During its 135-year history, the massive red-brick mansion on St. Paul’s iconic Summit Avenue has been many things — a home to titans of industry, a nunnery, a would-be hotel and even a designer showcase house.
Most recently, it’s been home to Susan and Tom Handley, who bought the place in 2013.
“My husband loved the look of this house — regal — it has the widest presence on the avenue,” Susan said.
“It was not water-tight or critter-free,” she recalled of its condition when they bought it. “But such a beautiful house deserved to be restored.”
The Handleys undertook a massive restoration to update the home for modern living. They reconfigured and refreshed interior spaces, creating a modern owners’ suite with a luxurious bath and sauna. They also updated the mechanicals and systems, making the house water-tight and energy-efficient, with spray-foam insulation.
The kitchen, which had been wedged into an old butler’s pantry because the original kitchen was in the basement, was gutted, opened to the breakfast room and transformed into a culinary showplace. It boasts a walk-in pantry, dual sinks, dishwashers and Wolf ovens, plus cherry cabinets and Cararra marble countertops. “It’s spectacular,” said Susan.
Armed with the original blueprints, the Handleys took pains to maintain the home’s character. “I tried to give a nod to history,” Susan said. “We did a lot of scavenging at estate sales.”
Their home’s history is long and rich. Built in 1884 for Frederick Driscoll, owner of the St. Paul Pioneer Press, it’s the work of two renowned architects. Driscoll commissioned William Willcox, who designed Macalester College’s Old Main, to design the original Queen Anne Victorian. Then in 1900, Driscoll sold the house to lumber baron Frederick Weyerhaeuser, who later hired Emmanuel Masqueray, architect for the St. Paul Cathedral, to design a large addition with Beaux Arts influences.
The 11,000-square-foot house was given to Macalester College in the 1950s, then sold to the Boy Scout Council. During that era, some scouts discovered a wall safe full of jewelry. “Being Boy Scouts, they returned it,” said Susan, to the Frederick Weyerhaeuser family.
For almost two decades from the mid-’60s to the mid-’80s, the Catholic Church owned the house and housed French nuns there. Later someone tried to turn it into an executive-suite hotel. The permits were rescinded — but not before the addition of five en suite bathrooms, bringing the bathroom total to 12.
The house has been vacant, and it’s been a multifamily home, according to Susan. It was back in single-family ownership in 2001, the year Twin Cities interior designers chose it to be their showcase home. Many designer enhancements from that event remain, including a bedroom that was turned into a home theater with padded soundproof walls, and another that was transformed into a workout room with a cork floor and a fanciful art mural.
The Handleys added a temperature-controlled wine cellar and the secret room, hidden behind a bookcase on casters.
Now Tom Handley, who recently retired as president and chief operating officer at Ecolab, has taken a job in Seattle, so the couple has put the house on the market for $1.7 million.
“It’s hard to leave, now that we’ve got it the way we want it,” Susan said. “The house is so embracing, so happy. It’s huge but it lives very modern and cozy — family-friendly.” The Handleys have enjoyed hosting family, friends and nonprofit organizations’ events in their historic home.
“I love opening the house and sharing it with people,” said Susan. “It’s beautiful and deserved to be saved and shared.”
Mary Hardy, 612-751-0729, Edina Realty, has the listing.