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Foster Dunwiddie once told a newspaper reporter that the "happiest" thing that could happen to old buildings was for them to be ignored. Otherwise they might be covered up with other facades — and their original character destroyed.

"He just loved old buildings and the history behind them," said his daughter Carolyn Chasteen of Chippewa Falls, Wis. "He was very emphatic they should be restored to their original look as much as possible."

During his career, Dunwiddie helped preserve many landmarks of Minnesota history, including the Minnesota State Capitol, Historic Fort Snelling, the James J. Hill House and buildings in downtown Red Wing.

"He's most known for being one of the early preservation advocates in Minnesota — and really one of a handful of people who really spearheaded that effort and got it going particularly in the Twin Cities," said Joel Stromgren, a principal at Miller Dunwiddie, the Minneapolis architectural firm that Dunwiddie founded with two others. "But he worked all over the state."

Dunwiddie, a prominent Twin Cities architect, died Dec. 11 in Rice Lake, Wis. He was 97.

Earlier in his career, Dunwiddie also worked on new building projects such as the old Metropolitan Stadium. He also designed the circular-glass Midwest Federal Savings and Loan branches that once dotted the Twin Cities landscape.

But it was historic buildings that fascinated Dunwiddie the most, an interest that evolved out of his passion for genealogy.

"I discovered the same techniques I was using in tracing ancestors was useful in tracing the history of buildings," he said in an interview for Minnesota Modern Masters, an oral history project about Minnesota architects.

He also described in that interview trying to ascertain the original color of the commandant's house at Fort Snelling of being "like a detective project."

A Wisconsin native, Dunwiddie was born Jan. 29, 1925, in Fox Lake to Walter and Ina (Edgerton) Dunwiddie. He grew up in Port Washington and served for three years in the U.S. Army during World War II.

He initially planned to become an engineer, but a summer art class changed his mind. Still, he ended up getting a bachelor's degree in civil engineering from the University of Wisconsin and then later enrolled at the University of Minnesota to study architecture.

While he was at the U, Dunwiddie started working part time for architect Robert Cerny at Thorshov & Cerny, a Minneapolis firm that later became Cerny Associates. He continued working there after he graduated.

It was during that time that Dunwiddie helped draw up plans for Metropolitan Stadium, which he decided to infuse with colorful bricks to help break up a sea of green. He also worked on airplane hangars and contributed to the Lindbergh terminal (now known as Terminal 1) at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

In 1963, he and two other architects — Ken Whitehead and Bill Miller — broke off from Cerny Associates to start their own firm.

Some of his other projects over the years included restoring homes on Nicollet Island as wel as the John H. Stevens House and Minneapolis City Hall.

In the 1980s, Dunwiddie taught classes in historic preservation as a lecturer and then as an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota. He also traveled across the state to give talks about the topic.

"What was great working with him was he was kind and patient," Stromgren said. "He liked teaching people and mentoring them."

Dunwiddie is survived by his son, William Dunwiddie; daughters Catherine Grilli and Carolyn Chasteen; six grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren.

A private family service will be held at Fort Snelling National Cemetery.

Correction: Previous versions of this story featured an incorrect photo.