Whenever Bette Jones Hammel took friends for a boat ride around Lake Minnetonka, they would pepper her with questions about the head-turning homes on the big lake's many bays.
"I've lived on the lake for 25 years and know a lot about the history and homeowners," said Hammel, an architectural writer who was married to the late architect Richard Hammel. "They told me I should write a book."
It still took her nearly three years to chronicle the stories and produce a pictorial tour with photographer Karen Melvin for "Legendary Homes of Lake Minnetonka" (Minnesota Historical Society Press, $49.95. Available Oct. 14.)
Hammel's book takes readers inside prominent estates once owned by the first families of Minnesota, such as the Pillsburys, the Daytons and the Bells. But it also gives equal time to rustic summer cabins and a funky guest house by architect Frank Gehry.
We talked to Hammel about the lakes's biggest stars, which homes didn't make the cut and what some owners have done to preserve the old estates and charming cottages.
Q How did you decide which homes were "legendary"?
A We cruised the lake in our boats with a mission: The homes had to be on the lake or have a view of the lake and be architecturally and/or historically significant.
But we didn't want the book to only be about the old mansions. It would show the variety of architectural styles and range from cabins and cottages to historic estates. Many famous living and deceased architects have designed Lake Minnetonka homes.
Q Why didn't the homes owned by Jimmy Jam and Lorie Line make the cut?
A I didn't know about Lorie Line's house. We briefly considered Jimmy Jam's home [which he built in 1991, but no longer owns], but it was a little flashy and had a Hollywood aura about it. We felt it didn't belong on the lake.
Q What other homes did you exclude?
A We saw some new McMansions from our boat and they are NOT in this book. I would like to see owners try to preserve the home in some form. Luckily for us, Karen took a picture of the tip of Bracketts Point before the 1950s Edwin Lundie colonial revival home was torn down.
Q How hard was it to get the owners to invite you in?
A Most were open to the idea. Some of the owners were friends and I had been inside their homes. We explained that it would be an educational coffee-table type book that would be around for years -- not a magazine you pick up and throw away.
It also would show how they remodeled the homes to suit their lifestyle but preserved the architectural character. We agreed to photograph only public spaces.
Q Which homes do boaters gawk at the most?
A The Lang/Johnson Italian-style villa with the statues on top. Everyone "oohs" and "ahhs" over the Pillsbury/Jundt House, a grand imposing brick mansion on Bracketts Point. You can see Belford, the red-tiled roof mansion, at the top of a hill from the lake.
Q The book includes a map of Lake Minnetonka, but no key to locating the homes for boaters. Why not?
A The homeowners were entitled to privacy, otherwise many of them may not have agreed to be in the book.
Q You've written a fairly comprehensive history for each home. Where did you unearth all those dates and details?
A I relied on many local historians who grew up out here, resources at the Minnesota Historical Society, and dug up interesting facts from people like Tom Maple, the former commodore of the Yacht Club. Ann Furst, owner of the Douglas/Furst estate, gave me old newspaper clippings and photos. I own every book written on Lake Minnetonka. I discovered discrepancies in some published materials. That meant I had to dig a little more.
Q What's your favorite home?
A The Dayton/Burnet house because of its white geometric exterior and the interesting curves and angles and placement of windows. I like the whole concept of modernism in residential design. This is an outstanding example of timeless modernism.
Q Do you have a more modest favorite?
A The tiny three-room Winton guesthouse designed by Frank Gehry in Orono. It's like a playhouse and is creative and fun.
Q There aren't any historic photos in the book. Why?
A There just wasn't room. We wanted to show the house the way it looked today and the way owners remodeled the interior.
Q What was the best part about doing this book?
A I loved finding out about the people who live in these homes and gained an admiration for the ones who remained and improved and rebeautified them. I developed a greater love for this lake.
Lynn Underwood • 612-673-7619
Bette Jones Hammel and Karen Melvin will sign books and give a talk at 7 p.m. Oct. 14 at the Bookcase, 607 E. Lake St., Wayzata and 6:30 p.m. Nov. 9 at Wayzata Public Library, 620 Rice St.