Minnesota Now with Cathy Wurzer

Frank Lloyd Wright's Minnesota legacy ... in a Cloquet gas station?

50 years old
Lindholm's service station in Cloquet, Minn., is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. It's the only gas station designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright.
MPR Photo/Tom Weber

Have you ever stopped for gas in Cloquet, Minn.? If you've gassed up at one specific station, you may have been curious about the elegance of the place: the angles of the building, the green roof, a single row of pumps.

This isn’t an ordinary gas station. The R.W. Lindholm Service Station has a pretty interesting story.

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Audio transcript

CATHY WURZER: I have a question for you. Have you ever stopped for gas in Cloquet, Minnesota? If you've gassed up at one specific station, you may have been curious about the elegance of the place, the angles of the building, the green roof, a single row of pumps. This is not an ordinary gas station. The R.W. Lindholm Service Station has a pretty interesting story. More from MPR contributors Robbie Mitchem, Jamal Allen, and Britt Aamodt in this latest installment of our history series, "Minnesota Now and Then."

[MUSIC PLAYING]

CONTRIBUTOR: Frank Lloyd Wright was one of the most famous architects who ever lived. His creations were iconic--

MAN: Taliesin, Fallingwater.

CONTRIBUTOR: --The Guggenheim. During his 70-year career, he designed more than 1,000 structures-- office buildings, museums, schools, places of worship, homes, a golf course clubhouse, and a gas station.

[CAR HORN HONKS, BELL DINGS]

If you're from Minnesota, you know where this story is going. And you probably have the same question. What is the only Frank Lloyd Wright gas station built in his lifetime doing in Cloquet, Minnesota? And here's another-- why a gas station and not, say, one-of-a-kind home built for a client with an appreciation for good design and, just as important, a certain amount of disposable income?

[CASH REGISTER CHIMES]

The answer lies with Ray Lindholm. By the 1950s, the Finnish immigrant had made a comfortable living from his petroleum business, Lindholm Oil Company. His kids were grown and he and his wife had an itch to build a dream home. Their daughter, who'd seen Wright's work at the University of Minnesota, suggested the master.

You'd think the most famous architect of the day would brush off a middle class couple from Cloquet, the gateway to the Mesabi Iron Range in northeast Minnesota. But this was Frank Lloyd Wright, the man with the cape and pork pie hat, who thought a chicken coop was as admirable as a skyscraper, so long as they were both designed by him.

[CHICKENS CLUCKING]

Yes, the world was a better looking place because of his creations. And it definitely needed more of them. At 85, Wright was still waking with the cows--

[COWS MOOING]

--the ones living at his Wisconsin farm and providing the warm-from-the-udder milk he preferred, and putting in 12-hour days at the drafting table and client meetings. The Lindholms met with them three times at the farm. They got their house plan. He got his payment. And that was the easy part. As it turned out, no building contractor wanted to touch Wright's outrageous plan.

WOMAN: You know what? Forget I offered to help you.

CONTRIBUTOR: One of them called it a quote--

MAN: "Crazy house. It had no basement."

CONTRIBUTOR: So what would fix it to the ground and keep it from sliding away? And it had a lengthy cantilever that would definitely collapse under the heavy snow. Wouldn't it? Wright eventually dispatched one of his own architects to oversee the construction and reassure the builders.

MAN: Whoo-hoo!

CONTRIBUTOR: That was that. So what about the gas station? Some stories have it that Lindholm, being in the petroleum business, said,

MAN AS LINDHOLM: Hey, Frank, you ever think of designing a service station?

CONTRIBUTOR: Others flip the story around. Wright had already designed a gas station for a utopian city that he'd been noodling over for years, but he couldn't get any takers. Then Lindholm walked in his door, and the crafty architect, who hadn't amassed a fortune by waiting for opportunity to knock, rolled out his pitch.

MAN AS WRIGHT: Mr. Lindholm, what your city needs is a service station of the future. And it just so happens I have a design for one, if you'd like to take a peek.

CONTRIBUTOR: In 1958, construction began at the intersection of Highway 33 and Cloquet Avenue on another crazy Wright construction. This one had a 30-foot canopy. But the fire marshal put his foot down on one of its more curious features-- gas pumps that dangled from the canopy, like the udder of a cow. Wright really liked his cows.

Cloquet celebrated the grand opening of the service station that October. The architect died the following year at 91. Over a half a century later, the station still remains in business. Motorists get their cars filled at the full-service pumps. And mechanics fix vehicles in the sky-lit bays. But only history seems to remember it as the R.W. Lindholm Service Station. Everyone else calls it the Frank Lloyd Wright gas station. And Wright would have expected no less.

MAN AS WRIGHT: Ace.

CATHY WURZER: The station by the way, is on the National Register of Historic Places but at one time was at risk of being torn down and redeveloped until Minnesota native, Andrew Volna bought the station from Lindholm's grandkids back in 2018. That's the rest of the story.

This story was created, by the way, by MPR contributors Robbie Mitchem and Jamal Allen, written by Britt Aamodt. And it was made possible in part by the Minnesota Legacy Amendment's Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund.

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