Winton Guest House

St. Thomas Will Sell Gehry-Designed House

St. Thomas will sell the Winton Guest House, designed by world-renowned architect Frank Gehry and moved several years ago to the university’s Daniel C. Gainey Conference Center in Owatonna.

The Board of Trustees voted last week to sell the house, and St. Thomas will contract with Wright, a Chicago and New York modern and contemporary design auction house, to handle the sale. Richard Wright, founder and principal, plans to place the house on auction May 19 in Chicago after an exhibition during Art Week in New York City.

The university faces an August 2016 deadline to move the house from its 180-acre Owatonna site, sold last summer to Meridian Behavioral Health Services. The New Brighton-based company renovated the Gainey property for use as an addiction treatment center, opening Beauterre Recovery Institute in January.

St. Thomas retained the ownership rights to the Winton Guest House but agreed to move the house. A committee led by Dr. Victoria Young, professor of modern architectural history and chair of the Art History Department, examined several options.

“One option was to move the house to the St. Paul or Minneapolis campus,” Young said, “but there was uncertainty about location because we are beginning a campus master planning process and could not commit to a specific site.

“We also studied whether an arts or cultural organization in the Twin Cities would be interested in taking over the house, or whether we should disassemble it and store it until we found the right location. In the end, St. Thomas decided the best option would be to sell the house.”

Young views Wright as an excellent choice to handle the sale. Since opening the auction house in 2000, Wright and his team have sold 40,000 lots across the spectrum of 20th century art and design, including a Frank Lloyd Wright house in Rockford, Illinois, and more than 100 other pieces of art designed by the late architect. (The Wrights are not related.)

“The Winton Guest House is a seminal work ... a breakthrough structure articulating Gehry’s ‘village concept’ where rooms become individual structures,” Richard Wright wrote in his proposal to St. Thomas. He called the house “a work of art that will appeal to our vast audience. In the architect’s own words, it may be seen ‘as a large, outdoor sculpture.’ ”

House created in 1980s

Mike and Penny Winton commissioned Gehry in 1982 to design a guest house on their Lake Minnetonka property. Completed in 1987, the house won House and Garden magazine’s design award of the year and made Time magazine’s “Best of ’87” design honor roll.

The Wintons sold their property to real estate developer Kirt Woodhouse in 2002, and he subdivided the land and donated the Winton Guest House to St. Thomas in 2007 with the provision that the house be moved.

Composed of five separate geometrically shaped rooms projecting from a central 35-foot-tall pyramidal living room, the 2,300-square-foot house was divided into eight sections for the 110-mile move to Owatonna in 2008. Renovated on the Gainey property, the house was dedicated in October 2011, opened for public tours and used by St. Thomas Art History faculty and students for academic purposes.

“You did an incredible job,” Gehry said at the dedication ceremony. “It is staggering to see it ... I never had had houses of mine moved. I have had them torn down. It is a special treat to have them moved."