Developer drops plans to demolish historic Frank Lloyd Wright Building

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The Frank Lloyd Wright Building sits on Central Avenue in downtown Whitefish. The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Following a backlash from those wanting to preserve the Frank Lloyd Wright building in Whitefish, a developer has dropped plans to demolish the historic building and now says he will put it up for sale.

Mick Ruis recently purchased the building, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Contacted Thursday, Ruis said he plans to put the building on the market after receiving negative reaction over his plans to construct a new commercial building on the Central Avenue site.

Ruis said he wasn't aware of the world-renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright when he purchased the building.

“I didn't know anything about him or that he was so popular,” Ruis said in a phone call from California. “I didn't think there would be hard feelings about this — that was the last thing on my mind.”

An article published last Wednesday about the plans prompted a flood of comments online from people disagreeing with the decision to demolish the building.

Ruis said he doesn't need the “headache” of moving forward.

The building will be listed for sale at $1.6 million, the same price it was purchased for, Ruis said, adding that he won't be making a profit off the sale.

He recently purchased the building from Sharon Morrison and Sean Frampton.

The building was designed by the famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright in 1958 as a medical clinic. Wright died in 1959 before the 5,000-square-foot building, which became the Lockridge Medical Clinic, was finished. First State Bank moved into the building in 1964 and it was divided into professional offices in 1980. Morrison and Frampton purchased the building in 2002, but recently sold it after agreeing to end their law partnership.

Ruis' plans for the building went before the Whitefish Architectural Review Committee on Nov. 1 when the committee looked at a pre-application. The proposal called for the construction of a new building to house retail space on the first floor, business offices on the second and residential units on the third floor.

Plans to demolish the building sent off a ripple in town and around the country.

The Chicago-based Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy, a national nonprofit that looks to preserves the work of the late architect, quickly became involved in the issue, hoping to find a way to save the building.
Conservancy board member Tim Quigley said his group is thrilled with Ruis' decision.

“It's always depressing to learn someone who recently brought a Frank Lloyd Wright building is going to knock it down,” he said Monday. “This is not the first time this has happened and it's not the first time we've been able to sway someone.”

Quigley said about 400 of Wright's buildings remain.

“They're just cool architecture,” he said. “Wright is America's finest architect. His works were spectacular.”

Quigley noted that the conservancy will continue to watch what happens with the Whitefish building.

“I don't think we're out of the woods yet,” he said. “He has agreed to sell, but we need to find a buyer or a consortium of buyers that are committed to securing its future.”

The city has no regulations to prohibit the building from being removed and listing on the historic registry doesn't protect it from demolition either.

Ruis splits his time between California and the Flathead Valley. He constructed the Cedar Creek Lodge and Convention Center in Columbia Falls and has several other development projects started or planned there.

Ruis points to his work in Columbia Falls, saying he was trying to do the same in Whitefish by helping revive a spot downtown.

“I've put $12 million into Columbia Falls and the last thing I want is a negative reputation,” he said. “I'm not some big developer. I built a hotel because Columbia Falls needed one.”

By making the decision to sell the building to someone who wants to preserve it or turn it into a museum, Ruis said he hopes to change public opinion about his intentions.

“Hopefully people believe me that I'm not this evil developer,” he said.

When the news came forward of plans to demolish the building, George Gardner of Whitefish, a museum planning consultant and admirer of Frank Lloyd

Wright's work, said he strongly believed the building should be saved.

“It's like tearing down the Statue of Liberty,” Gardner told the Daily Inter Lake.

“It would be a disaster. It's the only famous thing we have in town.”

The Frank Lloyd Wright Building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on Aug. 14, 2012. It is one of three remaining Wright buildings in Montana — the other two are cottages in the Bitterroot Valley that were part of Wright's first planned community in 1909.

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