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Last Ditch Effort to Save Lautner's Threatened Shusett House

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Images 2-21 by Tycho Saariste

Right now, John Lautner's Shusett House in Beverly Hills is days from demolition. As the LA Times reported over the weekend, the John Lautner Foundation has been scrambling to come up with a solution that will be acceptable to the owners, a family called the Mannheims who have been in the house for 23 years. They plan to knock down the Shusett and build a new house that will better fit their needs. John Lautner Foundation director and architect Frank Escher, whose firm Escher GuneWardena restored Lautner's Chemosphere, told Curbed that as of yesterday all of the Foundation's legal options have gone nowhere (in part, according to Escher, because of Beverly Hills' preservation laws, which the LAT calls weak). But now the Foundation and the LA Conservancy say they have one last ace up their sleeve.

The Shusett was built in 1951, and along with the Hollywood Hills Harvey House, is one of Lautner's first major residential projects. Escher provides some history on the residence: "The focus is an enormous pine, around which swoops a semi-circular wing (containing public spaces and a master bedroom). From this ring, a one-story wing (containing additional bedrooms, kitchen and dining area) radiates off and connects the house to the motorcourt at the street. The entrance to the house is along this one-story wing, a large private garden, initially the location of a tennis court, lays beyond this wing."

It's been seriously altered, though--the outdoor space has been enclosed and the glass walls around it have been pushed out, and the entrance relocated. This being Beverly Hills, large white columns were added at some point pre-Mannheims, according to the LAT. The Lautner Foundation doesn't consider any of the changes irreversible, although they believe the central pine may have been removed recently.

The Harvey was completely (and somewhat famously) restored by actress Kelly Lynch and her husband Mitch Glazer, who say they now get offers to sell at several times the amount they paid for and put into the house. The Lautner Foundation and the LA Conservancy first approached the Mannheims in the spring, hoping to encourage a renovation and suggesting a visit with Lynch and Glazer or other Lautner owners. The two organizations also asked if the owners would consider selling (according to the Lautner Foundation's website, "there is a potential buyer.") Eventually legal options were considered but they haven't gone anywhere. The Mannheims have already temporarily moved out of the house, and Escher says a demolition permit could come within four or five days, as soon as a few small issues like sewer capping are dealt with.

Today, the group will go through with one last plan. They're writing to the Mannheims to ask if they'll consider having the house moved off their property. To find out if it's possible, the Foundation is also asking for a 30 day stay of execution on the house. For the plan to work, they'd need to find a buyer and host for the house, and the money to move it. So if you've been looking for an architectural fixer-upper, and you've got some land (preferably with a big tree on it), has someone got an offer for you.
· John Lautner's Shusett House close to demolition despite preservationists' efforts [LAT]
· Shusett demolition may begin tomorrow [John Lautner Foundation]