Like some of his literary characters, author F. Scott Fitzgerald grew up surrounded by wealth that his family didn't have. As a boy and later a teen in St. Paul, Fitzgerald and his parents lived in various row houses in the Summit Hill neighborhood, while he socialized with the offspring of tycoons who lived in nearby mansions.
One house, in particular, made such an impression on Fitzgerald that he described it in one of his short stories, "The Scandal Detectives," according to a brochure produced by the F. Scott Fitzgerald Society and the St. Paul Public Library.
The big house with its own ballroom was located on Grand Hill, an enclave of historic homes tucked behind the University Club. During Fitzgerald's youth, the house was home to Charles W. and Mary Ames and their six children, two of whom were friends with Fitzgerald. "Betty" Ames married another childhood friend, Norris Jackson, who was Fitzgerald's roommate at Princeton, and the couple lived in her parents' former house for decades, while remaining friends with Fitzgerald.
"He had a deep association with the house," said Edward Fox, the current owner, who bought it from the Jackson family estate almost 30 years ago and raised his seven children there.
Charles Ames was a prominent figure in the Twin Cities. The longtime president of West Publishing, he also was a founder of St. Paul Academy, which Fitzgerald attended, and the Science Museum.
Ames was a young man in 1886 when he hired Thomas Holyoke, architect Cass Gilbert's chief draftsman, to design the house on Grand Hill. In 1900, Ames put on a large addition, and in 1912-13, he added on again, resulting in a 9,000-square-foot home with a turret, that has been described as "Queen Anne eclectic."
The woodwork in the original house is clear pine, said Fox, while the woodwork in the additions is oak. "By 1900, Charles was more established, more wealthy."
Fox has the blueprints and the correspondence, handwritten in fountain pen, between the architect and his client. The home has 11 fireplaces, but Ames originally envisioned even more. At one point, he wrote to Holyoke and told him to eliminate the planned fireplace in the library because the project was getting too expensive.
In addition to the library, the house includes a music room, a conservatory, a wood-paneled office, a solarium and a two-bedroom apartment with a kitchen on the third floor, which incorporates the former ballroom as a family room. Other amenities include multiple porches, a patio overlooking the garden with fountain, and a three-car garage.
The house "was very advanced for its time, with a central vacuum cleaner," said Fox. "It's so beautifully built. Everything still works."
Fox has given the house "a lot of loving care" over the years, making repairs as needed with an eye to preserving its character. He redid the kitchen in the early 2000s, but kept the original butler's pantries and icebox. "The integrity of the home has been maintained."
Now that his children are grown, he's decided to sell his home, which is listed at $1.55 million.
The house is unusual in that it's been "meticulously maintained" over the years, with updates to make it livable for today, yet still has its original character, said real estate agent Marcy Wengler, Edina Realty. "They kept a lot of cool things. Because it's had so few owners, it's really well-preserved."
It's also unusually light and bright for a house of its vintage, she said, with large and plentiful windows, and a stained-glass ceiling on the second floor that "brings all this beautiful light into the hallway. It doesn't feel like a dark old house."
Fox will miss living there. "I love the house," he said. "It's a good home to raise a family — very pleasant and serene, with a really wonderful positive spirit. It's going to be hard for me to leave."
Marcy Wengler, 651-238-7434, Edina Realty, has the listing.
Kim Palmer • 612-673-4784