Related Archival Materials
Scope and Content of Collection
Title: John Lautner papers
Date (inclusive): 1929-2002
958.1 Linear Feet
(211 boxes, 711 flatfiles, 139 rolls)
The Getty Research Institute
1200 Getty Center Drive, Suite 1100
Los Angeles 90049-1688
The John Lautner papers contain the
comprehensive archive of this Southern California architect who became famous for such
innovative structures as Chemosphere (the Malin House) and Silvertop (the Reiner House).
Comprised of about 10,000 drawings, photographs and slides, and 17 models, plus Lautner's
office and correspondence files, the archive is an important resource for the study of
Southern California modernism in all its diverse aspects. The drawings detailing the
structural engineering that enabled Lautner to create his sculpturally innovative houses
will be of particular interest to historians of architecture and science.
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Language: Collection material is in English.
Born in Marquette, Michigan in 1911, John Lautner grew up in a world of ideas and art, the
first child of parents who believed that a person is formed by the physical and intellectual
environment in which he is raised. The young Lautner was immersed in a carefully crafted set
of balancing influences: an academic father and an artistic and mystical mother; the wild,
elemental landscape of the Upper Peninsula and extended visits to the urban worlds of New
York City and Boston. By Lautner's account, one of the most formative influences of his
youth was the family's cabin on the wild shore of Lake Superior, Midgaard. Here, each summer
from 1923-1928, Lautner helped his father construct the building designed by his mother.
This first exposure to architecture set him on his path, the merging of the natural and the
fabricated, of landscape and enclosed space.
In 1929 Lautner enrolled in a liberal arts program at his father's school, Northern State
Teacher's College (later Northern Michigan University). When he graduated in 1933, his
mother, having read about the Taliesin Fellowship, contacted Frank Lloyd Wright and Lautner
was accepted into the program. The impediments of a lack of funds and a recent engagement to
Mary Roberts were overcome when Wright agreed to accept both Lautner and his fiancee, and
Abby Roberts,the fiancee's mother, agreed to finance both young people.
Lautner spent six years with Wright at Taliesin in Wisconsin and at Taliesin West in
Arizona. Over the years of his apprenticeship, Lautner's innate design talent stood out from
that of his peers and he progressed to the point of supervising construction for Wright's
buildings including Deertrack (1936) for Abby Roberts in Marquette, Michigan and Wingspread
(1937) in Racine, Wisconsin for Herbert Johnson of Johnson Wax, as well as taking part in
the Broadacre City project.
Lautner gradually began separating himself from the master, but he would continue his
association with Wright for a further five years. By spring of 1938, Lautner had left
Taliesin for Los Angeles. In this early phase of his career, Lautner began to establish a
small independent practice, while also serving as Wright's on-site representative for
several projects. Lautner's first independent project, a house for his family in Silverlake,
was completed in the summer of 1939. During World War II, from 1942-1944, Lautner worked for
the Structon Company on war-related construction projects. This experience expanded
Lautner's engineering and construction skills, as well as his exposure to new materials. At
the end of the war in 1945, Lautner joined the firm of Douglas Honnold as a design
associate, but also continued his independent practice. By summer of 1947, Lautner ended his
association with Honnold and entered the mature stage of his work.
While no two Lautner structures are alike, certain hallmarks of his personal style appear
consistently across most of his projects. He characteristically developed innovative floor
plans and skillfully manipulated fluid planes of concrete and glass to maximize vistas and
create engaging relationships with natural surroundings. Lautner also integrated technology
in his designs in order to give inhabitants greater control over light, sound, and space.
Lautner's design ingenuity and technical mastery are most apparent in his treatment of the
roof plane. Triangular coffers, undulating, rainbow-like curves, and cantilevered diagonal
trusses crown his one-of-a-kind residences. Although recognized primarily for his eclectic
private residences, Lautner might also be described as the father of the populist commercial
architecture movement of Southern California. In 1949, he built Googie's Coffee House at the
intersection of Sunset Boulevard and Crescent Heights, which gave its name to a style of
eye-catching architecture, evocative of the new Space-Age speed and optimism of the period.
Lautner's work won many architectural awards and was featured in exhibitions, a book, and a
documentary film, as well as being more widely disseminated through use as film locations
and through the photographs of Julius Shulman. Yet, Lautner always felt that he did not
receive the publicity he deserved and he did not have the skill or the patience required to
market himself. Sadly, the broad appreciation Lautner desired came only after his death in
Open for use by qualified researchers, with the exception of the unreformatted audiotape.
Boxes 211-217*, Flat file folders 695**-700** and Roll 138** are sealed pending review.
Contact the repository for information regarding access to the architectural models.
John Lautner papers, 1929-2002, The Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles, Accession no.
Gift of The John Lautner Foundation in 2007.
Laura Schroffel processed and inventoried the documentation and photographic sections of
the archive under the supervision of Ann Harrison. The drawings were processed and
inventoried by Ann Harrison with the assistance of Suzanne Noruschat and Laura Dominguez.
Ann Harrison derived the notes from curatorial reports. In 2013, Jennifer Kishi processed an
addition to the collection.
Related Archival Materials
The model of the Haagen Beach House was acquired separately, Accession no. 2010.M.30.
Scope and Content of Collection
The John Lautner papers contain the complete archive of this Southern California architect
who became famous for such innovative structures as Chemosphere (the Malin House) and
Silvertop (the Reiner House). The archive is an important resource for the study of Southern
California modernism in all its diverse aspects. The drawings detailing the structural
engineering that enabled Lautner to create his sculpturally innovative houses will be of
particular interest to historians of architecture and science.
Materials relating to John Lautner's individual architectural projects comprise Series I,
the core of the archive. Included in this series are approximately 10,000 architectural
drawings, numerous photographs and slides of projects, client files and correspondence and a
small number of architectural models. They represent circa 300 projects, residential and
commercial, both built and unbuilt, spanning the entire range of Lautner's career, from
photographs of his earliest design for a temporary shelter at Taliesin West in 1937 to the
drawings for projects he was working on at the time of his death in 1994. Also included are
some later materials from the continuation of those projects by his successors.
Series II, a small series of professional papers, completes the archive. These professional
papers include general correspondence, honors and awards, documentation of exhibitions, and
This archive is arranged in two series: ; .Series I. Project records, 1937-2002
Series II. Other professional papers, 1929-1994
Subjects - Topics
Modern movement (Architecture) -- California
Architecture, Modern -- 20th century -- California, Southern
Architects -- California -- Los Angeles
Architect-designed houses -- California
Architecture -- California -- Los Angeles -- 20th century
Subjects - Places
Los Angeles (Calif.) -- Buildings, structures, etc. -- 20th
Genres and Forms of Material
Gelatin silver prints -- United States -- 20th century
Photographic prints -- California -- 20th century
Slides (photographs) -- 20th century
Architectural drawings -- United States -- 20th century