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Lautner (John) Papers
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Biographical/Historical Note
  • Administrative Information
  • Related Archival Materials
  • Scope and Content of Collection
  • Indexing Terms

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: John Lautner papers
    Date (inclusive): 1929-2002
    Number: 2007.M.13
    Creator/Collector: Lautner, John
    Physical Description: 958.1 Linear Feet (211 boxes, 711 flatfiles, 139 rolls)
    The Getty Research Institute
    Special Collections
    1200 Getty Center Drive, Suite 1100
    Los Angeles 90049-1688
    URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10020/askref
    (310) 440-7390
    Abstract: 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.
    Request Materials: Request access to the physical materials described in this inventory through the catalog record  for this collection. Click here for the access policy .
    Language: Collection material is in English.

    Biographical/Historical Note

    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 October 1994.

    Administrative Information


    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.

    Publication Rights

    Preferred Citation

    John Lautner papers, 1929-2002, The Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles, Accession no. 2007.M.13.

    Acquisition Information

    Gift of The John Lautner Foundation in 2007.

    Processing History

    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 publications.


    This archive is arranged in two series: ; .Series I. Project records, 1937-2002 Series II. Other professional papers, 1929-1994

    Indexing Terms

    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 century

    Genres and Forms of Material

    Architectural models
    Gelatin silver prints -- United States -- 20th century
    Photographic prints -- California -- 20th century
    Slides (photographs) -- 20th century
    Architectural drawings -- United States -- 20th century


    Honnold, Douglas
    Lautner, John