Star Power

Inside the Big Lebowski’s Porn Mansion: John Lautner’s Most Famous House Becomes a Museum Piece

The house John Lautner designed for The Big Lebowski is going to be donated to LACMA, meaning students will be able to see the architect’s stunning, mid-century modernist architecture up close.

02.21.16 5:15 AM ET

The striking mid-century modernist architecture of John Lautner was seemingly designed for the movies. 

His residential projects—many of which are peppered throughout the wealthier parts of Southern California—have become prominent settings for films, from Diamonds are Forever to Lethal Weapon 2 to Less Than Zero to Body Double. One even had an animated turn in an episode of The Simpsons.

But the most well known cinematic appearance of Lautner's work is in The Big Lebowski, in which one of his residential projects plays the role of the swanky home of pornographer Jackie Treehorn (Ben Gazzara). 

The cave-like home features a bold, concrete roof that forms a brutalist pyramid over a large living room, familiar from the film, with its long, built-in benches and glass-paned wall looking out on a pool deck and the city below.

This week, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art announced that the house's owner, James Goldstein, had agreed to donate it to the museum. 

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The donation comes with a $17 million endowment to maintain the house. Goldstein, a flamboyant art and fashion aficionado and well-known court-side presence at L.A. Lakers games, will continue to live in the house. 

After his death, the museum expects to use the house to host events, exhibitions and fundraisers. The house itself will also be kept within the museum's collection like a piece of artwork.

Perched above Beverly Hills, the five-bedroom home was originally built in 1963, and over the years has become an icon of mid-century modernist architecture. 

The dominating concrete structure is said to have almost no 90-degree angles. Lautner, a protégé of architect Frank Lloyd Wright, tried to design his residential projects to seamlessly blend the buildings with their outdoor spaces, many of which offer stunning views. 

Lautner's other famous works include the spaceship-like Chemosphere house that's pinned into the Hollywood Hills on a single 30-foot tall support pole, and the curvaceous former home of Bob Hope in Palm Springs.

His work on space-age Googie-style coffee shops in the 1960s helped create a new form of commercial architecture in Los Angeles in the postwar years. 

Lautner's work has long been revered by architecture enthusiasts, and the LACMA acquisition helps to cement his status as one of the most important architects of Los Angeles.

Born in Michigan in 1911, Lautner worked under the architect Frank Lloyd Wright in the 1930s before moving to Los Angeles with his wife in 1938 to start his own firm. 

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In L.A., he continued to work on a number of significant Wright projects, but also began accepting commissions for residential projects. 

He designed his own home in 1939, which one critic declared "the best house in the United States by an architect under 30." 

This led to a long career of primarily residential work throughout Southern California and beyond. 

His modernist style became a standard bearer for high design in the post-war years, but he always remained an acolyte of Wright and his 'Organic architecture' approach, which emphasized a holistic approach to design. Before his death in 1994, Lautner designed more than 200 projects.

Los Angeles Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne, who broke the news of the donation Wednesday, notes that the acquisition by LACMA has been long in the works. 

The museum's director, Michael Govan, expressed interest in including prominent L.A. architecture in its collection soon after taking the job, in 2006. 

A decade later, the museum's collection has its first free-standing piece of architecture. Govan calls it "one of the most important houses in all of L.A." 

The home has been meticulously maintained, but also significantly altered, by Goldstein since purchasing it for $185,000 in 1972--though much of this work was done in conjunction with Lautner and one of his protégés. 

The property also includes new additions, like a private night club, and a rooftop tennis court. Goldstein's bequest also includes a "skyspace" by the artist James Turrell, as well as a collection of modern art and Goldstein's own collection of clothing--a gift valued at a total of $40 million.

Though it's relatively unusual for museum's to acquire architecture, LACMA's acquisition of this Lautner house represents an exciting future for other important works of architecture that doesn't just revolve around being bought and sold by wealthy private interests. If Goldstein's wishes are honored, the house will have a much larger impact going forward. 

"I want the house to be an educational tool for young architects," Goldstein told the L.A. Times, "and I want to inspire good architecture for Los Angeles."