Architecturally-significant houses have a way of disappearing when current owners consider them outdated or not meeting their needs.
In the Wintons' neighborhood of Lake Minnetonka, Minn., houses designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and Ralph Rapson were demolished in 1972 and 1997, respectively. When the Winton property was sold, some feared a similar fate for Gehry's first residential design.
Kirt Woodhouse, a local real estate developer, made the architectural purchase of a lifetime in 2002: He bought the Winton property which had houses built by famed architects Philip Johnson and Frank Gehry.
After subdividing the twelve-acre lot into three sections, the Gehry portion did not sell. With the guest house already on the 2003 list of "10 Most Endangered Historic Places" by the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota, Woodhouse searched diligently for a donor to save the house, and found the University of St. Thomas. A stipulation of the donation was to relocate the house.
Moving the guest house nearly 110 miles from Orono, Minn., to Owatonna, Minn., was not easy.
Cutting through cement walls and floors to disassemble a house which was never meant to be disassembled was tedious. Loading the ten heavy sections was difficult. Transporting the individual sections required coordination with the state police (driving only between midnight and 5 a.m.), specific weather conditions, and lots of patience.
Regardless, all ten sections arrived safely at the Gainey Conference Center in Owatonna, Minn., after two years of hard work and dedication.
Once the rebuilding started, the toll that years of vacancy and the move had taken on the house was obvious. New materials and partial rebuilding was necessary.
The metal sheathing on the living room's tower was removed and replaced, a process made more difficult by the original construction. The metal was installed from the bottom up, with each layer hooked into the level below it creating one long sheet of metal from bottom to top. To repair the tower, the construction team removed the metal from the top down and reinstalled it from the bottom up, replacing plywood sheathing damaged by water and mold with new wood and waterproof felt.
The large window in the living room tower had severe framing rot below it and in a structural jamb on one side. The window was removed and replaced, like the stone bedroom window, due to the seal breaking and the glass clouding. Many other window surrounds were rebuilt.
The garage was completely rebuilt as the original Finnish plywood had rotted beyond repair, since Finnply is not intended for use as an exterior material. New Finnish plywood was obtained from the same company that originally supplied the house, and it was also used to re-roof the kitchen.
Metal flashing can be found throughout the house and it connects the majority of rooms to the living room. Materials from Aldo, Inc., the original metal supplier, replaced all the flashing, including that around the windows, to prevent future moisture leaks.
Despite controversy surrounding the relocation of the guest house from its site-specific context, moving the Winton Guest House saved the house from the wrecking ball and the threat of decay.