A little over a year ago my dear friend Victoria Young guided me to the Winton Guest House, a Frank Gehry design in Owatonna, Minnesota. Owatonna is of course the site of one of the great early 20th century Louis Sullivan Midwestern Bank designs.
Owatonna is also home to a 1987 Frank Gehry design, the Winton Guest House, which was originally designed in 1987 in Orono, Minnesota. In 2009 it was moved to the Gainey Conference Center of the University of St. Thomas.
Sadly, the house is threatened again due to a change in ownership of the Conference Center and must be moved by next June. The University of St. Thomas is inviting proposals to move the house, which is a fetching combination of solid geometries and colors. The bedroom is a great curve of pink dolomite limestone, the living room and another bedroom are sheathed in black metal, its freplace unit is brick and the eight-room complex was judged an “architectural masterpiece and work of art” in its 2007 appraisal.
Known as a California architect, Frank Gehry had plenty of experience in Minnesota dating to his work with Victor Gruen in the early 1950s designing the first modern shopping mall in Edina. The Winton Guest house was designed in the 1980s and completed in 1987, two years before Gehry won the Pritzker Prize, which first launched him onto the international stage and led to such famous commissions as the Bilbao Guggenheim and Walt Disney Concert Hall, and of course the Pritzker Pavilion in Chicago’s Millennium Park.
I saw a Gehry building in Cleveland in 2003, all white but the usual concupiscent curds of form he had become known for since Bilbao in 1997. The Winton Guest House reveals a more experimental use of various forms and materials, similar to the experimentation that was his own Santa Monica house int he 1970s, although resolved with a clarity provided by the absence of any distracting exterior appurtenances, a village of forms pinwheeling about the central tower.
The high artistry of the composition makes it more likely to retain its significance should it be moved again. The first move was 110 miles. Another 70 and it could make it to the Twin Cities, where more might be able to appreciate it, visit it and understand a key period in the development of one of our most famous living architects.
Many thanks to Chris Madrid French and Victoria Young for their advocacy and support! If you are interested in the Winton Guest House, take a look at this site. If you want it, contact Dr. Victoria Young, Dept of Art History, University of St. Thomas, 2115 Summit Avenue, Mail 57P, St. Paul, Minnesota, 55105.