$1.1 million for a Victorian gem

  • Article by: LYNN UNDERWOOD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 9, 2012 - 2:43 PM

Robert Stephens, founder of the Geek Squad, is trading south Minneapolis for San Francisco, where he plans to start a new company. So his Victorian home is up for sale.

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The Stephens family loved the Victorian’s welcoming front porch.

The entry foyer's handsome carved wood staircase is what instantly sold Robert and Jacalyn Stephens on their Victorian home in Minneapolis. "It felt like we were in a time machine," said Robert Stephens, who grew up in the suburbs and had never lived in an old home.

But at nearly 120 years old, the home needed lots of work. Over the past nine years, the couple undertook scores of improvements and updates, including refinishing the wood floors, scraping off up to 12 coats of paint from woodwork, converting the attic into a home theater room and remodeling the kitchen. And for their teenagers, they installed an in-ground back-yard swimming pool.

Now Stephens, founder of the Geek Squad, is trading south Minneapolis for San Francisco, where he plans to start a new company. He recently resigned from Best Buy, which bought the Geek Squad in 2002. When the Stephens family moves to San Francisco, they'll rent a Victorian in Pacific Heights.

"I live in the modern digital world," said Stephens. "So there's something really appealing about the authenticity of an old house."

Stephens was intrigued by the home's history, and in his spare time he unearthed facts and photos at the Minnesota Historical Society. John and Helen Horton (Helen was among the first 50 founders of the Hennepin Avenue Methodist Church) built it in 1885 for $2,500. During the Great Depression the home was converted to a duplex. In the 1990s, a couple purchased and restored it to its single-family-home beauty. The Stephenses became the next owners in 2003.

Stephens' research led him to the Hortons' great-granddaughter, Nancy Helnick, and she gave him two historic photos when she toured the home. "One was a shot of the foyer looking into the parlor, and you can see a woman playing a piano in a Victorian dress," he said. The other photo was notable because it depicts a wedding party in front of the original front porch. Stephens framed and hung both photos in the foyer.

Although that sprawling Victorian porch is long gone, the family will miss the current reincarnation where they eat dinner, chat with neighbors and watch storms. "Once we sat there for three hours and watched the light show," said Stephens. "That's the real big-screen TV."

Other features

• The Victorian has 4,500 square feet, four bedrooms and four bathrooms.

• Renovated kitchen with professional-grade appliances, granite counters, custom cabinets and in-floor heat.

• Bedroom converted to a tin-ceilinged library, integrating the original fireplace and hearth. "I typed 'mansion library' into Google and sent photos to the woodworker," said Stephens.

• Restored front porch floor, railings and roof.

• Five fireplaces, two wood-burning and three gas, with original wood and tile surrounds.

• All windows replaced in 2004.

• Remodeled second-floor bathroom.

• New three-car garage.

• Location, location, location. The home is across the street from Diamond Lake, which is a wildlife habitat in the city. "Turtles lay their eggs in our front yard," said Stephens.

Daren Jensen of Edina Realty has the listing; 952-927-1690.

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