Meeting Mr. Wright

Few, if any, in the architectural world would be apt to refer to the variable Frank Lloyd Wright as "sweet" - but that's exactly how Cloquet's Joyce McKinney saw him.

Few, if any, in the architectural world would be apt to refer to the variable Frank Lloyd Wright as "sweet" - but that's exactly how Cloquet's Joyce McKinney saw him.

"He was just sweet," she declared, referring to the first meeting she and husband Daryl had with the famous architect. "It was very pleasant talking to him. We already were very familiar with his work, and I think he liked young people and talking about architecture, so we got along with him very well."

As the community of Cloquet prepares to observe the 50th anniversary of one of its more famous landmarks - the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed R.W. Lindholm Service Station - the true "story behind the story" lives on in the experiences and memories of the McKinney/Lindholm families.

Ray and Emma Lindholm, Joyce's parents, were both Finnish immigrants. Her father came to this country when he was a year and a half old, though her mother didn't come to the United States until she was 21, after she finished school at the University of Helsinki.

In the 1920s, Ray and Emma were introduced through mutual friends, struck up a romance, and were married in 1925 in Cloquet, where his parents had a farm on North Road.


Emma worked as a house maid in one of the larger homes in Cloquet.

"She was a college graduate, but she didn't know a word of English," related Joyce. "She worked for highly educated people, however, so she learned good English right from the beginning."

The Lindholms eventually started their own gas station business in Moose Lake that eventually expanded to include ones in Cloquet and surrounding areas as well.

And many years later, when they were contemplating building a new house in Cloquet, daughter Joyce seized the opportunity to pitch the merits of architect Frank Lloyd Wright.

She and future husband Daryl had first became familiar with Wright's work when they were both English majors at the University of Minnesota. The two met in an Advanced Shakespeare class and they often went to the Walker Art Gallery and the Minnesota Art Institute, since both were interested in art and literature.

"The Walker Art Gallery built a model house in the mid-1940s called the Idea House," related Joyce, " - full of contemporary ideas by architects such as Frank Lloyd Wright - and it just amazed us. We really were fascinated by it. And then we began reading more and bought some of Mr. Wright's books. So when my father said he thought he'd build a new home, I jumped on it and suggested Frank Lloyd Wright."

Her parents were interested, so they, along with Joyce and Daryl, went to Spring Green, Wis., and visited with Wright at his home there.

"He was very accessible and I don't think terribly busy, either," said Joyce, "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," she reflected, " - 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.

"Mr. Wright always used to say, 'Find a piece of land that's five miles out of town - and then go five miles farther,' Joyce went on to explain, "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 South in Cloquet], it was considered far out - and now look what's happened...."

Wright custom designed the family's house to the piece of land they selected, although he never actually saw it in person.

"When they started building my parents' house," recalled Joyce, "he always sent a docent or teaching assistant to supervise the construction, because it was so unconventional that the ordinary contractor would have a hard time with it. He sent a young man here named Joe Fabre who lived in town and we became very good friends with him."

The house, which the family decided to call Mäntylä (which means "among the pines"), was completed in 1955.

"It was very pleasant and very cozy," said Joyce, "and it even had the heat in the floor. My mother's dogs loved it because they could stretch out on the floor and feel the warmth. Our boys had a ritual of going to the house every Saturday night. My mother and father adored those kids, and every Saturday night they had all four of them come over. They had a big fireplace and the boys loved it there."

And though the house has remained largely private over the years, at one point during the 1960s, the president of Finland and his wife were special guests there.

The Lindholms had lived in the house for a couple of years before deciding they wanted to ask Wright to design a gas station for them.


"My father owned the gas station on Third Street in Cloquet and he knew he needed to update it and build a new station," stated Joyce.

"We knew FLW had designed a gas station for the futuristic Broadacre City concept of his, so we approached him and he basically dusted off the old design and made it work for us.

"Mr. Wright loved to see his projects come into being," she added. "He designed many, many buildings that were never built. The interesting thing is though clients paid an architect's fee to Mr. Wright, they never actually owned the plans. They went back to Taliesen. He probably realized early on that he might be famous some day and wanted to keep all those designs for himself."

Wright did, however, need input into designing the workings of the station because he knew nothing of the service station industry or the specifications they needed for working on automobiles.

For example, the cantilevered overhang Wright designed as part of the station was meant to have the gas hoses coming down from above, but it turned out that was against the state law and the design had to be retooled.

Wright hired Taliesen apprentice Bob Pond to supervise the gas station project for him, and Pond lived in Cloquet during that time and drove back and forth to Wright's Taliesen home many weekends and called him frequently for advice and guidance.

When the station was at last completed in 1958, it was cause for celebration.

"The grand opening happened on a lovely fall day," Joyce recalled. "They did everything one does for grand openings - giveaways, clowns handing out candy and that kind of thing. I really don't think all that many people were aware of any particular architectural importance historically. They probably thought the station was kind of different, but not everyone had heard of Frank Lloyd Wright, but it worked out well."


Though Wright meant to come to see the unique gas station in person after it was built, he died within weeks of the station's completion and never got here.

Today, it remains the world's only gas station designed by Wright.

As part of the gas station's upcoming 50th anniversary celebration in Cloquet on Aug. 7, a symposium will be held from 1-4 p.m. at Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College, featuring speakers on Frank Lloyd Wright (including architect Bob Pond), the construction of the Lindholm house and gas station and the culture of the Fifties during which it was built.

For more information, or to register, go to: or contact Wendy Johnson or Lisa Baumann at the Pine Journal office at 218-879-1950.

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