Historic building headed for demolition

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Excavators sit outside the Frank Lloyd Wright building late Wednesday afternoon. (Heidi Desch/Whitefish Pilot)

Demolition is expected to proceed on the Frank Lloyd Wright Building downtown after efforts to preserve the building failed.

Building owner Mick Ruis had set a deadline of Wednesday for a buyer to come up with $1.7 million to purchase the historic building.

The Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy announced Wednesday afternoon that a deal could not be agreed upon and the demolition of the building listed on the National Register of Historic Places would likely move forward.

The Chicago-based conservancy was working with the Montana Preservation Alliance and a local business leader to hopes to come up with a deal that would save the building. It will be the first viable building designed by the famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright to be torn down in more than 40 years.

Plans to demolish the building and redevelop the commercial property on Central Avenue where the building is located first came forward in late 2016. Following public outcry over the plans, Ruis put the building up for sale for roughly a year.

Attorney Ryan Purdy, the legal counsel for Ruis, told the Pilot earlier this week that Ruis delayed his plans for the building despite his own expense to do so and had looked at avenues to work with potential buyers.

Last week Ruis set a deadline of Jan. 10 for a $1.7 million cash purchase of the building.

Asbestos abatement was ongoing in the building, then earlier this week two large trees were removed and a fence was installed around the property. Late Wednesday tow excavators sat in the parking lot of the site.

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. Sharon Morrison and Sean Frampton purchased the building in 2002, but sold it in 2016.

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.

“This devastating situation underscores the vulnerability of all Wright-designed buildings that don’t have some form of legal protection,” said Barbara Gordon, executive director of the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy, in a prepared release. “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. Most preservation work happens on the local level. The Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy encourages concerned citizens to advocate for strong local preservation protections in their respective communities.”

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