Aside from bestowing the world with the national treasure that is Jessica Lange, the sleepy Minnesota lumber town of Cloquet is best known for a gas station.
Boasting the slogan “All Roads Lead to Cloquet,” it’s only fitting that the small North Woods city at the junction of Interstate 35 and Minnesota State Highway 33 is home to the National Register of Historic Places-listed R.W. Lindholm Service Station, a midcentury edifice with four service bays, excellent vintage signage and, last but not least, a swooping cantilevered roof — a hallmark of none other than Frank Lloyd Wright.
Originally envisioned by the influential American architect-cum-early 20th century tabloid fixture as part of a suburban utopia concept that never reached fruition, the R.W. Lindholm Service Station (aka the old Phillips station downtown with the crazy-looking canopy) was built in 1958 — just one year before Wright’s passing at the age of 91. While not the only filling station designed by Wright during his long and prolific career, it’s the only such structure that was completed during his lifetime and the only one to actually be functional. Despite being up for sale, the gas station remains Cloquet’s top (only) attraction of note.
While the R.W. Lindholm Service Station is a local landmark, even the most erudite Wright aficionados don’t realize that Cloquet is — well, was — also home to a R.W. Lindholm House.
That’s right — the same couple, Ray and Emma Lindholm, who hired Wright to design a filling station also commissioned him to design a home in 1952.
Dubbed Mäntylä (Finnish for “house among the pines"), the 2,300-square-foot concrete block abode was designed in late-period Usonian style, a term used to describe Wright’s vision for modest, middle class family-oriented housing conceived in the wake of the Great Depression and prior to the meteoric rise of the similarly long-slung ranch house.
Over the past several years, Usonian homes have been popping up for sale with greater frequency as their original owners or baby boomer-aged descendants opt, often with much hand-wringing, to move on. Currently on the market are Usonian homes in Galesburg, Michigan; Plover, Wisconsin and Bernardsville, New Jersey.
Most of these homes, including a super-rare Usonian in Delaware that hit the market in 2013, secure buyers relatively quickly, scooped up by preservation-minded Wright enthusiasts who don’t mind sacrificing a bit of square footage — and a garage, a basement and a formal dining room as Usonian homes are sans these things — for the chance to own an architecturally significant home that's more akin to a valuable piece of art.
The three-bedroom Lindholm House, however, is a different story. When it first entered the market nearly 10 years ago, the rarely photographed property, situated off of Highway 33 on a woodsy 15-acre lot, showed promise. But there were no takers.
Big development, no bites
While numerous factors played into the Lindhom House's inability to sell (harsh winters and the sometimes daunting upkeep involved with owned a Wright-designed home being just two), the main reason the home languished on the market for so long isn’t necessarily because of the condition of the structure itself — it stayed within the same family for three generations and, for the most part, was well-loved and well-maintained. One of the Lindholm’s grandsons, Peter McKinney, owned the home with his wife, Julene, although over the past couple of years the home been unoccupied and, in turn, started to show signs of deterioration
The main reason why this relatively obscure Wright-designed residence, formerly one of only 11 still standing in Minnesota, never found a new owner is because of what’s going on around it: aggressive development that all but erased the home’s once secluded appeal.
During its first several decades, the Lindholm House was located along a quiet rural highway. Today, this stretch of Minnesota 33 is a loud, traffic-ridden commercial thoroughfare. When the home was built in the early 1950s, there were few, if any, neighbors. Now, there's a Wal-Mart Supercenter plopped directly across the street.
“… there’s a lot of development coming in around the area so it was not going to be the same kind of setting that it was originally designed for,” Janet Halstead, executive director of the Chicago-based Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy, tells the Duluth News Tribune. “They were having difficulty attracting a new owner who wanted to live in it in that setting, knowing that development was going to be more intensive as time went on.”
Even in 2008, Ray and Lindholm’s daughter, Joyce McKinney, hinted to the Cloquet Pine Journal that one the homes greatest assets, its seclusion, had all but vanished.
Mr. Wright always used to say, 'Find a piece of land that's five miles out of town — and then go five miles farther,' because he thought cities were ugly, particularly the way they grew up so fast in this country. Today, it's kind of ironic, because when my father bought the land (on Highway 33), it was considered far out — and now look what's happened.
In order to save Wright-designed homes from an untimely end, they are sometimes relocated in their entirety to different locations. It’s rare but it does happen.
For example, it happened in 2014 when a flood-prone Usonian-style abode in Millstone, New Jersey, was painstakingly dismantled and trucked to Bentonville, Arkansas, where it was rebuilt on the grounds of Crystal Bridges, a contemporary art museum owned, ironically, by Wal-Mart heiress Alice Walton. Previous plans — the “romantic solution” — to move the 1954 home, one of only four Wright-designed residences in the Garden State, to a small Tuscan village (long story) were scrapped for reasons of costs and logistics.
