 
LASKEY: Well, what would the independent architect have 
done during this period? 

LAUTNER: That's what they did. They either did that or 
they starved to death. 



75 



LASKEY: I see. I was thinking of, well, people like 
Harwell Hamilton Harris, whom you mentioned, people who did 
residences. 

LAUTNER: I don't know what they did. They just didn't do 

anything, I guess. 

LASKEY: But you had the training, at least, from Taliesin 

that you could survive as a contractor. 

LAUTNER: Yeah, yeah. 

LASKEY: So, then after the war, when things loosened up a 

bit, you were with Honnold? 

LAUTNER: Yeah. Well, then I went completely on my own 

again. i mean, we just, well, we decided to separate. So 

I've been on my own all the time, really. 

LASKEY: The late forties — you've seemed to have done a lot 

of things, like Henry's Drive-In [Pomona, California, 1948] 

and the Desert Hot Springs Motel [Hot Springs, California, 

1947] as well as your residences. 

LAUTNER: I don't know why. They were just people who came 

and found out about me. They came, and I did the work. 

And it's been that way. I still get jobs the same way. 

Somebody has seen something in a magazine or actually seen 

something and they'd come and see me. But how many come, 

at what time, there's no predicting, you know. 

And it has nothing to do with the economy. I mean, if 
the building business is down I might have more work than I 



76 



ever had or if the building business is up, I might not 
have any work. It just depends on the fluke of some 
individual looking for architecture. And there aren't very 
many people looking for architecture. They're looking for 
deals, but there are very few who really want to get into 
something new. 

LASKEY: On the other hand, doesn't Los Angeles his- 
torically sort of offer this opportunity for people to be 
different? 

LAUTNER: Yeah — well, that's a misnomer too. I was very 
disappointed in that. What I found there was that it's 
true, you might be able to do almost anything, and you 
might have almost any kind of a client. And I have had a 
few — they wanted to do something just to be different, with 
no understanding of the architecture. So that's completely 
unsatisfactory because here you've got a guy who just wants 
to show off, and he does it to show off, which is part of 
the movie industry or the whole thing, you know, of non- 
reality or advertising or whatever it is. So that made me 
very mad when I discovered that I had several clients like 
that, which theoretically were giving me the opportunity to 
do a new job, but they didn't understand it. 

Then I used to tell people I wished to hell I had 
started out in Boston because I would have built up a 
reputation that would grow. Well, here nothing grows. 



77 



you're just in or out. You can be in for this week and out 
next week. There's no continuity, and nobody gives a damn. 
Well, in the east there's some continuity, and they care. 
So, actually, I think I could have done more if I'd started 
in Boston than here. Also, here the bankers and the 
contractors are very conservative. You couldn't get a loan 
on anything, you know, that wasn't just stock. So it 
doesn't have the freedom that it's supposed to have [just 
advertising media P.R., et cetera]. 

LASKEY: Speaking of clients, I would think that your 
nature, your type of architecture being so particularly 
personal and so unique that your clients would have got to 
be rather unique for the most part, too — that your relation- 
ship with them is, perhaps, different than most architects 
with their clients. 

LAUTNER: Well, they are. They're individuals, so I think 
it means that there aren't too many real individuals. Most 
people want something the same, you know. And that's hard 
for me to understand, when there is this infinite variety 
possible, why you should want to duplicate something. Of 
course, I've never been able to understand the conservative 
point of view anyway. I mean, that's beyond me; I just 
can't understand it at all. But that seems to be the 
dominant thing, is all the same. So I am dependent on 
individuals. 



78 



Well, like a good example right here [is] that [Gil 
and Joanne Segel] house [1978] down there in Malibu, that 
"wood cave." Well, that woman — we had absolutely no 
problem. She is a dance therapist. So she had seen some 
of my work, she came in, and she said, "You know how to 
stay on the ground and fly." And that's what she wanted to 
do. So aesthetically, architecturally, and humanly and 
every other way, that's solid and free, which are elements 
that I love in architecture: enduring spaces. She said, 
"Well, we're dancing together." Well, that's an in- 
dividual, see. I mean, you can't imagine a banker under- 
standing that. They don't give a goddamn; it's just so 
many square feet for so many bucks, and architecture means 
nothing. 

So that's the kind I like. I mean, I had another 
client, for instance, who had a big abstract painting, and 
he said, "I want to have a house that gives me that kind of 
environment. " 

And I said, "That's beautiful. I love the tougher the 
challenge, the better." You know, I create a whole new 
environment that makes him feel as though he's living in 
that painting. I mean, that's really doing something with 
architecture, you know. This other stuff is nothing, that 
you see, you know. [Merely fads and facades.] 



79 



And so when you have individuals who have some idea of 
how they want to live or wish to live, why, that gives me 
the clues to — That's why they're all different, individual 
things . 

LASKEY: Then you experiment with materials and with the 
different forms as you're doing things? 
LAUTNER: Oh, everything. Everything, yeah. 
LASKEY: As the client requests you to — 
LAUTNER: Sure. Whatever I get from the client as a 
kind — whatever I feel — as a sort of space or environment 
that they want, I try to achieve. That's the interesting 
part of it. 

LASKEY: Well, your Desert Hot Springs Motel [1947], which 
I've only seen in pictures, but it looks like a great place 
to stay, like a little garden in the desert. How would you 
come to design something like that? 

LAUTNER: Well, that was a very nice man, Lucian Hubbard, 
who was sort of a retired movie producer, director, and he 
had these hot springs. He was primarily interested in the 
hot springs down there that were on this property. I went 
down there with him, and he didn't get into the archi- 
tecture that much. But he wanted something so people could 
stay there while he developed these hot springs — something 
that could be expanded. So he only built, like, four or 
five units to start with, which could have been added to. 



80 



But in staying down there, I stayed in a typical 
motel. And it's very windy, and the buildings just rattle 
and scream — it's terrible. So I got the clue right away 
that for that environment I use steel and concrete. So 
first of all it wasn't rattling in the wind. And then, as 
a motel, I loved that challenge too. Because a typical 
motel is just partitioned off like that, and you have a 
window in the rear and a door in the front, and they're 
just horrible things. And so by opening it up to the sky, 
each one has its own private patio, garden, and top of the 
mountains and sky and everything — even in row housing. 

So I loved to achieve those things, but the strange 
part is that the, you know, big business developers, they 
never see anything like that. I mean, these are real 
contributions to every kind of project but they're un- 
noticed, don't make any difference. 
LASKEY: Or perhaps they're frightened. 

LAUTNER: I don't know. I guess so. I suppose that's true 
too. 

LASKEY: You have done some commercial work. 
LAUTNER: Yes. Well, that was one. Then I did a whole 
chain of restaurants [Henry's, c. 1949-52, and 1960], and a 
[Kaynar] factory [Pico Rivera, 1950], and a school, an 
elementary school [Midtown, Los Angeles, I960]. I did also 
a laboratory building for [the] University of Hawaii 



81 



[Hilo]. And just a couple years ago, a rehabilitation 
center ["Rancho del Valle," Main Building, Canoga Park, 
California, 1979] for the Crippled Children's Society out 
in the [San Fernando] Valley, and some offices — but not too 
many, because they really don't want any architecture. I 
discovered when I built an office center for a subdivision 
in [San Juan] Capistrano [Alto Capistrano Headquarters, 
1966], and also worked on developing the whole sub- 
division — with a shopping center and the whole thing, which 
was premature. But we built the office building. And I 
did that with brick and natural light and ventilation, and 
it's so nice the people working there didn't want to go 
home. And I found that that building didn't cost any more 
than the typical concrete block building with air con- 
ditioning and fluorescent lights. And here was a luxury 
office that cost the same as the stock concrete block with 
air conditioning. 

So they [office developers] don't think about anything 
at all. I mean, first of all, they don't give a damn about 
human welfare. It's just enclose the space fast and cheap 
and rent it; that's all. So the business people don't look 
for anything. I mean, I have had a few, like some of the 
jobs I did when I was with Honnold in Beverly Hills. 

I had a call from somebody in San Diego, and they said 
they liked the front of the store that I did. It was a 



82 



liquor store, and he said, "Do you want to do it or shall I 
have somebody copy it?" They don't give a damn. 
LASKEY: He said that to you? 

LAUTNER: Sure. I mean, they have no respect at all. 
None. I mean, an architect is just the bottom of the world 
to a developer or a business man. They don't give a damn. 
That's all. It's just them and their money, that's all. 
LASKEY: It's something I've always wanted to know — this is 
a little bit aside from what we're talking about — but as an 
architect, how do you feel when you turn the building over 
to someone else — a house, building, whatever? Do you 
maintain the proprietary feeling that it's yours? 
LAUTNER: You mean when the owner moves in? 
LASKEY: Yeah. When it becomes his. Or do you get upset 
about the color they paint it or the furniture they put in 
it or — 

LAUTNER: Oh no . No. Oh, I do, I do. Sure, I get upset 
if they wreck it, but usually — I've only had one or two 
initial owners that did things I didn't like. Most of them 
were very sympathetic, and whatever they did — They 
wouldn't do anything without asking me. I mean, they 
wouldn't even put in a certain kind of tile or drape 
without asking me, you know, if it was going to ruin 
something. And so the first clients, I've had no problem 
at all. 



83 



But when they're sold, and somebody decides to paint 
it, you know, then it's just death, that's all. And 
they've done that quite often. Like, all concrete — paint 
it, you know, paint it black and white and stuff like that. 
I mean, just the crudest, ugliest kind of things in the 
world happen after they're sold. Then somebody else gets 
it back and tries to bring it back to my original building. 
So, fortunately that's happened most of the time, where 
there 've been intermediate owners who have just completely 
ruined the thing, there's a present owner who's put it in 
its original condition. 
LASKEY: Do they contact you? 

LAUTNER: Oh yeah. They want my advice about how to get it 
back to the original condition, and they love it. So, as 
far as I know, practically every job I ever did has some- 
body living or using it that loves it. So it looks like it 
was done yesterday. 

LASKEY: Well, you mentioned a little earlier in the 
conversation about space and your feelings about space, 
which I think is probably the main feeling one has when 
they look at one of your buildings, is the use of space — 
the kind of soaring arches that show up. 
LAUTNER: Well, to me that's one of the biggest con- 
tributions to joy in life, to human welfare. So, when you 
contribute this kind of space, you're giving life, you 



84 



know, to the environment. You can't ask for any more than 
a life-giving environment: [freedom]. 

LASKEY: Well, some of your buildings look as if they have 
life, as if they're life forms. 

LAUTNER: Yeah. And I think that has to — that's one of the 
essence[s] of architecture. They like to discuss archi- 
tecture: whether is it an art, you know, or is it archi- 
tecture, or should they have some art applied to the 
architecture and all that kind of baloney. Well, to me, 
architecture is an art, naturally, and it isn't archi- 
tecture unless it's alive. Alive is what art is. If it's 
not alive, it's dead, and it's not art. It's not quite 
that simple but it's like that. 

LASKEY: Do you have to battle much with your clients? 
Have you had to get them to see that point of view? 
LAUTNER: No, no. They've come to me looking for that. 
That's the advantage of building up from scratch. But 
unfortunately, it takes so long — It would have been better 
if I had become known sooner, you know; I could have done 
more. But the other way — I've had friends who've wanted to 
help me, because I've never had too much work, and they 
would say, "Well, what you need is a salesman," you know. 

I'd say, "Well, it's no good." 

And they'd go out, and they'd make a contact, and 
they'd get somebody who's going to build something and send 



85 



them in, [but] they don't want any architecture. I can't 
even talk to them, you know. All they want is so much a 
square foot for two cents, and they want it right now. So, 
it doesn't do me any good to have a salesman contacting 
people who want to build, because those people don't want 
to build any architecture. They just want to build, that's 
all. [laughter] 

LASKEY: Well, when I think of your houses — and I know 
you've been accused of this but — I think of houses like 
Silvertop, or the [Bob] Hope House [Palm Springs, 
California, 1973], and Chemosphere house [Malin House, 
Hollywood Hills, Los Angeles, 1960], which really are 
beyond the means of most people who are planning to build a 
house. Is that valid criticism? 

LAUTNER: Oh, well, I guess — I know I do have a reputation 
of being too expensive, but it isn't really so when it's 
completely analyzed. The size doesn't matter, and I've 
explained it to many clients, and they understand that in a 
certain size, even if it's a little bit more than a stock 
tract house, to make it fairly comparable they have to have 
the equivalent electrical, plumbing, heating, cabinets, and 
so forth, which a tract house price doesn't have. And when 
they end up with the architect's house complete, they 
really don't need an interior decorator either. If they 
look at the total picture, they're getting a bargain. But 



86 



there are very few people who understand that, you know. 
All they look at is the first picture. Like, if you get an 
empty tract house for fifty dollars a square foot. Well, 
my house costs a hundred dollars a square foot, you know. 
But if they fix that tract house so that they can live in 
it, they get up to the same price. 

LASKEY: Well, I'm looking at a quote here in the Los 
Angeles magazine article from Mr. [Daniel] Stevens for whom 
you did that wonderful house [Stevens House, Malibu, 
California, 1969]. And now, when he says you don't charge 
enough — And I think his last quote is, "All he really 
cares about is seeing his homes built." That's you, the 
"his" that he's talking about. 

LAUTNER: Well, I think that's right too. I charge 15 
percent, and I probably should charge more. But they can 
get architects for 10 percent, you know. I don't know-- I 
try to do something reasonable with whatever it is. 
LASKEY: But you haven't done tract housing or small scale 
housing — that sort of thing. 

LAUTNER: No. No. I've had people, like, I had one fellow 
in here who said — old-timer — he said he built most of the 
apartment buildings in Hollywood. He said he never paid 
over fifteen hundred dollars for a set of plans in his 
life, and he's never going to. So I get no apartment 
buildings. But there are architects who'll do apartment 



87 



buildings for two thousand dollars. Now, if I had it, I'd 
want a 15 percent fee or a 10 percent fee, and they 
wouldn't pay it. So, that's the way it is. 
LASKEY: You did do the [L'JHorizon Apartments [1949] in 
Westwood, which are still beautiful. 

LAUTNER: Yeah. Yeah. Well, that was not for a developer 
but for an individual. [Helen (Mrs. Paul H. ) Sheats ] 
LASKEY: Oh I know. I'm just saying that you've done it, 
and it works. 

LAUTNER: Oh sure. I would love to do every kind of 
project, and I'm sure I could contribute to it and have it 
within, you know, reasonable economics and everything else. 
But I just haven't seen anybody — the clients aren't here. 
I was thinking about that — well, I naturally have thought 
about it lots of times. For instance, right now, when they 
talk about the architects in the United States, the best 
buildings are still all in the east and the Middle West. 
There are no good architect buildings here. I mean 
there 're not any really good ones, you know, like I. M. Pei 
and Gunnar Birkerts and various guys that are doing — and 
[Eero] Saarinen and so on — you know, real quality stuff. 
They're all in the east. There isn't anything here of that 
caliber. The clients are in the east, and the money's in 
the east. I mean, really, the big money's in the east, so 



88 



if they have a big project here the money comes from the 

east. 

LASKEY: But there is money here, and there is room for 

architecture. 

LAUTNER: But they don't — The kind of people who have the 

money don't have the taste or the interest in architects. 

It's obvious, they just don't. They take — I don't know. 

The best example is that man [J. Irwin Miller, chairman of] 

Cummins Diesel [Engine Co.] in Indiana, you know, where 

that town — Have you heard about that town, where he 

wanted to make the whole town good architecturally? 

LASKEY: Oh, was that Columbia? 

LAUTNER: Yes. Missouri wasn't it? Missouri or Indiana. 

LASKEY: Indiana, I think it's Columbia [Columbus], 

Indiana. 

LAUTNER: Well, he's the Cummins Diesel — And I notice 

lately he was on some jury or something. But he paid the 

architectural fees, so that whoever was going to build 

something, he paid for an architect, a good architect; 

otherwise it would have been another piece of junk, see. 

But he's the only guy I know in business who really tried 

to do anything good for architecture. So he really helped 

build up [Eero] Saarinen and a whole bunch of them because 

he hired them initially. But here there's nobody that 



89 



would hire anybody initially to do a new building, you 
know. They're not that kind of people. 

LASKEY: I think that just happened with the downtown, the 
Bunker Hill development that went up. The powers that be 
opted for the established firms. 

LAUTNER: Oh, sure, sure. It's like that all the time. A 
lot of the eastern architects have done jobs out here but 
they're the worst jobs they've ever done. Like, I remember 
one fellow, I knew somebody who was a friend of his, and he 
said he'd been using some architect here for fifteen or 
twenty years, and he finally made enough money to build his 
own big one on Wilshire [Boulevard]. So he got Skidmore, 
Owings & Merrill, and he got the worst Skidmore building 
that was ever done. Well, I mean, he's probably — I'm sure 
he's a disgusting man, you know. You can't do anything 
with a disgusting, rich businessman. He has to be semi- 
civilized you know. There aren't that kind of client[s] 
here as far as I can tell. Then I hear about the, you 
know, big executives on the airplane. They come in and 
they see that somebody's loan company on Wilshire is taller 
than theirs, so they've got to build a new one that's 
taller than theirs. They're juvenile, you know. But it 
has nothing to do with architecture. It has to do with 
status, price, rent, location, everything except 



90 



architecture. That's all it is here. Architecture doesn't 
mean anything here, nothing. 

LASKEY: Well, the downtown skyline certainly doesn't 
reflect any concern with keeping an identity of the city. 
LAUTNER: Oh well, there's nothing interesting about it. 
The same way with Century City: the whole things 's new, 
and there's not an idea there, not a single idea for 
people. You know, originally it's not for people. Ail it 
is, is for rent. It's not for people, it's just for rent. 
Absolutely disgusting. 

While there are places in the world where they have 
done some interesting — They've done better things in 
Minneapolis and Chicago and Boston, Baltimore. [In] all 
kinds of places they've done some interesting things, but 
there isn't anything here that I know of, I mean, that I 
call interesting. Like, downtown, one of the most insane, 
really obvious commercial, gyp thing, like the Richfield 
[ARCO] towers with the five stories of basement and the 
shops. I mean, you come to California for California 
living, and you go shopping in a parking garage. But they 
promote anything, it's all on location, sales, and pro- 
motion, advertising. There's nothing real or valid at all. 
It's just disgusting. That's why I don't get any com- 
mercial work. I mean, hell, they don't care. 



91 



LASKEY: Do you sort of feel the challenge — well, you must 
when you do a building or you do a house, particularly out 
here — a challenge of the landscape? 

LAUTNER: Oh sure. It's very difficult. I mean, at first 
people think, oh, it's a cinch because it's always warm. 
But when you really get into the subtleties of this — Like, 
in most of the things I've done, they're in the hills. And 
if you're over on this side of that hill, and you have a 
southeast exposure and not too much wind — you're protected 
a little bit from the wind — you can have good outdoor 
living, and you can have this and that and the other thing. 
And if you're over here a little bit, you've got a lousy 
thing, you know. Just two blocks away, you've got a lousy 
spot. And the subtleties of adapting to this ideally are 
fantastic. I mean, while in a country with four seasons, 
that's obvious what you have to take care of. But to 
really make this work takes some real doing. 
LASKEY: Well, we're sitting here, looking out at the 
hills, the Hollywood hills, it's so pretty — and it is a 
challenge to make what you put in there not destroy that 
landscape, I would think. 

