See more of the story

It could become the teardown of all teardowns in the Twin Cities.

Months after paying nearly $10 million for one of the most architecturally distinctive homes in the metro, the buyer of an 8,500-square-foot Wayzata house — originally built for the head of Dayton Hudson Corp. — wants to replace it with an even larger one.

The home's new owner, Cargill heir Donald C. MacMillan, made his plans public when his team of architects presented plans for the house last week to the Wayzata Planning Commission. MacMillan is exploring the possibility of moving the house, which was designed by internationally renowned architect Romaldo Giurgola, but ultimately could demolish it.

"I wish there were people interested in holding onto these homes, but it's hard," said Dan Nepp, MacMillan's architect. "But how do you deal with a house that does not have a market for it?"

The purchase of the Giurgola-designed house was the most expensive housing transaction in the Twin Cities last year. The central element of the structure is a 24-foot cube with carefully placed windows that capture light — and views — at all times of the day. A series of whimsical, curved sections unwind from that cube, spreading those living spaces into the lush, shaded yard.

MacMillan declined to be interviewed but agreed to share information through his architect. He is seeking to replace the Giurgola house with a 9,095-square-foot stone and wood home that would be connected to a 2,086-square-foot guest/pool house by a breezeway with an outdoor dining area, fireplace and kitchen. At the lake's edge, there would be a 250-square-foot boat house, docks and a small beach. MacMillan is asking to exceed building height requirements and is seeking to combine two parcels into one, totaling 7.1 acres.

Increasingly common

The fate of the Wayzata home is part of an increasingly common controversy across the metro area, as older homes celebrated as architectural gems are being torn down and replaced. The practice has stirred heated debate in communities like Edina and Wayzata, where the desire to preserve a neighborhood's character collides with new development.

Edina issued a record 100 demolition permits for single-family dwellings last year and is on a similar pace this year, prompting the city to hire someone to oversee the projects and field complaints from neighbors.

Wayzata has issued 34 demo permits since 2008.

Tom Fisher, dean of the College of Design at the University of Minnesota, said the Giurgola house is an icon of contemporary American architecture with its assemblage of snow-white shapes along Lake Minnetonka. "Some of these houses are as important as paintings in a museum," he said.

An informal group of area citizens is looking at options for saving the Giurgola home, and the MacMillans are open to "repurposing the structure," said Heidi Nelson, Wayzata's city planner. "The new owners are well aware of its significance," she said.

Finding buyers who want to live in architecturally interesting houses is often difficult because the structures frequently do not suit the needs of modern families, said Nepp of TEA2 Architects in Minneapolis. Moving them is time-consuming and expensive, he said, noting that finding a relocation site is complicated.

The Giurgola home was built in 1970 and is not old enough to be considered historic. During the planning commission's recent meeting, various members recognized that razing it would be a loss, but most of the 90-minute session focused on the effect of excavating the property to provide better access to the shoreline. Citing a need to gather more information, a final decision was postponed.

Unlike similar debates in other local communities, the proposed teardown of the Giurgola home, just blocks from downtown Wayzata, is moving along with little notice. No neighbors have formally complained, and there was only one dissenting voice during the public comment period.

Bette Hammel recently featured the Giurgola house in a book about historic homes on Lake Minnetonka. She quietly, but passionately, voiced her concerns before the commission. Whatever gets built on the site will no doubt be beautiful and well-planned, she said, but she worries that the area is losing too many one-of-a-kind treasures.

Not many 'of that caliber'

"The demolition of perfectly good, beautifully designed homes for the sake of something even larger is a sign of the times," she said.

Indeed, just next door to MacMillan's property, Michael Reger, a 37-year-old head of an oil and gas company, won approval in late May to proceed with plans to build a house that would replace a 1894 Greek Revival house on a property he recently bought for nearly $5 million.

The increasing number of teardowns has many in the architectural community grieving the loss of lakeside houses by world-renowned architects, including Frank Lloyd Wright, Ralph Rapson and Frank Gehry.

When former Dayton Hudson Corp. chairman Ken Dayton and his wife, Judy, commissioned Giurgola to design the house, they wanted "a next-generation architect" who would create a stunning backdrop for their extensive art collection, Hammel said. They wanted the design to take advantage of the site's features, which include sweeping views of the lake and an Indian burial ground.

Back then, Giurgola was a rising star, working in Philadelphia at the offices of Louis Kahn, another architectural legend. Giurgola, now 92, went on to design several well-regarded municipal buildings, including the Parliament building in Australia.

Ken Dayton died several years ago, and Judy Dayton declined to comment. Her great-nephew, James Dayton, also a well-known architect and a former colleague of Gehry, lamented the fate of the house. "It shouldn't be thrown away," he said.

James Dayton said his many visits to the house as a child helped inspire his career, and he recently hosted a gathering of young architecture staff from his firm, so that they could experience it for themselves.

"It's a really beautiful example of early modernism in a beautiful setting," he said. "And in Minnesota, we don't have very many of them of that caliber."

Several years ago, the Daytons sold the house to Peggy and Ralph Burnet, the co-founder and chairman of Coldwell Banker Burnet, who lived in it until they decided to downsize. Peggy Burnet said the new owner has the right to do whatever he wants with the house, but acknowledges that she holds a deep emotional connection to it.

"It makes me sad to think that it would no longer be there."

Jim Buchta • 612-673-7376