The ’20s aren’t coming back: Pillsbury mansion to be demolished

When we moved here from the Colonies 26 years ago, we were intrigued by the pace at which the locals here go through houses. There aren’t that many new houses back east so the world tends to stay put.

That doesn’t happen here, particularly in the suburbs, of course. People seem to want the new homes and if they have to reset the mortgage every few years, it’s worth it. Churn city.

So we’re prepared for the irony of people tsk-tsking the coming demolition of the ginormous Pillsbury mansion on Lake Minnetonka. It’s been for sale for a decade and nobody wants it.

No question, it’s a historical marvel.

“It’s hard to find anybody who wants that grand old-time lifestyle. The people with money want the tech palace,” architectural historial Larry Millett tells the Star Tribune.

At one time it was the most expensive home in Minnesota. But now the land has been subdivided, and there’ve been no takers for the house. Down it must come.

People want new.

“The thing is, if you destroy all of these old houses you really are destroying our history. I mean, go and look at the new houses and tell me is that what you want to be looking at in 100 years?” said Debbie Lee from Edina, who was walking near the mansion when KSTP showed up for its story.

It’s hard to figure out who the bad person here that everyone seems to be aghast at. Everyone may not want to be looking at all the new houses, but everyone seems to be buying them.

Besides, there’s no need for house with a gazillion bedrooms and bathrooms, and a garage for the entire New York City taxi fleet.

There was no reason to deny the teardown permit. The building isn’t protected by being on a historic register.

  • MrE85

    “That doesn’t happen here, particularly in the suburbs, of course. People seem to want the new homes and if they have to reset the mortgage every few years, it’s worth it. Churn city.”

    Our “starter home” will likely be our finisher, too. So we’re not like most people. I’m pretty sure we have lived in our house longer than any other owners or renters.

    • Same.

    • Al

      We were privileged enough to by our 1964-built house from my parents when they retired. When I was in college, I HATED the midcentury furnishings and fixtures–not there because my parents were big midcentury aficionados, but because they just couldn’t be bothered to update. Now? Lucky me, I’ve got a house straight out of Mad Men (for better or worse).

      • Same here. i gave my mother a big sack of money for her South Minneapolis bungalow built in 1928 and moved her to a condo. I don’t plan on moving anytime soon.

      • MrE85

        Our home is roughly the same vintage.

      • Al

        (Now we just have to wait for our income to catch up with the home repair needed on our tiny money pit. #millennialproblems)

    • KariBemidji

      Same with us. Our starter home quickly became our forever home. While our friends kept moving up to bigger and bigger, we embraced the smaller scale, great neighborhood and neighbors.

      • Location, location, location…

        • KariBemidji

          And to be perfectly honest, we live right on the edge of the pizza delivery zone. Between that and the golf course a mile away, we’re never moving.

          • Erik Petersen

            Whats the best pizza in Bemidji these days

          • KariBemidji

            Keith’s Pizza is our family’s favorite.

          • Erik Petersen

            Alright, that was mine when I was a Beaver

    • jon

      I think that’s a trend you are going to see more of with “millenials” as they get to the point in their life when they “should” be buying larger homes…

      They are not only waiting longer to buy a home, they are also going to live in that home longer.

      This is a group that grew up watching foreclosures all around them during some formative years, they are going to be hesitant to overextend themselves with a mortgage, means selectivity is going to be a thing too…

      This is a group that is having fewer children, needing less house later in life because of it.

      It’s also a group that is concerned with climate change, and energy efficiency is also going to be something that will matter to them…

      The end result I suspect will be smaller homes (we’ve already seen that trend) that are newer, or recently renovated (tighter homes are more efficient and building houses tight is a more recent building concern), and in places they feel they can live for a longer period of time.

      I think we might also see a trend where houses with increased rooftop solar potential are higher market value… I saw “solar potential” was an item on zillow recently… I do worry that home flippers might start cutting down trees because of this…. but time will tell…

      • MrE85

        The homes in our ‘hood sell faster than you can put up a sign. The modest ranches and two-stories of “old Blaine” are considered affordable in today’s market.

        • jon

          Yeah, my neighborhood was built in 1959, and the houses sell fast, but about half the time the house gets flipped before it gets a new resident… have to wonder how many people will be doing major rework on these houses in 10 year because the house was flipped as cheaply as possible….

        • This is another oddity for the East Coast transplants. If the houses are selling THAT quickly, back East we take that as a sign that the asking price is too low.

          • MrE85

            That’s not very Minnesota Nice. 😉

    • AL287

      The first time I saw “starter home” in a real estate listing back in the 80’s I was really taken aback.

      I kept asking myself, “What the hell is a starter home? Don’t you buy a home with the intention of remaining in it at least until you retire?”

      I don’t think there are a lot of Millennials that will be buying “starter homes.” They will be lucky if they can afford a home period.

