Jill Thompson and Diana Kennedy were walking their dog along the trails of Theodore Wirth Park when they first noticed a secluded pocket of homes in Golden Valley. When one of the homes came on the market in 2007, the women couldn’t resist, and immediately made an offer. The 1958 Prairie-style brick dwelling, with a tuck-under garage, sits on a wooded half-acre lot abutting Wirth Park in the North Tyrol Hills neighborhood.
“This is our second midcentury home, and we love the solid quality building of that era,” said Thompson. “And the setting was peaceful and only five minutes from downtown.”
To add to the home’s retro mystique, singer and movie star Mitzi Gaynor (“South Pacific”) is believed to have lived there with her husband, Hollywood producer Jack Bean. Neighbors told Thompson and Kennedy that the rumor had been passed along over the years. A neighbor, who lived there a long time, referred to one of the home’s previous occupants as “showgirl Gaynor.”
Thompson was curious and checked the Hennepin County property tax records, which stated that the home’s title was registered to Mildred and Jack Gaynor during the 1980s and ’90s. But it hardly confirmed the story, since Mitzi wasn’t named Mildred, and Jack’s last name was Bean. “Jack Bean was originally from Minneapolis,” said Thompson, noting that he died in 2006, and Mitzi is now in her 80s. “So it’s possible this was their summer home, but I wouldn’t bet my house on it.”
After moving in, Thompson and Kennedy discovered that many of the home’s features were quite cutting-edge for the 1950s. The outdoor patio had a heated floor, there was an indoor grill connected to the living-room fireplace, and the main floor was equipped with an intercom system.
The horseshoe-shaped floor plan was relatively open for 1958, said Thompson. It included a “smoking room” paneled in dark-stained wood and accented with vintage sconces. “It felt like someone should be walking around in a robe with a cigar,” she said.
However, the home’s decor was stuck in the ’50s, with minimal updating, said Thompson. The retro interiors — everything from thick-paneled walls to aqua and salmon-tiled bathrooms — had seen better days, and the design didn’t capitalize on the park views. “Our style is clean-lined, not overly busy Scandinavian modern,” said Thompson. “We wanted to update it and put in contemporary finishes.”
So over six years, the women renovated the two levels, as well as enhancing the landscaping with a pond and waterfall, designed by Kennedy, a master gardener. On the main floor, they put in ambient soffit lighting and large picture windows, which created 23 feet of glass on one wall. “Now when you walk into the foyer, your eyes are transported outside to the backyard,” said Thompson.
In the living room, they traded out the massive stone fireplace for a sleek gas model inside a wall tiled with clean-look Italian porcelain and a brushed stainless-steel surround. The women used Italian porcelain tile throughout the home, because “it comes in so many interesting finishes, and you can find so many cool looks,” said Thompson.
They refreshed the kitchen by first removing the heavy ceiling beams, refinishing and painting the cabinets, and added espresso-hued quartz countertops and new appliances. The refinished original oak floor continues from the kitchen and into the dining room.
The “smoking room” space was converted into part of a remodeled spa-style master bathroom, complete with a two-person air-jet soaking tub and heated Italian porcelain tiled floor. As for the exterior, the women installed prairie-style grid windows on the street side — homage to the home’s original architecture,
“This is our first — and last — top-to-bottom remodeling,” said Thompson. “Now we’re looking for a home that’s smaller and more manageable, so we can split our time between Florida and Minnesota.”
When they sell, the nature-loving women will miss having Wirth Park right in their backyard. “I love feeding the birds,” said Thompson, an admitted “bird geek.” “They’ll miss me when I’m gone.”
• The home’s 3,353 square feet includes three bedrooms and three bathrooms.
• Sunroom boasts floor-to-ceiling windows facing Wirth Park.
• Finished lower level has a family room, laundry and utility room and storage space.
• Kitchen has access to a large backyard paver patio.
• Brick exterior has new Prairie-style windows and rebuilt brick front steps.
• Location, location, location: Hike, bike and cross-country ski in Theodore Wirth Park; Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden is a block away.
Jim and Dory Herrmann of Home Avenue have the listing, 763-286-8551.