LAUTNER: Oh sure. I've always been concerned with that. 
Usually in the hills you have a panoramic view that people 
are interested in right away, and so most of my things are 
curved. The curved things just naturally go with the 



92 



hills, you know. While the boxes are just stuck there. 
The only thing you can do with the boxes is plant more 
trees. It's just fortunate that there are a lot of trees 
right there. If there weren't all those trees that whole 
scene would be pretty ugly. 

LASKEY: You have never come to terms with Los Angeles. 
LAUTNER: No, no. Well, I'm just one of many who are here 
because there is work. One way or another, there's work. 
I've never liked it, but I know that I couldn't exist in 
San Francisco. They just do one kind of cute, little 
thing. They're tighter and more narrow-minded and more 
status and more everything. And at seven hundred thousand 
people while there's seven million here — So I know I have 
to be where there 're millions of people to get a few 
individuals per year. And that's why I say I work for .001 
percent of the population, so I get about ten or fifteen 
out of seven million each year. That's all the individuals 
I can find. There just aren't very many, I guess, 
[laughter] 

LASKEY: But you have done work as far away as Alaska: a 
beautiful house. 

LAUTNER: Oh yeah. Well, I had hoped to get recognized 
earlier and attract, you know, be able to do anything all 
over the country. But I have attracted interest all over 
the country, but I've found that they get — Like, I had one 



93 



fellow in here. He had a beautiful property on the 
Potomac. And he was really excited about the kind of 
architecture I was doing, but he finally backed down. He 
had to have his architect right there in town, you know. 
He's a businessman. It's not necessary, but in order to 
keep his finger on it he decided he's got to have the 
architect right there; couldn't do it remotely because he's 
"a practical man," you know. So I have a hell of a time 
with that kind of mentality, you know. What the hell can 
you do? [laughter] And there's too much of that. 
LASKEY: Well, it's a little bit further on but your Arango 
House in Mexico — 

LAUTNER: Oh, well, that was different because they have a 
natural love for architecture, you know. They do. They're 
kind of — And they're not afraid of anything new. I mean, 
all kinds of things happen in Mexico, and it's OK. I mean, 
they're not restricted to build colonial houses or colonial 
buildings or anything else. Whatever any artist or archi- 
tect wants to do, they'll do it, and they're not afraid. 
And then the builders are architects too, you know, so that 
makes all the difference. So, like, when that client 
[Jeronimo Arango, Jr.] saw the model — I made a model — he 
said, "It's beautiful, just go ahead and do it," that's 
all. 



94 



LASKEY: How did you conceive of it? It's the most extra- 
ordinary looking building. 

LAUTNER: Well, it's right from scratch. It's a good 
example of how I've been working and how I really learned 
from Mr. Wright the importance of getting a real total 
idea. I sat on that property. And I had a survey — 
LASKEY: It's in the mountains, right? 

LAUTNER: Yeah. And I just decided — Pretty soon I got 
this idea that the best thing I could do was have a living 
space where there was no interference with the beauty of 
the bay and the mountains and the sky. So I thought of 
this terrace, and then — I know I've spent more time trying 
to get rid of railings, ugly railings that are always in 
the view. So I had this idea of the pool which blends into 
the bay and also removes the ugly railing. And then I got 
the idea of the ceiling going up into the sky, so it's not 
interfering either. So when you walk in there you're just 
out in space with the bay and the sky. I got that whole 
idea when I was on the site, and I also got the plan 
because the Las Brisas hotel is down here. I made the 
floor go out like this [gestures] to sort of blank out some 
of the lights from that hotel in the foreground. Then the 
floor dishes in like this, so you get a deep view of the 
bay over here, you see. So everything there means some- 
thing. You know, the average architect doesn't understand 



95 



that at all. They think that's just baloney, you know, 
they say, "That's arbitrary." They don't know what goes 
on. They don't know what I'm doing at all. They have no 
idea. They just think I got a new effect or something, you 
know. And I have a million reasons for every job. But 
it's no use explaining it to those guys because they're 
just so tight that it's unbelievable. 

LASKEY: I guess we should be glad that there are the seven 
to ten people a year — 
LAUTNER: Yeah, yeah. 
LASKEY: — who can — 



96 



TAPE NUMBER: III, SIDE ONE 
JUNE 2, 1982 

LASKEY: Mr. Lautner, it's sort of a common acceptance that 
World War II brought about a lot of technological improve- 
ments in a number of areas including architecture. Did you 
find that particularly true in your work? 

LAUTNER: Oh, no. Unfortunately, I don't think it hit the 
building business at all. In fact, I was pretty disgusted 
during the war in working for a contractor, sometimes 
building army barracks, and various things like that. But 
no new techniques were even considered. They just did the 
same old thing, and repeat, repeat. And I think that's 
part of the status quo, and the conservatism of army, and 
money, and everything else. They weren't willing to 
experiment with anything. As I say, in the building 
business they didn't do anything. I know they did with 
aircraft, and tanks and things — they made technological 
progress. But no progress with the building business 
whatsoever . 
LASKEY: Yeah? 

LAUTNER: Then after the war, there was this big cry that — 
Well, I don't believe that it was big, but some people 
said, "Now we may be able to make more progress using 
something that has developed — " Well, I guess this would be 



97 



mostly in the aircraft industry because anything developed 
in munitions doesn't help, is hard to apply to the building 
industry. So, as you know, Bucky [Richard Buckminster] 
Fuller was one of the best ones then as now. He made this 
Dymaxion house which folded up in a tube, and you could 
ship it anywhere in the world, and it was a good house. 
And his intention was that the new technology developed in 
the aircraft industry could manufacture this house, and it 
would help solve the housing problem. Well, not one single 
aircraft company converted to do anything; they did ab- 
solutely nothing. They could have manufactured that house. 

They could' ve made some progress, but they're all too 
reactionary. And, of course in the war business, they're 
backed by the government, so they're — Theoretically 
there's speculation in American business to make money, but 
actually I don't think there is any. It's just guaranteed 
money by the government. And when it gets into housing, 
it's not guaranteed like warfare, so they do nothing. And, 
so there still isn't any progress — as far as I can see. 

I mean, they have manufactured parts that can be 
assembled like steel trusses, and so on and so forth; they 
still cost too much. Manufactured products still cost too 
much. You can still take a stick or a two-by-four, or 
brick, or what-have-you — the same as for the past hundreds 
of years — and it's cheaper, easier and faster; so there is 



98 



no progress in the building industry. And, there's none 
definitely in the hardware business or they're all-- I 
mean, they did better hardware in 1890 than they do now. 
Because they made a big variety and they made it for 
specific purposes, and they made it for use, and they made 
it to endure. Now, they just make merchandise that has a 
mass market, and nothing for special purposes, nothing of 
any durable value; because they want to have a resale 
market. And it's just disgusting, that's all. The whole 
thing is disgusting. 

So, being an architect has been very annoying because 
the real business of building is against any kind of new 
[thing] or progress. They just want to keep it the way it 
is, and figure out how to make more money easier, or 
quicker. And nothing else matters. 

LASKEY: Well, do you think that's the reason, then, why 
the flurry right after the war for prefabricated houses, 
and houses that could be assembled easily, never came to 
anything? 

LAUTNER: Yeah. Also, that's a combination of a lot of 
things. No big companies got into it. Then you have the 
usual problem of financing. The banker at that time, you 
say, "prefab," (it's the same now [when you say] "trailer") 
and [the banker would say] "We're not going to have that 
on our property, and we're not going to finance it." Also, 



99 



the ones who did prefab anything didn't hire architects, 
and didn't have the imagination to do anything beautiful, 
or suitable, or anything anyway. They just did copies of 
old things, but prefabricated old things. So that's not 
new; I mean, that's still what they're doing. And they 
say, "We have to, because that's the market, we appeal to 
the market . " 

So, I've tried analyzing all these things, you know, 
for years: what can an architect do. [He] can't do 
anything. [He] has no effect whatsoever. It's just a 
crime. 

One of the specific ones that I think of is Le 
Tourneau [who] was a fantastic man who invented all this 
earth machinery. He got interested in the housing and he 
designed and built a huge metal form to pour a concrete 
house all in one form, just pour the whole house in one 
pour. Then he had the big machinery to haul the form and 
to take it away. And he had the mechanical genius to 
figure all this, but he had an ugly house. He didn't have 
an architect. But just any architect wouldn't have done 
him any good, because they would 've applied some facade or 
style or superficial thing that didn't jibe with his 
operation. 

And so he probably didn't know that there was anybody 
that could contribute to it. But I felt that I could work 



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with a new process and design for it, and get something out 
of it. But I've never been hired to do it, and I never had 
a big company to work with or anything. So, I think it's a 
crime that something Like that had to go down the drain 
because concrete's the best material. And with some 
variety of that mobile form which he and his kind of 
machinery — a tremendous thing could' ve been done, just in 
that one area, but nothing's ever been done. 

And then, the federal government had this program, I 
don't know, five or six years ago — HUD [Department of 
Housing and Urban Development] — and they were supposed to 
be looking for new methods and economical housing and all 
that. So, they gave the money to the same big contractors 
and the same big architects, and they created absolutely 
nothing. It just meant that the same old people got the 
same old contracts, and they got the money. Anybody with 
any new ideas didn't get any money. 

I submitted stuff to HUD and I got absolutely nothing. 
No response whatsoever, because you can't wade through all 
this paperwork. You can't wade through all the clerical 
and legal monkey business. And nobody wants you to, 
because the real money-power doesn't want anything to 
happen; they want to keep it just the way it is. So it's 
very sad prospects as far as I can see. The only answer 
I've been able to figure out in my forty years, is one that 



101 



I figured out in the first few years that I started 
working: I could see that the architect — 

I mean, the financing was the biggest cost in 
building. And then the other costs were just whatever a 
contractor wanted to do or could get away with. And it 
didn't make any difference if you made a cheaper design; 
they'd just charge more and make more profit. So, there 
was no way you could win or help, as an architect, unless 
you did it yourself. So then I figured I couldn't do it 
myself because I wanted to be a professional architect. 
And if I did it myself, I ethically would not be allowed to 
have a government job or any other kind of building, 
because I was out of my profession. 

Outside from that, I figured when somebody asked me 
how — what's the solution? All I've been able to figure out 
is you have to do it yourself. To do it yourself, you'd 
have to do it like Henry Ford. You just own everything. 
You own the land, you own the timber, you own the steel, 
you own every kind of tool there is. And people say, well, 
what would I like to have? That's what I'd like to have. 
I'd like to have every material, every tool, and a piece of 
land. And I'd build dozens of things right there, and I'd 
bring the bankers out and I'd say OK, take a look, take it 
or leave it, there it is. But the only way you could do 
it, is to do it yourself, because nobody else '11 do it. 



102 



LASKEY: What would the chances be of somebody doing that 
today, even if they wanted to? 

LAUTNER: It's so rare that anybody is interested in 
anything like that. You know, like this one man in 
Indiana, I think we mentioned him [J. Irwin Miller] before: 
Cummins Diesel. Well, he's interested in architecture and 
he's a businessman, and he finances architects. But I 
don't know anybody else in the country that gives a damn 
about architects, architecture, or housing. They really, 
all they want is war business, or oil business, or some 
other kind of business. 

LASKEY: It's kind of surprising, because right now, 
there's a demand for housing in the country, and you'd 
think that one of the large architectural firms would find 
it to their advantage to do something like make the con- 
crete forms you're talking about. Finding a way of, number 
one, solving the housing problem, which is an admirable 
thing to do, and therefore, you probably would get federal 
funds. And doing something to their benefit. Not even 
just creative, but to benefit them. 

LAUTNER: Well, it's the — I don't think any of the archi- 
tectural firms would do it, they're dependent on the big 
contracting firms. And the contracting firms, the best 
ones, really stay in the big building business. I mean, 
the ideal thing for the contractor is roads and bridges. 



103 



you know, because you can get miles of concrete and you get 
the same amount of money. Or like the Dallas airport: 
they poured more concrete there than anyplace else in the 
world. So the contractor who got that job really made 
money. But, if he's just doing a house, why, what the 
hell, it's not worth bothering. So then, the worse con- 
tractors do speculative houses, and they don't give a damn 
about doing anything good. 

So there it is, you know. I don't know what the hell 
to do — Except as I said, do it yourself, like Henry Ford. 
Nobody's ever backed me to that extent. If somebody wanted 
to give me about fifty million dollars or something, I'd 
get going on it. But who the hell is going to do that? 
LASKEY: That's sort of what Wright did, isn't it? To some 
degree, when he started Taliesin, I mean, and the Broadacre 
City models. 

LAUTNER: Oh, he did everything himself, sure. In the 
models with the Broadacre City, and others, he did have 
various ideas that would be applicable to pref abrication or 
what-have-you, you know. But nobody ever did anything 
about that either. I mean, he thought of the prefabricated 
kitchen and bath which you put in the center of the house. 
And they occasionally try that once in a while. But I 
don't know what happens; it never gets off the ground. 



104 



Right now, I have a friend in Mexico who used to work 
for me, who's now head of city planning for the city of 
Guadalajara. And he has his own company, and his own 
concrete company, and he does anything he wants. He's 
building like five thousand houses out of concrete and 
[there is] no problem at all in Mexico; but here it's 
impossible. So it's really different. 
LASKEY: You like concrete. 

LAUTNER: Yeah. But I mean, they're open to it. He's got 
the financing and he's got the people doing it. And even 
the city is doing just what he recommends. And here, 
planning is just a farce. Always has been; it's just 
whoever owns the property decides what to do, and the 
planning department has no effect whatsoever. Well, in 
Guadalajara he's building a whole new city and part of the 
town — [tape recorder malfunctions] 

LASKEY: We were talking about what you would do with Los 
Angeles, downtown. 

LAUTNER: Well, I guess I got to the point where — I mean, 
first of all, I wouldn't build it down there. There's no 
need for it, but, except as — Some people feel there's a 
need for a government center. But on the other hand the 
government center is already decentralized: like, we have 
building department offices in Malibu, and in West Los 
Angeles, and so forth, rather than all in one place 



105 



downtown. Certainly, the business doesn't have to be con- 
centrated because they can do everything by telephone or by 
video cassette or whatever. I mean, there are a million 
ways of communicating that don't require everybody to be 
concentrated in one downtown. 

But then, on top of all that, if they wanted to make 
one that was just for [the] interest of the population, 
some kind of concentration, they could have done something 
in the mountains, or it could have been a really fantastic 
New World place, but nothing — There are really no ideas 
involved, except building on a certain block where they 
figure the value is such-and-such, and they can build so 
high and make money. That kind of thinking I don't think 
has anything to do with human welfare whatsoever, and I 
don't think it's necessary. 

LASKEY: If you were designing Los Angeles, would you have 
high-rise[s ]? 

LAUTNER: I think I would in certain [places], but scat- 
tered. I think that's the way Mr. Wright looked at it too 
when I was working on Broadacre City. We had occasional 
buildings up in the air someplace, just for the fun of it, 
or for the view, or something like that. But no concen- 
tration, because [with] the concentration they start to 
eliminate — Well, they're just discovering it here now on 
Wilshire Boulevard with the big condo rage. They've 



106 



discovered that now that they have such a concentration of 
them built there, that all they are is sitting there 
looking at each other. So they have no view, they have no 
California living, they have nothing but location which is 
what the bankers finance on, is location, and the status 
address. Well, those things to me are very superficial, 
but — And they are superficial to the good life or to 
architecture or to human welfare — but they seem to be 
paramount to business, so there it is. It's just crazy. 

In fact, I have a good friend who lives in one of 
those, and he doesn't understand it. He bought a condo on 
the backside of one that has a view of the mountains, but 
everybody else thought he was crazy, because "he should 
really be on Wilshire," you know. [laughter] So, what are 
you going to do with that kind of mentality? You can't do 
anything. Fortunately they can't sell them now, that's 
one — I'm glad to hear that, that the economy has knifed 
the speculators to some degree. [laughter] 
LASKEY: With the architecture on Wilshire that you're 
talking about, [it] never seems to take advantage of the 
climate of Southern California. 
LAUTNER: No, nothing. 
LASKEY: Why is that? 

LAUTNER: It's the business. I mean, they — A balcony 
costs money, and they're not going to have any of those 



107 



things. They have what they call certain amenities, and 
those amenities are usually a Jacuzzi or a washing machine 
or something; but nothing in the architecture, you know. 
LASKEY: Or an outdoor place to sit. 

LAUTNER: Nothing to do with this climate whatsoever. I 
worked for a client of mine who used to own a hotel there, 
and he was considering a new hotel for a while. And so he 
asked me to make a few preliminaries, and I did. I made, 
oh, half a dozen designs of interesting kind[s] of hotels 
with open spaces and views of the mountains and the ocean 
and everything. So I know it could be done, but nobody 
ever does it, because all they do is the cheapest and the 
fastest. And the architects come to the contractor — I 
mean, the developer, first of all, usually is a contractor. 
Or if he isn't a contractor he has a contractor. And then 
the architect is number three in the program, so he does 
just whatever the contractor says it is going to cost, such- 
and-such, to suit the owner, you know. So there is nothing 
you can do that way. It's just maximum rent for the 
cheapest kind of space we can get. So, that's where the 
location is good business, because they can still build a 
cheap building with nothing to do with the climate, and as 
long as they're in a status location they can get double 
the rent that they need, so that's ideal for profit. After 
all, that's the only motive there is, is profit. And I was 



108 



brought up with the idea that you should have a motive to 
human decency and contribute to human life and human 
welfare, and have some value to your work, you know. Today 
there's no such thinking. The thinking is just to make a 
buck any way you can. So, that's awfully hard to fight. 
LASKEY: Has that always been the case out here? 
LAUTNER: Seems to me, ever since I've been here. People 
say, well, why don't you move? But I don't know where to 
go, because it seems to be affecting the whole world. This 
kind of smart merchandising is sort of originating here, 
and it's beginning to penetrate the rest of the world. 
Where they might have done something more decent, they get 
on to a faster, cheaper kind of merchandise to make money. 
And so I guess Los Angeles is a leader in that respect. 
LASKEY: But at least in the thirties, forties, and to some 
degree the fifties, Los Angeles had a reputation for doing, 
for being at least innovative in housing activity, housing 
architecture. That's seems to have quieted down too. 
LAUTNER: Oh, yeah. I think there were some new things 
here in housing. I mean, there were quite a few architects 
doing original kinds of things; where in Kentucky or some- 
place like that, they're still building colonial houses, 
and they don't want to build anything else. But I think 
it's also been exaggerated, but at the same time, there 
were some new things being built here that were quite well 



109 



publicized. There were new things in Chicago, and there 
were new things in Boston, and there were new things in 
various parts of the country as well. 