      • The term “starter home” originally referred to the post-WWII generation that began raising families in the ‘burbs. As the family grew in number, as more children were born and added, they would outgrow the two-bedroom “starter home” first bought when they’d had only one child (probably with a VA loan in those days) and begin moving up in size (and status) to a three- or four- or more-bedroom house.

        That’s what my parents did, three times in Richfield (although one move was because the Hwy 62 Crosstown highway, when completed, would’ve gone right through the living room). By the third time, the house was now large enough for a family of six – three BR upstairs (incl. a guest bedroom) and two BR in the finished basement.

        • One of the things that fascinating is how much the U.S. economy is built around people buying homes. Then buying another. And another.

  • Rob

    Seems like residential tear-down mania in this part of the country dates back at least to the 1970s, when a Frank Lloyd Wright home in Deephaven was torn down after standing empty for many years.

    Myself, I prefer pre-existing stock; lived in a 1920s bungalow for awhile and have spent the last couple of decades in a 1940 home. And by avoiding the urge to go new, oversized and soulless, my mortgage is paid off, thank you very much.

    • Jack

      You and I can retire in style since we won’t be servicing a mortgage.

      • Rob

        Right? Skydiving lessons ain’t cheap! : )

  • Barton

    As a lover of the old, this does make me sad. I don’t understand why someone (with a lot of money) doesn’t want this house. It could be upgraded to be a tech palace, after all (there certainly is room to do that).

    But, I’m not mega rich, so I can’t put my money where my mouth is (though, if I was, I’d buy on Lake Superior, not Lake Minnetonka). I just hope that they are going to remove the architectural treasures from the house before they demolish it – and I am including the floors.

    • AL287

      Tearing down this architectural treasure would have made my architect father weep.

      He heard a lecture by Frank Lloyd Wright when he was an architecture student back in the 50’s.

      Click on Jeff C’s Landmark Photo link below.

      What a waste of grand living space.

    • Postal Customer

      If I had $7.9m to spend on a house, I’d build the house of my dreams. I would not want somebody else’s 100-year-old place. No one else does either I guess.

      • If I had $8 mil, I’d put up a $100k house with a $7.9 mil view.

      • Kay See

        Your post is proof that money can’t buy taste…

  • Gary F

    I’m curious what the tax value is and what the taxes are.
    More and more people with that kind of money don’t live in Minnesota anymore.
    All I hear in St Paul is density, density, density, so why not accept more density on Lake Minnetonka?

    I’ve only owned one home in my life, my little stucco 1928 bungalow in Highland Park. But I’m in the process of leaving, the pay more, expect less attitude of St Paul is too much for me. A lake place in Wright county, or a rambler in Dakota county is what I have planned. No new debt, just changing properties.

    • Jerry

      Nobody in America wants to live in the places that gave them the tools to get rich in the first place. Low tax states don’t create wealth, they just store it.

    • Rob

      Is density coming to your neighborhood? I’m betting not. But I’ll bet there’s some teardowns in your’ hood, where the buyers have put up oversized piles that mess with the flavor and scale of the surroundings. As loathsome as such activity is, it calls out your assertion that St. Paul is a “pay more, get less” city. People wouldn’t be staying in St. Paul – let alone moving in from the suburbs and exurbs to buy existing housing stock or to build anew – if that were the case.

      • Gary F

        Big high rise on Snelling and St Clair, Snelling and Selby, and the Ford site next. The house next to me was bought by a real estate development company, he says he’s remodeling it, but remodeling stopped 3 weeks ago. I’m afraid I’ll have a mega house next door.

        Neighborhood and Facebook sites for Highland and Mac Groveland have constant complaints from new people that move to the neighborhood about basic city services like mowing medians, trash pick up at parks, lack of enforcement of rules at HIghland pool, and plowing and pothole repair. Just what do they think? This is Apple Valley? Get real. City and county taxes going up, and potholes don’t get fixed. Mayor Carter has grand dreams on how to spend our money while basic city services like policing and roads get overlooked.

        I know of many in Ward 3 that are moving or have moved. There are very few houses for sale in Little St Paul, aka, Mendota Heights. But, there are plenty of rubes who will move from the burbs to St Paul and wonder what they are getting for their money.

        Expect less, pay more. That’s the going standard in Ward Three.

        • That’s the problem with change. It changes.

          • Gary F

            Yes, that is why I’m changing cities and counties.

          • This is what I find so laughable. I don’t think I’ve ever lived anywhere in which people didn’t move somewhere, changing the area in the process, and then complaining a short time later that the area they moved into is changing.

          • Postal Customer

            I don’t understand what is so laughable. Gary doesn’t like the neighborhood anymore, so he’s moving. Someone else who does like it there will buy his house. He moves to a place he likes. Where’s the problem?

            And he said it’s the only house he’s owned. Presumably he did not buy it “a short time ago.”

