While digging through the Alvin Lustig files in the Archives of American Art last month, I found a typewritten list of Lustig’s work with additions in his wife Elaine’s hand: a “Greatest Hits” of sorts that Lustig was putting together as part of a book proposal shortly before he died in 1955.
The works were divided up by category: Book Covers, Magazine Covers, Advertisements, Architectural Lettering, Miscellaneous, and so on. Most of the references would be familiar to any fan of Lustig’s design. But under Architecture and Interiors was a name I’d never seen linked to Lustig’s:
A quick Google search led me to Loft, Inc.: “the largest maker and seller of candy in the world in the second decade of the 20th century.”
A subsequent image search led me to Flickr—and the Lustig-like postcard you see above.
Could Loft’s Candy Garden of Union, N.J. be a lost Alvin Lustig design?
Chances are yes.
In November 1954 Lustig wrote a letter to his friend William De Mayo in London. “One of the things that heartened me is that we’re just negotiating the contract with Loft’s Candies, one of the large eastern chain stores, to do four stores for them on an experimental basis,” he explained.
According to Born Modern, “Loft’s had just accepted the first design, including changes in their basic typography and trademark.”
"This added to other recent encouraging events has made it easier for me to go on," Lustig continued, "although I will not deny I’ve had my moments of despair."
He was largely blind at that point. A year later he would be dead.
Our house is big in Japan.
In 1948, a pair of articles about a new building appeared in the Los Angeles press.
The first ran in the LA Times on Sept. 15. “The Institute of Jewish Education yesterday was granted a building permit to erect a school and center on the northwest corner of 3rd and Flores Streets,” the Times reported. “The structure will embody the latest types of design, structural methods and mechanical facilities.”
The second article appeared a little later, in the November issue of Arts & Architecture. It described the structure as a “simple, direct building” that was “now under construction.”
Both articles attributed the new Institute of Jewish Education to the same designer: Alvin Lustig.
This is sort of strange—at least from today’s perspective. Lustig’s design is mentioned a few places—there’s a single clause in Steven Heller’s monograph, Born Modern, and part of a rendering on the official Alvin Lustig website—but it’s always presented as a ghostly, unrealized project. Nowhere does anyone point out what I discovered today as I ate breakfast at a cafe on 3rd Street:
Lustig’s Institute of Jewish Education was actually built.
It’s right there in West Hollywood, amid the boutiques and bakeries, in the shadow of the Beverly Center.
Or at least part of it is.
Lustig’s auditorium—the structure on the right in the pictures above—doesn’t exist. It’s a parking lot. According to Arts & Architecture, the auditorium was supposed to feature, when seen from the street, a textured facade of “cement block laid in a unique manner” and a “long painted ellipse of reinforced concrete” at the roofline “that spans the 60 feet from wall to wall” and “carries along its top edge a three-inch concrete slab that forms the roof,” with visible trusses that form “the top of the stage.” Also missing is a “sunbreaker” meant to “protec[t] the classrooms from the excessive glare and light of the southern exposure as well as provid[e] integral ornament to the building.”
But the rest of the IJE, which was completed in 1949, is there. After comparing Lustig’s plans, renderings, and models to the extant structure, I’m 100 percent sure that the building on 3rd Street today is a Lustig design. The basic form is the same; the windows match up perfectly; and you can see exactly where the auditorium would have fit in.
So why hasn’t anyone ever attributed the existing building to Lustig?
My guess is that he didn’t want to anyone to. None of the “several features of interest” described in the Arts & Architecture article were built: the auditorium, the elliptical concrete roof, the textured facade, the sunbreaker “running the length of the second floor.” Why? Probably because a building’s most interesting features also tend to be its most expensive. I bet the IJE ran out of money.
I also bet Lustig—famously particular and famously proud—was not happy about this. His “simple, direct” design, when not fully realized, became too simple and too direct. So he never publicized his involvement. Lustig could have mentioned the IJE building in his one-man show at the Frank Perls Gallery, or in his profile in Everyday Art Quarterly, or in 1953’s Guide to Architecture in Southern California, which he designed and which included three of his other buildings (The Beverly Carlton, The Beverly Landau, and the Wayne House).
But he didn’t. He acted as if the IJE had never been built. For me, this omission is yet another sign that Lustig designed the Thomas House. It tells us he didn’t promote everything he made—which means there’s more out there to discover.
