Frank Lloyd Wright and Cloquet: A historic connection

How one family's relationship with the renowned architect led to the creation of two famed local structures.

The geometric shapes of the large overhang dominate the sky at the Frank Lloyd Wright gas station in Cloquet. (Clint Austin /

Frank Lloyd Wright, born June 1867, spent over 70 years designing nationally recognized structures that have continued to impact architecture. He spent his life traveling the world — learning, teaching and designing.

So, what led the celebrated architect to select Cloquet as the home for not one, but two of his designs? The answer is simpler than people might think, and it all started with two college students.

In the early 1950s, Cloquet resident and business owner Ray Lindholm was seeking his ideal home somewhere in the local area. Lindholm founded Lindholm Oil Company in 1939 and set his eyes on a new goal of constructing a home for himself and his wife, Emmy.

It was then that his college-aged daughter, Joyce Mckinney, and her husband, Daryl Mckinney, encouraged him to hire Wright for the project. They had admired Wright’s work while studying at the University of Minnesota and thought he would be a good fit.

The family soon traveled to Wright’s home in Spring Green, Wisconsin, and commissioned his help.


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The interior of Mäntylä COPY
The interior of Mäntylä closely resembles how it was originally built for Ray and Emmy Lindholm of Cloquet in the 1950s. The Frank Lloyd Wright-designed house was dismantled and reassembled at Polymath Park in Pennsylvania, where it is now open to the public. (Photo courtesy of Polymath Park)

Joyce Mckinney told the Pine Journal in a 2008 interview that Wright was willing to design the house plan immediately.

“He was very accessible, and I don’t think terribly busy either,” she said.

Wright often took on smaller-scale projects and designed over 400 homes in the U.S. during his life.

“Regard it just as desirable to build a chicken-house as to build a cathedral,” he once told studying architects.


Upon its completion in 1952, the Lindholm House spread approximately 2,300 square feet in what was once a heavily wooded area of Cloquet.

The house dawned the name Mäntylä — Finnish for “house among the pines” — and remained in Cloquet until 2016, when it was donated by then-owners Peter and Julene Mckinney to the Usonian Preservation in Acme, Pennsylvania.

The Lindholm House COPY
The Lindholm House pictured in its new Pennsylvania location. (Photo courtesy of Polymath Park)

But, the relationship did not end with the completion of the house. While Ray Lindholm was dreaming of a home, Wright was dreaming of a service station.

Wright had been working on designs for service stations since the 1920s and believed they were a crucial piece in his utopia urban plan known as “Broadacre City.”

“The roadside service station may be, in embryo, the future city distribution center,” Wright wrote in his biography.

Unfortunately, none of his designs for the stations had come to fruition, and Wright was nearing the end of his career.


So, when he learned the Lindholm family owned an oil company, he jumped at the opportunity to see one of his station designs come to life.

“Basically, Wright convinced my grandfather to let him do the project,” Lindholm's grandson Mike Mckinney told the Pine Journal in 2009.

Wright based the design on some of his previous plans, with some minor modifications made in light of local fire codes.

He wanted it to be a step up from other service stations, and equipped it with a 32-foot copper canopy and a lounge for guests to wait while their vehicles were repaired.

A postcard featuring the R.W. Lindholm gas station in Cloquet. (Photo courtesy of Carlton County Historical Society)

It cost around $75,000 to design and build, as compared to the usual $25,000, but Joyce Mckinney told the Duluth News Tribune that her father didn’t flinch at the price.

In the end, the design was unique and attention-grabbing, but not practical, according to former manager Donald Lynch.

“It’s unfortunate that Frank Lloyd Wright didn’t know anything about service stations when he designed it,” Lynch told the Duluth News Tribune in 1982, citing a cramped sales office and inaccessible bathrooms.

Wright designed both the Lindholm house and service station without ever visiting the area. He used topographic maps to chart out his plans, and sent his apprentice Robert Pond to oversee the service station's construction.

Even though Wright never stepped foot in Cloquet, it appears the Lindholm and Mckinney families had ongoing communication with the architect.

In addition to visiting his Wisconsin home, the family also traveled to Arizona to see Wright, who designed a second home for the family, but it was never constructed.

While many described Wright as an egomaniac, Joyce Mckinney told the Duluth News Tribune that he was “sweet." The family kept a photograph of Wright taken by Daryl Mckinney, in which he is pictured holding his glasses in one hand, looking to the side.

Joyce Mckinney told the News Tribune that Wright hated the photograph and had torn up the original, saying that it made him look old. Fortunately, she had made another copy, which the family still has today.

The R.W. Lindholm Station held its grand opening in 1958. Wright died five months later, having completed his final career goal.

While it is no longer owned by the original family, the station has come to be known as the Frank Lloyd Wright Gas Station and was registered through the National Register of Historical Places in 1985.

In 2008, then-mayor Bruce Ahlgren declared Aug. 7 as Frank Lloyd Wright Day in Cloquet.

A poster advertising the R.W. Lindholm station. (Photo courtesy of Carlton County Historical Society)

This story was updated at 12:35 p.m. Feb. 18 to correct Emmy Lindholm's first name and so the headline more accurately reflects the Lindholm family's relationship with Wright. It was originally posted at 6:30 a.m. Feb. 16. The Pine Journal regrets the errors.

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