And so, now, I feel that a legitimate new architecture 
can really be better achieved in the east than it can be 
here, because they still have some — They're still willing 
to pay for some legitimate values that they don't need to 
pay for here, because of the status, or the tradition that 
we have here. 

LASKEY: I think it was in a book called Form Follows 
Fiasco: [Why Modern Architecture Hasn't Worked, 1977] that 
Peter Blake took on architects for jumping on the bandwagon 
of new materials that come along or, you know, buying what 
the distributor has to offer without testing it. Is that a 
valid criticism? How do you deal with new materials, and 
new ideas, in your designs? 

LAUTNER: Well, if there are any new materials that have a 
suitable purpose, I'm naturally interested. But I don't 
know any that apply really. The plastics industry has made 
some. I mean, there are quite a few things I guess — I 
mean they have their plastic hardware, and plastic various 
windows, and things like that — that you have to be careful 
of because it's well known that almost any kind of plastic 
is susceptible to deterioration by the sun. So the sun 



110 



ultimately destroys plastics. And so what other new 
materials are there? There aren't any. 

So the best materials are still concrete and wood and 
stone. They're still the best. In fact, they are better 
than steel because steel is only incombustible, it's not 
fireproof. Steel is dangerous, and concrete is much safer. 
So, to me, the only way of doing it is with concrete. 
LASKEY: But your earlier houses, right after the war — 
LAUTNER: Well, we couldn't — They were such small houses 
generally. And you couldn't even think of concrete, 
because they were so small, and it was considered so 
expensive to do it. In fact, if you had a retaining wall, 
that was enough to destroy a whole project because the 
retaining wall would cost more than the whole house, you 
know. But since then in larger projects, and also in the 
changing economy, the concrete hasn't gone up as much as 
other things; like wood and carpentry have gone up maybe 
four or five times as much as concrete has. So, right now, 
concrete, poured-in-place concrete, is still more ex- 
pensive, but not that much more for what you get out of it 
as compared to wood and carpentry work — or steel, in fact. 

It's strange what happens: like, they used to build 
entirely out of concrete in Italy and they still do, mostly 
in Europe and in South America they — and Mexico — every- 
thing's concrete. But I understand that in Italy, I forget 



111 



the reason now, somebody set up a steel plant and they're 
promoting steel, which isn't as good as concrete. But 
anyway, it's a crazy scene. 

LASKEY: I think right after — Again, going back to the 
late forties, there was a lot of experimenting with steel- 
structure houses in Los Angeles wasn't there? 
LAUTNER: Well, there was talk. I mean, like Neutra talked 
about using prefabricated steel parts and all that. And I 
talked to the steel contractors because I almost always had 
steel, a fair amount of structural steel, in my designs — 
mainly to get clear spans and also to get rigid structures 
for earthquake [resistance] without having walls. So I was 
always interested in steel for those structural purposes. 
And I was also interested in the most economical thing and 
I kept checking steel trusses and steel decking and all 
that prefabricated kind of material. And everytime I 
checked it, it cost much more than anything else I could 
think of; so it was just talk. It really never happened. 
I mean, it was never cheaper — it was always more money — and 
you were taking a stock thing in the guise of something 
being simple and regular and economical when it wasn't. So 
it was a phoney. 

LASKEY: Was this because that's the nature of steel — 
LAUTNER: And so I thought — I mean, my god, why not do the 
most interesting kind of thing you want to do rather than 



112 



be confined to whatever is manufactured on a modular 
system, particularly when that system costs more than what 
you could do otherwise. So that's all selling and pub- 
licity and misnomers and misinformation or no information, 
and et cetera. 

LASKEY: Well, the Case Study houses, I think, were usually 
steel — 

LAUTNER: They were mostly that, yeah. Well, that was very 
popular, it — They all went along with the [Mies] van der 
Rohe kind of thing that was supposed to be neat and clean. 
And you could have all glass, because the steel can be 
rigid, see, and that was it. 
LASKEY: How did you fit into that? 

LAUTNER: I didn't fit into it at all, except that when 
[John] Entenza was running the California Arts and 
Architecture magazine, he published my work as well as 
[Richard] Neutra, and [Gregory] Ain, and [Harwell] Harris, 
and the rest of them. But mine was always an original of 
my own, but seemed to be most suitable for what I was 
doing. And I wasn't paying any attenton to the style or 
the fad while the rest of them were. And I found out much 
later that — 

In fact, I lost a job that really hurt me about, oh, 
ten or fifteen years ago. There was a glass company 
considering me to do a building for them, for their offices 



113 



and their business. And I thought, boy, that's great, 
because I've done all kinds of things with glass — more than 
anybody, really. I had glass mullions, in a house in 
Montrose, thirty years ago [Shaeffer House, c. 1950]. So, 
I've done more neat glass details than anybody ever thought 
of, but I've never advertised all this stuff. And I found 
out later that the job went to Craig Ellwood because he was 
the one who made glass boxes, and they thought, just like 
the public thought, that a glass box is modern; nothing 
else is modern. And that I wouldn't be modern enough for 
their glass place, when actually what I could have done 
with glass would have been ten times as interesting for 
their glass business. But they just took the facade or the 
fad of the moment. 

LASKEY: Well, and as you say, the Mies van der Rohe 
influence — That's what Ellwood did, so that you had to — 
LAUTNER: Yeah, that was considered the — Well, and I 
suppose there is no way for them to know, you know, "this 
is modern," "this is colonial," "this is something," you 
know. What I do, nobody knows what it is, you know, and I 
never — I'm glad, because I never wanted to be put in a 
pigeonhole, and I don't believe in being in a pigeonhole, 
and I'm not in a pigeonhole. [laughter] 
LASKEY: That's caused you some problems over the years. 



114 



LAUTNER: Oh, sure. Lots of frustration, and annoyance. 
But I've stuck to what I felt was the best thing that I 
could do, in spite of everything. So I never, never 
succumbed to the fad or the pitch of the moment. 
LASKEY: Well, when you were mentioning glass, it made me 
think of the Pearlman House [Idyllwild, California, 1957]: 
the use of glass and wood in that structure is so lovely. 
LAUTNER: Oh, yeah. There's all kinds of things, and — 
Well, actually, Silvertop, which was done over twenty years 
ago now, has hanging glass. It's probably the only job in 
town with hanging glass, and that's the way that glass 
should be handled, physically and structurally. 
LASKEY: What do you mean by hanging glass? 
LAUTNER: Well, it's clipped. It's held by clips at the 
top, see. The way you describe the benefit is struc- 
turally: you could take a thin piece of glass that's like 
a piece of paper, see. [demonstrating] If you put it down 
and sit it on the floor like they usually do, or on the 
sill, it just buckles of its own weight, see, unless it's 
extremely thick. So if you hang it from the top, the 
gravity helps keep it straight, so structurally the best 
thing to do with glass is to hang it. And, then also, we 
didn't have any mullions, no mullions — so [there's] no 
interference with the view whatsoever. And so it's ab- 
solutely ideal. Well, they do it in Germany, but they 



115 



still don't do it here. I mean, here it's got to be the 
same as it was fifty years ago, you know. We work for the 
insurance companies. [Laughter] 

LASKEY: You've done some teaching at that time, too. 
LAUTNER: Well, I used to go — I taught once a week at 
Chouinard Art Institute for, I guess it was, two or three 
years I did that. And it was kind of a laboratory where, 
for the senior students — One day they'd have an industrial 
designer, and another day they'd have a painter, and 
another day an architect, and another day somebody — maybe a 
sculptor. So they had a kind of cross section of people in 
a kind of studio workshop, and I was the architect. So 
that was interesting except it surprised me that senior art 
students were supposed to be able to see. They couldn't 
see. There weren't very many good students, I mean; so it 
was very difficult for me. I ' d be lucky if I had one 
person who could do anything. [It was] a strange thing. 
LASKEY: That's what I was wondering, because if you were 
teaching, and I was curious about what students — how 
receptive they were to your ideas and if they understood 
them, and — 

LAUTNER: Very few. I guess it's still the same way. I 
have a few — I get letters or applications from certain 
ones. From almost any school in the country, I'll get one 
occasionally, but no, you know, no majority. There are 



116 



just certain individuals that dig into this stuff, and they 
get interested and they come to see me. But there are not 
very many. 



117 



TAPE NUMBER: IV, SIDE ONE 
JUNE 16, 1982 

LASKEY: We were talking about dream situations or perfect 
situations — what you would do given a certain set of 
situations — and I thought perhaps you might talk about 
Silvertop [Los Angeles, 1957-64, 1976-77] because that 
comes close to being the dream situation. 

LAUTNER: Yes. Well, it is an exceptional client [Kenneth 
Reiner] and consequently an exceptional job. I think I 
should describe it right from the beginning to show what 
happens as much as possible. It could take a whole book in 
itself, just that one job, really. I mean, if you related 
everything that happened over a period of about ten years. 
LASKEY: How long did the actual construction of it take? 
LAUTNER: Well, we were working on it almost ten years. 
But not going fast, you know, just researching, developing 
different things. There wasn't really any hurry to finish 
it, just to get it perfect. 

But anyway, one of the interesting things that makes 
it really interesting is that most people — I think I have 
a reputation now of "you've got to be rich to do it," you 
know, and it's expensive and all that, which is bunk. I 
mean, I'd just [as] soon do the low cost as any other kind 
as long as it's real architecture. But this fellow started 



118 



out that way: like, being a businessman as well as an 
inventor, he said, "I'm not going to spend more than 
seventy-five thousand on this — 
LASKEY: When was this? 

LAUTNER: That was about twenty-five years ago, which was a 
fair amount of money then, of course. But he wanted a lot. 
I mean, he had lots of requirements, very specific require- 
ments. 

The site was — He had collected six lots on a hilltop 
overlooking Silver Lake because he wanted to be able to see 
water, and that's one of the few places around that you 
could see water in the Los Angeles area except for the 
ocean, of course. And also he wanted to be not too far 
from his factory and work, which was South and East Los 
Angeles. So he had easy commuting and desirable living and 
he ignored the status business of building in Bel-Air or 
Beverly Hills or wherever you're supposed to build if you 
got a few dollars. 

And so [he was a] completely independent man. Most 
people, they wouldn't even think of doing that because 
they're afraid their investment wouldn't be just right. 
They'd be more afraid of that and they'd cancel the archi- 
tecture and everything else. 

The first design I made — He liked the hilltop, and I 
made the design that I figured maintained the hilltop as 



119 



much as possible. The basic scheme was two curved brick 
walls that sort of blank out the bedrooms and kitchen and 
other functional facilities of the house and also the 
neighbors. So that those walls open to the view east and 
west, and just keep the whole hilltop almost the way it was 
without building. And then by putting an arched roof over 
those curved walls, that created a free space that did not 
destroy the original hilltop, and created privacy from the 
neighbors and everything else. 

Well, he liked that idea right away, which I was lucky 
enough to conceive of the very next day after I saw him. 
The scheme didn't change from then on. I mean, he under- 
stood that this was a real idea, and the only thing that 
took time was he, as an inventor, was interested in ul- 
timately and then possibly manufacturing various kinds of 
hardware and so forth for luxury conditions, like sliding 
doors and — Well, he had operating boards to hide the 
electrical plugs and telephone and all that; and pivoting, 
disappearing lights, and hundreds of things that could be 
manufactured and sold. So it took a long time to develop 
those things. 

So he got very much interested in the architecture and 
forgot entirely about his initial budget, so much so that 
you can't attribute all the cost to the [design of the] 
house because half of it you could say was research and 



120 



development for his possible future manufacture. And in 
doing that (of course it was luxury for me) he set up a 
machine shop. He had machinists in his factory anyway, 
because his invention was stainless steel hair-clips, 
spring-clips, and hollow, self-locking nuts for aircraft, 
which he invented; not only invented but invented the 
methods of manufacturing. He had these men to mock up 
anything we wanted that would be operable in the house. 
That machine shop ran forty thousand [dollars] a month just 
for research. 

We also — One of the premises was that we searched the 
whole world and decided that if there was anything avail- 
able that is manufactured that is suitable, but if not we'd 
decide what the most suitable thing is and we'd make it 
ourselves. So there's not a single stock thing in the 
whole job. Everything is right from scratch, one-of-a- 
kind, just for this purpose, for beauty, for maintenance; 
it had to fulfill every conceivable requirement. So it is 
an ideal job. 

Like, the flooring — this is something that everybody 
could understand. It took quite a while to decide: what's 
the best final finished flooring? Well, we ended up with 
end-grained wood block, about three inches thick. So we 
figured that you could sand it every once in a while if you 
wanted to, or if you felt it was necessary, and it would be 



121 



good at least a thousand years. Of course, the brick walls 
are good for a thousand years. The concrete roof is good 
for a thousand years. And none of these require any 
maintenance, except the floor. Then the walls are cypress 
siding, which is the best wood you can get, also good for a 
thousand years. So getting that all together — I mean, we 
used to have meetings up there just to check and double- 
check. 

He would have whoever was involved, whatever it was: 
the experts from the field. So we might have six or eight 
experts all giving their opinions and all being paid. I 
mean, one of these research meetings cost Reiner, the 
client, maybe a thousand dollars an hour. You know, most 
people would never think of doing anything like that 
either. [laughter] 

LASKEY: How did he grow into this? I mean, obviously he 
didn't start out with the idea that you and he were going 
to make this gem. Was it just the idea, when he saw the 
idea, that he decided that he wanted to make it perfect? 
Was it something that developed slowly? 

LAUTNER: Yeah, I think it developed just as we talked and 
as we worked on it. The nice part was that he was still in 
his forties, and he was a millionaire. He hadn't gotten to 
the point — He just wasn't that kind of a guy. The typical 
millionaire knows everything and you just do what they say 



122 



and shut up, you know. But he knew that he wasn't himself 
an architect; he was a mechanical engineer. So when we had 
these meetings I had the absolute last word. He refused to 
destroy the architecture with mechanical — or anything 
else — business that couldn't be properly designed and 
absorbed in the architecture. 

Well, the typical guy wouldn't give a damn. He'd 
stick a TV someplace and a rotating bar or god knows what, 
you know, and the whole place would be like Disneyland. 
But this fellow, even though he was interested in these 
things, they were all practical things and maintenance-free 
and sensible things. When the publicity, when the 
magazines or anybody gets ahold of things like that then 
they start talking about "gadgets" and making it sen- 
sational, so that they would get a more sensational story. 
Then it becomes a completely untrue story, you know. 
That's the hell of publicity; it's practically never the 
truth. 

LASKEY: It's interesting that you say that, because that 
is basically what is in the writing and the reading about 
Silvertop: that it was a house of gadgets, which makes you 
think that you go through pressing buttons — 
LAUTNER: Actually, you don't know [that] there's anything 
mechanical there at all. They're completely subordinated. 
There are electrically operating skylights and doors and 



123 



light controls and various things. But they're also 
manually operable because he said everything has to be 
foolproof. Well, one of his ways of saying it (which is 
very good in developing any of these things) was, "Now you 
have it foolproof, let's make it idiot-proof." So then you 
have a perfect product, see. So that's what took time. It 
was interesting to do. 

I could get material or information from any place in 
the world and he paid for all my office expenses. I mean, 
it was real common sense working with ideas, just working. 
Typical working is all so phoney. I mean, it's a trick of 
trying to get the architect to do a lot of work for 
nothing, and vice versa. It has nothing to do with trying 
to get a really beautiful job, you know. [interruption in 
taping ] 

LASKEY: I'm curious — You used brick walls. Why did you 
use brick as opposed to concrete? 

LAUTNER: Oh, well, we wanted some color. And also I 
wanted the roof to just be completely by itself, completely 
free. We couldn't use wood walls going from inside to 
outside because the wood weathers differently. So it had 
to be concrete or masonry or something that the weather 
wouldn't affect, so it still looks the same inside as 
outside, which it does. We didn't want red brick, so I 
recommended a brown brick to go with the wood and all the 



124 



rest. We had to get the brick from Texas, which was a 
beautiful brown brick but very expensive. So he agreed to 
that, too. I mean, just one thing like that where a lot of 
people wouldn't, you know, if it's so many hundred dollars 
more for the brick, why, they'd say, "Oh no!" you know, 
just like that. But he fully cooperated with the aes- 
thetics and the architecture. So that's all part of it 
being an ideal job. I don't know — it's hard to recount all 
of the things that were involved. 

There's one detail: the swimming pool overflows, one 
entire edge overflows. I had this idea — Because it's 
above Silver Lake, and when you sit on the terrace and look 
over this pool, you just have one sheet of water above 
another sheet of water. It's really one of the most 
beautiful pool situations in the world. That whole edge 
also, it had to be — Well, he argued [against] that for a 
while because he knew that that would have to be ground to 
a perfect level in order for it to function, overflow 
evenly, and it would be very expensive to do it. 

Then I told him that it would also act as a giant 
skimmer. Business people like that. I mean, I've worked 
with all kinds of clients that way, where I have six or 
eight reasons for doing things. I start listing; when I 
get up to about six reasons they cave in, you know, 
[laughter] And with that, he did. I mean, he was 



125 



delighted with the giant skimmer, and I was delighted with 
the two surfaces of water. So all the things really worked 
out beautifully. 

LASKEY: But when it overflowed — you say it overflowed — 
where did it overflow to? 

LAUTNER: Well, we had a gutter and a reservoir. It was 
interesting to work that out too. It had to be auto- 
matically maintained full to be continuously overflowing. 
And we found that the only way we could really determine 
that was by testing. We did a lot [of] things by testing. 
That pool is a big one: like, fifty feet long. And in the 
summertime we discovered that it evaporated as much as 
seven hundred gallons a day, and you'd never guess that. 
So we had a seven hundred gallon reservoir at the end of 
the recirculating gutter for automatic make-up water. So 
that's just one little example of things that we did there. 
But all through the house there were things like, that 
were tested and looked at from every possible standpoint. 
So it really was an interesting job, and it was a pleasure 
to work because when we finally resolved what we felt was 
the ideal solution, we just went ahead and did it. It 
seems like the simplest, most straightforward way of 
working, but it's the rarest. I mean, there's always some 
tricky little thing going on. In a typical job they're 
trying to cut costs, or they're suspicious of anything new. 



126 



or they're suspicious of this-or-that , or they're too 
conservative, or — Oh my god, there're just millions of 
things to stop anything from being done right from scratch 
in a beautiful way. There's always something interfering. 
LASKEY: Now, you're talking even about clients that have 
the money and could afford to do what Mr. Reiner did. 
LAUTNER: Yeah, that's right. 

LASKEY: How did Mr. Reiner find you in the first place? 
LAUTNER: Well, that was interesting too. He had seen some 
of my work and liked it. But outside of that, he is a very 
smart man, and he didn't want [to] just make an emotional 
judgment. Being a scientific man as well — I forget to tell 
this to people — he interviewed something like forty-five 
architects, and I was the only one — All the rest of them 
were typical; I was the only one that didn't fit the 
typical pattern, so he took me. So I was not like the 
other forty-five architects, so that did it. [laughter] 
LASKEY: Well, you mentioned earlier in the interview about 
the hung glass that you used in Silvertop. Did you do any 
other [of] that sort of thing, with glass? Because there's 
an enormous amount of glass in Silvertop, right? 
LAUTNER: Did we do it any place else? 

