Architecture
February 18, 2016

LACMA acquires the world’s most architecturally glorified bachelor pad

Words by Patrick Green Photos by Steve Tirona

The enigmatic James Goldstein has just promised to bequeath his Beverly Hills home, an estate renowned for its design as for its movie appearances, to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, securing its preservation for future generations of architecture and design students. Rogue looks back at its 2014 visit to the Sheats Goldstein Residence, an estate that Goldstein spent some 30-odd years assembling and amending

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High atop the rarified air of Beverly Hills, surrounded by a sub-tropical jungle, the Sheats Goldstein Residence sits in idyllic isolation, hidden in plain sight like a Bond villain lair. The three-acre property is a house you may recognize from countless Hollywood movies, music videos, and magazine spreads, but is off the Google Maps grid. As I descend down a private driveway, its namesake owner, James Goldstein, looks straight out of central casting: flowing grey hair and impeccably tanned, dressed in Wimbledon whites, and playing tennis on a rooftop court overlooking the LA skyline with a Maria Sharapova-lookalike complete with R-rated grunts. The image is surreal, like every male fantasy fulfilled. But for Goldstein it’s a Tuesday.

Goldstein is pop culture’s man of mystery with a business card that reads: fashion, architecture, basketball. Goldstein shows up on Instagram feeds like an exotic animal print-wearing, wide-brim leather hat donning Where’s Waldo. Who is that post-apocalyptic Tom Petty from the “You Got Lucky” video sitting next to Kanye West at a Paris runaway show? How is that crinkly cad sitting courtside at the NBA finals with a European super model? A Wikipedia search leads to clues that Goldstein is the real Most Interesting Man in the World: a trailer park scion, who had a fling with Jayne Mansfield, dabbled in porn directing and is the largest buyer of NBA tickets.

I learn early on in our interview, after I boldly flash my purple and gold Los Angeles Lakers socks, that with Goldstein, one can never assume anything. “I love basketball, but I hate the Lakers,” hisses Goldstein despite being a Lakers season ticket holder since he moved to LA in the early 1960s. “I grew up watching the Milwaukee Hawks, but I’ll root for anyone who is playing against the Lakers.”

Like many Los Angeles transplants, Goldstein came out west for college and stayed for the sunny skies. “Growing up in the Midwest, I had always wanted a house with a pool and an amazing view,” remembers Goldstein, a twinkle in his blue eyes as he proudly looks out the floor-to-ceiling window panels to take in the panoramic view. “I like to feel outside when I’m inside.”

How Goldstein made his money might be vague, but where he spends it is obvious. If a man’s home is his castle, the Sheats Goldstein Residence has been his ever-evolving Lego play set. “There’s been work going on here non-stop since 1979,” says Goldstein, a loyalist, who has used multiple generations of the same construction company for the past 30-plus years.

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Originally built in 1963 by brilliant architect John Lautner, the Sheats Goldstein Residence is a serpentine-shaped wonder of concrete and glass, virtually defining the organic architecture philosophy popularized by Frank Lloyd Wright, a mentor of Lautner. This prophetic “form as function” approach promotes harmony between human habitation and the natural world through design. Thus, this cliffside cave-like hideaway was conceived from the inside out, unfolding from the sandstone ledge like a living organism from a seed within.

In Goldstein’s opinion, the seminal, yet enigmatic Lloyd Wright may have invented the organic style form, but it was his humble protégé that perfected it. “John had an uncanny gift to blend angles into a hillside, but unlike most famous architects, he had no ego,” explains Goldstein, who persuaded Lautner to help him remodel the home after he bought it in 1973. “It was a mess,” he remembers with a shake of the head. “The previous owners had painted the concrete ceilings green and yellow, installed shag carpeting! John couldn’t believe it. So we spent the next 15 years bringing it back to life.”

Goldstein has no architectural background, but insisted on the house’s signature frameless glass windows. “John thought I was the perfect client because there were no budgetary constraints,” says Goldstein. “It was all about achieving the utmost perfection.” Given free reign and a blank check, Lautner re-mastered one of his greatest hits, customizing everything from the “home as art” furnishings to the motorized skylights. “It’s the only Lautner house where he designed the inside as well as the outside,” Goldstein shares, motioning towards a rhombus-shaped lounge chair in the A Clockwork Orange-flavored living room.

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They worked together until the architect’s death in 1994, just as they were about to embark on their most ambitious project yet. “I was enamored with James Turrell after seeing his exhibits in Europe,” says Goldstein. “I came back with an idea for a collaboration between the best in art and architecture, but unfortunately John got too sick to participate.” Goldstein forged on, recruiting Lautner’s protégé, Duncan Nicholson, to team up with Turrell, who worked on the art installation for years before unveiling it in 2004.

A descending concrete path leads you from the house through a lush landscape designed by Eric Nagelmann that could stand in for a Philippine rainforest. After ducking through arching bamboo trees you end up at a bomb shelter-like mystery box straight out of Lost. A giant metallic door opens up to an ethereal sky space dubbed “Above Horizon.” At dawn and dusk, a carefully choreographed light show plays out as multicolored LEDs built inside the walls play off natural light creeping in through hidden openings to illuminate the room in slow-changing, mutable colors that manipulate mood and disposition with a touch of a wireless control. It’s classic Turrell, save for the leather viewing cushion embedded in the floor and a wet bar outside, which are signature Goldstein.

Although Lautner had passed, he had left behind one last plan for Goldstein to perfect his vision. “John hated the house that he had designed next door,” Goldstein says. He eventually bought and leveled the adjacent Concannon Residence to make way for a Lautner-designed tennis court and guesthouse, which was years in the making. Goldstein again enlisted Nicholson to execute the formidable expansion, reimagined to include what has to be the first ever nightclub with a tennis court above it. “Club James” opened at the end of 2014, while other projects like an open-air terrace, 70-foot-long lap pool, 120-foot-long lawn, and home theater will be complete in the next three or four years.

These are by far the biggest and boldest additions to the property, which makes one wonder if they will be the 70-something Goldstein’s closing act.

“I’ll never sell the house,” admits Goldstein, who has no next of kin, but plans to pass it along to the next generation. Today, Goldstein promised to bequeath the house, its contents, and the surrounding estate to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). The bequest also includes a $17 million maintenance fund, bringing up the gift’s total value to $40 million, an amount that Goldstein described as ‘conservative’, per the Los Angeles Times. “I want to keep it open to architectural students from around the world so that it can be preserved as a model for future designers, architects, and artists.”

These are the words of a man at peace, who has lived the American dream and sleeps very well at night. There is no hint of sadness or nostalgia from the lifelong Lothario as he gives me a tour of his bedroom lined with pictures of him posing with famous female faces, shows a closet full of couture, and points at windows looking into the swimming pool. He taps his foot down on a weight scale built into the wood floor. “That’s where the models weigh themselves,” he jokes . . . I think.

It is all charming, a bit sad, and definitely cliché, filling in the blanks to a caricature of an aging playboy. I ask Goldstein if he resents critics dismissing his life-long passion project as being nothing more than the “ultimate bachelor pad.”

Goldstein pauses, before hitting a button unveiling a hot tub just outside his bedroom door, “Well, it is.”

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James Goldstein and Lauren Young of Vision Los Angeles. Photo by Steve Tirona.

Originally published in Rogue’s October 2014 Issue, available digitally on Zinio.com/Rogue. Get immediate access to Rogue content every month for only $1.99 per issue by subscribing to Rogue Magazine for iPad, now available on Apple’s App Store.

Art Direction by Miguel Lugtu

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