Frank Gehry guest house in Owatonna, 2011 photo by Mike Ekern for University of St. Thomas

After being moved from Lake Minnetonka to Owatonna, the famous $4.5 million guest house Frank Gehry designed for Mike and Penny Winton will be auctioned May 19 in Chicago.

The University of St. Thomas, which now owns the unusual structure, plans to have Wright, a Chicago-based auction house that specializes in modern and contemporary design, handle the sale.

The house was given to St. Thomas by real estate developer Kirt Woodhouse who had purchased it  from the Wintons in 2001. St. Thomas had the 2,300 square foot house cut into eight pieces and moved 110 miles south to Owatonna where it was reassembled and repurposed as part of a conference center. The move took 18 months and cost an undisclosed sum estimated to be in the high six-figures.

When it reopened in 2011, Gehry attended the ceremony and declared the relocated structure to be "93.6 percent right."

In February 2014, the University announced plans to sell the Daniel C. Gainey Conference Center because it was unable to operate it "in a financially sustainable manner." Last summer the University sold the Owatonna property to Meridian Behavioral Health Services, a New Brighton-based company that has converted it into an addiction treatment center.

The University retained titled to the Winton house, however, and promised to move it by August 2016. It considered various options for the structure including disassembling and storing it, turning it over to an arts or cultural organization, or moving it back to the Twin Cities where St. Thomas has a business school in downtown Minneapolis and a main campus in St. Paul.

Ultimately those options proved unfeasible. St. Thomas rejected the building "because we are beginning a campus master planning process and could not commit to a specific site," said architecture professor Victoria Young, who chaired the relocation committee.

In late February the St. Thomas board of directors voted to sell the house. Details of its contract with the auction firm were not available, and Wright officials conld not be reached Monday.

Originally the guest house was part of an 11 acre parcel overlooking Lake Minnetonka that included a classic brick-and-glass house designed in 1952 by modernist master Philip Johnson. Prominent Twin Cities art patrons, the Wintons commissioned  the guest house from Los Angeles architect Frank Gehry in 1987. His design was a novelty at the time -- a cluster of sculptural shapes that nestle together like a little village consisting of a tall metal-covered cone, a limestone clad block, a brick cube, a garage made of Finnish plywood, and an aluminum-covered cube. Each contained a room that served a special function including three-small bedrooms and a "living tower."

In many ways the guest house was the more famous of the two structures as it was a pioneering design whose eccentric shapes were acclaimed as break-throughs in living patterns. It won House and Garden magazine's design award for 1987. Coming hard on the heels of a popular 1986 traveling  retrospective of Gehry's work organized by Walker Art Center, the house helped propel the Los Angeles-based architect to international fame.

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