LASKEY: No, I mean any other particularly creative things 
with glass, because you must have had to have shaped it, 
formed it, done — 



127 



LAUTNER: Well, the hanging glass was the ideal solution 
for the main living room view. And also because it was an 
independent arch concrete roof that didn't require any 
posts, or mullions to be structural, in the view. So 
there's absolutely nothing in the view, so the hanging 
glass without mullions was ideal. Other parts of the 
house, like, in the bedroom, we used laminated glass, 
pivoting, frameless, laminated glass. We designed special 
pivots which he had manufactured, stainless steel pivots 
and things like that. Any place there were frames for 
doors or anything else, that was all special design and 
special detail that made thin lines that didn't destroy the 
architecture. So everything we did was special. 
LASKEY: Well, the roof was how large? 
LAUTNER: Oh, the living room roof is three thousand 
[square] feet. When we used to have tours up there, I'd 
tell people you could put three tract houses in the living 
room, which you could. I mean, a typical small house out 
in the Valley is only about a thousand square feet, and so 
that three thousand feet — Also we had some architectural 
meetings up there and with folding chairs we got three 
hundred people in the living room. But at the same time, 
it's really pleasant for two people. So that's an achieve- 
ment, and it's an architectural thing. 



128 



Another interesting thing — I mean, there ' re so many 
things about Silvertop, we could go for a week talking 
about it. That just reminded me that Europeans coming to 
visit — off and on somebody would come, and I'd show them, 
and I remember one — They all love it immediately, they 
felt it and understood it. One of them said, "What's the 
owner like? He's got to be a good man in order to live up 
to this house." But the average Los Angeles person seeing 
it, they didn't know what it was. They didn't know whether 
it was a house or a restaurant. I mean they have ab- 
solutely no feeling, no understanding whatsoever, because 
they're not civilized, you know, as I've mentioned before. 
They just follow each other, whatever the fad or their 
experience is. But the Europeans got it right away. 
LASKEY: I was going to ask you, what was the reaction of 
the Los Angeles architectural community, essentially? 
LAUTNER: Well, the architectural community, I don't know. 
I think they all sort of secretly think it's very good but 
don't want to say so, you know. I really don't know, you 
know. 

LASKEY: What was the printed reaction to it? 
LAUTNER: Well, it's never really been published properly. 
LASKEY: It hasn't? 

LAUTNER: No, because — It went all this time while he had 
lawsuits, when he got divorced, and separated from his 



129 



business partner, so it wasn't completely finished until 
about five or six years ago, when these new owners bought 
it. Since then, the Architectural Digest wanted to publish 
it, but they didn't like the way it was furnished. And 
nobody else has published it, so I'm going to have it in my 
book for the first time, really. 

LASKEY: That's amazing; a house that's so famous. 
LAUTNER: Yeah. Yeah, it is strange. I mean, everybody in 
town knows the house, and it's never been published. 
[ laughter] 

LASKEY: Amazing. I'm amazed; I thought it was. I asked 
you about the roof because I was curious about the 
construction problems involved in forming the roof. 
LAUTNER: Oh. Well, it was regular formed — I'm glad you 
asked, though — it was formed-in-place [concrete]; it wasn't 
suitable to precast. The arch was a very low arch, which I 
felt was most desirable for the human being. So it's also 
an example of sort of overriding ideal engineering in favor 
of ideal architecture. I believe in that, and a lot of 
people don't understand that either. I mean, they think 
that they get an ideal engineering structure and they got 
to go with that. But that doesn't necessarily make 
architecture at all, for people, because mathematics and 
engineering are an artificial invention that don't 



130 



necessarily jibe with human welfare at all. So a lot of 
people don't understand that. 

So, the concrete was formed in place, and it was post- 
tensioned. The client was interested in every detail, and 
he was willing to spend extra money to make it better. So 
it only needed to be post-tensioned in one direction, but 
he decided to have it post-tensioned in two directions, so 
it couldn't crack, and it would be waterproof just from 
this extra reinforcing. I suppose it's the only house in 
town with [a] prestressed, post-tensioned, two-way concrete 
roof. I mean, you just couldn't get any better than that. 

Then the same thing applied to the ramp driveway, 
which we had to maintain at a 20 percent grade to suit the 
building code. We wrapped it around the guest house in 
order to make it long enough to maintain that grade. And 
we had the choice there of typical big retaining walls or 
cantilevering the driveway. And we found that it was 
really more reasonable to cantilever the driveway from this 
round guest house than to put in a typical retaining wall, 
which is the way it would typically have been done. In 
doing that it was also post-tensioned, reinforced concrete, 
supported on prestressed, post-tensioned, concrete block 
wa 1 1 s . 

This construction was ideal from an engineering 
standpoint, but it wasn't in the building code so [it was] 



131 



not allowed. So Reiner sued the city to be able to build 
better than the code allows. So it was a perfect lawsuit 
because you've got the whole building department in court 
for about a week, and they gave up. And they had to pay, 
the city had to pay. 

He was so interested in architecture at that time that 
he developed a committee of architects and engineers, and 
we met several times to try and revise the building code so 
that architects could practice like doctors. You see, an 
architect now has no authority whatsoever. I mean, with 
this building code, he just goes according to the code, and 
there are a lot of things that [are] unnecessary nuisances. 
We almost got that into the code when Reiner got into all 
the problems with separating from his partner and his wife 
and everything else, so that stopped all of that. 

But he's the only one I've known in my whole lifetime 
here [in Los Angeles] who was willing to spend some time 
and money to improve the building business. Nobody else 
has spent a dime or a minute to improve it. They just 
succumb to it. So it's absolutely disgusting. I mean, 
this is supposed to be a progressive area, but it's not. 
It's nothing, it's absolutely nothing. 
LASKEY: You or Mr. Reiner, apparently, had to have a 
number of run-ins with the building code. 



132 



LAUTNER: Oh, yeah. We ended up with something like forty- 
five permits for that job. It got so involved that the 
inspector couldn't keep track of it, he didn't know what 
was happening; so the building department just gave up 
completely. So that was the best way to do it. But, you 
see, most people wouldn't do that either. I mean, they'd 
say, "Well, if it's against the code, we can't do that," 
you know. They're crazy, that's all. They're afraid to 
have any basic thinking. They just go all with it, and 
that's why it gets worse and worse all the time. They're 
unwilling to fight it. The architects don't do anything 
either because they might lose money, so they don't do a 
damn thing. So that's a crazy scene. 

LASKEY: But as a result of all that the codes didn't — The 
wound just sort of healed and the codes went right back to 
where they were before? 

LAUTNER: Yeah, yeah. But we almost got it. It was a 
clever way of doing it. We finally figured out that just 
by adding a paragraph in the front of the code that legally 
it could be written in such a manner that architects had an 
authority of their own, and it almost made it. 

They work that way in Brazil and in lots of Latin 
countries. The architect is also the builder, and he's 
totally responsible. He can do anything he wants. They 
have an absolute minimum code which is like ours was 



133 



originally, to protect the public health and safety. But 
theirs is, like, fifty pages or less — or, no — fifty items, 
I think it is, that say you cannot dump sewage out in the 
street, you know, and you can't do this, and you can't do 
that for health and safety. Otherwise, you can do anything 
you want, and its your responsibility. Well, that's what 
this country is supposed to be but it isn't. I mean, it's 
all controlled, and you can't do anything. I understand it 
works beautifully [elsewhere]. 

Well, that's just the way it's worked for two or three 
thousand years, because I understand two or three thousand 
years ago that if the architect did something wrong, they 
just chopped his head off, you know: the pharaohs or 
something, you know. Well now, like, in Brazil, if he does 
a poor job, he's through. He never gets another job. It's 
just automatic. So you pay for the freedom of doing what 
you want to do. But here you're not allowed to do any- 
thing. It used to make me very mad because I couldn't get 
the responsibility; I would take the responsibility. I had 
my neck out all my life, but I couldn't get the respon- 
sibility because either the code or the bank or the client 
or somebody would stop it. So, when I first started 
working people would say, "Did you do that job?" 

And I'd say, "Yeah, I did what I could between the 
client, the building department, and the banker. That's 



134 



all I could do. I could have done ten times more, but I 
had all those to fight." [laughter] 

LASKEY: Well, what about the AIA [American Institute of 
Architects ]? 

LAUTNER: They don't do anything; nothing, absolutely 
nothing. It's funny — just this year, for the first time, 
the new president announced they're going to have their 
national convention in Hawaii. (They have it right now, I 
think, in June.) And he announced they're going to study 
or promote working for architecture rather than for 
architects. Up until now they have only worked for 
architects. Like, the state, when you're licensed in the 
state, the architects try to fix it so nobody else can get 
licensed so they get more work. So, it's never really been 
concerned with architecture at all. It's just been busi- 
ness, insurance, all kinds of junk that's sort of meaning- 
less but never anything about architecture. And they've 
never tried to educate the public or anything. It's just a 
crazy thing. 

LASKEY: They've never felt it to their advantage to take 
on the building codes, to adjust them? 

LAUTNER: No. Oh no. Of course, they can't afford to do 
anything. I mean, it's a big group but they've never had 
enough money to do anything. They've never really — I 
mean, they're wishy-washy. They play it safe. It's 



135 



basically conservative, right down the middle, do nothing, 
you know. I couldn't understand that for a long time, but 
my friend Ingo Preminger told me — he put it very well--he 
said, "The reason for all this is that no matter what's 
going on" — he was a director's agent and decided about 
movies and things like that — "all that anybody wants is to 
be held blameless. They don't want to do a damn thing. 
Nobody wants to do anything or have any responsibility. 
They just want to be blameless." And that's the way the 
AIA is too. They write this double-talk, so they can't be 
blamed. They don't say anything, they don't do anything. 
It's just zero. 

LASKEY: Well, I've read that Mr. Reiner was never able to 
live in Silvertop — 
LAUTNER: Yeah, that's right. 

LASKEY: — after it was all completed. Is that true? 
LAUTNER: That's true. He bought a big house across Silver 
Lake from this one, so he had a very comfortable place to 
live while this was under construction. But he never 
actually lived in this house, which is too bad; but he's 
adapted to it. He bought a house down on the ocean, in 
Long Beach, and he lives down there. He's rented another 
factory, and he's started up again. Twelve years of 
litigation — the attorneys cleaned him out. That's what did 



136 



it. Twelve years of paying attorneys just wiped him out. 
That legal business is just terrible. 
LASKEY: Has he ever seen Silvertop since it's been 
finished? 

LAUTNER: No, I don't think so; no. 

LASKEY: It's curious — usually, when a house like that is 
built it's named after the person who built it: "the 
Reiner House, for example. 

LAUTNER: Well, he liked this name because it was over- 
looking Silver Lake, and it's on the top of the hill — very 
obvious name, but it stayed with it. 

LASKEY: Well, if Silvertop was never published, the 
[Arthur] Elrod House [Palm Springs, California, 1968-69] 
certainly has been. 

LAUTNER: Oh yes. Yeah, that was published all over the 
world in all kinds of magazines. 

LASKEY: Well, that looked like it came fairly close to 
being another ideal work situation. 

LAUTNER: Well, that's true too. Not as completely, 
though. Elrod wouldn't wait for experimenting or 
researching something to get an ideal solution. We had a 
good solution that didn't require too much of that anyway. 
His initial request, after he took me to see the property 
was — He just said, "Give me what you think I should have 
on this property." 



137 



And at that time it was a flat bulldozed hillside lot, 
like they make in the typical subdivisions. Nothing 
interesting about it except that it was a flat pad. So I 
got looking over the edge, and I saw these big, beautiful 
rock outcrops. And so I decided if he excavated about 
eight feet off of this pad, which had already been built, 
then these natural outcrops would be exposed in the house 
and more or less on the perimeter of [the] house. We could 
design something that's really built into the desert. 

So he understood that right away and said, "You mean, 
those are going to be sculpture in the house?" 

I said, "Yes." 

And so he was willing to spend, I don't know, fifteen 
or twenty thousand more to excavate the lot. Now that's 
something that most people wouldn't do either. I mean, 
they already paid for the lot, they're not going to pay any 
more, you know, blah, blah, blah. Anyway, that's what 
enabled us. 

The way I looked at it, there isn't a single really 
integrated building designed for the desert in Palm 
Springs. They're all colonial or Spanish or I don't know 
what. They're just stuck there. They don't really have 
anything to do with the desert. So I decided we'd do 
something that really suited the desert. So this circular 
concrete roof with triangular openings in it and triangular 



138 



clerestories in it sort of fanned around, so that from the 
outside and the inside it's sort of like a desert flower. 
And then, of course, being concrete it would be right down 
on the boulders and rocks and become part of the whole 
scene. So once we had the concept, or the preliminary 
design, for this one, Elrod just went straight ahead and 
built it, without any changes whatsoever. Just everything 
— no hitches at all. 

LASKEY: How long did it take you to come up with the 
design for the roof? 

LAUTNER: Well, that one wasn't too long either. I suppose 
it was maybe a month before I really was satisfied with 
that design. But I got the idea somehow very soon. And I 
had a clay model made. One of my draftsmen at the time 
made pretty good models with the whole part of the moun- 
tain. Elrod came in and looked at it, and he [was] just 
delighted, you know. So we just went right ahead, no 
problem at all. 

LASKEY: Well, did you run into construction problems? The 
house is actually built into the rock, isn't it? How would 
you form the wall after that? 

LAUTNER: Well, some of the rock becomes the wall. The 
main problem we had with that was that [there were] a lot 
of cracks in the rocks. We had a geologist check their 
structural value. He recommended bolting them together. 



139 



So quite a few of them have long, steel rods drilled right 
through the big outcrops and they're bolted together. 
That's for earthquake [resistance], you know. 
LASKEY: How do you bolt, or drill, through a rock without 
cracking the rock through? 

LAUTNER: Well, they can. They have all kinds of drills, 
you know. They used to drill for dynamite. They [can] 
drill a hole in the rocks (and they have long drills like 
twenty, thirty foot drills) right through the whole pile. 
And it's bolted together. So we did all that. It's 
designed to resist earthquake and everything else, so it's 
fine. 

And then, of course, what really made it possible — I 
wouldn't have designed it that way if I didn't know who was 
going to build it. I told Elrod then, and I tell most of 
my clients, that you can't really design anything ex- 
ceptional unless you know who's going to build it. Because 
if it's just a typical contractor it's — First of all 
they'll quote five times what it's worth, and second, 
they'll bitch it up because they don't know how to build 
it, and it'll have to be rebuilt three times, and [it's] 
just plain murder. 

So I had this contractor that I originally got out 
from Chicago to do Silvertop, Wally Niewiadomski , and he's 
one of the best men I've ever seen in the building 



140 



business. So I introduced him to Elrod, so we knew right 
from the beginning who was going to build it. It was on a 
cost basis; it wouldn't have to be some kind of contract or 
anything, just go ahead and build it. So with Wally 
building it, it's a perfect job all the way through. But 
good client, good architect, and good builder, that's all 
you need. But that very seldom happens. 

LASKEY: Well, the glass — the pictures that I've seen of 
that house — that glass living room, living room walls, 
absolutely beautiful. Wasn't that a little tricky? 
LAUTNER: Oh yes. Originally, it was faceted so that the 
glass would just butt glass, again without posts or 
mullions, so that it didn't interfere with the view. By 
having it on angles, and faceted, pieces would support each 
other, reinforce each other against [the] wind. We had 
certain corners where we should have had extra glass 
mullions, and Elrod knew this, but he didn't want to spend 
the money on it and he was willing to take the chance. So 
we tried it that way, and it was beautiful. But they had 
an exceptional windstorm, like, 120 mile [per hour] winds, 
and something was open, and it blew out. But he knew that 
that could happen. 

But it was interesting to see [it] that way because we 
had a party down there just after it was first finished — 
for the Palm Springs architects, actually [laughs] — and one 



141 



of the older, big firms there came up to me, and he said, 
"god, it's like being inside of a diamond." And it was; it 
was absolutely perfect. Then later on they used it for 
that movie Diamonds Are Forever. 

Then Elrod, since that happened, wanted to be able to 
have it open in the wintertime, when it's not too hot; in 
the summer it has to be air conditioned. So we made two 
twenty-five-foot wide hanging glass doors, which are 
motorized and slide around the side of the building, so 
that it has a fifty-foot opening now. 



142 



TAPE NUMBER: IV, SIDE TWO 
JUNE 16, 1982 

LASKEY: So you were talking about the changes in the glass 
that you had made in the [Arthur] Elrod House. 
LAUTNER: Well, Elrod decided he'd like to have it openable 
in the wintertime, so we made two twenty-five-foot wide, 
curved — well, faceted, actually — glass doors and hung them 
on the perimeter of the roof, which, fortunately, had a big 
enough reinforced concrete beam and was strong enough — we 
checked the engineering — to hang these doors. So we had an 
aircraft door company make them. The operation is motor- 
ized, electric, and counterbalanced, so you can push a 
button and get a fifty-foot opening to the view, to the 
desert and the whole situation, which is really beautiful 
and desirable. 

LASKEY: Now, the pool goes under part of the door. 
LAUTNER: Yes. Well, with the glass on the perimeter, now 
the pool comes inside when the glass is closed, and the 
glass doors just have a neoprene flap on the bottom that 
comes down to the water, so it's pretty well sealed for air 
conditioning in the summer. 

LASKEY: The pool looks like it was quite an engineering or 
a structural feat anyway. 



143 



LAUTNER: Yeah. The whole thing [is] on a mountainside, 
but it's a rock mountainside, so the foundations are all 
very good. The whole building is concrete, so there's 
nothing to go wrong with it. In fact, a lot of people — 
Well, I guess most people don't realize at all that 
concrete is the best in every possible way, including 
earthquakes. It's better than steel. I was in a twenty- 
five story apartment building in Anchorage, Alaska (where I 
also did a job), just after the big earthquake up there. 
And that reinforced concrete building swayed sixteen feet 
in each direction at the top, in this strong earthquake. 
Nobody was hurt, nobody was killed, and nothing fell down 
because the reinforced concrete cracked, but nothing caved 
in, because it's like there's a mesh throughout the whole 
thing that's sort of flexible. Well, in a steel structure 
or almost any other kind of a structure, it would fall 
apart and cave in, and it's much more dangerous. 
LASKEY: What is the stairway that goes down in the Elrod 
House? There's a stairway alongside the pool that goes 
down to another level. 

LAUTNER: Oh. Well, it goes down to guest rooms down 
below. 
LASKEY: So the house is built on two levels then? 



144 



LAUTNER: Yeah. Yeah. There's a lower level of guest 

rooms and an upper terrace. Well, I guess the main problem 

with this history [is] it's all in print. 

LASKEY: And we can't show — 

LAUTNER: We don't have pictures. 

LASKEY: We're looking at a picture of the house right now 

which I wish we could put into the tape machine. 

[ laughter] 

LAUTNER: It is going to be interesting as a record. I 

mean, just in print or in writing, but the complete 

architecture thing takes pictures or, better yet, [seen] in 

person. 

