Anchorage is one of only a few cities outside of California that has a John Lautner house
If you don’t recognize the name, you’ll undoubtedly recognize his work, the famous architect’s buildings have been featured in many movies and TV shows. From the flying saucer Chemosphere to the Sheats-Goldstein House (Jackie Treehorn’s house in The Big Lebowski), Lautner’s work is the definitive example of the futuristic mid-century modern architecture known as Googie. In fact, the term was named after a Los Angeles coffee house designed by Lautner in 1949.
John Lautner was a student of Frank Lloyd Wright under his Taliesin fellowship program He designed over 200 buildings in his career, most of which are high design residences for wealthy clients including Bob Hope – Lautner designed two houses for television and radio station owner, Willis Harpel.
The first Harpel house was built in the Hollywood Hills of Los Angeles and much of the work was done by Harpel himself. That house underwent a careful restoration in 2011 by the current owner Mark Haddawy to undo some prior “renovations” by previous owners – Haddawy also purchased Pierre Koenig’s 1958 Case Study House No. 21.
Similarly, much of the work at Harpel House No. 2 in Anchorage was also done by Harpel himself, which included procuring and setting the stones for the floor and fireplace. The house was built on the North shore of Lake Otis in an Anchorage Subdivision called College Village in 1968. Comparatively speaking the site is rather dull, Lake Otis (the lake) is so small many Anchorage residents don’t even know it exists despite its namesake parkway just a few hundred feet from the house. The site may have been chosen because of the devastation of homes and bluff areas in Turnagain during the 1964 earthquake – an inland site seems to have been a more conservative option for Harpel and his family. Sadly, Harpel didn’t get to enjoy this house for very long as he was killed in a snowmobile accident near Aleyska the same year.
In a city dominated by zero lot line duplexes and houses that look like robot faces, it’s nice to know that we have a house of such architectural significance here. Mr. Harpel could have easily built a massive home of lesser character but instead, he chose to leave behind a lasting legacy – A masterpiece of a home that will continue to enhance the aesthetics of a community and inspire future generations of architects.
With any luck, the owners will invite me over for some gimlets and a photoshoot.
There are some somewhat recent images (2017) available on Don Mangus’s blog.
Harpel House No.2 is a private residence and intrinsic.city requests that readers do not disturb the homeowners. However, if you’d like to see the house, it can be viewed from across the lake at Carlson Park – intrinsic.city
Featured Image: Sheats-Goldstein House by Andrew Seles