Modern Minnesota gems

  • Article by: KIM PALMER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 4, 2011 - 2:38 PM

Mid-century modern architectural gems will be open for touring.

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Sankaku home

If your design taste is more "Mad Men" than "Masterpiece Theatre," here's the historic home tour for you. Seven mid-century modern dwellings around the Twin Cities will be open for a rare public viewing on Saturday.

These aren't run-of-the-mill ramblers, but significant buildings by noted architects, including a California modern house with courtyards and a glazed dome in the living room.

All the houses on the tour are private homes, said Karen Rue, board member for the Minnesota chapter of Docomomo, the nonprofit that is hosting the tour. "We're opening them up so people can really appreciate the preservation that's gone on inside."

Preserving modernist architecture is what Docomomo is all about. (The name is a condensation of the group's mission: documentation and conservation of architecture from the modern movement.) The international organization has been around since the late '80s, but the Minnesota chapter was recognized just last year. This is its first public tour of residences; last year, it organized a tour of modernist churches.

The local chapter grew out of conversations several years ago among a few "passionate fans" of mid-century modern architecture who wanted to protect surviving examples in Minnesota. They first reached out to existing preservation groups to find out what they were doing to preserve modernist buildings.

"People were interested," said Elizabeth Gales, board president. But with so many other eras to focus on, modernism wasn't a high priority. "That's one of the reasons to have a separate group. We've already lost a lot of interesting modern buildings."

So far, the group has focused on building a registry of modernist properties in the state and raising awareness. "We've not stood in front of any bulldozers yet," Gales said.

Minnesota, while not a hotbed of modern design, has many mid-century modern buildings worthy of preservation, Rue said, citing work by architects Ralph Rapson and Elizabeth and Winston Close. University Grove in Falcon Heights, a University of Minnesota-owned development created for faculty, was a veritable laboratory for architects, particularly modernist architects, from about 1930 to 1970.

A Close-designed home in University Grove will be on Saturday's tour. Built about 50 years ago, it's still occupied by the original owners. Other tour highlights include homes designed by University of Minnesota architects James Stageberg and Carl Graffunder, and Birdwing, a Hopkins home designed by Frank Lloyd Wright's son, Lloyd Wright.

The tour ends with a reception at Sankaku, a house in rural Burnsville that Wright's chief draftsman, John Howe, designed for himself in 1971. Built into a hill overlooking a lake, the house has many Wrightian influences, including its use of wood, glass and stone. "He [Howe] really worked with the topography of the site," Gales said.

Sankaku still boasts many of its original furnishings, some designed by Howe for the house. "It's just lovely we get to have a party there," Gales said.

Kim Palmer • 612-673-4784

  • A SAMPLING OF MODERN HOMES

    What: Self-guided tour of seven notable mid-century modern homes, followed by a reception, sponsored by the Minnesota chapter of Docomomo.

    When: 8:30 a.m.-6 p.m., Oct. 8.

    Where: Homes are located throughout Twin Cities metro area. For locations and tour times, visit www.docomomo-us-mn.org or call Karen Rue at 612-916-1110.

    Tickets: $30 ($20 for members), $15 for students. Payable at the homes on the day of the tour.

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