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Efforts Underway to Save Montana Wright Building By Jan. 10

Photo by Adam Jeselnick

UPDATE: The owner of Wright’s Lockridge Medical Clinic building in Whitefish, Montana “has agreed to sell it to anyone who puts $1.7 million in his hand by Jan. 10.” If a preservation-minded buyer cannot be found by Jan. 10 the building will be lost.

The Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy has learned that on-site preparation for demolition is underway at the Lockridge Medical Clinic building in Whitefish, Montana, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1958.

Montana Preservation Alliance executive director Chere Jiusto confirmed that she spoke with Whitefish attorney Ryan Purdy, the legal counsel for building owner Mick Ruis, and Purdy confirmed an asbestos abatement in process inside the building is being done in preparation for a full demolition.

If the demolition is completed, it would be the first viable Frank Lloyd Wright-designed building to be lost in more than 40 years.

“This comes as a great shock to us,” says Barbara Gordon, executive director of the Conservancy, a Chicago-based nonprofit dedicated to the preservation of all Wright-designed buildings. “Fruitful discussions were still taking place to bring about a successful resolution to this case, which the Conservancy and our local partners have been working on for more than a year.”

On Nov. 1, 2016, a concerned local citizen contacted the Conservancy with news that the site was being purchased by a developer who intended to replace the existing Wright-designed building, which had been converted into professional offices, with a new three-story mixed-use development.

The plans drew local and national outcry, and within weeks the developer—who said he had not been aware of the architectural significance of the structure—expressed his intention not to demolish the building if a buyer could be found to match the $1.6 million he paid for it.

The Conservancy has continued to work closely with the Montana Preservation Alliance, local officials and a local businessman to explore multiple strategies to preserve the building in situ. Alternative-use plans for the building and site were assembled and sent to the developer. The local businessman involved had also brought together a coalition of preservation-minded investors to buy the building. The Conservancy and its partners had the understanding that the developer would not move forward with any plans to redevelop the property until late 2018, by which time those investors would have secured the capital needed to buy the property.

“This news really felt like a gut punch considering the progress that our local partners had made in finding a preservation-minded buyer,” says Gordon. “There was no indication that the developer planned to demolish the building while these efforts were underway. Despite the building being listed on the National Register of Historic Places, there are no legal protections in place to prevent this sudden demolition. The city of Whitefish does not require a permit to be issued for such a demolition, so city officials weren’t even aware it was coming. The developer’s motivations for this action are still unclear to us. This is a viable building in a beautiful Montana resort town with heavy tourism only 25 miles from Glacier National Park. By all appearances, without the possibility of a cash buyer coming forward to rescue this building at the 11th hour, a complete loss is inevitable. This looming loss really highlights the fact that Wright-designed buildings without legal protections are at constant risk.”

The Conservancy is continuing to work with its partners in the hopes that a full demolition can be averted.

More at Daily Inter Lake and Whitefish Pilot.

Lockridge Medical Clinic building in 2016
Photo by Adam Jeselnick

Posted on January 4, 2018

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