Come spring the Winton guesthouse will be on the road again.
And for $1 million or so, it could roll up your driveway.
Designed by Los Angeles architect Frank Gehry, the award-winning three bedroom home — which looks like a cluster of minimalist sculptures — was moved in 2011 from a hill overlooking Lake Minnetonka to a field outside Owatonna.
On May 19 it will be auctioned by Wright, a Chicago firm specializing in modern and contemporary design. The estimated price is $1 million to $1.5 million, plus moving costs, which have not been calculated.
“For us, the fact that the structure can be moved is a big positive,” said auctioneer Richard Wright, whose 15-year-old firm has previously sold prefab homes, a Frank Lloyd Wright (no relation) house and furniture by Gehry and other iconic modernists. “We’d love to have it stay in Minnesota, but the fact that it can be moved opens up possibilities.”
The University of St. Thomas, which now owns the building, has sold its Owatonna site and is putting it on the market.
The house was given to St. Thomas by real-estate developer Kirt Woodhouse, who purchased it from Minneapolis arts patrons Mike and Penny Winton in 2001. St. Thomas had the 2,300-square-foot structure 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 St. Thomas reopened the house in 2011, Gehry attended the ceremony and declared the relocated structure to be “93.6 percent right.”
It was appraised at $4.5 million at the time of the move. Its estimated auction price is on the low end in an effort “to entice bidders,” said Wright. “I think it’s undervalued compared to the artistic and historic value of the home.”
In February 2014, St. Thomas announced plans to sell the Owatonna property, known as the Daniel C. Gainey Conference Center, because it was unable to operate it “in a financially sustainable manner.” Meridian Behavioral Health Services, a New Brighton-based company, bought the site and converted it into an addiction-treatment center.
The university retained title 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 ideas 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 Prof. Victoria Young, chairwoman of the relocation committee.
In late February the St. Thomas board of directors voted to sell the house.
Originally, the guesthouse 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. After raising their five children in the Johnson house, the Wintons needed more space when grandchildren arrived, so they commissioned the Gehry guesthouse 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 guesthouse was the more famous of the two structures because it was a pioneering design whose eccentric shapes were acclaimed as breakthroughs 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 the Walker Art Center, the house helped propel the Los Angeles-based architect to international fame.