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Frank Lloyd Wright building expected to be demolished

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Would be the first complete, viable, and intact Wright-designed building to meet the wrecking ball in more than 40 years

Scott ZImmerman

Update January 10, 7:15 p.m. EST: According to the Frank Lloyd Wright Building conservancy, an attempt by the group to purchase the building has failed, and demolition is expected to proceed on the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Lockridge Medical

A late-period building by Frank Lloyd Wright in Whitefish, Montana, is expected to be demolished after a last-minute buyer didn’t come forward in time, according to the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy.

The Lockridge Medical Center, a rare example of the architect’s work in Montana, has been under threat for years, but the pace of potential demolition accelerated in the new year.

According to an earlier release sent by the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy, the Montana Preservation Alliance confirmed with Whitefish attorney Ryan Purdy, the legal counsel for building owner, Mick Ruis, that asbestos abatement had begun in preparation for a full demolition. After local preservationists found out and sounded the alarm, the owner’s representative said he “has agreed to sell it to anyone who puts $1.7 million in his hand by the 10th of January.”

Curbed had reported earlier that Ruis had plans to tear down the structure to make way for a three-story commercial development, including retail space, offices, and four residential units on the top floor.

According to an earlier Curbed report on the Medical Center:

This later-period Wright work in the town of Whitefish was designed in 1958 and completed after the noted architect passed away in 1959. One of his final projects, the brick and cast-concrete office featured a massive brick fireplace, double clerestory windows, and 64-foot-long wall of floor-to-ceiling glass. Supposedly, according to a story in the Daily Inter Lake, the doctors who first used the office received an extremely high bid when they put out a request for architects, and decided that if it was going to cost that much, they might as well hire Frank Lloyd Wright.

While some of the original features have been removed, subsequent additions have altered the building, and the landscaping Wright planned for the surrounding grounds has, in part, been turned into a parking lot, the structure was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2012.

This structure is one of three Wright buildings in Montana, including the Como Orchards Cottage, which is available for rent.

Brenda Ahern
Adam Jeselnick

Update 2:56 p.m. EST

In response to a question about previous demolitions of Wright designs, the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy provided this timeline of recent losses:

In 1972, the second Little House in Wayzata, Minnesota, just west of Minneapolis, was demolished. Several interior spaces were savaged and are on display in major art museums including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. This was the most recent demolition of a viable, intact Frank Lloyd Wright-designed building. Since that time two significant losses of Wright’s work have occurred. In 2004, the heavily altered, but arguably restorable, W.S. Carr House, built in 1916 in Grand Beach, Michigan, was demolished. In 2013, Wright’s interior design for the 1954 Hoffman Auto Showroom at Park Avenue and 56th Street in New York City was lost, just as the process for its designation as a New York City Landmark was begun.

Adam Jeselnick

Update January 10, 7:15 p.m. EST:

According to a statement just released by the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy, their attempts to purchase and save the building have failed, and they expect it to be demolished. Here’s their account of efforts to save the structure:

On Jan. 8 a full-price offer to purchase the building was submitted to Whitefish attorney Ryan Purdy, the legal counsel for building owner Mick Ruis. The offer was submitted by 341 Central LLC, which was formed by the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy (FLWBC) in Chicago, IL, specifically for the purpose of saving the Lockridge Medical Clinic building from demolition. The offer provided for a substantial refundable deposit paid directly to the owner with 60 days to close on the full $1.7 million asking price, and the ability to conduct inspections on the property, which had already undergone an undetermined amount of interior demolition work.

On the morning of Jan. 9, the building owner replied to the offer through Purdy with a demand for a 50 percent greater deposit that would be entirely nonrefundable and must paid by 5 p.m. MT on the very same day. Further terms stated that 341 Central LLC would have until only Jan. 22 to pay the remaining $1.7 million purchase price, and there would be no reasonable time frame for buyer inspections on the building. Fencing was installed around the building and crews chopped down surrounding trees, prompting concerns that, without inspections, a potential buyer may not know how much of the interior had already been removed.

As negotiations continued under these increasingly unorthodox terms, FLWBC and its allies attempted to raise the full nonrefundable deposit amount within the near-impossible time frame set. With public support for preserving the building growing, evidenced by numerous phone calls and emails from concerned citizens, on the afternoon of Jan. 10 FLWBC offered to submit a substantial portion of the nonrefundable deposit by the close of business on Jan. 10, and requested one more week to allow FLWBC to launch a crowd-funding campaign to raise the full deposit amount requested on Jan. 9. This offer was rejected at 4:15PM Central time on Jan. 10, as was a subsequent request to salvage architectural elements of the building prior to or during the demolition process.

“The board of directors of the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy agreed the owner’s proposals provided no realistic path to acquiring the building, short of an investor willing to put down $1.7 million cash without reasonable time to complete their own due diligence on the property,” says Barbara Gordon, executive director of the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy. “We certainly attempted to make that happen alongside many other options we explored in the incredibly brief window of time we were given to find a new solution. Complex commercial real estate transactions don’t happen overnight, and we believe a realistic offer was submitted to the owner by his deadline that would allow the organizations working to save this building to continue to fully finance its purchase. We in the preservation community are all incredibly disappointed by this outcome, to say the least.”