SECOND PART 
JUNE 30, 1982 

LASKEY: Backtracking a little bit in time, Mr. Lautner, 
once you left Taliesin, what was your relationship with Mr. 
Wright? Did you see him after that? 

LAUTNER: Well, I naturally liked to see him any time I 
could. But when I came here originally, to superintend a 
couple of his houses, I couldn't afford to travel back and 
forth to Arizona. And he couldn't either, as far as that 
goes. [laughter] Because every dime he got, he put into 
his buildings. So I didn't see him very often. But when 
he came to Los Angeles, he usually called me to pick him up 



145 



at the Union Station and drive him around town or drive him 
to see his son Lloyd, who he always visited. So we had 
visits like that as well as some discussion of projects 
that he — Well, the ones I superintended were mainly 
finished by that time. I mean, they were just over a 
period of a couple of years — like '39 to '41, I guess would 
be the time. 

One of the really interesting trips that I had with 
Frank Lloyd Wright driving him around — He had his own 
theater in Wisconsin and also in Arizona, and while I was 
there as an apprentice, we had all European films, which 
were fantastic. Mr. Wright loved the Russian cartoons and 
the Rene Clair French movies, and we saw all of the best of 
everything. But we couldn't get the best of any American 
films because of their booking systems. They required you 
to take a dud along with a good one and all this kind of 
dirty-dealing stuff. So he just said the hell with them, 
you know, for years. 

But finally, he made a trip over here, and I drove him 
around with the express purpose of breaking the movie 
booking system; which nobody else would even attempt, you 
know. So this was really fun. Without any appointments at 
all, we walked into all of the top offices of the big movie 
studios. The first thing that would happen — Mr. Wright 
would say, "Well, I don't think you know who I am, but I'm 



146 



Frank Lloyd Wright, and I have a place in Arizona and a 
little theater." Before he got going at all almost every 
one of them knew him, of course, and they'd say, "Oh yes. 
Of course we know you because you've been a celebrity for 
fifty years, while an average movie star is only good for 
five or ten years, you know." So they look at it from the 
business standpoint. [laughter] So he had lots of in- 
teresting conversations with different people about 
breaking the booking system. But even though they were 
heads of certain studios or certain functions, the first 
four or five that we went to see couldn't do anything. 
They were tied because of that system. 

But what happened was we finally went to one man who 
was head of — I forget whether it was MGM or what studio — 
this man was the real control of booking the film to 
theaters and could do whatever. He was the head man. So 
Mr. Wright started talking to him about the problem, and he 
stopped him, and he [the studio man] said, "I know all 
about you because I've kept track of your whole life. I 
was on a boat to Yokohama with you" — when he was building 
the Imperial Hotel. And this man had made a hobby of 
keeping track of all the passengers on this boat to 
Yokohama. Frank Lloyd Wright was one, Franz Werfel and 
various other people were on that boat. This man had 
everything that ever happened to all of these people, their 



147 



complete history. So we got a real reception there, 
naturally. 

So then after that happened he said, "Well, what do 
you want?" And Mr. Wright said he wants the good movies 
without having to take the bad ones or any of the monkey 
business involved. So [the man said], "Anything you want; 
no charge, any time." So he broke the booking system, and 
he could get good American movies. 

LASKEY: He was lucky, because I think it's a problem that 
theater owners are still struggling with. 
LAUTNER: Oh yeah. It's a hell of a problem, but Mr. 
Wright broke it. [laughter] So that was something. 
LASKEY: At this time, in the late forties and going into 
the early fifties, prior to Silvertop, most of the things 
that you did were on a smaller scale than those pieces that 
you were to become known for. How did you make the leap 
into the larger — 

LAUTNER: Oh, I didn't make any leap. I considered 
architecture — As Mr. Wright used to point out, it's the 
quality, not the quantity. So I just did what I could with 
whoever my client was. For, I guess, the first ten years 
or so, I didn't have any clients that had any money. They 
were all aiming at rock bottom costs on little tiny lots 
and so forth. So I finally got some who had more land and 



148 



more money, and so they became, you know, bigger projects. 
But there wasn't anything special that happened. 
LASKEY: But your style changed somewhat, too, as the 
houses got bigger. The early ones, I think, had more wood; 
they were almost more Wrightian, if that's a fair term, 
than Californian. 

LAUTNER: Well, I think — I don't like to use the word 
"style" at all. It's just that every one was an individual 
job, and when it got to be — When there was more oppor- 
tunity than just the absolute minimum, rock bottom, little 
tiny thing, why, I could do something else. So I've been 
continually interested and experimenting with different 
kinds of spaces and structures and all of the values of 
architecture. So in these later projects that are just — 
They just represent further control and further experimen- 
tation in livable kinds of spaces and in durable values. 
That's a continuous, non-ending search, so I'm still doing 
it. 

LASKEY: Is this something that you have to educate your 
clients to understand for the most part? 

LAUTNER: No. What's happened was that the clients came to 
me looking for something which comes from my work. For 
instance, Reiner, who did Silvertop, had seen, I guess, a 
half dozen smaller houses that I had done and he had 
interviewed forty architects before he interviewed me. He 



149 



decided that I had the imagination and the ability that he 
was looking for. And I had quite a few clients like that. 
They were actually looking for architecture, looking for 
imagination, rather than [the] latest style, or stock, or 
this-or-that , or facade, or what-have-you . They wanted 
something real. I'm fortunate to have turned up a few 
clients like that, but there aren't very many. 

I've always complained about Los Angeles being bad 
architecturally and various other ways, and people say, 
"Well, why don't you move?" I've tried to figure out how I 
could move, and there's no way I could be in a place with 
less population because here's a population of seven or 
eight million in the county. And I get maybe ten a year 
out of seven or eight million. The individuals who are 
looking for something real in architecture are very few. 
LASKEY: You also came to Los Angeles just about the time 
the floodgates broke as far as the population growth of the 
area, too. Has that helped you or hurt you? 
LAUTNER: No. I don't think any of those things has any 
effect on my work. I mean, when there's a building boom I 
might not have any work at all, and if there's no building, 
I might have the best job I ever had, because it just 
depends on a particular individual showing up who wants to 
do a real piece of architecture. And they show up any 
time, regardless of the world situation, or [a] boom-or- 



150 



bust economy or anything else. It has nothing to do with 

it. 

LASKEY: Well, in fact, when you were building Silvertop 

and the Malin [ "Chemosphere" ] House [Hollywood Hills, 

1960], I think, was during the Korean War [1950-53], wasn't 

it? 

LAUTNER: Yes. Yes. 

LASKEY: And the McCarthy era. 

LAUTNER: Well, I was so involved with the architecture 

that I hardly knew the Korean War was going on. [laughter] 

It had no effect whatsoever on my work. 

LASKEY: So it wasn't a major problem with architects or 

architecture that World War II had been as far as being 

able to get things or do things. 

LAUTNER: No. No, it wasn't like World War II. I mean it 

did actually stop things, World War II. I mean, it was 

against the law to get materials. You had to do it with 

[the] black market, [which] was what they did in Beverly 

Hills. I guess I mentioned that before. 

LASKEY: You were talking about, in your earlier times, that 

you had to build small houses on obscure lots and in 

difficult situations, but [in] one of your newer houses, 

the Stevens House, you've had to do that same thing, and 

it's just beautiful. Did you find — That certainly had to 



151 



be an entirely different kind of a challenge than the 
earlier challenge that you were talking about it. 
LAUTNER: Well, I naturally like any kind of a challenge in 
architecture. In fact, the more challenge, the more 
interesting, and I think the more likely some total new, 
legitimate solution can come out. So when Mr. and Mrs. 
Daniel Stevens came as clients with this thirty-foot lot 
and they wanted five bedrooms, five baths, and so forth — 
and a swimming pool. They had had an architect before, and 
he'd told them that they couldn't get a swimming pool on 
that lot and they couldn't do this and they couldn't do 
that, like most — That's usually what you get when you want 
to do anything, is the expert tells you you can't do any- 
thing. So I told them right away, don't tell me what you 
can't do or what anybody said, just tell me what you Wemt 
to do. So then it makes it a beautiful challenge. So I 
got everything they wanted on the little lot. 

And every bit of it is desirable, so much so that — 
this is interesting, and I think it's perfectly all right 
to say — Mr. Stevens loves the house more than ever right 
now. And he's been divorced a couple of times, and the 
wives have gone away but he still has the house. So it's a 
real part of his life. He wrote me a letter one time. He 
said he just enjoys sitting in there, you know. It has a 



152 



permanent, lasting feeling, and interest, and so it's a 
real place to be. 

LASKEY: Well, describe the lot and what he wanted on it. 
LAUTNER: Well, it was actually thirty-something [feet] 
wide, and with setbacks it was really less than that that 
you could build on. And then we could build on something 
like eighty or ninety feet in depth. Then with the county 
building department regulations, you could go to forty feet 
high. So I had that volume of space to work in. By going 
down levels — I went into the sand within a foot of high 
tide, so there's a floor buried below, which became a 
children's playroom — I mean, sort of half-buried but it 
still has windows — maid's room and bath, and a painting 
studio. They're down on the level more or less with the 
bottom of the swimming pool. And then there are other, 
four or five other levels. 

And then by doing this catenary curve concrete shell 
and reversing it in the middle, I not only created a 
maintenance-free, desirable building for Malibu, but it 
went with the mountains and the waves, and it opened up in 
the middle to give views of the ocean and the mountains, 
rather than being trapped like you normally would be in a 
rectangular box [in which] you'd just have a hole in each 
end and/or some side windows that would be looking into 
somebody else's house. So this one has complete privacy 



153 



with all desirable rooms. Five bedrooms and five baths, 
living, dining, kitchen, and swimming pool, and every bit 
of it is desirable. So I'm very proud of that solution. 

In fact, it's probably more of an achievement than if 
I had something on a big lot. But what's happened to me is 
strange. Even when I've had larger properties with wealthy 
clients, there's never enough room. No matter how big the 
property, we still don't have enough room to do what we 
really want to do. 
LASKEY: Really? 

LAUTNER: That's true, yeah. Like, Silvertop is on six 
lots, and we were out to within an eighth of an inch of 
every setback line. We didn't have enough room to do 
really what we wanted to do. [Bob] Hope's [house] is on 
eight lots and no room at all, down in Palm Springs. No 
room at all when he should have had acreage, you know. And 
then none of the lots on the coast have any room. Even if 
they're a hundred feet or a hundred and fifty feet, there's 
still not much room. 

LASKEY: Well, I was thinking about the Stevens House, the 
idea of not having the windows on the side makes such good 
sense in Malibu because it is wall-to-wall houses over in 
that area. 

LAUTNER: Yeah, yeah. And that one also — It is hard when 
people reading this don't see any pictures, but the 



154 



catenary curve, I guess you could visualize [it] as a high 
point on one side and it curves down to the ground on the 
other side. And then, as the elements are reversed, 
there's a high side on one side, and then there's a high 
side on the other side in the length of the property. This 
not only gives the opening in the middle of the house from 
within, but it's an improved condition for the neighbors. 
Because you're getting more space, you're up against a 
curved disappearing wall instead of a flat vertical right 
in your face. 

So I've mentioned it to quite a few people [that] it's 
really an ideal solution for townhouses or row houses. Row 
houses have been a problem for centuries, and they're still 
done more or less the same way. I guess some of them now 
have lightwells or, you know, skylights over the stairway 
and things like that. But it's just been in the last few 
years that they've done anything even that good. This kind 
of a thing could improve everybody's condition in row 
housing. 

LASKEY: But since it makes such good sense, why don't they 
do it? 

LAUTNER: I don't know. As far as I can see, the builders 
and developers, they really don't go on good sense. They 
just go on merchandising statistics that they [have]. As 
far as I can tell — I worked on one subdivision — they get 



155 



certain things that are considered saleable by the loan 
company, certain facades or certain looks, and that's 
what's financed, and that's what's built. So it has 
nothing to do with architecture at all. It's merchandise 
to be merchandized, and that's it. 

LASKEY: And whatever the particular trend happens to be, 
that's what they're going to merchandize. 

LAUTNER: Yeah. I had a hell of a time with that kind of 
thing in the beginning because — Everybody had needed to 
borrow money and the loan companies, you know, would say, 
"Why, it's unfortunate that you have this clerestory 
window" — which makes the most beautiful light and space 
inside. But outside they're not used to seeing a cleres- 
tory window in the kind of houses they finance, so they 
penalize it. So anything good that I did was just a 
penalty by the loan company. The money business has always 
been disturbing to me. 

People say, how can you do anything with all these 
building codes? Well, they're bad enough, but my answer to 
them is that the building code is still a democratic 
action, and you can go to an appeal board, and there's 
something you can do even though it takes a lot of work. 
But to a banker, there's nothing you can do. It's an 
independent institution, and their idea of merchandise has 
nothing to do with your idea of what you want to do, and 



156 



there's no appeal. So that's what stops anything new, is 
the financing. 

LASKEY: Just offhand, can you think of any project that 
you had, or design that you had come up with, that you 
really thought was extraordinarily good that got defeated, 
ultimately, by the banks, that you were simply not able to 
build? 

LAUTNER: Well, where people had to borrow money, I had 
that problem every time. And some of them managed to get 
private loans or some kind of financing to get built, and 
then after it was built, they were able to get more normal 
financing. So it's always been a problem. 
LASKEY: What about your clients going through a period 
like that? It must be equally hard on them, if it's 
something that they want, and want built. Would they 
generally stick with you and try to fight it through? 
LAUTNER: Well, yeah, that's the unusual thing, is that I 
did have clients who really wanted it, and they were 
willing to go through all this pain; while the typical 
client just wouldn't be willing to go through all the 
trouble. That's why most of the — when I try to analyze 
it — most of the so-called smart people, they never build 
anything. They just buy and sell. That's the safest way. 
But they spend a lot of money on interior decorators, and 



157 



they're satisfied; that satisfies their whims, but they 

never have anything that is real architecture. 

LASKEY: Speaking of interior decorators, do you ever work 

personally with decorators when you're doing a building? 

LAUTNER: Oh, sure. Sure. It's different with different 

clients. Certain clients with certain decorators — If 

they're involved in the planning stage, why, it's fine 

because we all work together and get the best total product 

we can get. 

LASKEY: What about landscaping? Are you involved in the 

landscaping? 

LAUTNER: Well, yes. I'm involved in everything, really. 
But I've never been able to find anybody that was much help 
in landscaping. There are landscape architects, but when 
I've tried to improve the whole site with landscaping — I 
mean, you can create more or less space with landscaping as 
well as with building. And I think some of them understand 
that a little bit, but I've never found one who really 
contributed with real thinking to the whole project, or 
even could understand what I was asking him to do. 

So that's always been disappointing to me, especially 
in this area [where] almost everything is barren. So I say 
you have to build the site, you have to build the environ- 
ment, and you have to build the people, and build the 
landscape, and build everything. And they say—the typical 



158 



idea is this is the easiest place in the world, and it's 
not. I mean, if you had a beautiful piece of woods in 
Oregon with a view of Mt . Hood, you don't have to do a damn 
thing. But here you have to do everything. [laughter] 
LASKEY: So do you end up doing the landscaping? 
LAUTNER: Well, I usually end up designating what, without 
knowing the plant names, areas and heights and things that 
seem suitable for the situation. 

LASKEY: Well, you have designed a couple of apartment 
houses that — when you were talking about the Stevens House 
and it being an answer to row housing, it made me think of 
it. That's going back again, too, but the Sheats apartment 
house [L'Horizon] and then — At least your designs for the 
[Alto] Capistrano apartments [San Juan Capistrano, 1963-64] 
which did the same thing that you were talking about, gave 
privacy as well as mass — 
LAUTNER: Right. 

LASKEY: — which seem not, again, to have been taken up 
generally; I'm surprised. 

LAUTNER: No, no. The apartment business is just the 
fastest and the cheapest you can get away with. The only 
time they spend any money is on a chandelier in the lobby 
or a little marble around the front door; otherwise they're 
just boxes as usual. 



159 



LASKEY: You mentioned the Hope House. I read somewhere 
where it was — it's been compared to the [Eero] Saarinen TWA 
terminal, and you didn't agree with that. 

LAUTNER: No. It has no relation to it whatsoever, except 
that it's curved, but that's typical of publicity. They 
have to latch on to some comparison or something to make it 
build up a story. And half the stories are just completely 
meaningless. There's all kinds of writing about 
architecture, not only by just writers as such, but by so- 
called architectural critics and writers, who don't really 
understand either. 

LASKEY: Have you found that the architectural critics from 
the east have been harder on you than the critics in the 
West? 

LAUTNER: Well, I don't know. When I first began, I had a 
criticism from Henry-Russell Hitchcock, who was the best 
one, the biggest one. He saw the first house that I did 
here, on Micheltorena Street [John Lautner house. Silver 

Lake, 19 39], and it was published in House Beautiful. He 

said it was the best house in the United States by an 

architect under thirty. So I thought I got off to a 

fantastic start. 

LASKEY: Yes. 

LAUTNER: But it didn't happen. I mean, it still took me 

thirty years to get established. [laughter] 



160 



LASKEY: Yes, but you were fighting trends during that 
time, too. 

LAUTNER: Yeah. Well, it's still the same way, I think. I 
mean, I sort of get [an] underground sense around here that 
everybody thinks — I mean the architects or whoever, seem 
mostly, I think, [to] think I've done some good if not 
great work; but it's all kept quiet, you know. It's not 
supposed to be publicized or something. I don't know. 
[ laughter ] 

LASKEY: Well, somebody referred to you as quote, the bete 
noir of the architectural establishment, and that may be 
why they want to keep you hidden and don't want to deal 
with you. 

LAUTNER: Yeah, I think it's true because I've seen lots 
of, well, not so much, but — I didn't like to think it at 
first, but I think there's a lot of small thinking and a 
lot of petty thinking. And there's jealousy in the pub- 
licity area, lots of picayune stuff that goes on that I've 
avoided. But I've had to just exist by myself with no 
cooperation or inspiration from anywhere else. 
LASKEY: Well, the quote, "the bete noir," comes from the 
Brendan Gill [book] The Dream Come True: [Great Houses of 
Los Angeles, 1980], in which he was very hard on you, in 
the book. But I think what's interesting is that the final 



16.1 



picture in the book is a photograph of the Segel House 
[1975], I believe it is, looking out to the ocean. 
LAUTNER: Yeah, but not a very good picture. 
LASKEY: I don't know if it's — It's beautiful. I mean, 
the scene is sort of — The book was called The Dream Come 
True, I think it was. 

LAUTNER: He completely missed everything, you know. If he 
really was concerned with the "dream come true," I've done 
more of that than anybody in the whole country, almost. 
What I did made him mad because all he could understand 
were interior design stuff and facade stuff and traditional 
recognized status values and things like that. He had no 
idea whatsoever of a "dream house coming true," and yet he 
had a book with that title. [laughter] 

LASKEY: Well, he was also part of the eastern establish- 
ment and they all go back to the Henry-Russell Hitchcock 
era, and that's why I ask you if easterners have more 
difficulty dealing with your designs. 
LAUTNER: Well, I haven't had much comment from them 
because I haven't had that much publicity there. I mean, 
I've had things, you know, in the Architectural Record. 
But since House Beautiful and House and Garden have gone 
downhill — I mean, they don't seem to have any architec- 
tural value now — why, I have no publicity in the east at 
all. 



