One of the most famous houses on Lake Minnetonka, a 22,000-square-foot mansion built by the record producer who made Janet Jackson famous, has fallen into foreclosure and the bank is looking for a buyer who will either spiff it up or tear it down.
“That’s just the way things are going out here,” said Bette Hammel, a writer and architectural historian who lives in the area and laments the loss of so many substantial and architecturally significant houses. “Whenever a house is for sale, I’m worried.”
With its ample lakeshore and sweeping views, there’s a good chance the $4.5 million house will join a growing list of “Tonka teardowns,” including one that was designed by an internationally known architect and recently sold for $10 million to a Cargill heir who would like to demolish or move the house to another spot.
The fate of the manse on leafy Hardscrabble Point, which features a master suite with its own wing of offices and a 12-car garage, will be determined by its next owner. Such trophy properties, however, are particularly vulnerable to the wrecking ball because much of their value is in their prime setting.
James “Jimmy Jam” Harris had the Lake Minnetonka house built in 1991. When he moved to Los Angeles, he listed it for $11 million in June 2005. After more than a year on the market, the house sold for $7 million, but it eventually fell into foreclosure and the house is now owned by JPMorgan Chase.
“For big lots like that on the lake, even if the house is very nice, someone would take it down and build new,” said Virginia Lord, a sales agent with Coldwell Banker Burnet who specializes in upper-bracket lake houses. “Fifty percent of the people who would see it would say it could be remodeled; 50 percent would say that it’s more valuable as a lot.”
During the past 12 months, there have been 150 sales of houses at $840,000 and up in just the Lake Minnetonka area, a 13 percent increase over last year, according to the Regional Multiple Listing Service.
The listing agent, Edina Realty’s Scott Stabeck, acknowledges that the home needs repairs. “Buyers may even wish to tear down the home and rebuild,” he was quoted as saying in a marketing piece about the house. “For the right owner who loves custom design and a bit of Hollywood flash, the home may be a perfect fit.”
While Stabeck goes on the hunt for the home’s next buyer, the fate of several other Lake Minnetonka homes has been sealed. Since 2008, the city of Wayzata has issued more than 30 demolition permits. Historic preservationists hope that the $10 million property bought by the Cargill heir will not be among them. There have been efforts to have the house moved, in the same way that a local businessman helped move a nearby Frank Gehry house to property in Owatonna that’s owned by the University of St. Thomas.
“There’s a scarcity of these nice big lots on the lake,” said Lord. “So you get the cream of the crop of buyers who want their dream home on it, and if it doesn’t meet their specifications, they have the means to take down what’s there and build what they want.”