Architect John Lautner's Silvertop and Rainbow Houses

Following up from last week's post about the architect John Lautner's Sheats-Goldstein Residence, here are two others he designed in the Los Angeles area that have also been featured in popular culture.

1956-76 - the Reiner-Burchill Residence (a.k.a. "Silvertop")

Located in the L.A.'s Silver Lake area, the Reiner-Burchill Residence was initially designed by John Lautner in 1956 for industrialist and inventor Kenneth Reiner. The house represents Lautner's first major use of post-tensioned concrete for architectural expression. This is mainly embodied by the cantilevered driveway that winds its way up the hilltop site as well as the large, arched roof over the home. Other significant design elements include floor to ceiling hanging glass panel walls and the cantilevered infinity edge pool (one of the first of its kind).  Faucet-less sinks, a dining table that rose from the floor via a hydraulic pedestal, concealed outlets & switches, and a silent H.V.A.C. system are other design highlights of the home.

Reiner-Burchill Residence, "Silvertop" (1956)

Architect Lautner and owner Reiner had a close working relationship with Reiner even collaborating on the design of some of mechanical elements within the house. Despite this, the construction process proved difficult for a number of reasons. The driveway design, for example, was initially denied by the local building department. This caused Reiner to take legal action against them. They later relented and allowed a load test to be performed. As you can see in the video above, the structure proved strong enough that the daily temperature swing caused more deflection than the weight of the sandbags placed on it. The house was mostly completed in 1963. However, Reiner was never able to live in it. Having been bankrupted by the fraudulent dealings of his business partners, he was forced to sell the house before it was finished. Reiner passed away in 2011.

The view from Silvertop.

Philip and Jacklyn Burchill bought the home in 1974 and re-hired Lautner to complete it. They moved in in 1976. In 2014, Jacklyn, now widowed, decided to relocate and put the home on the market for $7.5 million. Twenty days later it sold for $8.55 million.  Reportedly, the winning bid was submitted by Luke Wood, the president of Beats By Dre and a long-time Silver Lake resident. He has stated his intention to restore the house to the height of Lautner's vision with input from Los Angeles based Bestor Architecture.

Cinematically, the home was featured in the 1987 film LESS THAN ZERO starring Robert Downey, Jr., Andrew McCarthy, Jami Gertz, and James Spader (as well as a pre-fame Brad Pitt). It has also been the setting for several music videos and television commercials.

Robert Downey Jr (Julian Wells- Less Than Zero)

1962 - The Garcia Residence (a.k.a. "Rainbow")

The Garcia Residence is located in the Hollywood Hills on a steep site along Mullholland Drive. Lautner designed it in the late 1950's and early 1960's for Russ Garcia and his wife. One of the requirements for Garcia, an arranger for jazz great Stan Kenton, was that his study be separate from the other areas of the home so that he wouldn't be disturbed when his wife was entertaining friends. As a result, Lautner split the home into two distinct halves that were united as one under a single curving roof.  The curve of the roof combined with the stained glass windows below it, gave the house its nickname "Rainbow."

I first became aware of the home from its appearance as in the 1989 film LETHAL WEAPON 2 ("Diplomatic immunity!"). In the movie, crazy Martin Riggs (portrayed by a seemingly pre-rage Mel Gibson) pulls the house down with his truck.

A clip from LETHAL WEAPON 2

After the Garcias moved out, the home went through a series of owners before being purchased by actor/director Vincent Gallo. Gallo owned several other Lautner-designed homes and eventually sold "Rainbow" to Bill Damaschke, an executive from DreamWorks, and his partner John McIlwee, an entertainment business manager. They hired the Los Angeles architectural firm of Marmol-Radziner to revive the house to it's former glory.  In the intervening years since the Garcias had owned the home, a number of dubious renovations had been undertaken by subsequent owners. The open central stair had been enclosed, some walls had been removed, while other walls had been added that further comprised the original, open feeling. As John McIlwee explains the video below, the nature of the house makes routine maintenance a challenge. So challenging, in fact, that previous owners didn't always perform it. Hence, rust, dry rot, and water damage had taken a toll on the home by the time Damaschke and McIlwee purchased it. Their subsequent renovation removed the previous detrimental remodels and made some modern improvements as well. As Ron Radziner explained, “Our goal was never to do a slavish restoration but to create something that maintained the spirit of Lautner’s work and also made sense for the 21st century." The extensive renovation even managed to install the exterior pool - which was originally designed by Lautner for the Garcias, but never built.

Homeowner John McIlwee discusses the details of his arduous restoration of the Garcia House.

Further Reading