162 



LASKEY: Does criticism of the nature of Brendan Gill's 
upset you, or have you gotten used to it over a period of 
years? 

LAUTNER: Well, it's annoying, naturally. I thought he 
was, well, that he would be more open or more free about it 
or something. But I finally realized that he's in his rut 
or in his nook or whatever, and he couldn't see what I was 
doing at all. So it's just too bad that the book gets out 
to the public. In fact, the Segels wanted to sue him for 
what he was saying, you know. But I am used to that, the 
same as Mr. Wright was used to it. I mean, every time he 
did anything he got the craziest kind of stories about what 
it was or wasn't — because it was nonconformist. So, that's 
part of doing anything: if you do anything, and you're 
nonconformist, you're going to get all kinds of crazy 
stories . 

LASKEY: As time has gone by — let's see, [it was] 1939 that 
you left Taliesin — has your relationship with Taliesin and 
with Wright changed: that is, people's perception of you? 
Because at the time, when we talked about this before, you 
said that it really made it hard for you to get estab- 
lished, that you had been associated with Wright. But 
Wright has at last become an acceptable, you know, person. 
LAUTNER: Well, still not really. 
LASKEY: Really? 



163 



LAUTNER: No. They still fight him. They still try to put 
him down. I see the established — they still make wise- 
cracks. The academic, established architects and architec- 
tural critics, who are going with the latest phoney ration- 
alization or style, they still love to refer to Frank Lloyd 
Wright as a joker, or he did this or did that, you know. I 
mean, they try to put him out — keep him out. It's still 
the same way. 

LASKEY: It's still the same? 

LAUTNER: So I'm still dependent on individual people who 
are not affected by the status quo or the conservative 
point of view. It seems, when they're controlled by the 
safe, conservative point of view, we just don't have 
anything in the way of architecture in that area. So I 
really hate the conservative point of view; I mean, I can't 
understand it all, really. Maintaining the status quo and 
playing it safe is absolutely doing nothing. I mean, why 
did we establish a free country, why are we trying to live, 
or why are we trying to do anything, if we're just going to 
be not doing anything? 

LASKEY: Tom Wolfe recently wrote his book Frcm Bauhaus to 
Our House. Have you had a chance to look at that? 
LAUTNER: Yes, yes. 

LASKEY: Because I have a feeling you might have felt a 
great deal of sympathy to what he was saying. 



164 



LAUTNER: Oh, yeah. I liked the book. I was glad that he 
blew up a lot of the phoney, latest-rationale, and things 
like that. I mean, some of these latest ones, you know, 
with all these white pipe railings and things like that, I 
just say the same thing as the book. I mean, first of all, 
they look like 1929 "Moderne," another old cliche. And 
then I say, "Well, what if they painted them black, you 
know, where would they be with this kind of stuff? To have 
it dependent on white pipe railings or three shades of pink 
like [Charles W. ] Moore, you know, the whole thing is 
crazy. I'm glad that Wolfe got into it. 
LASKEY: Well, I liked his idea of the compound and the 
idea of the worshiping at the compound — that everybody had 
to do the same thing, and that if you didn't worship in the 
particular compound you were really alienated or out of it 
to the point where people were terrified not to have a box 
or whatever. Now, that's what you were fighting. 
LAUTNER: Yes. That's right. I've been fighting that all 
my life. That's true. I mean, I have really had my neck 
out, and I don't blame a lot of architects for not sticking 
their neck out because when you do, you're out of it, 
absolutely, you know. You get no cooperation. I mean, 
that's probably why I never got an interesting commercial 
job or an interesting public job, because I'm not part of 



165 



the thing, you know. I'm not in there, I'm not on the 

inside. 

LASKEY: You're not in the compound. 

LAUTNER : No . [ laughter ] 



16^ 




/ 



TAPE NUMBER: V, SIDE ONE 
JUNE 30, 1982 

LASKEY: Of course, one of the interesting things about the 
particular modern architecture that we're talking about and 
Henry-Russell Hitchcock, whom we were talking about, [is 
that] he wrote the book on the International Style with 
Philip Johnson, which really set the pace for so long. And 
now Philip Johnson has set about sort of totally going 
against what it was he had written about for so long. 
LAUTNER: Yeah. Well, that was interesting to me. I've 
heard Johnson talk a couple times, and he ' s a very, very 
sophisticated, very, very smart man. And I thought that he 
was really beyond just an International Style, but what I 
gather from all of these things that have happened just in 
the past couple years, [is] that he was really totally 
involved in the International Style, and that was the 
beginning and end of architecture. 

As smart as he is, he didn't realize that — which I've 
always realized — a whole, legitimate piece of architecture 
is a whole idea and a valid idea and a new idea for every 
situation. It's not just following a style or a fad that 
has this clean glass look, you know. So I was delighted 
that they finally discovered that modern was dead because I 
thought that they were going to go on forever with the 



167 



[Ludwig Mies] van der Rohe stuff, and you might as well 
forget doing anything at all. But the public reacted 
against it, and actually, a lot of the van der Rohe stuff 
in Chicago is lousy. I mean, it's poor living conditions, 
and it doesn't even have the proportion which originally 
made him famous. Even now, his most famous Tugendot House 
and Barcelona Pavilion had certain very subtle proportions 
and spaces that were real architecture. But from then on 
it had some of that look without those subtle proportions 
or anything else, just clean detail. So, that's a crazy 
scene. 

I think that Johnson knows that Frank Lloyd Wright 
created real architecture, but I don't think he still 
understands it as a potential or as anything to do with the 
whole history of architecture. The way I see it, what 
Frank Lloyd Wright did is — Like, the first building — for 
whatever it was, 5000 B.C. in China — was an original 
building and it had some meaning and some purpose and some 
architectural value. There 've been buildings like that 
throughout history, and when they become copied as styles, 
they lose their meaning. So I feel that Frank Lloyd 
Wright ['s] understanding and my understanding is the most 
valid and fits in with the whole history of the world. 
It's not just today or yesterday, or this-or-that ; it's one 
of a kind real value. 



168 



LASKEY: Do you find that it's been easier for you now to 
get to do what you want to do design wise with the client? 
You've been able to convince them? 

LAUTNER: Well, I haven't had any problems with the clients 
for years because they've come to me wcinting architecture, 
that's the clue to it. I've had people who wanted to help 
me as a business. They'd say, "Oh, so-and-so's going to 
build, and I'm going to recommend him." And whenever 
that's happened, it's been absolutely impossible because 
they just want so many square feet for so many dollars, and 
they're not looking for architecture, and I couldn't work 
with them. 

But people who voluntarily come because they've seen 
something or read something and do have an interest in a 
space to be created for them, then it's entirely up to me. 
I mean, my worst problem then, and now, is to satisfy 
myself. I have no problem satisfying a client. I could 
satisfy them with half of the work that I'm doing. But to 
make it good enough for them eind good enough for me is 
really difficult. [laughter] 

LASKEY: I think that's what I'm really trying to say; and 
I'm not saying it right, but early on in the interview, you 
talked about, when you left Taliesin that you had all these 
ideas and all these plans and all these things you wanted 
to create and to design, and it took you thirty to forty 



169 



years to finally refine and develop those projects. I'm 
wondering if that's what you're doing now. Are you finally 
getting to do the things that are in your head? 
LAUTNER: Oh, yeah, yeah. Now, with most of my new 
clients, the design is entirely up to me. And that's very 
difficult because I like more limitations; as Mr. Wright 
used to say, "The artist's limitations are his best 
friends." That gives you some legitimate control; it 
demands some kind of control. If some client comes to me 
and says, "Just do whatever you like," that's the toughest 
thing in the world. I mean, Elrod more or less did that to 
me, but I was fortunate enough to conceive of that design 
and have it a good solution regardless. But generally, I 
prefer more requests as to feeling or atmosphere or way of 
life or something. Like, one client wanted daylight 
throughout the whole house. Well, that's nice; I liked 
it — And the one in Alaska wanted me to create an environ- 
ment that would keep his wife there through the winter. 
Another one wanted me to create an environment that was 
like a big abstract painting that he had on the wall. Now, 
that's a real architectural challenge. I like those. 
LASKEY: That's when you have parameters — 

LAUTNER: Yeah, yeah. But if somebody says, just whatever, 
that's very difficult. 
LASKEY: When they say that, do they really mean it? 



170 



LAUTNER: Well, I think they do. I mean, they're looking 
for something. I don't know how far — I mean, I've never 
really stretched it. 
LASKEY: You should try that. 

LAUTNER: There probably is a point where they would stop. 
But I do have one right now who just said he wants a whole 
new world, and that's his request. It's under 
construction. I talked to him the other day about some of 
the finishing and furnishing we're trying to figure out. I 
said I was studying what to do and still keep complying 
with a whole new world. You know, that's a difficult 
assignment. 

LASKEY: What is a "whole new world"? How do you create a 
"whole new world"? 

LAUTNER: Well, I don't know — I'd have to show you that 
model; it's in the other room. Basically, it's a property 
on a cliff on the ocean. And he wanted it completely 
private, soundproofed from the highway, and then block out 
the neighbor — got an ugly, big, colonial house next door. 
So with those requirements I conceived of an idea of a 
thirty foot high concrete wall that's sort of serpentine, 
and it also slopes back and forth. Then it turns and 
becomes the roof of the house, so the wall becomes the 
house. It is a whole new concept of developing a whole 
property for living for this one man. He's delighted with 



171 



it. It's a three million dollar house for one man. 
["Contemporary Castle," 1986, client does not want name 
used ] 

LASKEY: Oh my. Where is it? 

LAQTNER: It's west of Trancas [Canyon Road], on the coast. 
LASKEY: Oh, out in Malibu. 

LAUTNER: Yeah. As I was saying, I'm finishing and fur- 
nishing — We're trying to keep complying with the request 
for the whole new world — it's a new planet. So, your 
question — this guy will go as far as you can possibly go. 
He's probably the first and only one I ever had that would 
go like that. Just unbelievable. 
LASKEY: Where do you start? 

LAUTNER: Fortunately, with that one, which practically had 
no restrictions, I did have that start. The start was to, 
first of all, completely blank out the neighbor, which 
required a huge wall down the whole property line. Also it 
automatically soundproofed the interior garden from the 
highway. And then there's the panorama of the ocean. So 
those things determined the physical thing, and I don't 
know exactly how I arrived at this wall working that way. 
But it is a whole new world, because nobody's ever seen a 
curved sloping wall, I don't think, anyplace. I don't 
think there is one anywhere in the world. It's just a 
fantastic thing. I mean, some of that wall is built right 



172 



now. I was out there with Helena [Arahuete] (who's working 

on it, been working on it for a couple of years) with the 

doctor client, and I said, "My god, I'd like just to have 

that wall, just a piece of that wall on a lot." It would 

be one of the greatest things you could have 

architecturally. 

LASKEY: A sculpture. 

LAUTNER: Yeah, yeah; it is. It looks real. It looks like 

in some of the things — It's all concrete, and it looks 

like something maybe from Egypt or — It's just completely 

out of this world. I mean, it's not a stucco, plaster Los 

Angeles box, you know. [laughs] 

LASKEY: It sounds fabulous. But I have two questions 

about the wall. Did you have trouble finding a contractor 

who could build it for you? 

LAUTNER: Oh, sure, sure. Well, we decided that right 

away, too. Wally Niewiadomski , who I got originally from 

Chicago to build Silvertop, he's building this house. 

LASKEY: Oh, he's still here then? 

LAUTNER: He built Elrod's too. If I didn't have him, why, 

I couldn't even design anything like that; nobody would 

touch it, no typical general contractor. The only way 

they'd touch it would be, say, [for] triple the money, and 

then they'd look at it, you know. 

LASKEY: And then they'd straighten out the curve — 



173 



LAUTNER: And then there's still be problems, you know. So 
it's really an unusual thing. It's about half, almost half- 
built now. 

LASKEY: Well, a thirty foot wall, and I assume it's on the 
lot line, is very imposing. Did you run into any problems 
from the neighbors or from the — 

LAUTNER: Well, it's set back. It has to be set back, so 
it's back to the building setback. So there's still a ten 
or twelve or fifteen foot side yard, so it's legal. 
LASKEY: Well, what is the inside of it like? Is it a 
large space? 

LAUTNER: Yeah, well there are some [photographs], you can 
tell-- That's a portion of [the] main upstairs living room. 
It has this concrete shell roof ceiling and [a] stone floor 
and a continuous pool around the edge, like the one [Arango 
House] in Acapulco. Then the ocean out here. And this is 
a sloping curved stone wall that divides the living area 
from the master bedroom area. So it's mostly just a big 
open space on several levels, with a few screen walls. 
[It's] hard to see from that. 

LASKEY: But over here on the right, no, on the left, where 
the wall slopes up to the ceiling, is the ceiling 
actually — I mean, is the wall actually — is it a curved 
wall? 
LAUTNER: Yeah, that's a pier; it's a column. 



174 



LASKEY: Oh, I see. It's like the other one across the 

way, then. 

LAUTNER: This continues on over here someplace. I was 

experimenting with cutting out a big rock and setting 

upholstery in there, so essentially, when you go in, you 

really don't see any furniture, as such, but you might see 

a couple of boulders, and you go around the other side, and 

there's an upholstered seat, you know. So we have to do 

some pretty subtle things to keep it "a whole new world." 

[ laughs ] 

LASKEY: It looks like a new world. It looks like a 

spaceship. 

LAUTNER: Yeah, it's a nice space. 

LASKEY: Now, that's the glass — is the same kind of glass — 

LAUTNER: The glass is going to slide open, so he can have 

it wide-open to the ocean. So that'll really be something. 

LASKEY: How large is that space? 

LAUTNER: Oh, that's about forty by forty — this area. And 

past the column is another twenty or thirty feet. 

LASKEY: How long does it take to build something like 

that? 

LAUTNER: Well, I think it'll be done in about two to four 

years. 

LASKEY: That long? But I can see there wouldn't be too 

many people coming in off the street who — 



175 



LAUTNER: No, no. [laughter] 

LASKEY: Not with this kind of a design. But doesn't it 

make you terribly excited when you get a commission like 

this? 

LAUTNER: Oh, yeah, yeah. Oh, I have three or four that 

are all interesting like that, I mean, under construction. 

So that's my reward. I do have some exciting buildings 

under construction, and it's fun to see those accomplished. 

LASKEY: Plus, don't you think that now, when your clients 

come, that's what they expect from you? 

LAUTNER: Oh yeah. I'm glad you mentioned that. When I 

think about it, I find that people come, the last two or 

three years anyway, maybe more, they expect a museum piece. 

So every job I have has to be a museum piece. And so that 

really is a challenge. [laughs] 

LASKEY: That's what you worked your forty years for. 

LAUTNER: That's right. I asked for the responsibility, 

which I couldn't get when I was younger, and that used to 

make me madder than hell, because nobody 'd allow you to do 

anything. And now every one has to be a masterpiece. So I 

asked for it, and I got it. [laughter] 

LASKEY: That's great. 



176 



SECOND PART 
JULY 14, 1982 

LASKEY: Mr. Lautner, getting back to a subject we were on 
earlier, which is criticism by architectural writers, I 
have a quote from the program notes of an architectural 
exhibit from 1974, [by] a Hans Hollein, in which he is 
quoted as saying that, "He," meaning you, "are the most 
' losangelian' [sic] of all the known, the conscious ar- 
chitects. . . . Lautner seems to accept Los Angeles . . . 
for what it is rather than having a message for how Los 
Angeles could be transformed, changed, improved." What's 
your reaction to that? 

LAUTNER: Well, just about the opposite is true. I have 
never accepted Los Angeles. And when I first came I 
thought it was really an ugly place because it's mostly all 
commercial. You seldom go on a beautiful street, even 
though there are hideaways and oases in the mountains and 
so forth. But that's a long, long story. [laughter] 

But anyway, in my architecture, what I've done is try, 
in spite of Los Angeles, to create the most beautiful oasis 
within — in the city, in spite of it being in Los Angeles. 
And suiting it to the particular situation for the people 
and the kind of terrain and orientation and so on — and 
blocking out ugly views and it all comes, it develops from 



177 



basic, hard-thinking reasons for the building. So it has 
nothing to do with style or fad or Los Angeles or anything 
else . 

LASKEY: But your critics don't seem to analyze it like 
that. 

LAUTNER: No, they have to tie it in with a style or with a 
fad or with the city. I know some of them have said-- I 
don't know — just in passing, for instance, "Lautner has not 
yet developed a style." Well, I never wanted to develop a 
style. I just wanted to do good architecture, and they 
don't understand that, either. So the written stuff, to 
me, is a great problem because it's so superficial and 
doesn't really get into the guts or the meaning or reason 
for being, of real architecture. And of course, that's 
kind of understandable because most of the architecture is 
superficial or a fad or a facade or something and doesn't 
contribute what I'm contributing. So I don't like to be 
treated that way. 

LASKEY: Has it been a problem from the beginning, since 
you've been an architect, having problems with critics 
misinterpreting your work? 

LAUTNER: Oh sure. Also, magazine editors, when you have 
something published, they have to write some kind of story 
that they think is great for the public and they're apt to 
pick the wrong pictures and tell some crazy story that 



178 



really isn't true at all. Or it's halfway this way or that 
way, and you can't control it. It's hard to get just the 
straight story about what you're doing. 

LASKEY: Well, also, when you came to Los Angeles in 1939, 
and we talked about this before, you started in — There was 
a certain period, a certain style of architecture that was 
then taking hold in Los Angeles, and I assume that it was 
assumed that you would adopt that style. So everything 
that you did after that, I imagine, was appraised in the 
light of that style, whether you did it or not and whether 
you departed from what was acceptable or not. 
LAUTNER: I guess so. I can't really put myself in the 
critics' point of view because I can't understand how they 
can write so much that doesn't mean anything and not really 
get into it. 

So I think when I started I was lucky in a way just to 
be recognized as a modern architect. But aside from that, 
I had nothing to do with the kind of architecture the other 
so-called modern architects were doing at the time. I was 
doing right from scratch my own idea of the best solution. 
I started that way, and I've been that way all my life. I 
know, like. Arts and Architecture, they published a lot of 
my inital work. But then, when they did their Case Study 
houses they just did one glass box after another. So 
whoever did a glass box was doing a modern house. And I 



179 



never did a glass box, so I guess that's why I never did a 
Case Study house, because that's all they knew about 
modern . 

LASKEY: Well, that was [John] Entenza's particular love, 
wasn't it? 

LAUTNER: Yeah, yeah. 

LASKEY: I'm looking at a review, or critique, of some of 
your houses from House and Home, when you were doing the 
[L'lHorizon apartments. And it talks about your free- 
wheeling treatment of forms, and it says: "House eind 
Home's editors would prefer not to go out nearly so far. 
They believe that serious designer Lautner, however, should 
no longer be officially ignored." 