A rare last resort
Demolition and the threat of significant damage by the hands of Mother Nature are what usually prompt seldom Wright relocation schemes. Yet In the case of the Lindholm House, “significant encroachment of retail development” is what has lead to the last-ditch decision to take apart the home and erect it somewhere else, somewhere safe, somewhere over 1,000 miles away.
“We don’t encourage moving any house because it takes it out of its historical setting, and so it’s been the Frank Lloyd Wright Conservancy’s approach to not move or sanction moving a Wright house unless its demolition is imminent or its site becomes compromised to the extent that … we feel that it’s not going to survive long-term,” Halstead explains to the Duluth News Tribune.
Just as the conservancy doesn’t take Wright relocations lightly — after all, Wright-designed homes are uniquely designed to interact with their original natural surroundings — the McKinney clan has struggled with letting go of the family home. Obviously, they would have preferred to sell the house and, ideally, see it relocated within Colquet.
“The decision to relocate the house was a very difficult one for us,” explains Peter McKinney in a statement released by the conservancy. “The house has been in our family for over 60 years and our son, David, grew up there. The three of us believe this solution is best for the long-term survival of the house.”
The deconstruction process has already happened — it took place over four weeks in April and May.
The home, from its Ludowici tile roof to its oversized wooden window frames, is now safe and sound in its new location awaiting to be reconstructed. As noted by the Duluth News Tribune, the conservancy and the McKinney family remained hush-hush about the relocation scheme. The convert nature of the operation was largely borne from “concerns about people coming by to take a souvenir of the house” while the structure was being dismantled, each element, save for the concrete super-structure which was demolished, carefully cataloged and packed away into a trailer.
Greener pastures, more visitors
So where then exactly, has the Lindholm House been relocated to?
A neighboring county?
Try Acme, Pennsylvania.
Working in conjunction with Minneapolis-based architect Tim Quigley and former Frank Lloyd Wright Conservancy executive director Ron Scherubel, both current co-chairs of the conservancy’s Advocacy Committee, the McKinney family decided to donate their beloved family home to a seemingly perfect, albeit long-distance, new caretaker: Usonian Preservation, Inc., the nonprofit behind Polymath Park Resort, a never-completed Usonian housing development in Pennsylvania’s Laurel Highlands that’s morphed into a sort of sanctuary for threatened and displaced Wright homes.
Located not too far from Wright’s residential masterpiece, Fallingwater, 130-acre Polymath Park is notable for offering overnight stays in the Duncan House, a prefabricated Usonian-style residence which was first installed in 1957 in suburban Chicago and relocated/rebuilt 600 miles away in Pennsylvania in 2004. Additionally, two other homes on the grounds are available for overnight visits and tours — both were designed and built on-site by Polymath Park creator and Wright protégé, the late Peter Berndtson.
The Lindholm House will be in good company at Pennsylvania's Polymath Park Resort where, once rebuilt, it will be the second relocated Usonian home alongside the Duncan House, which is pictured here. (Photo: Timothy Neesom/flickr)
Once the reconstruction of the Lindholm House is complete in the spring of 2017, it too will be open to the public.
While Quigley reiterates to the Duluth News Tribune that “the conservancy really tries to not do this sort of thing,“ you really couldn’t have asked for a better outcome for an aging Frank Lloyd Wright house with an uncertain future. Now, instead of being forced to coexist with Wal-Mart, the house is amongst its peers in a scenic area that receives a significant amount of Wright-based tourism. The conservancy will continue to keep tabs the home during the reconstruction process and beyond.
From the sounds of it, the Lindholm House was loved and will continue to be loved at Polymath Park
"The addition of the Lindholm house at Polymath Park will allow the public to explore what the Lindholm and McKinney families experienced for three generations,” says Tom Papinchak of Polymath Park in a press statement. “Our intention is to keep the spirit of these families and their house alive by providing a platform for our guests to immerse themselves in architecture and find a true sense of what Wright intended for his clients.”
Mike McKinney, another Lindholm grandchild, is optimistic that Polymath Park is the “right place for the Wright home.” Speaking to the Cloquet Pine Journal, McKinney shares his own fond childhood memories of the house noting that his grandparents, both Finnish immigrants, frequently entertained and shared their home with guests. His grandmother was even receptive to the occasional trespassing looky-loo, inviting them in for coffee and a tour. Confident that the home's new locale "... will fit my grandparent's wishes," McKinney looks forward to a new era of his family's home in which "people will be able to use it and see it and enjoy it.”