Peter Loughrey, founder of Los Angeles Modern Auctions, leaves us at 52

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Peter Loughrey, February 20, 1968 - March 16, 2020. Image courtesy LA Modern Auctions

In 1992, Peter Loughrey founded Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA), specializing in 20th Century design and art. The first piece he ever auctioned was a Frank Lloyd Wright window.

When I interviewed him in 2016, he was getting ready to sell an entire house.  It was the Sturges House in Brentwood, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1939. It was built under the supervision of John Lautner, who Wright referred to as the “next best architect on earth.” 

Peter Loughrey died Monday at age 52 from cancer.

 In 2016, Peter Loughrey was offered a very large object to sell at auction: The Sturges House, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Photo credit: Grant Mudford for LAMA

Loughrey originally came to Los Angeles to be a stuntman. When that didn’t deliver the thrills he anticipated, he started selling mid-century furniture with his late brother Joe. 

He told CNBC in 2017 that this was a time when “people in Beverly Hills would leave discarded furniture on the sidewalk once a month for a truck to pick up. I would just get there before those trucks did. This was before ‘Antiques Roadshow,’ before eBay. It was before anybody really knew what to do with an old vintage piece.”

He continued, “You could find things by Frank Lloyd Wright and Charles Eames. People were still throwing these things away.”

People also weren’t paying big bucks for his finds either. Loughrey and his wife and business partner Shannon started to turn a profit in 1999. Since then, they have auctioned over more than $100 million in art and design objects and furniture. 

Writing in Architectural Digest, Mallery Roberts Morgan says Loughrey played “an important role in elevating international appreciation for mid-century design and art.”

An early champion of California designers and artists, she says he brought to light artists and designers whose work “was lesser known or lost in obscurity.” Among them were Billy Haines, Paul László, Ruth Asawa, De Wain Valentine and Karl Benjamin.

Peter Loughrey cut a dash with suits to match mid-century cool. Image courtesy LAMA

And he did so with not an iota of the snootiness you’d find with old established auction houses, several of which followed LAMA in dealing in mid-century design and houses. 

As his business soared, Loughrey never lost a natural reticence -- despite some pretty loud suits by his favorite designers Mr. Turk and Etro -- and sweetness.

Loughrey went on to develop a devoted circle of celebrity clients; he became an appraiser for Antiques Roadshow and a consultant to institutions like LACMA. He advised and helped source pieces for the museum’s California Design, 1930-1965, Living in a Modern Way. And he was a forceful supporter of Peter Zumthor’s new design for LACMA. 

But the LAMA showroom, which bounced from pop-ups at IM Chait Gallery, Santa Monica airport, and the Pacific Design Center to permanent homes on Beverly Boulevard and then a former special effects studio in Van Nuys, was always a relaxing place. There you could mingle with Loughrey amongst his latest finds. He was always ready with a warm welcome and a nerd-level enthusiasm for the pieces on display. 

Then the auction day itself came. Loughrey would switch on his rat-a-tat-tat auctioneer’s patter, which he learned from his longtime colleague and mentor Viveca Paulin-Ferrell. Then he would dive into an adrenaline-fueled sale that maybe brought him closest to the thrills of a stuntman.

Peter Loughrey talks with KCRW’s Frances Anderton in his home, March 2019. Photo credit: Gina Clyne 

I got to see that salesmanship on display in more modest surroundings. 

For several years in a row, Loughrey served as auctioneer at my daughter’s public elementary school. He did this purely out of the goodness of his heart. But he would still don one of his suave suits, rev up his patter, and raise thousands more for gift baskets and two nights at a hotel tickets than a PTA fundraiser would typically achieve.

The last time I saw Loughrey was when he talked at an event last year for KCRW/DnA.

He told none of us that evening that he was in the midst of receiving treatments for cancer, which he had previously fought in 1994, with Shannon at his hospital bedside.

This time he could not beat back the illness. And it is with great sadness that we say goodbye to this erudite, influential and very kind man.