Austin house featured in ‘Minnesota Modern’

Published 12:12 pm Sunday, January 10, 2016

The Elam house, owned by the Plunkett family, adorns the cover and is featured inside “Minnesota Modern,” authored by Larry Millet. Photo provided

The Elam house, owned by the Plunkett family, adorns the cover and is featured inside “Minnesota Modern,” authored by Larry Millet. Photo provided

The Frank Loyd Wright house in Austin is a piece of history to be admired, and that’s what Larry Millet thought when he put it on the cover of his book.

The Elam house, owned by the Plunkett family, sits at 309 21st Street SW in Austin. Millet’s book, “Minnesota Modern: Architecture and Life at Midcentury,” features the Austin home on the front cover.

Larry Millett

Larry Millett

“That’s one of my favorite mid-century houses in Austin, and it’s got a lot of mid-century stuff,” Millet said.

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One of Millet’s newest books takes readers on an illustrated tour of Minnesota’s landscape of mid-century modernism. “Minnesota Modern” provides a close-up view of a style that penetrated the social, political, and cultural machinery of the times. Millet, who lives in the Twin Cities and used to work at the St. Paul Pioneer Press, has written about 20 books, both history and mystery. Millet started working on “Minnesota Modern” about five or six years ago.

“It’s really a book about kind of the world that most of us are familiar with … because there’s so much mid-century architecture around, mixed in with new stuff,” he said.

He said Austin was a great resource to find some mid-century history, and there are several references to Austin in the book apart from the Elam house.

“It’s kind of a cool city for mid-century in Minnesota,” he said.

The Elam house was built around 1952 for a man and his family who owned a gift shop downtown. After him, the home was sold to the Plunketts, and Millet thought it was interesting the home has only had two owners over the years. He said it is also the biggest of all Frank Loyd Wright houses in Minnesota.

“It’s a really spectacular house not only for [Northern Minnesota] but I think for the nation as a whole,” Millet said.

The reason the book is on the cover? Millet said it was just “so photographic.”

“The house photographed so beautifully that I think as soon as we saw that picture we thought, ‘Hmm, this would look really nice there,’” he said.

The book “Minnesota Modern” focuses on the mid-century era in architecture, but also discuses the culture of the time and the development of the Twin Cities area. Millet explained many of the architecture is still around today.

“Every town pretty much in Minnesota you would find a mid-century church or two, and Austin has several,” he said. “You’d find some houses, you’d find some schools.”

“Churches, schools, houses, office buildings, the basics of every community were represented by what was done in the mid-century era,” he added.

Millet said he has written about architecture for many years as it’s a longtime interest of his. Having grown up in the midcentury era, he said it has always interested him and is fun to write about. Millet explained “Minnesota Modern” is more of an informational, broad book on the topic, but Millet hopes readers will find something that interests them. The book came out Nov. 1, 2014, by the University of Minnesota Press.

“I’m just offering kind of an account of a period that was transformational in Minnesota in a lot of ways, and that’s really what the book is about,” he said.