Remembering Hugh Hefner

Remembering Hugh Hefner

From the From The Mailbag: We need to create a better tomorrow series

There are few people in the world that have affected all of us as much as Hugh Hefner. He didn’t invent the Sexual Revolution: he simply tapped into the energy that was about to explode in America.

In the late ‘60s, early ‘70s, when I was a young architect in-training in Los Angeles, I was fortunate to work for an architect who worked on a wide variety of projects and interesting clients. One of those clients was Hugh Hefner. I think their relationship began because they both liked fast cars.

Hugh Hefner’s LA office there was right up the street from us in the Sunset Boulevard Playboy Club. My boss met with him often and struck up a plan to make a Playboy Resort on Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, building pre-fabricated modular homes. That didn’t go very far, but Hefner asked my boss to design a pool, grotto and re-landscape his rear yard of the new residence he was moving to in Holmby Hills, West Los Angeles, which later became the iconic Playboy Mansion.

Meetings were always held in his office next to the master bedroom in the Playboy Mansion. As a young architect in training, I built models for many architectural firms so I was the logical person to carve the clay and plastic to create the waterways, rock outcroppings and waterfalls around the Grotto. I had recently built the model of Busch Gardens in the Van Nuys, Los Angeles so I was well suited for the job.

We would bring the model to the Playboy Mansion as it was beginning to be known. He would look it over and comment on every minute detail. His motto was, “If big was good, bigger was better.”

The original pools and the grotto have been modified many times over the decades, but they still maintain the same basic design from the ‘60s that I had the pleasure of cobbling together.

I also worked on the prototype Playboy Club Hugh Hefner wanted to populate the United States with. Thinking of the franchise concept of McDonald’s, his interest was to have freestanding clubs throughout the country that anyone could go, use their Bunny Key and enjoy the entertainment.

While the stand-alone idea was never realized, he did create a very successful chain of private clubs, including one in San Francisco. They became victims of the sexual revolution he originally inaugurated that ultimately eclipsed the Playboy image and brand.

My first wife was a Playboy Bunny in Los Angeles. The Playboy women had to go through a lot of harassment and physical indignity. And of course, there is always the bunny dip. If you couldn’t do it perfectly while balancing five martinis — shaken, not stirred — you were in trouble.

It was an interesting time to be in Los Angeles and to participate in the growing Empire of the Hefner Brand.

Chris d. Craiker is an architect in Napa.

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