Clock is Ticking on Two Important Houses
Most buildings never leave their original sites, but Frank Gehry’s 1987 Winton Guesthouse may be facing its second move within six years. And another remarkable house from the banks of Minnesota’s Lake Minnetonka—the 1972 Dayton House by Romaldo Giurgola—is poised for an ambitious relocation of its own.
Photo © Rollin R. LaFrance/Courtesy Mitchell|Giurgola Architects
There, wealthy shoreline communities have a history of great architectural patronage, as well as stunning losses. In Wayzata, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Francis Little residence was razed in 1972 (though its living room survives in the Metropolitan Museum of Art). And in 1997, the wrecking ball shattered Ralph Rapson’s nearby Pillsbury House. But the Herculean feat of disassembling, relocating, and re-erecting the Winton Guesthouse, between 2008 and 2011, set a new precedent here. Rescuing the Dayton House would engage similar means. Yet currently, the fate of both houses is uncertain.
The Winton odyssey began when developer Kirt Woodhouse subdivided its 12-acre property, separating the guesthouse from the 1952 Philip Johnson–designed main house. High land values impeded the survival of the 2,300-square-foot cottage as a stand-alone house. Ultimately, Woodhouse donated it, in 2007, to Minnesota’s University of St. Thomas. Stubbs Building Movers orchestrated the move, cutting the house into eight pieces, at a reported cost of $1 million, and reassembling it 75 miles away, on the university’s conference and retreat campus, in Owatonna. Last August, St. Thomas sold that campus, with the guesthouse excluded from the sale and the agreement to relocate it within two years. University trustees are expected to decide whether to either move the building to its main campus, in St. Paul; store it for integration into a future arts center there; or find a donor or new owner to move the house to another site. “It’s a pivotal Gehry work,” says architectural history professor Victoria Young, who oversees the house. “And at least 18 months are needed to fund, engineer, and move it.”
Meanwhile, the 9,300-square-foot Dayton House, in Wayzata, has 16 months to work out relocation plans. Its owners are occupying it until their new home, elsewhere on-site, is done (anticipated to be in December). Since local zoning allows only one residence per parcel, the older building must be gone within six months of its replacement’s completion.
St. Thomas investigated rescuing it, but another, more viable option has emerged. Blue Water Theater Company, working with Stubbs and architect Neil Weber, hopes to reestablish the building across the lake on a city-owned site. An operator-owner nonprofit would form, adding an auditorium, with the Dayton housing the lobby, black-box performance space, and offices, plus galleries for other organizations. Moving the massive structure demands descending a steep slope to a lake crossing or navigating mature trees along a winding land route. Stay tuned.