Last year, I wrote about a big bequest at Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) from media mogul and billionaire Jerry Perenchio, who announced that he would donate most of his massive art collection—valued at some $500 million—to the museum upon his death.
Bequests, of course, are very common in the art world, and I remarked at the time that the gift would be a big boon for LACMA, which over the years has lost several significant art bids (knocking on wood, here). Well, now comes news of another big win by the museum. LACMA recently announced that real estate investor James F. Goldstein promised his home, its contents, and surrounding estate to LACMA upon his passing.
This is the first gift of architecture bestowed on the museum, and includes an endowment for the maintenance and preservation of the home, which by the way, has strong historic roots. The James Goldstein House was originally built in 1963 for Helen and Paul Sheats by architect John Lautner. The late architect was a disciple of Frank Lloyd Wright and prominent in Los Angeles. One of Lautner's techniques was blurring the line between indoor and outdoor space, with an emphasis on transparency.
Goldstein purchased the residence in the early 1970s and enlisted Lautner and later the architect's protege to revamp the residence. The house was featured in the Coen Brothers' 1998 film The Big Lebowski. According to the Los Angeles Times, the value of the endowment is estimated to be $17 million, while the value of the entire bequest is some $40 million. Goldstein, though, calls that figure "conservative." The property even features a skyspace installation by James Turrell, as well as artwork by the likes of Ed Ruscha and Kenny Scharf.
Sheesh. A big win for LACMA indeed.
Let's talk a bit more about the donor here, and how he and the museum got in sync.
Born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, James Goldstein came to sunny California to attend Stanford. He got into real estate investment and reportedly made a billion-dollar fortune developing Century City in Los Angeles. It's unclear how much he's currently worth, but there's a lot unclear about Goldstein, who these days carries business cards that read "fashion, architecture, basketball." Goldstein reportedly goes to four or five NBA games a week in Los Angeles, and is on the road or on airplanes every day during the playoffs. Former NBA Commissioner David Stern called Goldstein the “largest investor in NBA tickets in the world."
As for the fashion and architecture bit, the flamboyantly dressed Goldstein frequents fashion events around the world, and has long been involved with his house. It's worth mentioning that Frank Lloyd Wright hailed from Wisconsin, too, and a good friend of Goldstein's growing up lived in a Wright-designed house. Goldstein recalls researching John Lautner before purchasing the home. As for LACMA, Goldstein explains that after interfacing with museum CEO Michael Govan, he was convinced that Govan appreciated "the history of the house and the role it has played in the cultural life of Los Angeles," and was sold on his "vision for continuing that tradition when the house becomes an important part of LACMA's collections."
Herein lies a key insight: When museums can inspire donors to feel that they share a similar vision, these kinds of big gifts can happen. Goldstein, interesting character aside, clearly has a passion for art and the creative world, and has been a steward of an historic residence. LACMA convinced Goldstein that they shared his enthusiasm.
By the way, former "homeless billionaire" Nicolas Berggruen is another interesting figure who may be prime for a big gift to LACMA in the coming years.