Mike McKinney has fond memories of playing in the woods behind his grandparents’ home when he was growing up in Cloquet. Of lesser importance to the youngster was the fact that their home was designed by world famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright.
For Mike, it was simply his grandparents’ home, a place he love to visit, not an architectural masterpiece. Still, he and each of his three brothers were required to show respect for the house in a rather unique way.
“My grandfather had a drawer for each of us, with our names on,” he said. “Whenever we came in from playing in the woods, we immediately had to put on white pants and white shirts (kept in the drawers), so not to dirty the house. He’d say, ‘Put on your ice cream clothes,’ and we would.”
Designed by Wright in 1952 and named Mäntylä - Finnish for “house among the pines” - the house was commissioned and built in Cloquet for Ray and Emma Lindholm, McKinney’s grandparents.
Now that home is gone, a pile of dirt left in its place among the pine trees. On the market for years with no buyers, the home was recently donated by owners Peter and Julene McKinney - Peter is the youngest McKinney brother - to the non-profit Usonian Preservation Inc. It is being shipped, piece by piece, to a 130-acre “architectural park” in Pennsylvania, where it will be reconstructed, preserved, open to the public and monitored by the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy.
“The decision to relocate the house was a very difficult one for us. 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,” Peter said in a statement provided to media earlier this month.
According to the same press release, the deal followed efforts by the owners and the Conservancy to find a solution to secure the long-term viability of the house in view of “significant encroachment of retail development over the years.” In addition, the house had been vacant for more than two years and its overall condition had deteriorated substantially, including the failure of the original in-floor heating system.
Mike McKinney said the famous architect had encouraged his grandparents to find a site “five miles and then go another five” out of town.
“It should have been 10 miles and then go another 10,” Mike said. “He miscalculated suburban spread by quite a bit.”
What was forest and farmland when the McKinney boys were little is now a Wal-Mart store and parking lot across the the four lanes of state Highway 33, and a shopping center next door that went up within the past decade where the Joe Makai family used to live.
Cloquet native Clarence Badger remembers going to visit the Makai family, and recalled that both homes were visible from the road then. Over the years, however, the pine trees grew taller and the view of the Frank Lloyd Wright house was hidden behind the trees. Not many younger Cloquet residents even knew what the house looked like, if they were even aware it existed.
For his part, Mike McKinney remembers playing in the woods behind his grandparents home before they became Cloquet’s Pine Valley park, home to trails for both running and Nordic skiing, along with ski jumping for more than 50 years now.
He remembers an interior of cypress, with built-in shelves and free-standing furniture, all designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Views from the tall windows looked out to a meadow and trees. He also remembers a dog house built by Wright’s representative, Bob Pond.
“It was unmistakably Frank Lloyd Wright and looked very similar to the house, with angles and a very long entryway,” Mike said. “It easily fit two large dogs, usually a German shepherd and a lab. We used to crawl in there too.”
The Conservancy doesn’t mention the dog house in its press release, but describes the house as “a late Usonian built of painted concrete block, red tidewater cypress and Ludowici tile roof with floor-to-ceiling window walls, at approximately 2,300 square feet in size, with three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a living room with fireplace, study, kitchen/dining area, and terrace.”
Mike’s description is less practical.
“It was a pretty magical space, with the changes of the seasons from snowfall to leaves and those windows looking out,” Mike said. “It was pretty majestic.”
While most people are familiar with the Lindholm Service Station - the only gas station to be designed by Wright - at the corner of Highway 33 and Cloquet Avenue, the house was not so well known, said Minneapolis architect Tim Quigley, one of the architects overseeing the relocation.
Moving the house to Polymath Park in Acme, Penn., will preserve the house while allowing the public access to it, he said.
“This is a decision we didn’t take lightly and I know some people might be upset that a (Wright) house is leaving Minnesota, but I must say that we think more and more and more people will have an opportunity to see it out there than ever had the opportunity to see it in Cloquet,” Quigley said.
Mike McKinney didn’t disagree. He remembers lots of people visiting the home when his grandparents lived there, but said there hasn’t been much public access in recent years.
“My grandmother was very open (to visitors),” Mike said. “If someone came to take pictures, she’d invite them to have coffee. In the ’50s and ’60s, they had large parties where lots of people came.”
Given the options, with the worst being the destruction of the house as it deteriorated, Mike said the move might be “the right place for the Wright house” although he would have loved to see it remain in Cloquet and be accessible to the public.
“[In Pennsylvania], it will fit my grandparents’ wishes,” he said. “People will be able to use it and see it and enjoy it.”
Relocating a Wright-designed house to preserve it isn’t a typical solution, but moving the house to a new location ensures the house’s long-term survival, said Janet Halstead, executive director of the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy in Chicago.
“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 said.
