Down the street from City Hall and a tombstone shop on Minnetonka Boulevard stand the remnants of a tree house that once inspired childlike fantasies and added a touch of whimsy to St. Louis Park.
Now, the tale of the seven-tiered St. Louis Park tree house, which spent nearly 30 years nestled in Mark Tucker’s backyard maple tree, is coming to an end.
The city has given Tucker until the end of the year to remove his beloved tree house. So level by level, Tucker, 65, is taking it down.
“I decided it was time to get realistic and begin the process of removing it,” he said.
It’s not the first time the city has asked Tucker to remove the 40-foot-high tree house. Back in 1986 when he started building it for his five children, he got tangled in a legal battle with the city over zoning codes and safety regulations.
The tree house case sparked national publicity. In 1988, a Hennepin County judge decided Tucker could continue building it as long as he followed safety regulations, had regular assessments of the tree’s health, and installed safety cages or nets. Only four people could be in it at a time.
With Tucker in the spotlight, building code violations began to surface at his rental properties in Minneapolis. A judge ordered him to serve a 10-day sentence for the violations, sending him from the tree house to the workhouse.
Despite all of the complications and distractions, Tucker finished building his $18,000 tree house. For a time, he sold health and life insurance from the tree house or, as he called it, his branch office.
Weather has taken toll
After all that time and work, he said, now “nobody uses the darn thing,” and he can no longer keep it up to code.
The tree and the tree house have weathered. A snowstorm in 2014 took down a big limb. Tucker said he decided then that he could not keep maintaining the house according to the city regulations.
“I thought it would [still] be up in the tree after I’m gone,” he said. “I never really thought, ‘Whoa, I’m going to have to take this thing down.’ ”
Jacqueline Larson, St. Louis Park’s communications manager, said the city appreciates Tucker’s effort to take down the tree house.
Tucker started the teardown process in July by removing the top levels of the tree house, creating the illusion that a monster could have clawed off the top looking for children inside — children who are now in their 30s and 40s.
Requiem for a landmark
The community, and the squirrels, are sad to see it go. Neighbors remember Christmas lights streaming down from the top of the house and gawkers jamming traffic on Minnetonka Boulevard.
The neighborhood would use it as a reference point for directions, said Kelly Holm, vet hospital manager of City Cat Clinic & Condos across the street. Clients at the animal clinic would often ask Holm about the tree house.
“It used to be very well cared for,” she said. “Unfortunately, it’s just aged.”
Like Tucker, Joyce LaVoie, 65, of Long Prairie, is a part of the small community of Minnesota tree house owners. “I feel bad for him,” she said. “In an urban area, there are a lot more people to get angry about it than me out in the woods.”
Two decks of chocolate-stained wood remain standing in Tucker’s backyard. He expects to have the whole house down in a couple of weeks.
Tucker said that even with all of the issues he’s had over the tree house, it was worth it in the end.
“I built it alone,” he said. “I thought it would be appropriate to take it down myself.”