LAUTNER: Yeah. I think that's Peter Blake. He really did 
the worst kind of story on me. He made everything out to 
be a careless or wild or crazy thing. He just didn't 
understand any of it and didn't want to. 

And now the funny thing is that he's finally dis- 
covered that the glass box is not the beginning and end of 
the world, and maybe, right now, he might understand what 
I'm doing if he chose to. But at that time he certainly 
didn't. 

LASKEY: Well, words like "freewheeling" and "fantastic" 
and "futuristic" and "Buck Rogers" are terms frequently 
critics use when they talk about your work. 



180 



LAUTNER: Yeah. Well, they're at a loss. I mean, they 
don't know the real inside meaning, and I guess, they don't 
understand that they're not just superficial effects [done] 
to look different from something else. I think some of 
them think that that's what it is. In fact, I think some 
other architects think that I just arbitrarily make some- 
thing that looks different than something else without any 
reason. I have millions of reasons for every job. And 
that's what's really misunderstood: that they develop from 
real hard work, and they put together the kind of required 
space and structure and everything into one whole architec- 
ture. And that's a real struggle to achieve. To have it 
superficially tossed off as "fantastic" or "Buck Rogers" is 
insane. 

LASKEY: But does it bother you that, perhaps, they didn't 
come and talk to you about your work first, before they 
simply made these analyses? 

LAUTNER: Well, sure it bothers me, because I hate super- 
ficiality, and I hate phoniness. Even if I ignored my own 
life or ray own feelings about it, I hate to see it going 
on, on that account. 

LASKEY: That first quote I read, as I say, it was from 
some program notes from an exhibit in 1974; maybe you'd 
like to talk about "The Three Worlds of Los Angeles." 



181 



LAUTNER: Well, that was kind of an interesting exhibit. 
Beata Inaya put it together and worked with the United 
States Information Service [USISl and got their approval of 
doing this exhibit. She was really, has ail her life been 
really interested in architecture, and she was really 
wanting to get more exhibits of my work in view. But in 
order to have it sponsored by the Information Service, they 
just said, they can't just do one person; they have to do 
something more social. 

So that's the reason for this [being] called "Three 
Worlds of Los Angeles." I'm in there as an individual 
architect, and Daniel, Mann, Johnson [and Mendenhall] are 
in there as big office-building architects. And then there 
are black architects in there to make a cross section 
of — what they would say would be a cross section of — Los 
Angeles. And then they felt it was a legitimate exhibit to 
sponsor, because it had the social and the economic and 
every sort of angle. But it did go around the world. I 
don't know whether it did any good or not. [laughter] 
LASKEY: Did you go with it? 
LAUTNER: No, no. 
LASKEY: Oh, you didn't? 

LAUTNER: But I saw a few responses. Like, when it was in 
Paris and various other places there were some good things 
written. I mean, [for example] that my work was beautiful 



182 



and fresh. But I didn't see all of the responses, I just 
saw a few. 

LASKEY: Well, how far did it go? 

LAUTNER: Well, I don't know the exact route. It went to 
several of the main cities in Europe, and then it went to — 
Well, it went to India and Indonesia, and I'm not sure if 
it went to Japan; I don't think it did. But it was in 
storage, I guess, most of the time. [laughs] 
LASKEY: Where is it now? 
LAUTNER: It just came back. 
LASKEY: Did it really? Did it really? 
LAUTNER: Yeah, yeah. [laughter] 
LASKEY: Oh, that's marvelous. 

LAUTNER: In fact, Beata tried to get it in Australia. And 
I wrote to my friend over there in Sydney, who used to work 
for me. He wanted to do it and try to get the AIA 
[Australian Institute of Architects] to sponsor it — and 
this was just last year — and they couldn't afford it. I 
mean, in Sydney, last year, the architects were working as 
waiters in restaurants. They're completely out of busi- 
ness. So they couldn't afford $150 freight from Bangkok to 
Sydney to have this exhibit. The USIS didn't pay the 
freight, you know; that made it complicated. They spon- 
sored it, but whoever really wanted to put it on had to pay 
the freight, so that made it very complicated and long. 



183 



LASKEY: It didn't show here, did it? 
LAUTNER: No. 

LASKEY: Is there any chance that it will? Can it be done? 
LAUTNER: Well, it could be done. Beata wanted to do it 
when it came back, but a lot of the stuff is in bad con- 
dition. If I were going to do another one I could improve 
it quite a bit, too, in my photographs and also new jobs 
and so on. So I sort of told her no, I didn't want to 
repeat that, you know. 

LASKEY: Has there been a major show of your work in the 
area? 

LAUTNER: No, I don't think so, in Los Angeles. Quite a 
few years ago, must be twenty-five to thirty years ago, I 
had one at USC [University of Southern California]. And I 
had one at — Let's see, there's a college out there past 
Claremont — I can't think of the name of the school. 
[California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, produced 
an exhibit in 1976 entitled "12 Los Angeles Architects." 
—Ed.] 

LASKEY: Scripps? 

LAUTNER: No. It's a — I think they're famous for their 
track. I don't know what it is. Anyway, no, I don't think 
much of anything around here. I had it at the University 
of Oklahoma, the University of — I mean, at Berkeley, and I 
think the University of Washington, the University of 



184 



Kentucky and quite a few places; that's about fifteen, 
twenty years ago. I had it in quite a few universities, 
but nothing here. I mean, when I went to USC they didn't 
understand what I was doing at all. 
LASKEY: Really? 

LAUTNER: No. And they never have. So it seems like both 
USC and UCLA have nothing really to do with my work because 
it's not in the typical scene, you know. It's not stock of 
the moment. 

LASKEY: Well, that brings up the point — when you decided 
to go into architecture you went to Taliesin because you 
needed an alternative to standard architecture schools. 
What is there today? Have architecture schools changed 
particularly that you notice? 

LAUTNER: Well, I don't know too many details of the 
schools except they've changed. It seems to me what 
happens is whoever the dean is, he's quite a major in- 
fluence on the school. The school doesn't really know, 
they don't know what to do. I mean, like, when they first 
started UCLA [School of Architecture and Urban Planning], a 
couple of them interviewed me to find out what I would 
suggest they do as a school, but then after that they 
ignore me, you know. [laughter] 
LASKEY: Well, you probably told them — 
LAUTNER: Yeah. So then they follow each other, see. One 



185 



dean gets a name for something or other. It's very 
curious. I mean, it was funny to me because I know per- 
sonally two examples, which are not many, but I know more, 
really. The dean — I probably shouldn't mention any names; 
I don ' t remember the other name anyway--but I went to the 
dean of USC [ ' s ] house, some cocktail party or something. 
(They did quite a bit at one time, trying to get the local 
architects with the students and things like that.) 

He had an old house that he remodeled and put a wood 
deck out in back, and he had the latest recognized kind of 
furniture and the whole thing. The dean at the University 
of Kentucky had an old remodeled house and a wood deck 
outside — identical. They were not only identical in what 
they promoted with the school, but they were identical with 
what they did with their own house. So, it's absolutely 
crazy. [laughter] 

LASKEY: That's wonderful. I think the idea that Charles 
Moore came from the east to become [head of the architec- 
ture program] of UCLA, or Cesar Pelli goes from here to go 
back to Yale — you've got to end up with a uniformity of 
ideas. 

LAUTNER: Yeah. Well, you're asking about the schools, 
well, that's one thing. The other thing is it seems as 
though years ago they did do pretty matter-of-fact drafting 
and engineering and stuff like that, which theoretically 



186 



prepared them to do the actual work in an office. Now 
they're all off on some design tangent, and they don't know 
what the design is or what it's for; plus they don't know 
how to do the work either. So, I don't know what it is 
now. [laughter] 

LASKEY: Well, what about a school like SCI-ARC [Southern 
California Institute of Architecture], which is, I think, 
somewhat more — 

LAUTNER: Well, they are completely open. And they're 
trying to, by being open, be a service to the students, I 
think. They have everybody come there. I mean, they're 
not restricted to just the few who are the latest fad to 
come talk or show their work. They've had, for instance, 
Mexican architects, which USC and UCLA, as far as I know, 
they ignore Mexico completely, which has much better 
architecture than we have here. 

But in their doing that, I mean, that's a good idea in 
itself. But what I gather is that it's just a wild thing 
for the students. They don't know where they are or maybe 
it's too much for them, I don't know. I really don't know 
whether it's achieving — I know [Raymond] Kappe ' s a good 
guy, and his wife, [Shelly Kappe, is] very good. They're 
both doing their damnedest, but I don't know what it 
really, how it's really functioning for the students. 
LASKEY: Well, is that different from what Taliesin was 
like? 

187 



LAUTNER: Well, yes. Well, yes and no. I think it's 
similar in that you're exposed to something as a student, 
which is basically true. You can't be taught anything; you 
have to learn whatever you're going to learn. But the 
exposure to Frank Lloyd Wright was an exposure to strong 
philosophy and principles of materials and principles of 
life and beauty and all kinds of realities of the universe, 
which you can ponder forever; while being exposed to fifty 
different latest styles by fifty different architects 
leaves a student — I mean, he doesn't know where he is. He 
doesn't know anything, I guess. 
LASKEY: Confused. 
LAUTNER: Yeah. 

LASKEY: But the state of architecture today is rather 
confused. 

LAUTNER: Yes, it is. I mean, the architects themselves 
and the critics — It's all kind of understandable because, 
I guess, I mentioned it before, it's sort of partly in line 
with my friend Ingo [Preminger] saying everybody wants to 
be held blameless. So the architects, in order to be held 
blameless, they generally always play it pretty safe. So 
that's not only satisfactory because they can't be blamed 
for anything, but also, anybody can do it. So they're kind 
of happy in that situation, but to me it's not creating 
architecture. 



188 



LASKEY: Do you think the change that's happening, at least 
the breakdown of the hold of modernism — will it be good? 
Will it be good for you? For recognition of what you've 
done in the past? 

LAUTNER: Oh, I don't know. I don't think it helps me at 
all. I was glad to see that they recognized that the 
specific so-called modern style of van der Rohe and the 
glass box were finally sort of destroyed. But in what's 
happened since then they're almost destroying architecture, 
the whole of architecture, by just doing anything crazy 
that they can think of, and anything goes. So they're all 
happy with that too because that's easy. I mean, any kid — 
Like, I had a student in here yesterday who used to work 
for me, he's out at Cal Poly. He said the student presents 
some models like Charles Moore with a couple of boxes 
turned on angles and painted pink and green with holes. 
Well, I mean, they're such silly things that anybody can do 
them. I don't know — 

LASKEY: Well, that thing out along the San Diego Freeway, 
the replica of Liberty House, or whatever it is, one of the 
historic buildings — it's an office building — 
LAUTNER: Where is that? 

LASKEY: It's out on the San Diego Freeway, and I'm trying 
to remember the name of the building. Liberty Hall, I think 
it is, or Independence Hall — a replica of Independence Hall 



189 



serving as an office building down in Redondo Beach, and 

it's perfectly absurd. 

LAUTNER: Yeah. Oh, yeah. Well, then there's all this 

throwing in some history and throwing in a little this and 

that, and it's really liJce set designs, and it's hard on 

architecture. 



190 



a 



TAPE NUMBER: V, SIDE TWO 
JULY 14, 1982 

LASKEY: In the catalog for this 1974 show ["The Three 
Worlds of Los Angeles"] we've been talking about, there's 
reference to you and your wife giving a garden party to 
raise money for the Watts Towers in 1970. What was your 
involvement with the Watts Towers? 

LAUTNER: Well, it was quite a bit, actually. I was, 
naturally, interested myself because I liked the idea of 
it, I liked the look of it, I like the construction, the 
putting together just reinforcing rods with little dabs of 
mortar was a very interesting structure in itself. In 
fact, I'd been thinking about things like that — not exactly 
like that, but minimum structure with reinforcing and 
concrete is just an interesting thing in itself. 

But aside from that, I was working with [Kenneth] 
Reiner on Silvertop at the same time and we were working to 
try and get a preamble to the building code that would 
allow architects to practice like doctors, that the 
architect would have some responsibility and some choice 
rather than just the code. And in our interest we had 
committee meetings with engineers and artists and what-not 
concerning that. And at the same time they were 
threatening to tear down the Watts Towers. So Reiner, I 



191 



think, he helped pay engineers to prove that the structure 
was OK. 

LASKEY: Reiner did? 
LAUTNER: He helped too, yes. 
LASKEY: Great. 

LAUTNER: So, we were all involved in helping save it, and 
so it was just a kind of a natural to have a garden party, 
and it was very successful. I mean, we got, I don't know, 
maybe eighty people or something, and it was a big one. It 
ultimately was saved in a great part due to Reiner's 
backing, because nobody wants to donate any money. So it 
was lucky to save it. Since then, they've finally realized 
that it means something, but it could have been too late 
very easily. 

LASKEY: Well, in Los Angeles, especially, since there's a 
history of it being too late very frequently. 
LAUTNER: Yeah, yeah. 

LASKEY: Have you been involved with any other architec- 
tural projects like that, the saving of — 
LAUTNER: No. I've often thought it would be nice, you 
know. If I were in Boston, I could be interested in 
something. But "old" here — just because it's old, the 
oldest it can get is about fifty or sixty years, I guess. 
And it's not very interesting just because it's old. 



192 



LASKEY: What about the Frank Lloyd Wright houses? Are 
they being well maintained? 

LAUTNER: Yes, mostly. I've helped on several, two or 
three of them. [I] help maintain--it depends on the 
particular owner at the time. I think practically all of 
them now are well maintained. I know the [John] Storer 
House [Los Angeles, 1923], I had Johnny de la Vaux — a 
carpenter-builder who's done quite a few of my houses, 
who['s] a fantastic builder, can do absolutely anything — he 
just about completely redid that one. [He] took it apart 
and put it together again, so it's in good shape. 
LASKEY: Well, and Hollyhock House, of course, is main- 
tained. 

LAUTNER: Yeah, yeah. 

LASKEY: What about the Lloyd Wright houses? Do you think 
they would be maintained? 
LAUTNER: Lloyd? I don't know. 

LASKEY: Yeah. [The] two or three that are probably very 
interesting. 

LAUTNER: I don't know. I know that his [Wayfarer's] 
Chapel is being maintained. But I really don't know about 
the houses. I just don't know, really. 

LASKEY: Well, it makes me think. I saw it around April — 
sometime ago — that his house on Doheny [Drive, Beverly 
Hills ]--Lloyd Wright's house — was at that time an art 



193 



gallery. And it makes me think that some of your houses 
would make great art galleries. 
LAUTNER: Um-huh. [Concurs] 
LASKEY: Has it ever been considered? 

LAUTNER: I don't know. I don't think so. Because they've 
mainly been bought where the original client died or was 
divorced, is the only reason they got rid of them. Some- 
body gets ahold of them who really loves them, and they 
keep them. So, I don't think any of them have come up 
empty that long. 

LASKEY: Have you ever designed an art gallery 
specifically? 

LAUTNER: No, no. But I'd love to. I've thought of 
it — millions of things that could be done. I've been very 
disappointed in the so-called Museum of Modern Art [Museum 
of Contemporary Art] planned for Bunker Hill. I'm disap- 
pointed in the whole procedure. I mean, one of my clients 
was on the [design selection] committee, and they had 
[Frank 0.] Gehry and [Charles W. ] Moore and everybody on 
there. I asked him why (and he's too politically sharp to 
put anything in print) so he said, "Come and have lunch, 
and I'll explain it to you." So I haven't got around to 
that yet, but he can give me the whole dirty inside works 
of the committee and the whole damn thing. 



194 



But it's really unfortunate, because I told him that I 
could have done a better museum with one eye and one hand, 
you know, than anything they're getting. But they don't 
even consider me for it, and I'm a local architect. So 
it's too bad. 

LASKEY: But I don't think they seriously really considered 
any of the local architects, although they sort of gave lip 
service. But I think it was always intended that another 
out-of-state, out-of-country in this case, architect — 
LAUTNER: It was kind of interesting. I didn't know that 
the Japanese, [Arata] Isozaki, or whatever his name is — has 
written that he's an admirer of Frank Lloyd Wright. But 
they hired him because he knew how to do geometries. Well, 
all the students know how to do geometries, you know. And 
that was something that the committee said, so the whole 
thing to me is — That's all insane, also. 
LASKEY: Of course, when you get into an area like that, 
you're getting into — strictly into politics, I would think. 
LAUTNER: Yeah. I do realize that — I mean, somebody told 
me that a long time ago, that if I'd gotten that job or 
anything like that, I'd be so sick in the end of the 
compromises and the committee work that I would wish to 
hell that I hadn't got the job, which is probably true. 



195 



LASKEY: But you did — going back to Frank Lloyd Wright and 
family and extended family — you did some work for Anne 
Baxter at one point. 

LAUTNER: Yes. Yes. That was early, just a few years 
after I first came here. It was a big remodeling of an 
existing house, like, tearing out practically three- 
quarters of it and making it a nice big new living-dining- 
entertaining kind of house. Mr. Wright, naturally, saw it 
and approved of it, so that was very nice. [laughter] 
LASKEY: Well, one of your projects that we haven't talked 
about, [we] keep speaking of Mr. Wright, is the [Marco] 
Wolff House [West Hollywood, 1963]. And I think, of your 
major works, it's the one that's most frequently referred 
to, by your friends the critics [laughter], as "Wrightian- 
inf luenced. " 

LAUTNER: Yeah, that's what they have to grab on [to]. And 
that's a pain in the neck too, because the reason it is 
[Wrightian], is because the client, Wolff, asked for that. 
He wanted a Frank Lloyd Wright kind of house, and so I had 
to respect his request as a client. And that's the first 
and only time that I did anything similar [to Wright]. And 
immediately everybody recognized it, and they think that's 
my best work, when it's the easiest. I could do those any 
time of the day or night. I could do a Frank Lloyd Wright 
house, but doing my own are more original. I mean, they 



196 



involve all kinds of other things, not just a "look," et 
cetera. 

But what they see or what they think they understand — 
I guess, when they see something similar to something then, 
I don't know, that's part of that critic scene too. That's 
"acceptable" architecture because it's similar to something 
else. Well, my other work is not similar to anything, so 
nobody knows whether it's acceptable or not. [laughter] 
LASKEY: That's true. That's really true. 
LAUTNER: It's crazy, and nobody knows except the people 
who live in them and love them as functioning architecture. 
LASKEY: But we don't ask them. 

LAUTNER: No, that's the last person involved. In fact, 
the student — that reminds me — he was saying, he was really 
thinking about it. He was thinking about the critics too, 
they criticized the big office buildings. They take a 
picture from far away — they have to — and they see how it 
fits in the urban scene, you know. There's nothing about 
down on the sidewalk where the people go in or in the 
offices. There's nothing about that at all: how it's 
used. So that's another crazy scene. [laughs] [There's] 
never anything been done with offices that's good for 
people, you know. They're still cubicles, boxes: [square 
feet for lease. ] 



197 



LASKEY: I think it was Charles Moore, who once — I thought 
it was a valid criticism — [said] that we design plazas for 
all our large buildings, but we're not from a country that 
knows what a plaza is for, so we end up with a lot of 
wasted space because that's not our orientation, is to 
use — So we have these large empty expanses around all of 
our major buildings. 

