Author F. Scott Fitzgerald wasn’t too impressed by the houses on Summit Avenue, the grand boulevard in his hometown of St. Paul.
“A mausoleum of American architectural monstrosities,” he once said of the avenue’s stately parade of Queen Annes, Tudor Revivals and Mediterranean-inspired mansions.
But today, those historic homes are widely admired, and the Summit Hill neighborhood is considered one of the finest preserved enclave of Victorian-era houses in the country.
On Sept. 30, Twin Citians will get their chance to peek inside those parlors, libraries and lavish living rooms when the Summit Hill Association hosts its biennial house tour.
This year’s tour showcases 12 private homes, including one that was once home to Fitzgerald, plus six public spaces.
Fitzgerald’s house, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is an eight-unit stone row house, built in 1889. The author, then 23, lived in the three-level house in 1919, with his parents, while working on what would become his first published novel, “This Side of Paradise,” loosely based on his experiences at Princeton.
The building, designed by architects William H. Willcox and Clarence H. Johnston Sr., has been described as “New York Style,” with each of the eight units having a distinctive character, similar to row houses in Eastern cities.
The result is “a brownstone row house that leaves no Victorian style unaccounted for, although the general flavor is Romanesque Revival,” wrote architectural historian Larry Millett in “AIA Guide to the Twin Cities.”
Here are a few other highlights of this year’s tour:
• In 1862, when Summit Avenue was just a dusty country road, stagecoach and steamboat mogul James C. Burbank built an Italianate villa on a bluff above the Mississippi. At that time, most of St. Paul’s wealthy movers and shakers lived near the river. Burbank led the exodus to Summit Hill, and the Burbank-Livingston-Griggs mansion is now considered one of the state’s most historically significant homes. Prominent architects Clarence H. Johnston, Allen H. Stem and Edwin Lundie have contributed to its design and subsequent redesign.
• One of the oldest homes on Summit Avenue is a brick mansion built in “the new style,” Queen Anne Victorian, in 1881 when that style was first coming into vogue. Many of the mansion’s original features have been meticulously preserved, including a carved foyer and staircase, leaded-glass windows and inlaid-wood floors.
• A family in the candy business hired Minnesota architect P.J. Linhoff to design their Georgian Revival Colonial home on Summit Avenue in 1912. Later, a 3M executive owned the home for decades before bequeathing it to his daughter, who created a large addition, now a time capsule of high-fashion 1960s design. The current owners are restoring the home from top to bottom, including a third-floor “writer’s suite.” The classic grand entry opens to the original dining room and large living room where the family now hosts DJ-led neighborhood dance parties.
(A short video featuring homes and public buildings featured on this year’s tour is posted on YouTube.)
Summit Hill House Tour
What: Tour 12 private homes and six public spaces in St. Paul’s historic Summit Hill neighborhood.
When: Noon to 6 p.m. Sept. 30. (Ticket counter opens at 11 a.m.; 10 a.m. for VIP tickets.)
Where: Ticket pickup locations on day of tour: St. Thomas More Catholic Church, 1079 Summit Av., Mitchell-Hamline College of Law, 875 Summit Av.
Cost: $30 in advance at summithillassociation.org. $35 the day of the tour, if tickets remain. New this year: VIP tickets, $100, that include access to all buildings, plus brunch at Dixie’s on Grand, free reserved parking at an off-street lot and exclusive admittance to the houses of your choice at 11 a.m., one hour before the tour opens to other guests. Proceeds benefit the nonprofit Summit Hill Association, and tickets are tax-deductible.