Frank Gehry Shuffle: University of St. Thomas to move Winton Guest House a second time

Architecture Midwest News Newsletter Preservation
(University of St. Thomas)

Frank Gehry’s Winton House (University of St. Thomas)

An early Frank Gehry–designed house about an hour south of Minneapolis is on the move—again.

The Winton Guest House, which Gehry designed in the early 1980s for Penny and Mike Winton, sits on property in Owatonna, Minnesota recently sold by the building’s owner, the University of St. Thomas. They have until August 2016 to relocate the playful, postmodern cluster of forms.

The Winton Guest House is shown at its new location at the Gainey Conference Center in Owatonna, Minn., on Sunday October 2, 2011. (Thomas Whisen, University of St. Thomas)

The Winton Guest House is shown at its new location at the Gainey Conference Center in Owatonna, Minn., on Sunday October 2, 2011. (Thomas Whisen, University of St. Thomas)

It’s not the first time the house has been relocated. In 2008 the university divided the structure into eight sections for the 110-mile move from its original site west of the Twin Cities on Lake Minnetonka. Last year the university sold its Gainey C. Gainey Conference Center property, on which the Winton house now sits.

Victoria Young, chair of the department of art history at the University of St. Thomas, said there are several options for the move.

“We could move the house back up to campus now. We could store the house and move it onto campus in conjunction with building a new Fine Arts Center, something that has been talked about a bit, we could sell the house at auction or a cultural organization could step up and save it. Or a donor could come to be and make any of these things happen,” she said. But wherever it ends up, she added, “my administration has committed to getting the house off the property before the August 2016 deadline, when it would become the property of the new owners.”

View of the Winton Guest House (Photo by Olga Ivanova, courtesy University of St. Thomas)

View of the Winton Guest House (Photo by Olga Ivanova, courtesy University of St. Thomas)

Young meets with the University body overseeing the move, the Physical Facilities Planning Committee of St. Thomas’ Board of Trustees, on Feb. 18, and is expected to determine a course of action the next day.

The University has hired Consultant Chris Madrid French, a preservationist and former director of the now-defunct Modernism + Recent Past Initiative of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. French pulled off a similar move with the historic Capen House in Winter Park, Florida.

A window in the Winton Guest House reflects the surroundings (Photo by Olga Ivanova, courtesy University of St. Thomas)

A window in the Winton Guest House reflects the surroundings (Photo by Olga Ivanova, courtesy University of St. Thomas)

An early and relatively modest example of Gehry’s work, the Winton House offers a glimpse at the residential design sensibilities of an architect who would go on to achieve stardom for theaters, pavilions and museums.

“I would love for the house to be open to the public to showcase the early part of Frank’s career, when he began working outside California and when important clients, Mike and Penny Winton, gave him the freedom to create art out of architectural form,” said Young. “This paved the way for the Weisman Art Museum, Guggenheim Bilbao, etc. Gehry is one of the most important architects of the twentieth century, and I am committed to a preservation of his legacy.”

Floor plan for Frank Gehry's Winton Guest House. (University of St. Thomas)

Floor plan for Frank Gehry’s Winton Guest House. (University of St. Thomas)

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