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Saturday, August 3, 2013

The House that Hope Built

Front, back, inside, or out, even from above, the house ranks far beyond anything Lautner created before or after, or anything else Palm Springs has to offer architecturally.
Several months ago I wrote on "The House that Twain Built" (10-15-12). Before that, I've discussed Jefferson's Monticello (09-15-11), and Hadrian's Villa (09-22-12), or what's left of it. There are probably others, but in each case these artistic/architectural masterpieces involved the happy coming together of two creative minds, the architect's, and that of the man with the money planning to live in their creation. In Jefferson's case they were one and the same. In the case of Bob (the comic) Hope and his wife, Delores, the architect was John Lautner; the place was a hilltop overlooking the Coachilla Valley and Palm Springs, California. This was not the first "house that Hope built." Actually, there was a whole string of them spread across southern California from L.A. to Palm Springs purchased or built as the entertainment icon climbed the ladder of success (there are two other former Hope houses in Palm Springs alone). The Lautner-designed house was not even their primary residence. What they considered their primary residence was a sprawling estate in the Toluca Lake area of Los Angeles, built in 1939. The Palm Springs place didn't come until the late 1970s (a construction fire delayed completion for several years.) The Hopes moved in around 1979.

Warm, romantic, strikingly modern, some might even call it other-worldly.
When a personality as famous as Samuel Clemons, Thomas Jefferson, or Bob Hope builds a house, very often they are building a monument to their success and good (or bad) tastes. Unlike many such outstanding architectural masterpieces, the Hope house does not have a distinctive name. It's simply 2466 Southridge Drive. That is, however, the only thing about this property that is not distinctive. It's been called "Space Age," a volcano, and sometimes the UFO house. Hope used to joke that if the Martians ever came down, they'd know where to go. John Lautner designed quite a number of homes, hotels, and restaurants in Southern California. Many are quite distinctive, bearing the Lautner trademark of wide-open spaces and sometimes startling structural features. Many were so futuristic in design as to be used as movie sets. However, with the Hope house, he seems to have pulled out all the creative stops. The only word that even begins to do it justice is "stunning."

Triangulate vaults--the patio skylight in the center is said to be 55 feet in diameter.
Lautner's Hope house is sometimes referred to as the "mushroom house" due to its shape as seen from the air. Though visually exciting from virtually any angle, only from above can one gain some perspective as to the scale, shape, innovative design, and structural dynamics Lautner employed. Hope's choice of Lautner as his architect is, in itself, startling. Hope was a pretty conservative guy in virtually all aspects of his life. Yet Hope epitomized Palm Springs. So did Lautner and his dwellings, which might suggest that Hope initially chose Lautner simply because he was "trendy." Those intimately involved in the project suggest that the house could have been even more radical in design except for one factor. Hope knew how to say "no"...and did. Lautner is said to have grown so frustrated with the project as construction went on, that he distanced himself from it, leaving the finishing details to junior members of his firm.

Glass, steel, reinforced concrete, and a certain amount of daring on the
part of Hope and his architect came together, at least in the all-important
early stages of design and construction. As the song and the oculus
in the roof suggests, "It never rains in southern California."
Used primarily for entertaining (which the Hopes did often), the house was designed as a showplace, and still is, though it's virtually impossible to get close to it on foot. Inside, Lautner's central patio is breathtaking (photos of the rest of the interior seem not to exist). The Southridge community is all hostile desert, irrigated here and there into various shades of grassy green. Lautner's 2466 Southridge Drive is a desert home optimized for a desert environment, elevated above the surrounding landscape with breathtaking views in every direction. As might be expected, no expense was spared in either landscaping or the minimalist interior (minimalism was all the rage in the 1970s).

The most popular view of Lautner's creation is actually in back.
At 22,000 square feet, Hope's desert showplace is one of Lautner's larger homes. “The purpose of architecture is to create timeless, free, joyous space for all activities of life,” Lautner wrote regarding the Hope house. In that light, he succeeded, perhaps in spite of a less than far-sighted client, but also one willing to rein in his more rambunctious architectural tendencies. Many of Lautner's creations both before and after are notably lacking in such restraint. Lautner was one of Frank Lloyd Wright's first apprentices, and the influences are obvious. Second only to Wright's Fallingwater (08-21-11), this is my personal favorite among all those I've ever showcased. Most, even Fallingwater, I would not want to live in (for various reasons). The Mark Twain house makes me shudder in distaste. This one, is the exception. Moreover, it's actually for sale. Linda Hope has it on the market for a cool $50-million.

As was often the case with Lautner's creations, indoors and outdoors
blended into a harmonious whole.


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