Dressed like Jackie Treehorn after a few peyote buttons — and instantly recognizable from his appearances courtside at NBA games and in front rows at fashion shows all over the world — millionaire James Goldstein is not upstaged by his iconic Beverly Crest home. Seen on the big screen in films including The Big Lebowski and Charlie’s Angels Full Throttle, in videos for Snoop Dogg and Babyface hits, and in countless fashion, architecture and commercial shoots, the Sheats-Goldstein Residence has a history, flow and future all its own — and Goldstein is its center.
“After I lived here for six or seven years, I decided it was time to start making the house better,” Goldstein says, and in 1979 he started the projects that would define his iconic home and life. “The purchase of this house was unquestionably one of the most important things that ever happened in my life,” he says, looking over his pool and lush gardens to impossible views on a sunny Southern California afternoon.
“It was basically a plaster and formica house,” Goldstein says of the home he bought in 1972, “and each owner made it worse by painting everything, putting in wall-to-wall green shag carpet, things like that.” He brought John Lautner back to the house he'd designed and, over the next 15 years, worked with the architect to achieve his vision for perfecting the home. “Since I started that first project, I never stopped, and to this day there has been construction going on somewhere on the property since 1979.”
Lautner died in 1994, but his assistant, Duncan Nicholson, continued to work with Goldstein to perfect the home and a new massive entertainment center next door — home to Goldstein’s office, tennis court and Club James, Goldstein's private nightclub. “I don’t anticipate ever being finished, because I have many projects in mind that haven’t even been started yet. I can see this going on endlessly,” Goldstein says.
The house and club have hosted parties and shoots with everyone from Snoop Dogg to Mick Jagger. “There was a party here in the house that Jack Nicholson attended. I was told that there’d been a huge traffic jam on Cielo Drive while people tried to get up here and that Jack Nicholson got out of his car and directed traffic with a drink in his hand so that people could make it to the party,” Goldstein says mischievously. “I’ve always enjoyed that story.”
Musicians, models, moguls and athletes still come to party at the residence, but its future probably will include walking tours, sketching and seminars. Goldstein just finalized a deal to give the house and its acres of lushly landscaped tropical gardens to LACMA. “After working on it for many years with John Lautner, I came to the realization that I had turned this house into something very special that needed to be preserved and also needed to be shared with architects and architectural students,” he says.
He continues, “I ended up working with LACMA — they understand the house as well as anyone that I could possibly imagine, and the fact that they are located in Los Angeles will be a much better situation for the house than having it owned by a national entity that wouldn’t have the local impact.”
Bonus for museumgoers: The gift includes the Ed Ruscha, Kenny Scharf and James Turrell artworks on the premises, plus a motorized-closet full of Goldstein’s trademark style.
A condensed transcript of our interview with Goldstein follows …
Peter Holderness: How did your devotion to modern architecture start?
Jim Goldstein: Growing up in Milwaukee, I was exposed to Frank Lloyd Wright architecture at a very early age because one of my best friends in school lived only a block away in a Frank Lloyd Wright house. I was there every week, almost daily. Plus my father had a business in Racine, Wisconsin, not far from the Johnson Wax Plant, also designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. So Frank Lloyd Wright had a huge impact on me, and at an early age I became a big fan not only of his architecture but of modern architecture in general.
Where else have you lived in Los Angeles?
I first moved to Los Angeles as part of enrolling in graduate school at UCLA. The first place that I moved to was an apartment building up in the hills where the Whiskey A Go Go is located. In fact, it opened shortly after I moved to the apartment. I had a view of the city that was quite good, and from that moment on, I knew that wherever I lived, one of the prime requirements would be to have a view of the city.
I fell in love with the excitement of L.A., with the weather compared to Milwaukee and even compared to living in Northern California. When I finished at UCLA, there was no question that I would stay in Los Angeles.
How did you find the Sheats Residence?
I was not familiar with John Lautner when I started looking for the right house. My requirements were that it had to be a well-designed modern house with a view of the city and hopefully a swimming pool. I looked for two years and then I heard about John Lautner and one of his houses being for sale. I came to look at it and knew that was the right house within two minutes. I did some research about John Lautner and found out that he was a disciple of Frank Lloyd Wright, and so it all made sense to me.
Did you fall off the couch when you saw the dude fall off the couch in The Big Lebowski?
Yes, it happened exactly where I’m sitting right now. I was a big fan of the Coen Brothers prior to that movie being made, and when they came to me and looked at the house and said they wanted to do a scene here, I was very happy. They shot all night for two nights in a row, and even though I had made arrangements in a hotel, I never left the house because I wanted to watch what was going on. I will never forget the making of that movie, and much to my delight the movie became a cult film and I still enjoy watching it myself, even though I’ve seen it many times. It was an amazing experience.
Do you remember a favorite party or event you’ve hosted here?
There have been many events here, but a couple that stand out include the first important party that was held at the Club James addition to the house, and that was Rihanna’s birthday party. There were quite a few celebrities at that party, including people like Mick Jagger. It was a great party, so that really stands out. Going back many years before that, there was a party here in the house that Jack Nicholson attended, and I was told that there’d been a huge traffic jam on Cielo Drive while people tried to get up here, and that Jack Nicholson got out of his car and directed traffic with a drink in his hand so that people could make it to the party. I’ve always enjoyed that story.
Are there any downsides to living here?
Well, Frank Lloyd Wright is famous for water leaks, and his answer always was, “Well, if it’s leaking, just move your chair.” And I have that kind of mentality — that I’m willing to put up with a few inconveniences because of the positives of living in a house like this. I lived through some major construction in the house when I first started in with John Lautner. For several years I had to live in one of the guest rooms. For several years the house was wide open to the elements because the old glass had been removed and the new glass hadn’t been put in yet. But I put up with all of that and I don’t have any bad memories at all.
How do you stay current in fashion and basketball?
Well, I try to keep an open mind. I’m surrounded by young people and I’m keeping quite aware of what’s going on in the fashion world. I’m not quite as current in the music world, but in general being with young people makes me feel like I’m still in my 20s. I don’t do things in my life that would be representative of my age. I’m doing the same things now that I’ve been doing my whole life: athletically, partywise, you name it, I’m still doing it.
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