Predictions that the bidding wouldn’t take long proved correct.
The virtual, live auction for the St. Thomas-owned, Frank Gehry-designed Winton Guest House began at 12:14 p.m. Tuesday. Three minutes later, the home had a new owner.
Bidding for the 28-year-0ld home started at $450,000. It quickly jumped to $600,000 and stalled there for about a minute. It then went to $700,000 and finally $750,000. “And that’s a real bargain for an architectural masterpiece,” said auctioneer Richard Wright as he closed bidding with the wooden “clack” of his gavel.
Dr. Victoria Young, professor of modern architectural history and chair of Art History Department at St. Thomas, said the identity of the buyer is not yet known. The new location for the guest house also is not known.
"It’s a bittersweet moment. I’ve always wanted to keep the house and use it for student engagement and public outreach,” Young said. “There were many who gave much to this project over the last seven years. I am hopeful that the new owner of the house continues the stewardship of Gehry’s legacy that I’m so proud we’ve been a part of."
The winning bid for the home was $750,000. An additional $155,000 was added to the price for what is called the “buyer’s premium,” bringing the total to $905,000.
Mark Vangsgard, St. Thomas’ vice president for business affairs and chief financial officer, said just prior to the sale that he hoped it might go for $1 million, or more. “I wish it could have been sold for more,” he said after the auction, “but as long as it is going to a good home, I’m happy with how it turned out.
He said proceeds from the sale will go to St. Thomas’ Art History Department.
The auction, conducted by Wright’s Chicago-based auction house, was the latest in an unusual series twists and turns in the life of a most unusual home. Mike and Penny Winton commissioned world-renowned architect Frank Gehry in 1982 to design a guest house for their Lake Minnetonka property. When it was finished in 1987, the 2,300-square-foot structure won House and Garden magazine’s design award of the year and made Time magazine’s “Best of 87” design honor roll.
When real estate developer Kirt Woodhouse purchased the Winton property in 2002, he subdivided the land and donated the Winton Guest House to St. Thomas. It took several years, but the home, which is composed of five separate geometrically shaped rooms, was divided into sections and moved 110 miles to the university’s Daniel C. Gainey Conference Center just south of Owatonna.
When St. Thomas sold the conference center last summer to Meridian Behavioral Health Services, the university retained ownership of the Winton Guest House and was given until August 2016 to move it to a new location.
The house was sold at today’s auction with the stipulation that it had to be moved from the Owatonna property. Vangsgard said he hoped the move could be done yet this summer while weather conditions are favorable.
News of the auction was carried nationally and even internationally. Here’s a list of some of the publications that ran articles about the sale: Italy’s Architectural Digest, Owatonna People’s Press, Vanity Fair, Financial Times of London, Architecture Minnesota, Wall Street Journal, Architectural Digest, Architectural Record and the Minneapolis-based Star Tribune.
The Wright auction house website featured considerable information about the Winton Guest House. Just prior to the auction, Richard Wright thanked Dr. Victoria Young for her help with the sale. “St. Thomas had a great team and this project was a lot of fun,” he said.