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Developer Demos Frank Lloyd Wright Building

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

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One of the few Frank Lloyd Wright-designed buildings in Montana has been demolished, even after a historic conservancy offered the developer’s original asking price of $1.7 million.

Mick Ruis, the developer who is also the current owner of the Lockridge Medical Clinic, ordered for the structure to be demolished only hours after negotiations closed.

Moving the Financial Goalposts

While the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy could have met Ruis' original asking price through an LLC established specifically for that purpose, the developer rejected the full-price offer, demanded a nonrefundable deposit that was 50 percent higher and moved the sale deadline from late 2018 to Jan. 10.

Though attempts were made to meet the demand, Ruis rejected a request from the Conservancy for another week to get additional funding or another buyer.

Jaydec, CC-BY-SA-3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

What makes Lockridge Medical Clinic unique is that the structure was completed shortly after Wright’s passing in 1959, and is only one of three designed by the architect in Montana.

In light of the demolition, concerns have been raised over the fate of other buildings on the National Register of Historic Places, as Lockridge Medical Clinic was among them.

"A lot of people think a building listed on the National Register of Historic Places, as the Lockridge Medical Clinic was, or a private house that isn’t protected by a preservation easement or local landmark designation, can’t be demolished, but that is not the case,” said Barbara Gordon, executive director of the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy.

Lack of clarity regarding Ruis’ plans for the site muddled conservation groups’ ability to act sooner.

Lockridge Medical Clinic

Ruis has owned the Lockridge Medical Clinic since 2016. His plans for the property, which surfaced later that same year, indicated his intention to turn the property into a three-story commercial space.

What makes Lockridge Medical Clinic unique is that the structure was completed shortly after Wright’s passing in 1959, and is only one of three designed by the architect in Montana. According to Architectural Digest, the building is an example of the architect’s Usonian vision, and was still a viable structure.

“This would be the first time in over 40 years that a viable building [would be] torn down," noted John Waters, preservation program manager for the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy.

Chere Jiusto, executive director of the Montana Preservation Alliance, told Montana Public Radio that the “building is the last building that Frank Lloyd Wright designed and was built actually beyond his lifetime.”

She added, “Frank Lloyd Wright is arguably the greatest American architect that ever lived, and to tear that building down to build some nondescript mixed-use commercial building because Whitefish is growing is a sad, sad thing to witness.”

Ruis’ attorney noted that his client was not seeking to make a profit from the sale, but was only aiming to recoup the purchase price and additional costs. The attorney also noted that the city of Whitefish did approve the demolition plans.

The building has reportedly been on the market for a year.

Editor's Note: The article has been updated to reflect the completion date of the Lockridge Medical Center.


Tagged categories: Commercial Construction; Demolition; Frank Lloyd Wright; Historic Preservation; Historic Structures; Maintenance + Renovation; North America

Comment from John Gillis, (1/17/2018, 7:24 AM)

As a former Taliesin fellow, I agree it is unfortunate that this building has been taken down. However, several points are important here. A right to property is fundamentally more important than whatever esthetic merit the building might have had. I'm glad the National Register of Historic Places is not some coercive Federal law in which a group of people who have no ownership of a property can negate an owner's property right. Further, although I cannot speak for Mr. Wright (no one can, since he's not around anymore to speak for himself), he was not a sentimentalist, and gave no indication he was in favor of forcing "preservation" of his or other architect's works. (Also one point of trivial fact: Wright died in 1959.) The fact that this was one of only a few buildings by him in Montana is really irrelevant. What about the poor other states that have no bldgs by Wright? They are in even more esthetic distress than Montana.

Comment from john lienert, (12/27/2018, 9:06 AM)'s UGLY

Comment from Darren Tracy, (12/27/2018, 9:38 AM)

Very interesting comment by Gillis. Although I might be considered a preservationist, after rehabbing a condemned building and listing it on the National Register of Historic Places, I agree wholeheartedly that property rights are fundamentally more important than historic preservation. I think many preservationists miss this point. Regarding the UGLY comment, art and architecture are largely, if not totally, subjective.

Comment from john lienert, (2/11/2019, 6:20 AM)

Yup.....It's still UGLY.....thanks, Darren....(my mom always said my taste was in my mouth, anyway)

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