Theron Potter Healy, pegged the "King of the Queen Anne," built 140 of the style of homes between 1886 and 1906.
His well-known works include the nationally designated Healy Block Historic District, 14 Queen Anne homes in south Minneapolis that share an alley in the 3100 block of 2nd and 3rd avenues. The homes, in view from I-35W near the 31st Street exit, have become well-known fixtures on daily commutes.
When one of those homes on 3rd Avenue was listed a few years back, an unexpected buyer emerged — Healy's great-grandson John Cuningham.
Originally, John and his wife, Sally Cuningham, hadn't planned to put in an offer. But when someone from the Healy Project, a nonprofit dedicated to the preservation of Healy homes, approached John, an architect, they decided to at least take a look at the Queen Anne Victorian.
Trademark features needed restoration.
"We decided to restore it and save it from someone coming in and possibly breaking it up into a rooming house or something like that," said John, whose mother grew up in one of the homes in the Historic District.
In 2012, the couple purchased the place, figuring they would give it an update and sell it within two years.
"Here I am a contemporary architect and I'm doing this. But you look around at the stained glass and how it hits the light and then all the details in the woodwork," John said. "All the facades are different. All the turrets are different. He was very imaginative with his choices. It's endlessly interesting."
Rich in history
The home, built in 1891, is referred to as the Bennett-McBride house, after lumberman Henry H. Bennett, who was the original owner, and the McBride family, the third homeowners, whose family members resided in it for more than 60 years. The family was recognized for caretaking and preserving the home during a time when others in the area were being altered.
In 1967, the next set of homeowners — Ronald Domanski and Norm Lindberg — also were instrumental in the home's upkeep as well as its historical designation in 1977.
"They delighted in the fanciful, theatrical, dramatic detail of the Queen Anne architecture. So they fixed it up, and they were responsible for getting it on the National Register of Historic Places," said Anders Christensen, president of the Healy Project.
In addition to Queen Anne trademarks such as cross-gables, trellises, a mix of building materials and stained glass, Healy was known to put his personal stamp on things. That included arched Moorish stained glass laid over a single pane as well as porches with turned columns and ornamental work under a cantilevered front gable, Christensen said.
Healy was a master builder, which during those times meant he also built the homes he designed. His specialty during the early parts of his career was Queen Anne homes in Lowry Hill and other areas of south Minneapolis.
"Master builders all had their particular ways in how they clad a house with narrow or wide siding, shingles. Healy stands out for the complexity of the designs," Christensen said. "He took a lot of classical historical elements and put them together in asymmetrical patterns that allow for an infinite variety of decorations — arches, towers, bays. They're very complex, but they work together by balancing different features."
While previous homeowners had cared for the home, it needed updating and further restoration, as aging homes do.
"Though it was sort of a wreck, we thought it was savable because it was intact in certain ways," said John, who founded the architecture firm Cuningham Group. "The kernel of the house was there."
For one, 2 ¼-inch-thick sliding wood doors had been preserved. So had the original hardwood floors, other woodwork and trim. Maple and oak predominantly flowed throughout while chestnut and cherry wood accented the spaces. Nine stained glass windows as well as towering 9- to 10-foot ceilings also made for a grand home.
The bones of the home also were strong, including double-lapped walls with two layers of plaster to keep the house warm — and to this day keep the heating bills low for a home of this size, John said.
The couple got right to work reroofing, reinsulating the walls and resealing plaster on the ceilings. Central air conditioning was added.
"Every ceiling was hanging like a hammock," he said of the cracks and sagging.
Project highlights include that of the porch, which got an updated, sturdy foundation. A neighbor who knew how to restore homes of that period helped make such things as scuffed railings look brand new.
"It's a miracle that he was a woodworker who was my neighbor and he lived in a Healy House and fixed it up, too. So he knew what to do," he said.
The kitchen was also given an upgrade. With the blessing of the historical group, the kitchen was torn down to the studs. A wall was removed to open up the kitchen and convert an adjacent office into a family room. An old fireplace chimney was removed.
Before, there were no upper kitchen cabinets. So the Cuninghams put in new custom oak cupboards that included glass doors as a nod to tradition. Updated appliances, as well as countertops made of maple block and green Vermont marble, were installed. Adding a kitchen island and putting in vintage hardware original to the home completed the look.
"Everyone thinks the kitchen was this way originally, which is a huge compliment," John said.
In the primary bedroom, an adjoining bathroom was added. That, and another bathroom on the second level, were outfitted with marble backsplash and flooring.
The Cuninghams also restored the barn, which Christensen noted is one of three left on the Healy Block. A new foundation was built and new milled siding was installed while historical elements, such as two horse stalls, remain.
In the middle of the renovation, the Cuninghams decided to move from their Tangletown digs, the south Minneapolis home they had lived in for more than 46 years, into the home that John's great-grandfather built.
"It was my intention to do some repairs and sell it, but sometime during the two years it took to repair the house my wife and I decided we wanted to live there," he said. "We fell in love with it."
They've enjoyed living in the home, appreciating the way it was built. The walls and doors are so thick that "it's very quiet," Sally said. The sliding doors have been great to open or close off a room, especially during the pandemic when someone needed to be on a Zoom call.
They've also enjoyed how many hangout areas there are, from a living room that leads to a fireplace room that leads to a formal dining room on one side, to an eat-in kitchen and a family room on the other.
The Cuninghams' loving restoration of the home has paid off beyond being able to live in and enjoy the home. Their efforts have garnered awards from the Minneapolis Heritage Preservation Commission, the Minnesota Chapter of the American Institute of Architects and Preserve Minneapolis.
Now, after nine years, the Cuninghams have decided it's time to downsize. They've listed the three-story, five-bedroom, three-bathroom home spanning 3,375 square feet.
"'We're moving downtown to a very contemporary place with floor-to-ceiling glass," John said. "This is a lot of house."
Listing agent Martha Hoover said the home is unique in its craftsmanship, family ties and attention to detail in the restoration. "The other unusual feature is the garage with a horse stable and upper loft right in Minneapolis," she added.
Sally Cuningham said the home has the potential to be added onto.
The barn's second floor could be converted into an ADU or apartment. And in the attic of the home, which houses a bedroom and a pool hall, they've installed plumbing if someone wanted to add a bathroom.
But if new homeowners want to just move in and enjoy, they can do that, too.
Major projects, in line with historical preservation standards, have been completed.
And although it's a historic home, it should suit potential homeowners of varying tastes. Just ask the Cuninghams, whose style in decor and furnishings is contemporary.
"One of the things we've been so pleased with is you would think it would be confining to live in a period house," John said. "What we found out is that it's very forgiving."
Martha Hoover (MHoover@remax.net; 612-382-8051) of RE/MAX Preferred has the $625,000 listing.