Irvine Park, one of St. Paul’s oldest neighborhoods, is so picturesque that it’s a popular spot for weddings.
Countless couples have exchanged vows in its central park with ornate fountain and gazebo, ringed by stately Victorian-era homes and spreading oak trees.
But in the early ‘70s, Irvine Park wasn’t so pretty.
Most of the old houses were so rundown that the city considered razing them to build high-rise public housing. Residents mobilized and secured historic status for Irvine Park, which sparked a revival. The city sold the dilapidated old houses for $1 to buyers willing to live there and invest in bringing them up to code.
Steve and Val Laugtug bought their brick Federal-style house overlooking the park about 40 years ago, from one of those $1 buyers/renovators.
“We came at the tail end of the process,” said Steve. “It was a bunch of hippies fixing rickety old houses, with scaffolding and ladders, like going into a new development but the houses were old.
“It stayed that way for close to 10 years. DIYers don’t move real fast. It was eclectic and funky.”
There was a real sense of community among those trying to rebuild the neighborhood, he said. “Everybody helped everybody. We all wondered if it was the dumbest thing we ever did. There were bums sleeping in the park.”
Now those restored old homes are gracious and valuable. And their location, just a few blocks from the restaurants of West Seventh Street and Xcel Energy Center, has become highly desirable.
“It’s a wonderful sleepy little pocket,” said Steve.
Minnesota was still a territory when the neighborhood was first platted in 1849, near the river’s Upper Landing where the steamboats stopped.
Irvine Park was designed with an open space in the middle, like a New England-style public square, and affluent people began building homes there.
The Laugtugs’ house was built in 1854, the year St. Paul was incorporated as a city.
It’s the third oldest house still standing in St. Paul, according to Steve. The house had been moved closer to the park from its original site when the Laugtugs bought it.
At that point, it was basically a shell on a partial foundation.
“We finished the foundation and rehabbed the whole house,” said Steve, updating mechanicals, plumbing and wiring and restoring the original wood wide-plank pine floors and doors.
At one point, the house had been divided into apartments, and the couple removed interior walls to return it to a 3,600-square-foot, single-family residence.
They retained and recreated the home’s period character, with dentil molding and other details and upgraded wood stoves to fireplaces in the living room and master bedroom.
“You would think you’re in a house in Williamsburg,” Steve said. “It’s sort of like walking into a museum but with a modern kitchen and bathrooms, and air-conditioning.”
Now the couple are moving to California to be near their only grandchild, and their house is on the market for $649,900.
“Old houses can be dark and dreary, but this has huge windows with original wavy glass,” Steve said, along with an unobstructed view of the park. “You can see right to the fountain.”
Val Laugtug, 612-751-9921, 123 Flat Fee Realty, has the listing.