Minnesota Architecture: Cloquet Gas Station

Not one but two people have nominated today’s building in our Minnesota Architecture series. It’s the Cloquet gas station, designed by none other than famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright.


The Lindholm Service Station in Cloquet

Photo courtesy of Historic American Buildings Survey

On the Fourth of July it seemed fitting to honor one of America’s great architects, and a building many people will be stopping at this holiday weekend – the gas station.

Our nominations come from Sarah Johnson and Maria Bartholdi – first Maria’s nomination:

While I’ve moved away from Cloquet, the Frank Lloyd Wright gas station will always have a special place in my heart. It sticks out from the rest of the buildings in town — but not in a bad way. It has a unique, irreplaceable look to it — and still draws in tourists more than 50 years after its construction. It’s also the *only* service station Wright ever designed. It looks impossible… meaning, it looks as though it shouldn’t be able to stand — thanks to the crazy way it’s constructed. An awesome bit of architecture in a tiny, unassuming town. What more could you ask for?

Indeed! And here’s Sarah Johnson’s nomination:

My parents have a cabin on Lake Vermilion so I pass it on the way “up north” and it never ceases to amaze me as an unexpected find in such a small town. I’ve stopped there numerous times as it’s still a functioning full service gas station but I’ve never learned what drew Frank Lloyd Wright to Cloquet? And why did he decide to design a gas station there? Maybe someday when I’m a woman of leisure I’ll have a chance to look into it.

As it turns out, my colleague Tom Weber reported back in 2008 on the gas station’s 50th anniversary. It was accompanied by a fine little slide show of the station over the years.

And in his story, Weber provides what may serve as the answer to both of Sarah Johnson’s questions:

The station is named for Ray Lindholm, who hired Wright to build it a few years after Wright built Lindholm’s private home. Lindholm’s grandson, John McKinney, now owns the station.

“I think Wright probably pushed it, too, is what I’m hearing,” said McKinney. “Once the house was built, [Wright said] ‘Mr. Lindholm, let’s build this station.'”

FYI, the Cloquet gas station cost approximately four times the average cost of building a station in the late 1950s ($20,000, instead of $5,000), probably due in part to its copper roof.

Have a Minnesota building you’re particularly fond of? Send me a photo with your nomination – mcombs@mpr.org.