LAUTNER: Well, it's an attempt, I think, to humanize. But 
I think that's true, that this society, I guess mainly 
because it's an automobile society, just doesn't have 
anything to do with plazas. But I think they still do in 
New York and Boston. I mean, where people are walking they 
enjoy it, and they use it. 

LASKEY: Because we do have some here that are — The 
Security Pacific plaza downtown is a — 

LAUTNER: Yeah, but who wants to go downtown? I mean, this 
is really a crazy place for that, because you're in a car. 
They should have an automobile plaza. I mean, a parking 
[lot] with trees, you know. They don't even do that, and 
something could work out that way. It's just lately that 
they're making parking things even human at all. I mean, 
there are few that I've seen or read about where they're 
letting some daylight down and making it a decent place to 
go. But they're just beginning to do that. I mean, 
normally they don't do anything. The economics says it's 



198 



not necessary, you know, so long as they get the location 
and the rent, so amenities — which is anything for people — 
is just extra cost, and they don't do that. [laughter] 
LASKEY: Usually, in a parking structure I feel like I'm 
caught in some sort of a Kafkaesque nightmare, trying to 
figure out, once I'm in there, am I ever going to get out? 
LAUTNER: Oh, yeah — no orientation whatsoever. They could 
be designed so you could tell where you were, and they 
could have daylight, but, you know, they'd lose ten or 
fifteen parking spaces or something. They're so damned 
picayune that nothing happens, that's all. 

LASKEY: Of course, we could have rapid transportation, but 
that's a whole other subject that we won't get into. 
[ laughter] 

LAUTNER: Yeah, yeah. 

LASKEY: I'm curious about, too — We have talked about your 
commercial things, some of the commercial buildings that 
you've done before. And one that — I don't think we talked 
about — but that was the UPA [United Productions of America] 
Studios that you worked on [Burbank, California, 1949]. 
I'm curious about how you got involved with them. 
LAUTNER: Well, that was an interesting — Steve Bosustow, 
who was the president for years and really the running 
force of the UPA Studios, saw my house, the first house I 
did in 1939. And it was about ten years later he came to 



199 



me because he remembered that house. He loved the house, 
and he knew there was something there. So that's how I got 
the job, which is the way I've been getting work ever 
since, is from the work that I've done. So he came, and 
they had no money. So he said, "Can you," you know, "get 
us, like, forty artists' rooms" and all this kind of stuff 
that they need, "for thirty thousand dollars?" or something 
like that. 

I said, "Well, I don't know, but I'll try." So my 
challenge there was to get a decent artist's working space 
for absolutely minimum money, and I did. I did a rigid 
steel frame, which was minimum structure, and then the 
whole roof was corrugated aluminum, which was the ceiling 
as well. So there was no duplication of anything. And 
because of the way it was detailed — I detailed it [with] a 
curving, overhanging fascia, that made a very good looking 
building. And it was absolutely rock-bottom — like a 
garage, almost — construction. Then, a radiant-heated 
concrete floor, and so it was a very successful thing. 
It's still operating, but it's been added [to] and re- 
modeled and all that. 

LASKEY: Well, the UFA did primarily animation. Did you 
have to study animation techniques in order to complete the 
assignment? 



200 



LAUTNER: No, not really; although they told how they 
worked and what kind of spaces they needed. So I knew they 
had to have certain kinds of equipment for doing different 
things. So we had the different areas to function for 
their production. And then since then, Steve, just a 
couple years ago, came to me. He wanted to do a mountain 
house [at] Lake Almanor , up in northern California near 
Mount Shasta. So I helped him with that. So, like, forty 
years later I got the same client. 

LASKEY: Speaking of mountain houses and lake houses, how 
did you happen to design the [Mr. and Mrs. Willis Harpel] 
House in [Anchorage] Alaska [1965]? 

LAUTNER: Oh, that's a very good story. (Well, almost all 
of them are good stories; we could keep this going for a 
long, long time.) Harpel was a CBS radio announcer here, 
and I did a house for him here up in the Hollywood Hills on 
the other side here, overlooking the [San Fernando] Valley. 
He built it himself, I mean, he did all the work he could 
himself with Johnny de la Vaux, this foreman, this 
fantastic builder, really running things. But Harpel was 
so energetic that he worked eight hours a day in the radio 
station and eight hours a day on his house. He had a step 
ladder — we had concrete columns — he'd run up and down the 
stepladder with a bucket of concrete and poured his own 
concrete columns. So he was a fantastic guy. And when he 



201 



got through, he said he never did anything so exciting or 
so great in his whole life as building his own house. And 
that's absolutely true. That's the way it should be, you 
know. But usually it's a big pain in the neck because 
everybody's trying to cheat everybody, and it's a just one 
goddamned pain in the neck after another on account of the 
contractors. Well, anyway, the great thing about this was 
that consequently he got a big house for very little money. 

And he wanted to have his own radio station. He 
couldn't stand being a pigeon in a CBS pigeonhole, and so 
he combed the whole country. He couldn't find a single 
radio station that wasn't completely tied up with one of 
the big chains or something; he couldn't do anything 
independent at all. I mean, you know, theoretically, this 
is the independent free enterprise, but not in radio or not 
in lots of things. So he had to go to Alaska in order to 
do this. 

So he went to Alaska to build and operate his own 
radio station, and he got that started. And then he called 
me to do a house because his wife — Well, because he liked 
the architecture anyway, but the big request was that I do 
something that would make his wife enjoy it through the 
winter in Alaska, so that was the reason. So it's designed 
to pick up the horizontal Alaskan winter sun, and it 
reflects a glow right in the center of the house. So it's 



202 



the only house really designed for Alaska; the rest of them 
look just like North Hollywood, the same as everyplace 
else. So that was a great pleasure and a real achievement. 
The other part of it was he financed his radio station by 
selling the house that he built here. So his whole success 
was, in large part, due to the architecture. 
LASKEY: Did you go to Alaska to supervise the building? 
LAUTNER: Oh yeah. Well, I went to design it, to see the 
situation. I spent about ten days. We went snowmobiling 
and everything. [It's] really some country. 
LASKEY: You liked it. 
LAUTNER: Yeah. 

LASKEY: Well, you have mentioned earlier on, quite early 
in the interview, that your one regret in going to Taliesin 
was that you didn't get to travel at that point, that you 
were planning — but you did get to do it much later. 
LAUTNER: Well, yes. I, fortunately, managed quite a few 
trips by now. The first major trip Reiner paid for. 
Theoretically it was investigating hardware and things like 
that all over Europe; but actually we saw all or a lot of 
the major sights and went to all of the major cities, but 
we were only there in each city maybe a day and a half, two 
days, three days. But we had a tour and all kinds of 
facilities, so as fast as it was, I got a good look at all 
the main cities in Europe on that trip, including Leningrad 



203 



and Moscow. Then I saw all the great museums, like, the 
Louvre in Paris, the Prado in Madrid, and the Hermitage in 
Leningrad. So I saw all kinds of things, and it was just a 
fantastic trip, going like that. 

Since then, I had a couple of trips financed by my now 
publisher, who's interested in doing — wanting me to do some 
progessive Waldorf schools sometime; I don't know if she'll 
ever really get to it. But they are in Switzerland and 
Germany, mainly, and also in Scotland and Sweden, and so I 
went to all of those places looking at the Waldorf schools, 
and that was all interesting. 

Then, let's see, I had another trip — several trips to 
Europe. Then I, after my wife died, I had a client in 
Bahrain, in the Persian Gulf. He came here, and he loved 
the architecture. So he sent me a retainer to do a house 
for him there. I decided that was my chance to go around 
the world. The retainer was enough for an around the 
world, first-class ticket, so I went to see him. He 
finally didn't build because he wouldn't pay the full fee. 
He said he could build for one third the price that they 
can build here, which is probably true. And I told him I 
had to have it based on what it would cost here because 
that's what it cost me to do the work. And he wouldn't do 
it. 



204 



But I was glad — that initiated the trip, anyway. So 
in doing that, I went — I mean, Bahrain is halfway around 
the world, that's how I got started on the round-the-world 
[trip] because I might as well come back the other way. So 
in doing that I got to Cairo and Egypt and Luxor. I'd 
always wanted to see those things. And Bangkok, Hong Kong, 
Kyoto, Tokyo, and so I covered all of that. So that was 
exciting and fun too. Two weeks around the world. 
[ laughter 1 

LASKEY: It sounds marvelous. Did it change your percep- 
tions of architecture at all? 

LAUTNER: Oh no. It was just fun to see these things. In 
fact, like, Kyoto — I'd seen so many pictures that I 
couldn't believe I was there. It was just like I knew what 
it was and there I was, you know, that's all. 
LASKEY: When you're here, obviously you don't have a great 
love affair with Los Angeles going — 
LAUTNER : No . 

LASKEY: — and you do have a cabin in Sequoia, a property 
in Sequoia to escape from us. 

LAUTNER: Well, I try to get there, but it's two hundred 
and twenty miles, which isn't bad — it's about a four-hour 
drive. But it seems as though to enjoy it you have to go 
on Friday and come back on Monday, and I don't like to — I 
haven't generally been able to take that many long 



205 



weekends. So I've used it mostly for holidays with an oc- 
casional weekend. But I think the interesting thing about 
that historically, or to somebody concerned with this area 
and what I've been doing here, is how I got to that. 

First we had some lots in Wrightwood, which are eight 
thousand feet [elevation] and have the four seasons. I was 
determined to get out of the smog somehow and get a change. 
But the San Bernardino Freeway is such an ugly, horrible 
trip that even though we had those lots up there, I 
couldn't stand making that trip. Then after looking at 
them, going up there, oh, dozens of times, you're still in 
a subdivision even though you're in the woods. And I hate 
being in a subdivision, so I had to sell the lots, then, 
because that was no solution. I mean, to drive an ugly 
trip and then arrive in a subdivision, what the hell good 
is that? I mean, the first time I went to Lake Arrowhead I 
said, "My god, it's like Coney Island." I never went back 
there again. 

I mean, to me almost everything in Southern California 
is a farce. I mean, it's not good enough for anything 
really, but it's sold all the time. It's continually being 
sold. But I guess it's to people who don't know any 
better. I mean, the way I figure, it's got to be, and it 
is, a lot of people from Iowa and Nebraska, who never saw 
anything at all. Anyway, the next phase in my trying to 



206 



find a living thing that I could enjoy-- We got a motor 
home, a German bus, a German tour bus. So it was 
beautiful, with skylights. We went every place you could 
go from Los Angeles with that. And I still didn't find any 
place that I'd want to stay or even go back to. It was 
so — [laughter] 
LASKEY: Oh dear. 

LAUTNER: So finally we went up — The best thing I could 
find was Sequoia [National] Park, where it was really 
beautiful woods and fresh and cool. So then, coming down 
from Sequoia Park, we found this property on the river and 
bought it because it was so close to Sequoia Park. I mean, 
it's like half an hour into the park. And the property 
[extends] to the middle of the river — And it's also the 
closest year-round river. So it's like having a fresh, 
private swimming pool with these big boulders and every- 
thing. So that's how it finally ended up with some kind of 
living condition. [laughter] 

LASKEY: So, between that and occasional trips back to 
Marquette, it keeps you sane. 

LAUTNER: Yeah, just barely — I guess, I don't know. 
LASKEY: Well, we seem to be very close to the end. I'm 
curious — In one of the interviews that I read you had once 
said that it's possible, that you wanted to, that you could 
change a house with the four seasons or design a house for 



207 



changing with the four seasons. It sounded like a mar- 
velous idea. Have you ever actually pursued that? 
LAUTNER: No. I've never actually done it. That's where I 
would like to have, you know, a client have a specific job. 
I don't really, even if I had time, I don't really like to 
do theoretical things; I like to do real things. 

But I think one of the clues, or one of the things, 
that initiated that idea was just what happens in the east, 
and northern Michigan, as far as that goes. They change 
with the two seasons. They generally have a big screen 
porch, which is a beautiful thing in the summertime, with 
white slipcovers. Then it's glassed in, and you have a sun 
porch in the wintertime, and the slipcovers are removed and 
you have colorful furniture. Well, that in itself is a 
nice change with the seasons, so your home isn't 
continually the same goddamned thing all the time. It has 
a pretty major change right there. That could be, you 
know, expanded or what have you depending on the situation. 
LASKEY: It's a great idea. 

LAUTNER: Yeah. There are so many things. That's what 
hurts me, and the reason I kick about all this stuff that's 
going on, is that when you're really thinking about it, 
there's so much that could be done for the human welfare, 
and that would be in the line of the infinity of nature 
(which is really the ideal) that we haven't even started. 



208 



what we're doing is just the same damn thing all the time, 

nothing. So it's really disgusting. [laughter] 

LASKEY: It's discouraging. 

LAUTNER: Yeah. [interruption in taping] 

LASKEY: I guess then, Mr. Lautner, that this will end the 

interview and I just want to thank you very much. I found 

it to be a completely pleasant experience. 

LAUTNER: Well, you're welcome, and I hope it does the kind 

of job for the — It's for a library, a permanent thing; I 

hope it portrays something that means something. We intend 

it to anyway. [laughter] 

LASKEY: I hope so too, and I hope that, eventually, you'll 

get to do your museum because I think that's the one thing 

left to do. 

LAUTNER: Yeah, yeah — right. Unfortunately, you cannot 

even get into a competition without having done several of 

the same before. So it's impossible here, but OK in 

Germany. 



209 



INDEX 



Ain, Gregory, 69, 113 

American Institute of 

Architects ( AIA) , 
15, 135, 136, 183 

Amundsen, Roald, 10 

Arahuete, Helena, 173 

Arango, Jeronimo, Jr., 94 

Biltmore Hotel, Phoenix, 

Arizona, 52 
Birkerts, Gunnar, 88 
Boston Museum, 14-15 
Bosustow, Steve, 199-201 
Broadacre City model, 42, 

44, 104, 106 

California State 

Polytechnic 

University, Pomona, 

184 
Chandler, Alexander, 42 
Chouinard Art Institute, 

116 
Columbia University, 15 

Deertrack (Abby Beecher 

Roberts House), 45-47, 

50 
de la Vaux, Johnny, 193, 

201 
Department of Housing and 

Urban Development 

(HUD), 101 
DeWitt Clinton High School 

(New York City) , 15 

Fallingwater (Edgar J. 

Kaufmann Residence), 

44, 50, 51 
Fuller, Richard 

Buckminster, 98 

Gehry, Frank 0. , 194 
Gill, Brendan, 161-63 
Gropius, VJalter, 5 6 



Harris, Harwell Hamilton, 

69, 76, 113 
Harvard Graduate School of 

Design, 32 
Hitchcock, Henry-Russell, 

55, 160, 167 
Hollyhock House, 193 
Honnold, Douglas, 73, 74, 

76, 82 
Hubbard, Lucian, 80 

Illinois Institute of 
Technology, 57 

Inaya, Beata, 182-84 

International Style, 
The, 5 5 

Isozaki, Arata, 195 

Johnson, Herbert F., 48, 49 
Johnson, Philip, 55, 167-68 
Johnson & Son, Inc., 

Administration 

Building, 44 

Kappe, Raymond, 18 7 
Kappe, Shelly, 187 

Lautner, John E., Sr. 

(father), 1-4, 

6, 24 
Lautner, Karol (daughter), 

9, 61 
Lautner, Mary Faustina 

Roberts (wife), 34, 

38 
Lautner, Vida Cathleen 

Gallagher (mother), 

4-6 
Le Corbusier, 56 
Longyear, John M., 12 
Los Angeles, architecture 

in, 60-61, 105-8, 

150-51 

McArthur, Albert, 52 



210 



McCoy, Esther, 67 
Marquette University, 11 
Miller, J. Irwin, 89, 103 
Moore, Charles, 186, 194, 

198 
Museum of Contemporary Art 

(MOCA), 19 4 

Neutra, Richard, 69, 70-71, 

112, 113 
Niewiadomski , Wally, 140, 

141, 173 
Northern Michigan 

University, 3, 10, 

12, 23, 24 

Oboler House, 50 

Pe i , I . M . , 8 8 
Pelli, Cesar, 186 
Peters, William Wesley, 44 
Preminger, Ingo, 136, 188 

Reiner, Kenneth, 119-25, 

127, 132, 136, 191, 
192 

Roberts, Abby Beecher, 
38-39, 45 

Saarinen, Eero, 88-89 
San Marcos-in-the-Desert , 

42 
Santayana, Dewey, 15 
Schindler, Rudolf M., 69-70, 

71-72 
Segel, Joanne, 79 
Southern California 

Institute of 

Architecture, 187 
Storer House, 193 
Sturgis House, 50, 61, 

63-64 



"Three Worlds of Los 

Angeles, The," 181- 
84, 191 

Town House Hotel, 49 

"12 Los Angeles 

Architects," 184 

University of California, 
Los Angeles, 185 

University of Michigan, 
2, 59 

University of Southern 
California, 185 

van der Rohe, Ludwig Mies, 
55-56, 57 

Washington University, 2 

Watts Towers, 191 

Wayfarer's Chapel, 193 

Wingspread (Herbert F. 

Johnson House), 44, 
47, 49-50 

Wolfe, Tom, 164-65 

Wright, Frank Lloyd, 7, 9, 
31-37, 39-61, 63, 
67, 69, 95, 104, 
106, 145-48, 163-64, 
168, 188, 193, 196 

Wright, Lloyd, 193 



Tafel, Edgar, 44 

Taliesin, 29, 32-39, 43, 

53-57, 63, 76, 104, 
145, 185, 187 

Taliesin West, 41-43 



211 



INDEX OF JOHN LAUTNER WORKS 

Alto Capistrano Apartments 159 

Alto Capistrano Headquarters 82 

Arango House 50, 94, 95, 174 

Bell House 73 

Contemporary Castle 172-75 

Chemosphere. See Mai in House, "Chemosphere" 

Desert Hot Springs Motel 76, 80-81 

Elrod House 137-45 

Harpel House 201-3 

Henry's Drive-In 76, 81 

Hope House 86, 154, 160 

Kaynar factory 81 

Lautner House 65, 160 

L'Horizon. See Sheats apartments, "L'Horizon" 

Malin House, "Chemosphere" 86, 151 

Midtown School 81 

Natural Sciences Building, 81 
University of Hawaii, 

Pearlman House 115 

Rancho del Valle rehabilitation 82 
center 

Reiner House, "Silvertop" 66, 86, 115, 

118-33, 136-37, 
151, 154, 191 

Segel House 79, 162 



212 



Shaeffer House 

Sheats apartments, "L'Horizon" 

Silvertop. See Reiner House, "Silvertop" 

Springer House 

Stevens House 

United Productions of America Studios 

Wolff House 



114 

88, 159, 180 

73 

87, 151-54 
199, 200 
196 



N 



213 



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