She got to know local architects, shifting her career into print journalism. “I finally became a reporter,” she said.
A bulldog reporter
For several years, she wrote for Skyway News — what’s now the Downtown Journal — and she has written for many publications, including Minneapolis/St. Paul Magazine, Architecture Minnesota and Architectural Record.
“She’s an absolute bulldog; she’s fearless in getting the first interview,” said Chris Hudson, editor of Architecture Minnesota.
Hudson described a visit from legendary architect Frank Gehry: “She’s 2 feet shorter than everyone, but she just motored past everyone and said, ‘Hey Frank.’ ”
Added Tom Fisher, dean of the University of Minnesota’s College of Design: “She’s brought local architecture to a national audience.”
In 2009, Melvin and Hammel produced a book about Lake Minnetonka houses, boating around in Hammel’s Sea Ray Sun Deck as they learned about the megamansions and boat houses that she had cruised by so many times.
“Legendary Homes of Lake Minnetonka” was followed by a book on Minneapolis homes on the Chain of Lakes. In October, Melvin released a third book — about St. Paul mansions on Summit Avenue — with help from Hammel and three other writers.
Hammel also has been involved with civic groups, including the current one in Wayzata helping to decide changes to the city’s lakefront.
“She’s really sort of the keeper of architectural purity and heritage in Wayzata and throughout the area,” Wayzata Mayor Ken Willcox said.
Now the energetic Hammel has no plans to slow down. She wants to write a memoir and a mystery novel involving the old hotels that dotted Lake Minnetonka. And, of course, she’ll keep writing about architecture.
“She’s looking forward, not back; there’s a lot of exciting things she plans to do,” Melvin says. “She has this desire to keep writing and working … to get the scoop on projects.”
From Hammel’s solarium, a sunny living room with a wall of windows overlooking the lake and a lagoon, she goes over a stack of drafts from the many articles and columns she has written over the years.
She got an offer on the 3,300-square-foot house within three days of putting it on the market. Although she’s sad to be downsizing, she’s moving only a short distance to a new fourth-floor condo senior apartment at Presbyterian Homes’ new Folkestone building in downtown Wayzata that will still afford her a view of the lake.
She still boats on the lake in the spring and summer, and she cross-country skis on it during the winter. She also likes to dance, volunteer and meet up with friends at “The Muni” — the Wayzata Bar & Grill.
“She’s like an Energizer Bunny — she just keeps going,” the U’s Fisher said.
But it’s her career as an architecture writer, activist and preservationist that’s made her well-known in the Twin Cities — far beyond just being an architect’s widow.