This one’s been on my Holy Grail list for a long, long time: the February 1942 issue of Arts & Architecture—the first to feature #AlvinLustig’s famous logo and redesign and also the first to feature a Lustig cover (one of only three that he produced for A&A). The most amazing thing about Lustig’s work here is that the look of the magazine remained pretty much unchanged for the next quarter century—a testament to the durability of a design that felt as current when the publication shuttered in 1967 as it did during World War II.
Meet Manuel Sandoval.
Not the guy in the picture. (That’s Alvin Lustig.)
I’m referring to the guy who built the cabinet Lustig is leaning on, and the desk in front of him, and the rest of the furniture in that office.
A little while back, I interviewed designer Ken Parkhurst about Lustig. Ken worked as Lustig’s assistant in 1945 and 1946, around the same time the William H. Thomas House was designed. He didn’t know anything about our house, but he knew a lot about the office pictured above, because that’s where he went to work.
"Lustig designed an office and hired a fellow who had studied with Frank Lloyd Wright," Parkhurst told me. "A Mexican guy."
It was a one-room office in a small building off the main streets of Beverly Hills. Lustig had gone to study with Wright, and according to him, he left in the middle of the night to escape. What Wright did at the time was employe all these starry-eyed hopefuls to do his house work—all of the labor of keeping Taliesin going,
This young Mexican fellow was a very talented woodworker, so Wright had him build cabinets and all kinds of things of that sort. The fellow was a very innocent, sweet person who was so thrilled to be doing this work for Frank Lloyd Wright. When he eventually left Taliesin, he ended up doing woodwork and not architecture at all.
So Lustig found him and had him do the office interior that he had designed. It was done in genuine mahogany. It was breathtakingly beautifully done. The guy was a master. And he worked for Alvin because Alvin was a famed designer out of New York.”
This gave me an idea: if I searched the Taliesin Fellows for apprentices with Hispanic names who “studied” with Wright before 1945, maybe I could dig up Lustig’s cabinetmaker.
So that’s what I did. After scouring and cross-referencing the Taliesin apprentice list several times—and following a few false leads—I finally found a match: Manuel Sandoval, a Nicaraguan (not Mexican) woodworker. Sandoval joined the Taliesin Fellowship on Oct. 25, 1932; Lustig arrived a little less than three years later, on June 1, 1935. The two men likely met in Wisconsin, but their early acquaintance was cut short: Lustig left on Sept. 1, 1935. The record doesn’t state whether he actually absconded in the middle of the night.
After leaving Wisconsin, Lustig returned to Los Angeles to start his own printing business; one of his earliest clients was Wright’s son Lloyd Wright.
Sandoval, meanwhile, continued to work for Wright Senior. In May 1936, he drove to Pennsylvania from the Taliesin West with two other Wright apprentices. Sandoval’s companions were heading to Bear Run to break ground on Fallingwater; Sandoval had been tasked with handcrafting the cabinets and carpentry (in swamp cypress plywood) for Edgar Kauffman’s Wright-designed office in Pittsburgh. (Wright had promised his client that Sandoval would complete the job “to the queen’s taste.”) As one of Sandoval’s fellow apprentices later recalled:
[Manuel] had come to Taliesin, he thought, to study architecture. Once his real talents were known, however, Mr. Wright never let him out of the woodworking shop. Manuel’s reverence for Mr. Wright was such that he made a velvet-lined box to store a pencil given to him by Mr. Wright.”
Sounds like Parkhurst’s guy.
Sandoval fulfilled Wright’s promise. The Kaufmann office is a masterpiece of modernist woodworking. It is now housed in London’s Victoria & Albert Museum.
Sandoval went on to build the V.C. Morris Gift Shop (1948) for Wright as well.
In 1940, Sandoval moved to Los Angeles, where he set up his own shop. At some point he renewed his acquaintance with Lustig, and by 1946, he was making Lustig’s cabinetry and furniture.
Which raises an interesting question. The cabinets in the Thomas House were custom-made for the space, and they perfectly match the cabinets in Lustig’s June Wayne House of 1949-50 (the last two photos above).
Above: The Wayne House kitchen
Below: The Thomas House kitchen
Given that Sandoval was Lustig’s go-to woodworker throughout the 1940s, does this mean that the cabinets in our house—and perhaps the custom plywood wall and redwood trellis as well—were made by Frank Lloyd Wright’s guy?
It’s certainly possible.