Homegazing: A house with a St. Paul pedigree

  • Article by: Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 31, 2012 - 10:34 AM

The former O'Shaughnessy home on Summit Avenue boasts stained-glass windows, built-ins and a wrap-around front porch. There is also a three-car garage and mature trees that shade the impressive lot.

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The former O’Shaughnessy home on Summit Avenue boasts built-ins, stained glass and a wrap-around front porch.

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Say the name "O'Shaughnessy," and most Twin Citians think of campus buildings at St. Thomas University and St. Catherine University.

But the schools' well-known benefactor, Ignatius Aloysius O'Shaughnessy, had a longtime private residence, too, a big brick home on the quieter western end of St. Paul's Summit Avenue, in the Mac-Groveland neighborhood.

By the time O'Shaughnessy bought the house in the early 1920s, he was a very wealthy man. But he believed in sharing his wealth, eventually establishing the O'Shaughnessy Foundation and donating an estimated $5 million to St. Thomas, the university that gave him a chance after he and two classmates were kicked out of St. John's University for skipping Sunday vespers to drink beer in the woods.

O'Shaughnessy graduated from St. Thomas in 1907, capping a stellar college career that included serving as secretary to the president and shining on the football field as a star player and team captain. After a brief foray into the insurance business, he went on to make a fortune in the oil industry.

The house he chose in St. Paul had been built in 1913 for Louis A. Weidenborner, president and treasurer of the American Home Furnishings Company. Designed by architect H.M. Seby, it was described as "mildly Colonial Revival, slightly Prairie style," according to notes from an architectural hike of the neighborhood.

The home was generous in size (5,500 square feet), with many elegant features of its time, including stained-glass windows, a library, formal dining room with built-in buffet and a wrap-around front porch.

But it was not a massive mansion on the grand scale of some of the other Victorian-era homes on Summit Avenue. It was a family home, with a big back yard, where the O'Shaughnessys raised their five children.

'Character'

Current owners Josef and Libuse Ruzicka first admired the home for its handsome appearance and sturdy construction, according to their son, Dr. Petr Ruzicka, a pediatric neurosurgeon in Arizona.

"It had character. It was a solid brick house, which is what Europeans look for," Petr said.

The Ruzickas, who had moved to Minnesota from the Czech Republic after Josef, an inventor, sold his patents to 3M, also liked the home's location -- "easily accessible to everywhere," according to Petr -- and its big, tree-lined lot.

The house wasn't even for sale when Josef first saw it, but he set his heart on owning it, his son recalled. After O'Shaughnessy died in 1973, Josef learned, via his attorney, that the house was going to be sold, and the Ruzickas were able to buy it before it went on the market.

Petr, a University of Minnesota student at the time, lived in the house with his parents for several years, through college, medical school and his residency. "It was a cheerful, busy home," he recalled. He especially liked his father's second-floor study, which has a balcony, and the big front porch overlooking Summit Avenue.

The Ruzicka family left most of the home's architectural features intact, although they did remodel the kitchen about 10 years ago, Petr said.

His mother, who studied medicine in the Czech Republic before the country's medical schools were closed during the German occupation in World War II, served as general contractor for the remodeling, even though she was in her late 70s at the time. "She was meticulous, very detail-oriented," Petr said. "She insisted they vacuum out the cabinets before installing them," to remove errant wood shavings.

The Ruzickas replaced the kitchen's original metal cabinets, but kept its original stainless-steel countertops, their son said. The kitchen also includes a coffered ceiling, butler's pantry and built-in desk.

In addition to the four bedrooms on the second floor, the house has a finished third floor with a bedroom and bathroom and back staircase, formerly a maid's quarters. "In today's world, it would be a wonderful nanny's suite or teenager's room," said listing agent Kathy Manion of Keller Williams Integrity Realty.

Other features unusual for the home's era and urban location include an original three-car garage and ample corner lot, with mature trees and an iron fence. "You don't typically have a yard like that in the city," Manion said.

Yet the home retains its century-old charm, she said. "Certain features are so true to the time. The most striking is when you walk into the foyer and see the grand staircase with the stained-glass window and window seat."

Kathy Manion of Keller Williams Integrity Realty has the listing, www.kathymanion.com, 612-202-3071. 

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  • The former O’Shaughnessy home on Summit Avenue boasts built-ins, stained glass and a wrap-around front porch.

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