Lois and Bill Stevens can answer just about any question about their Summit Avenue home in St. Paul that at one point was owned by an order of nuns.
The iron-rod bunk beds? The nuns' sleeping quarters that came with the house when the Stevenses bought it. The library room? It was formerly used as a chapel. The bookshelves? Original to the house.
But there was always one question that stumped them: Who painted the mural depicting dazzling landscapes displayed in their living room?
The Stevenses, who have lived in the home for 37 years, have searched for a signature on the mural and asked previous owners but have found no answers. Still, the piece remains one of the most exquisite parts of the house.
"We had the opportunity to meet some of the relatives of the woman who built this house," Lois said. "We were told that the panel along the back is of Naples, Italy — where they honeymooned. And the front panels that look more tropical are of the Bahamas, where they liked to vacation."
Preserved in history
The house has had several owners throughout its history. It was built in 1919 by the McConville family, who were the first Catholic family to live on Summit Avenue, Bill said. At one point, Peter S. Popovich, former chief justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court and chief judge of the state Appeals Court, owned the house. Bill said he and his wife bought the home from an order of nuns who lived there from about 1960 to 1986.
The Stevenses became caretakers of the mural — hiring experts to clean and restore it.
"People have been enjoying it for over 100 years," Lois said.
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Now, looking to downsize, the couple have listed the 7,138-square-foot home with six bedrooms and six bathrooms for $1.85 million. The 104-year-old colonial villa is likely one of the oldest Mediterranean-style homes in the neighborhood, Lois said.
She said it was the bright terracotta roof, white stucco exterior and French windows that first drew her to the home. It was, in short, the opposite of the couple's former dark wood Victorian, which they had renovated. "I was quite sick of it ... All we had done for nine years is work on it," Lois said. "When this one came up, I just loved it because it was clean and bright."
Today, many features of the Summit Avenue home look similar to how it did when it was built. The couple found the original loveseat and dining set.
"We were able to acquire it from the family. It was sitting there in 1919, and now it's here again — still here," she said. "I hope whoever buys this house would want it."
When making updates, Lois and Bill did everything they could to make sure anything new matched with the old style, from the trim to the floorboards.
They turned a sleeping porch on the second level into a dual-entry bathroom that connects to two bedrooms. The Stevenses remodeled the basement — saving only the fireplace and original bookshelves. Now it has a wine cellar, ample room for kids to run around and a sauna.
Then in 2016, the couple remodeled the kitchen — opening up the walls, adding windows and installing new cabinetry and appliances.
"We just took it all down to the studs and started over," Lois said. "It looks a lot brighter in here now."
The Stevenses hope that whoever buys the house will appreciate its history as much as they have and even stay in touch. They aren't moving far — they're downsizing to an apartment a block away.
"This neighborhood is just so friendly, and we know so many people," Lois said. "When we were looking at selling before, we thought then we'd have to move away. But this house is a lot to maintain and take care of. Then I found a place down on Grand Hill and I thought, perfect, we'll move there."
Michael D. Smith (651-324-6211, firstname.lastname@example.org) of Anderson Realty has the $1,850,000 listing.