‘HE TOOK THEM ALL ON’
About 400 houses designed by Wright exist in the United States and now that the Lindholm House has been relocated, the number of Wright-designed houses in Minnesota has gone from 11 to 10, Quigley said. Other Wright-designed houses are located in Rochester, Austin, St. Joseph, Stillwater and the Twin Cities. Wright also designed the Fasbender Medical Clinic in Hastings and the gas station in Cloquet, which is currently for sale.
Wright made his mark designing “fairly radical Prairie School houses” and he made the cover of Time Magazine in the 1930s for Fallingwater, a Wright-designed house in Pennsylvania partly built over a waterfall.
“It was a huge honor and this was because of Fallingwater, that it just captured everyone’s imagination. From that point on, people wrote him from all over the country, saying, ‘Would you possibly design a house for me?’” Quigley explained. “I think most of these people thought the answer would be ‘No, your project is too insignificant, too small,’ but he took them all on, every last one. He did more work from age 65 on than he did before he was 65 years old. It’s pretty amazing.”
Ray and Emma Lindholm, at the time the owners of a growing gas station business, were among those who requested that Wright design their new home.
Joyce McKinney told the Cloquet Pine Journal in 2008 that she and her husband, Daryl, had seen Wright's work while they were students at the University of Minnesota, and encouraged her parents to ask Wright to design the home. They all traveled to Spring Green, Wis., to meet the famed architect.
"He was very accessible and I don't think terribly busy, either," McKinney told the Pine Journal in 2008, "because he said he was not only interested but willing to do the house plan right away. ...
"I thought he was easy to work with - a little acerbic at times, even a little overbearing, but he designed a house my parents really liked after they found the right piece of land.”
Mike McKinney showed plans for a second Frank Lloyd Wright home, which was planned but never built near the first one in Cloquet, hanging in a frame at the Best Oil offices on Avenue B. A drawing of the home shows an L-shaped home in a snow-covered landscape, smoke rising from a fireplace that peeks through the windows with pine trees and hills in the background.
Relocating a Wright-designed house is considered the last resort, Quigley said.
“The conservancy really tries to not do this sort of thing. We try to make sure that houses stay in good condition and good ownership and ideally on the same piece of property that they were always intended for, but every now and then, we run into situations where that can’t be,” explained Quigley, also a co-chair of the conservancy’s Advocacy Committee.
The Lindholm House had interested buyers, but Quigley said the problem was that people realized it was beyond their ability to move the house due to the encroaching development at its current location. The house was marketed to people both interested in preserving it on its Cloquet site and relocating it.
“The house had been vacant for more than two years and its condition was starting to deteriorate,” Halstead said. “It had been on the market on and off during the last 10 years … but 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. 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.”
With no takers, the McKinney family donated the Lindholm House to Usonian Preservation Inc., the nonprofit group associated with Polymath Park.
The Lindholm House will become the fourth house located at the park - it’s already home to the Duncan House designed by Wright and the Balter and Blum houses designed by Wright’s apprentice Peter Berndtson. In addition to tours, the Duncan House is available to reserve for overnight stays and the Lindholm House also is expected to be available for reservations, according to the conservancy. Polymath Park, about an hour east of Pittsburgh in an area called Laurel Highlands, is also located near Wright’s Fallingwater and Kentuck Knob houses.
The deconstruction of the Lindholm House was kept under wraps because of concerns about people coming by to take a souvenir of the house, Quigley said. Over the course of four weeks, he said, the Lindholm House was dismantled piece by piece by a crew of just a few people and then put into trailers to be transported to Pennsylvania. One person on the crew was responsible for numbering, photographing, documenting and tracking every piece of the house.
“Once you have a pile of lumber, it’s a mess. ‘Where did that one go?’ It’s really incredibly intricate,” Quigley said.
Parts of the Lindholm House that Quigley called the “superstructure” - concrete block on the exterior and poured concrete for the floor foundation - were demolished. Those parts will be newly constructed at Polymath Park, Quigley explained.
Although it only took four weeks to deconstruct the house, reconstructing the house piece-by-piece is expected to take much longer. The house is expected to open at Polymath Park in spring 2017.
“The superstructure gets built and then all these pieces and parts come out, all the windows, all the doors, in this case roofing tile - there were clay tiles on the roof - and then all these individual boards have to be reassembled. It’s incredibly labor intensive,” Quigley said.
As for the future of the land itself, Peter McKinney said he didn’t know yet.
“One step at a time,” he said. “It’s been quite a process that we started almost a year ago.”
Mike McKinney said he went to the site for a final look after getting the press release from the Conservancy, and found it partly standing earlier this month. He took photos, then went back earlier this week and it was gone.
He had a chance to buy it once, but said he declined for two reasons.
“I knew at some point the upkeep would be outrageously expensive, and I knew it would always be my grandparents’ house - it would never feel like ours,” he said, in a voice suddenly thick with emotion.