In the early 1890s, the anticipation of the electric streetcar opening on Lyndale Avenue in Minneapolis spurred a slew of development.
In the Sunnyside Addition, known today as Lowry Hill East, builder Preston Carl (P.C.) Richardson built a row of six Queen Anne homes in the 2100 block of Bryant Avenue S.
The stately 1892 homes, lauded for their classic Queen Anne characteristics, are referred to as the Six Sisters. They've become a regular stop for home tours and history buffs as well as passersby, who often stop to read a plaque about the homes.
With such distinct houses sitting side by side, it's easy to notice the architectural traits of the Queen Anne, including the ornamentation, asymmetrical and sculptural shapes, steeped rooflines with gables and dormers, porches with decorative wood and boldly colored exteriors.
The Six Sisters also reveal a range in historic home restoration. Of the homes, four are multiplexes that have undergone various preservation and restoration projects. Two have been converted back to single-family configurations after having "been painstakingly restored to their former grandeur," according to a June 2021 article of Hennepin History, a publication of the Hennepin History Museum.
A labor of love
Ezra Gray and Christina Langsdorf restored one of those homes, which won a preservation award.
When they were house hunting 11 years ago, they were drawn to the home at 2109 Bryant. It was showing its age and had been converted into a duplex. Still, they saw the potential.
"It was a fixer-upper," Christina said. But "Ezra had always dreamt about fixing up an old house and the Queen Anne spoke to us. We are able to come in and do some restoration before it got too late to do it."
Ezra unearthed the home's history, spending countless hours sifting through old photographs to see what the home originally looked like. He also studied its neighboring sibling homes for restoration clues.
"It was a lot of detective work when trying to figure out what was there," he said. "We looked at the details on the other houses to make sure that we were in line with the historical features."
In with the old
The house required extensive repair and restoration, including uncovering the original siding, which had been hidden beneath beige vinyl siding.
"Ezra repaired every piece of missing or rotting pieces of the original wood siding," said Christina. "Then we repainted it and restored some of the original [decorative] pieces and architectural features that were stripped off when they put in the vinyl siding."
Inside the home, they started by restoring the floors.
"When we looked at the house it was entirely in beige carpet. One of the first things we did was roll out that carpet," Christina said. "We found extraordinary floors. In the dining room, there is a mosaic medallion of inlay wood. All the rooms have borders around the edges."
They also rehung the original pocket doors, which had been removed but had been stored in the house. They removed the wallboard covering the fireplace, only to find the mantel was missing. So they restored the fireplace with custom handmade tiles and scored an antique mantel from a Crocus Hill home in St. Paul.
"Someone had bought it and put it in a warehouse and 50 years went by," Ezra said. "We tried to restore the fireplace back to its original glory. We hope that it looks like it's been there since the beginning."
At some point in the home's history, someone had moved and taken the majority of the stained glass with them. Ezra was able to salvage a piece from a house down the street that was slated to be torn down. He learned how to re-create stained glass pieces and releaded and refurbished the windows that remained.
"I looked at photographs forever and designed them in keeping with the character of the house at the turn of the century," he said.
Into the modern day
The couple also updated the mechanicals, replacing many of the original windows, putting on a new roof and installing a fence. They redid several rooms, taking them down to the studs.
The kitchen proved to be a major undertaking, including restoring the ceiling to its original 10-foot height and installing tin panels.
"It looks like it had always been there," Christina said. Up-to-date appliances and finishes such as granite countertops, new cabinets and custom drawer pulls were brought into the mix.
Like several of the Six Sisters, the home had a dirt basement. The couple put in a concrete floor and turned the space into Ezra's workshop.
Long live the Queen Anne
Instead of being overwhelmed by the restoration, Ezra's passion for restoring homes only grew. In 2014, he quit his tech job to start a new business specializing in restoring homes. Through Ezra's work and research, he became a bit of a historian, as well, writing publications on the history of Minneapolis homes.
"We met a whole community of people who had the same interest. And just by word of mouth I started developing a pretty good network of people who generally lived in and around Lowry Hill," Ezra said. "That included the house directly next door. We did an extensive renovation of that."
His work has paid off. In 2021, the couple received a Minneapolis Preservation Award for grassroots education and advocacy from the American Institute of Architects Minneapolis, Minneapolis Heritage Preservation Commission and Preserve Minneapolis for their efforts.
"Ezra is an extraordinary researcher along with doing the restoration work," said Anders Christensen, a board member of the nonprofit Preserve Minneapolis.
The couple held historical preservation fundraisers and often opened their home to walking tours.
"When you go into a Queen Anne, it's like being inside a piece of confection," Christensen said. "Everywhere your eyes look, there's something interesting. People just love having the opportunity to go into those houses. And Ezra and Christina were very generous in letting people go in and tour."
While they've loved living in their Queen Anne, Ezra and Christina are moving to Indiana to be closer to family. So they've put their 3,377-square-foot, five-bedroom, three-bathroom home on the market.
Listing agent Martha Hoover said the couple's loving restoration highlights the home's stellar craftsmanship.
"The whole house feels like a piece of art," Hoover said. "Every piece of siding, every window, wall, fixture and door have been attended to."
The couple will take with them not only memories of the hard work they've put into restoring the home, but the joy of living in such a grand space.
"In the morning I would go downstairs, and to come down this ornate stairway into the parlor and how the sun came into the house and hit everything — I never got used to it and continued to marvel at it the whole time we lived there," Ezra said. "I always dreamed of living in a Queen Anne. So I got to live the dream for 11 years."
Martha Hoover (MHoover@remax.net; 612-382-8051) of Re/Max Preferred has the $620,000 listing.