Homegazing: A 1940s time capsule near Lake Calhoun in Minneapolis

  • Article by: KIM PALMER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 29, 2014 - 4:22 PM

Duplex condo near Lake Calhoun is a period piece of postwar decor.

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Time stands still inside a Tudor-style duplex just two blocks from Lake Calhoun. Inside, it could be the late 1940s, when ladies wore hats and gloves, and Dinah Shore and Bing Crosby ruled the radio.

Evylin Seeley Johnson and her husband, Theodore “Johnny” Johnson, bought the large 1920s-era duplex about three years after World War II ended. Evylin, a social butterfly who had a hat for every occasion, soon put her decorating stamp on the main-floor unit, covering the walls and even the ceilings in custom-made patterned wallpapers: flamingo-pink palm fronds, green and gold bamboo, and a dramatic Chinoiserie-style mural, in black and turquoise, all with woodwork painted to match.

“She had a condo in Florida, and she liked to bring those Floridian colors back to Minnesota,” said her niece Ann Bergin of Brainerd.

Styles and decades came and went, but Evylin, who lived in the unit until her death last year at age 103, resisted suggestions that she update her decor.

“She decorated after the war and never changed it,” said Bergin. “I visited her quite a bit, and not until I was in my teens did it dawn on me that it wasn’t like other houses. We used to make fun of her decorating. But she was very unique in her taste. She never went with what was in style. She had her own style.”

Bergin’s “Auntie Eppo” had a fondness for exotic motifs and accessories. “She was into Asian things,” recalled Bergin, who once admired her aunt’s foo dog figurines and asked her where she’d gotten them. Turns out they were a gift from James Hill — not the legendary lumber baron, but his grandson. “She used to go over there for parties,” Bergin said. “She was quite the socialite,” her comings and goings chronicled in the society pages of the newspaper.

Evylin graduated in 1934 from the University of Minnesota, where she was a member of the Alpha Gamma Delta sorority. She also was a longtime member of the Woman’s Club of Minneapolis and the White Bear Yacht Club. She and her husband, a real estate developer and account executive for Burroughs Corp., divided their time between their summer home in Forest Lake, the Florida condo and the Minneapolis duplex. They had no children, and after “Johnny” died in 1988, Evylin took over her own financial affairs. “She had never paid a bill until then,” Bergin said. “She was very sharp. She read a lot. She never watched TV a day in her life.”

After Evylin’s death, Bergin, her sister and cousins inherited the estate; they decided to sell the 1,580-square-foot condo, which has three bedrooms, one bath, hardwood floors, and an original fireplace, converted to gas. The unit boasts English-style architectural details, including decorative columns, crown moldings, Cathedral-arch windows and a built-in buffet — painted turquoise, one of Evylin’s decorative flourishes.

“She was an interesting lady — eccentric,” said Lance Fraser of Lakes Area Realty (www.lakesarearealty.com), the condo’s listing agent, who got to know Evylin when he lived in the unit upstairs. “I called her Miss Havisham from ‘Great Expectations’ because she never changed anything. I tried to get her to change things. But she was thrifty. She’d lived through the Depression.”

After Evylin’s death, there was an estate sale to dispose of her furniture and belongings, Fraser said. “People were going nuts for the old stuff. She had a collection of hats, bar none.”

One vintage store, Retro Wanderlust (www.facebook.com/pages/Retro-Wanderlust/120749644616234 ) of Hopkins, posted photos of the unusual home and the vintage finds on its Facebook page, which caught the eye of Barbara Schmidt, an interior designer and creative director for studiobstyle (www.studio bstyle.com).

“It’s a time capsule — a little grungy, but textural and rich,” she said of Evylin’s condo. “It looks like New Orleans.” Schmidt knew the space would make a unique atmospheric backdrop for a photo shoot. “The light, and the cool vintage look — it was made to be a set. I wanted to do fashion — it lent itself to that. The 1940s decade was very fashion-driven.” (Schmidt recruited a model and photographer and staged the condo for a fashion spread that will appear in an upcoming issue of Minnesota Monthly.)

During the photo shoot, “I fell in love with this woman [Evylin],” Schmidt said. “There’s nothing more intimate than spending time in someone’s personal space. I felt I got to know her.”

As for Evylin’s time-warp decor, “I’m sure someone will change it,” Schmidt said. “But for a minute, for a day, we got to document it.”

 

Lance Fraser, Lakes Area Realty, has the listing, 651-230-1648. (Editor’s note: A purchase agreement is pending on this property.)

 

Kim Palmer • 612-673-4784

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