‘I could live in somebody’s garage and be fairly happy,” Garrison Keillor said last week.
The creator and longtime host of “A Prairie Home Companion” recently undertook the empty-nester ritual of downsizing and moving to a smaller home.
But Keillor and his wife, Jenny Lind Nilsson, downsized in the extreme, moving from their 10,200-square-foot historic mansion on St. Paul’s Summit Avenue to a condo about one-tenth its size near downtown Minneapolis.
“I’m an advocate of simplification,” Keillor said.
Shedding possessions was “daunting at first,” he admitted. “But it turned into a great pleasure to rid oneself of books one will never read ... a pool table I never played on.”
Now he’s immersed in writing — a memoir and a musical. “It’s kind of like getting your youth back, a resurgence of ambition like I had in my early 20s,” he said.
He’s also rediscovering Minneapolis, a city he hasn’t lived in since he was in his 20s. “I was dishwasher at a hotel,” he recalled. “I’d walk around practicing how to hold cigarettes and inhale.”
After spending so many years in St. Paul, Minneapolis is “utterly confusing to me,” Keillor said. “I move across the river, and I might as well be in Chicago or Cleveland.”
His Summit Avenue house, meanwhile, is seeking a buyer.
Built in 1919, it’s a gated Georgian Revival-style house with a pedigree. The original owner was George Lindsay, who made his wealth in the lumber business. The Weyerhaeusers, another prominent lumber family, owned the house for almost half a century.
Keillor and Nilsson took ownership about 10 years ago.
“I bought it for my wife,” Keillor said. “I wanted her to have something she would enjoy living in. I was on tour a great deal of the time, so the house was really for her. She is a family person who loves to have people over.”
Now that their daughter, 21, has left the nest, “It’s a little too grand for my wife and I,” he said.
Offered at $2.495 million, the house is one of the priciest listings in St. Paul. (A house in Highland Park is currently on the market for $2.59 million, and another on Mississippi River Boulevard sold in October for $2.4 million.)
Keillor’s house is “one of St. Paul’s landmark homes, immaculately renovated,” said Dave Duddingston, an agent with Keller Williams Realty. “The location on Summit is amazing. That stretch is the premier area, on the bluff with a view of downtown.”
The house includes a 42- by 20-foot living room big enough to host chamber orchestra concerts. “It’s a beautiful room to hear music in,” said Keillor.
There’s also a catering kitchen, a billiards room, four second-floor bedrooms with en suite baths and a 1,200-square-foot apartment with two bedrooms and its own kitchen on the third floor. “It could be a perfect nanny’s apartment or for a teen or returning college student,” said Duddingston.
The house features eight fireplaces, including one in Keillor’s wood-paneled office where he wrote.
“My favorite room was my work room,” he said. “It has a fireplace. I love fire. You light one, and everything cheers up.”
Keillor retired from his iconic weekly radio show in July 2017, which continued with Chris Thile, Keillor’s chosen successor. The show’s name was changed to “Live From Here” later that year, following allegations of inappropriate behavior by Keillor, which he disputed. He and Minnesota Public Radio settled last year.
News that Keillor planned to sell his St. Paul home first surfaced in October when his real estate agents posted a photo of it as “Coming Soon” on their Facebook page. The house finally hit the MLS last week. During the interval, the home’s wood floors were refinished, and its rooms were staged to attract a buyer.
“Those are not our furnishings,” Keillor said of the listing photos. “We had darker, older stuff.”
Keillor also has a home in New York City.
“It’s so odd, people assumed I’d move to New York,” he said. “Good grief, no! I’m a Minnesotan, whatever that means.”
What does that mean to the man who made Minnesota (or at least its fictional city Lake Wobegon) a household name?
“If you’re Minnesotan, you have certain traits,” he said. “By habit, you’re self-effacing. You do not brag or want to be bragged about. If people praise you, you shrink. You’re brought up to be useful, to have Christian values, to be generous.
“A Minnesotan, whether we complain about it or not, thrills to a snowstorm. We thrive on adversity and cold weather. If invited to someone’s house, we automatically ask, ‘Can I bring something?’ I like New York but I’m not one of them.”
The home’s association with Keillor has generated a lot of interest, Duddingston said. “It’s a celebrity home. We don’t have a lot of that in St. Paul.”
Keillor hosted parties for “Prairie Home Companion” musicians and crew in the home, he said, as well as his Anoka High School class reunion. “You could do that [in a large house], and I really liked that,” he said. A niece and her husband lived with them for a while. “We were able to be hospitable.”
His life is “smaller” now, and focused on work. “I’m completely absorbed in my book,” he said. “I’m 76. If I don’t finish it now, who is going to?”
His favorite memories of living in the house involve his daughter growing up there. “She had room to roam ... a hundred stuffed animals. I enjoyed watching her enjoy it.”
He’ll miss things about his St. Paul house, he said, such as gazing at the river from the backyard terrace. “It’s really a handsome view,” he said. The slope below the bluff is wooded and home to wild turkeys, a fox and raccoons. “Even though it’s in the middle of the city, there’s a little bit of wildlife. So incongruous and interesting.”
He also misses Mickey’s Diner, Candyland and the St. Paul Grill.
But he’s moved on.
“My wife feels more nostalgia for that house than do. I have a strange ability to walk away, and I did. She keeps going back to pick up mail. I haven’t been back.”
Dave Duddingston, 612-221-5422, and Dan Duddingston, 612-221-4398, of the Duddingston Group, Keller Williams, have the listing.