Opportunities to write about historically significant modern houses in Los Angeles keep coming to my attention this summer and more are on the way. It is kind of fun to write about these masterpieces from my messy office alcove next to the kitchen in our little happy dingbat apartment in Glendale, California.
The Lukens House was designed and built by immigrant architect Raphael Soriano in 1939, for the ceramic artist and USC professor Dr. Glen Lukens. Considering his talent and vigor, the architect, who previously worked for Richard Neutra and R.M. Schindler, built relatively few houses, some of which are well preserved, but some were abandoned, neglected, demolished and sometimes forgotten, like the Lukens House was until recently.
Soriano's houses are some of the more important examples of so called international style, a term the architect helped spread in Los Angeles.
It is important to add here that Soriano was the architect whom photographer Julius Shulman and his wife selected to design their home. As to why, Mr. Shulman did tell me in an unpublished interview that the decision to hire Mr. Soriano was made because “he loved life!” after drinking a few bottles of wine Mr. Soriano brought with him to the empty lot Shulmans bought below Mulholland Drive. The three of them sat there overlooking Los Angeles until the sun came up the next morning, “talking about everything else but architecture” per se.
The Lukens House began to deteriorate after 1967, when Glen Lukens died, but by then it had inspired Frank O. Gehry to become an architect, who said this to writer Susan Morgan;
"Glen changed the course of my life. He was building a house with architect Raphael Soriano, and he had a feeling that I might like to see the process, so he dragged me over there one day. Soriano was there, wearing an all-black outfit with a black beret, giving directions in his accented English (he was from Rhodes), and telling men how to put up steel. I really got into it.
The next day Glen called me into his office. He said, "You know I have this hunch. Will you go along with me?" I said, "Whatever you say, boss." He signed me up (and paid for) a night school architecture class. The class was the first time I did something that got people saying, "Hey there's something going on here." They like what I did and I enjoyed it, and the school skipped me into the second year."
When it was on the market almost two years ago, the once inspiring Lukens House was in dire condition and steps away from becoming a total debris pile in the middle of a working class Los Angeles neighborhood, far from its beautiful past when it was a great home and a studio for Dr. Lukens.
Perhaps in the nick of time, the Lukens House was restored by its new owner Michael Chapman who commissioned Barry Milofsky of M2A Architects to design the restoration.
The work was painstakingly done by Albert Luna who received a certificate of excellence for his construction work which he proudly carries around.
The outstanding skill of the restoration architect is noteworthy here, as you experience the restoration not as something "new" gleaming at you, but as easing and stitching into the bigger picture as if it was always meant to be this way. The restoration accomplished a complete recovery of warmth, and a feeling of openness and airiness, which restates Soriano's magic and humble touch.
It is a definite win for the cultural heritage of the city, the architectural community and last but not least, it marks the return of a great home to its new occupants.
In a quiet moment after a public event showing the house last Sunday, I asked the house if she was “happy now,” and she whispered, “yes.”