Five Ways to Witness Frank Lloyd Wright’s Architecture in Minnesota
By Andrew Parks
Frank Lloyd Wright may have been born in Wisconsin and based in Spring Green for much of his life, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t leave an indelible mark on Minnesota during his reign as one of architecture’s only true rock stars.
While most of the state’s 13 sites are privately owned — including homes in Rochester, Stillwater and St. Louis Park — several can be toured or seen in person to put Wright’s progressive ideas in perspective better than any book or Ken Burns doc ever could.
Turns out you can even spend a couple days cooking, sleeping and living your best Usonian life in one of them, too.
The Elam House in Austin
Believe it or not, one of Wright's largest house layouts just so happens to be two miles away from Southern Minnesota’s beloved SPAM Museum. Peter Plunkett began welcoming guests into his childhood home in 2013, nearly 55 years after his father Warren bought the property from the family it’s named after.
Most overnight stays begin with an hour-long tour that’s far more inviting and informative than most Wright visits. Questions are encouraged, as is having a healthy sense of humor. Once everything's wrapped, Plunkett shuts the door that separates the main section of the house from its spacious mother-in-law suite and leaves you to experience an entire wing the way his own family once did.
“We lived in this house,” explains Plunkett. “We shot hockey pucks, we threw footballs and Frisbees, we played with dogs — everything.”
When we ask if he ever worried about breaking such a pristine, historic piece of Prairie-style architecture, Plunkett smiles and says, “It’s a solid house. If you run into a wall, you’re gonna knock yourself out. It’s made of limestone after all.”
Lindholm Oil Company Service Station in Cloquet
More than just a mere architect or modern artist, Wright was an urban planner with a wild vision for the future that was never fully realized. A cornerstone of his "Broadacre City" blueprints was centralized gas stations like Cloquet's Lindholm Oil Company. Unlike the sketch-based prototype at the Pierce Arrow Museum in Buffalo, NY, Lindholm's fill-'er-up find is a fully functioning business — the only Wright design of its kind — that’s been run by the same mechanic (Chris Chartier) since 1982.
He’s totally fine with superfans taking a closer look at the bones of the place, too, from its dusty observation deck to its sky-lit service bays. Frankly, he’s used to it. “We get at least 5,000 hits on Google per month,” Chartier told Mpls.St.Paul magazine in 2021. “It just amazes me.”
In the same feature, current owner Andrew Volna also made sure to point out the spire that sports Wright’s name outside. “It rises like a beacon from the cantilevered copper roof,” he said. “It’s my favorite thing about the station.”
Fasbender Medical Clinic in Hastings
As local realtor Tom Bullington pointed out in a recent YouTube video, the former medical office of Dr. Herman Fasbender has suffered roof damage — a recurring problem with Wright’s designs — several times due to hailstorms in the Hastings area. The good news? Renovations by Edward Jones Investments revealed its copper lining, an elegant touch given how alien the building’s exterior looks. It’s as if the building is wearing the roof as a cape, making this an otherworldly photo op within an hour’s drive of the Twin Cities.
Francis Little House II in Minneapolis
When the daughter of Francis and Mary Little decided to put her parents' Lake Minnetonka property up for sale in the late '60s, she had trouble finding a buyer willing to shoulder the costs that came with — in the words of the Minneapolis Institute of Art — "the large size of the house, rising property taxes, inflexible built-in furnishings, inadequate insulation and many uninvited visitors." The Metropolitan Museum of Art swept in instead, offering to purchase the place for preservation's sake. MIA now owns part of its dismantled interior, an intricate hallway made of oak, pine, glass, copper-coated zinc, porcelain, brass, metal and cotton canvas that's a permanent fixture in a third floor gallery.
The Malcolm Willey House in Minneapolis
Given how gargantuan his ego was, it's no surprise that Nancy Willey convinced Wright to design her and her husband a Minneapolis home after writing him a fawning letter and saying his autobiography "is one of those books that make ideas grow." She then asked if Wright would be willing to make a "creation of art" for the couple. As was often the case with Wright, he went way over budget at first, submitting a proposal that would cost $17,000 rather than the $10,000 tops commission she'd asked for. The two parties eventually came to an agreement, landing at the lovingly restored home the Willeys declared "thrilling beyond words.... another masterpiece."
While it is now privately owned, tours are given for groups of 10-16 people. Contact [email protected] for more information.
Andrew Parks is the multimedia editor at Explore Minnesota. His past lives include copywriting and content strategy for such clients as Food & Wine, Apple, Condé Nast Traveler, Bandcamp, AFAR, Bon Appétit, and Red Bull.
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