Architecture and Design: Echo Park’s “Lost Lautner”

The discovery of previously unknown artworks is often not a matter of finding, but a matter of attribution. Take da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi. For centuries, over-painting and poor attempts at restoration obscured its authorship until it became regarded as the work of apprentices – an attribution that garnered a mere $10,000 price tag in 2005. Designated as a work of the Master years later, the painting fetched $450 million at auction in 2017.

When it comes to architecture, notable works may also become hidden in plain sight as a result of alterations accruing over time. An addition here, a renovation there, perhaps a new façade, and soon it’s not the edifice it once was. Such is the case with an 1,100-square-foot gem in Echo Park known as the Salkin House.

Mid-century architect John Lautner built the hillside home in 1948 for Jules Salkin, whom he had met while apprenticing under Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesin. With its prominent butterfly roof and angled structural bents, Salkin House foreshadows Lautner’s influential “Googie” style as well as design ideas brought to their apotheosis in the architect’s Atomic-Age masterpieces, the John Sheats House and Malin Residence.

Photo by: Laure Joliet

Over time, however, Salkin House’s characteristic features became less evident. The original poured-concrete floor was covered, floor-to-ceiling windows fell into disrepair, and a bedroom added in the 1960s converted the home’s futuristic carport into a box. In addition to the structural masking of the architect’s hand, the original plans had been signed by another architect as the young Lautner did not yet have his license.

Photo by: Laure Joliet

In 2014, fashion designer Trina Turk and her husband, photographer Jonathan Skow, purchased the residence. The couple, who had beautifully restored a low-slung post-and-beam home built in the 1940s by J.R. Davidson, engaged Bestor Architecture, Anigo Garden Design and Knoll Design Build to restore the “lost Lautner.”

This month, the Los Angeles Conservancy will honor the Salkin House project with its prestigious Preservation Award.