The demolition, which occurred overnight on January 10, came as a shock to preservation groups who had been working to save the building.
The owner of a historic Frank Lloyd Wright building in Whitefish, Montana razed the structure last week, immediately after last-minute negotiations with preservationists attempting to buy it fell through. Designed in 1958 — one year before Wright’s death — as a medical clinic, the 5,000-square-foot building is the first Wright-designed one to be demolished in over 40 years. Its owner, the developer Mick Ruis, has plans to replace it with a three-story development for residences, retail space, and offices.
Ruis had purchased the property, known as the Lockridge Medical Clinic, in late 2016 without knowing of its architectural significance, as FLWBC explained. However, after his plans provoked public backlash, he agreed to not move forward with them if he could find a buyer willing to match the $1.6 million he had paid for it. Since then, the preservation groups had been working to explore multiple strategies to preserve the building in situ, including finding a preservation-minded buyer. That buyer had needed to first close another deal to have the required capital to make the purchase, but FLWBC had heard that they had until 2018 before Ruis would touch the building.
But the developer suddenly announced on January 4 that he would agree to sell the building to “anyone who puts $1.7 million in his hand” by January 10, as the Whitefish Pilot reported. FLWBC submitted an offer four days later, under 341 Central LLC, which it formed specifically for the sale. The offer provided for a substantial refundable deposit paid to Ruis, with an additional 60 days to close on his asking price. Ruis responded, asking for a 50% greater deposit that would be entirely nonrefundable and be paid the afternoon of January 9, and gave the preservationists only through January 22 to deliver the full $1.7 million. FLWBC appealed for one more day to submit a substantial portion of the requested deposit, as well as another week to launch a crowdfunding campaign to raise the remainder. But Ruis rejected the offer at 4:15 CT on January 10; it was only hours later that a demolition crew arrived at the building with an excavator and gutted it entirely. Video footage of the destruction was recorded and posted to Facebook by Montana Public Radio.