          • John

            you’ve been saying that for like 3 years on here. I’ll believe it when I see it.

          • Gary F

            It’s hard to buy a house now. I want to trade my almost paid for house for one of the same cost. House prices have gone up 50K-75 or more what they were a year or two ago.

          • John

            Hasn’t your current home appreciated at around the same pace? I don’t think, when selling a home, that the high price of buying should have an impact, since your current home has also likely gone up in value 50-75K in the last couple years.

            I do agree that it seems nearly impossible to buy a house now (i’m not in the market, so I’m basing my opinion on a couple people I know who have recently bought/sold) – the market being so hot that you almost need an in with the current owner to even have a shot at getting it.

          • Gary F

            I bought my house 25 years ago, sure its appreciated. And this year it will be paid for. I could sell it for 300K. Two years ago, you could buy a single story rambler with basement and two car garage in Mendota Heights for 250. So, house costs 250 + some improvements means its a wash. Now the only $250 houses in MH are crap and need a lot of work or have something that causes them to sell at the price. The decent ones are now, 325 to 350, that is, if you can find one and want to commit to buying one on the spot. Easy to sell your home these days, hard to buy one without paying too much. But with City, county and school taxes going up again in St Paul, houses in Ward three are now for sale and harder to sell with the new tax outlook.

          • Yeah, but 24 years ago, we were paying 8-9 percent mortgage interest. Now it’s about 4 1/2%. So buying a home that’s three times what you paid back then, is only going to cost someone twice what you paid. That latter statistic is relatively consistent with inflation. So,, it seems to me, you’re getting more home at less cost these days.

          • Gary F

            The whole idea is not incurring any debt. My kid and house are paid for in a year. My cars are paid for. Living debt free is great.

        • Rob

          First world problems aplenty.

          I find the Neighborhood posts to be mostly petty whining; same thing with Facebook. Pro tip: Lower your blood pressure by swearing off both of them.

          • Gary F

            It’s fun reading.

    • John

      2018 tax assessment: $17,980,000
      2018 property taxes: $250,191.

  • Jeff C.

    A stunning home. I can understand why someone doesn’t want to buy it for a single family home (amazingly expensive to own a home like this) but it’s a shame that some organization doesn’t buy it to save it. I hope that, if it is indeed torn down, that the architectural details are salvaged.

    Photo tour at https://tours.landmarkphotodesign.com/public/vtour/display/43244?a=1

  • RBHolb

    “It’s hard to find anybody who wants that grand old-time lifestyle. The people with money want the tech palace.”

    I’ve noticed that a person’s taste seems to bear an inverse proportion to their income.

    Once upon a time, in the first Gilded Age, the people with money went to great lengths to show off their newly-attained culture and refinement. They endowed libraries and universities, and for their own recreation, had boxes at the opera and traveled through Europe hoovering up old master artworks like so much dust.

    Now, it’s the biggest, most advanced home theater and a stable full of expensive cars. The ultra-rich bankroll splashy vanity projects (Space X may be the Carnegie Library of our day) that glorify them as celebrities, while the middling-rich live out the fantasies of a Maxim magazine lifestyle.

    While there may be no practical difference in the minds of either set of the wealthy (did Mr. Dunwoody really appreciate the art he bought and so generously donated?), it does reflect an overall coarseness in our culture.

  • Jeff C.

    Can anyone here find out who bought it?

    “1400 Bracketts Point Road, Orono, MN 55391 (MLS# 4901545) is a
    Single Family property that was sold at $7,425,000 on August 02, 2018.” Source: https://www.coldwellbankerhomes.com/mn/orono/1400-bracketts-point-road/pid_22377618/

    • AL287

      Someone paid nearly 7.5 million dollars just to tear it down? That in itself is an indicator of where the American throw-away society is headed.

      Houses today are not built to last 100 years like this mansion was. It will likely be replaced with “unaffordable” high end condominiums with a homeowners association fee to match.

      Another gated community to wall yourself off from “undesirables” (POC).

      Sigh…..

      • I assume they get the property, which is huge, so they’ll come up out ahead on the resale.

      • John

        Last I heard, if you could find a small lot on Minnetonka, it would go for north of $1M. According to Zillow, the property is roughly 13 acres, so it can be parceled out for probably double what the purchase price was (assuming nearly 1/2 acre lots, which seems bigger than they’d have to be). Now, add houses to it and make a profit off of those.

        Looks like a solid investment to me.

        Also – Lake Minnetonka has been out of reach for the less-than-rich for decades. That part shouldn’t be news.

  • lindblomeagles

    It’s a nice house. If tourists looked at America’s largest mansion (see Gazette Review: Top 10 biggest houses in America, printed last May, 2017) the way Americans look at European castles, we could probably save most of them. Unfortunately we don’t, and it is tough to keep up an empty mansion when nobody plans to use, buy, or view it.

  • Jeff C.