For sale: Mahtomedi cottage where architect Edwin Lundie lived and worked
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Architect Ewin Lundie's former home at 1823 Mahtomedi Ave., Mahtomedi, is for sale. Lundie worked under famed architect Cass Gilbert. Lundie didn't design this home, but his touches can be found throughout. (Courtesy of Planomatic)
Lamese McDowell sighs as she looks around her vintage Mahtomedi cottage. With its walnut-stained hardwood floors, its Versailles-reproduction wallpaper and its antique glass windows, it almost feels as if McDowell is seated inside an exquisite jewelry box that an artisan crafted more than a century ago.
In a way, she is: This cottage, built in 1910, was the longtime residence of Edwin Lundie, the late architect whose body of work includes the lodge at Lutsen, various buildings and structures at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum and many private homes — including 17 Scandinavian-designed timber cabins at the North Shore. Although he didn't build this home in Mahtomedi, he modified it with his traditional finishes, flourishes and trims.McDowell sees herself as caretaker for the place that a Minnesota great called home. So, even though there is a "for sale" sign in the front yard, the idea of actually letting go is difficult for this widow.
"I really don't want to sell it," said McDowell, "but I feel like it's time."
But time is passing as she waits for a buyer. The two-bedroom, two-bath house, currently priced at $399,000, has been on the market for more than two months.
"I want to find someone who is going to love it," McDowell says. "To me, it's a very special and unique and unusual home. I picture someone buying it who appreciates architecture and history, who appreciates something unique that is handmade."
EDWIN LUNDIE'S LIFE
Peter O'Toole is someone who "appreciates something unique and handmade" — he lives in a Lundie house in St. Paul and is the author of the sumptuous art and history book "Edwin H. Lundie — Five Decades — A Journey of Art & Architecture" (Artist Book Press, 2016).
"It's a gem," O'Toole says of the Mahtomedi cottage, which is featured in his book.
While researching Lundie, O'Toole spent many hours at the Northwest Architectural Archives at the University of Minnesota, the keeper of Lundie's papers, including his drawings and blueprints and other materials from his life's work. It was there that O'Toole began mapping out the story of Lundie's life.
Lundie was born in 1886: It was the year that Cocoa Cola was introduced to the world. It was the year that the Statue of Liberty, finally assembled, was dedicated. Grover Cleveland was president; Emily Dickinson died; it was the debut of the St. Paul Winter Carnival.
Although Lundie was a native of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, his family later moved to Salem, S.D., where he attended high school. He didn't stay.
"He was a teenager when he left Salem, setting out to St. Paul to be an architect," O'Toole says.
Back then — believed to be 1904 — there was not yet a formal school of architecture in Minnesota for this artistic young man to attend, but it didn't matter. Lundie received a superior education in the Endicott building in downtown St. Paul, where he settled in as a student draftsman in the St. Paul office of Cass Gilbert. Gilbert was America's first "celebrity" architect, designer of buildings like the Minnesota state Capitol in St. Paul, the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., and the Woolworth Building in New York (the tallest building in the world when it was completed in 1912).
Several years later, after Gilbert closed his St. Paul office to focus exclusively on his New York base, Lundie began working for Gilbert's colleague, architect Thomas Holyoke: "I was there for eight years," Lundie told the Pioneer Press in a 1969 interview, "but I would not yet have called myself an architect."
Lundie's extensive study and training continued when he was invited to work for yet another celebrity architect in the Endicott building: Emmanuel L. Masqueray, the French architect behind both the St. Paul Cathedral and the Basilica of St. Mary — as well as many other places.
"Emmanuel Masqueray ran a very busy office with a very heavy workload," O'Toole says.
It was good fit for Lundie, who was a bit of a workaholic.
"He kept a drafting table in his bedroom," O'Toole says.
Eventually, Lundie "graduated" into his own practice, which included many well-to-do clients in and around St. Paul. This was after the Summit Avenue housing boom, however, and it might be one reason why Lundie's name is not as familiar.
"Lundie came along the generation after the lumber barons' homes were built," O'Toole says. "It was post-World War I; people were more interested in smaller homes — it was the birth of the Arts and Crafts era. People were interested in homes with an intimate scale and craftmanship."
Perhaps this is why Lundie's work speaks to today's generation: One could see Lundie feeling at home with the tiny house movement, with his attention to every detail; his use of natural and locally sourced materials; his collaboration with local artisans and designers.
"Because of his efficient floor plans, he was a precursor to Sarah Susanka's idea of the 'Not-So-Big House,' " O'Toole says.
In 1969, while Modernist architect Ralph Rapson was heading up the University of Minnesota School of Architecture, Lundie talked to the Pioneer Press about his quieter, more traditional style, a style reminiscent of European cottages and country houses, as well as strong Scandinavian influences.
"In his office today," the Pioneer Press wrote, "he has a huge carved wooden chest which was given him by Masqueray. His office, hung with the renderings of his houses, is pure Lundie. There are samples of Dutch blue tile on his table-desk and a mantel piece carved in wood on the wall behind his chair.
"The workroom is the second one of the suite," the story continues. "There, Lundie takes off his coat, rolls up his sleeves and goes to work with a pencil he sharpens with sandpaper rather than a mechanical sharpener. The pencil drawings in such fine detail that they might have been done under a magnifying glass. But that is not the case. It is the way Lundie works. The beautiful drawings of his houses — complete with stables, guest houses and gate houses — are a record of the joys of his life."
EDWIN LUNDIE'S HOME
"The joys of his life" included his own home and hearth in Mahtomedi.
"The house was apparently purchased as a wedding gift for Lundie and his wife by his in-laws," says Gayle Meador, a Keller Williams agent who is co-listing the property with her colleague, Sally Bradford, who has a personal connection with the Lundies.
"I was a neighbor of theirs," Bradford says. "I lived there when they did. It was so cute, when Mr. Lundie was on his way home from work, Mrs. Lundie would come down to the garage ahead of time and open the door and wait for him, so he could just pull in with his Ford Thunderbird."
Although the house is not a Lundie original, the garage is.
"He designed and built the garage," O'Toole says.
The single-stall garage, covered in wood siding painted red and white to match the house, is accessed via a set of elegant carriage doors. It looks more like an upscale shed or perhaps an artist's studio — it is only missing the cupola that Lundie originally designed to adorn its roof. For Lundie, this garage was an important form of shelter.
"Some people say his only luxury was his 1958 Ford Thunderbird," O'Toole says.It's unclear how many luxuries Lundie could afford. He was a working architect who coveted the respect of his peers, but he was not a celebrity like Cass Gilbert or Frank Lloyd Wright. His star has been rising posthumously, though, especially after another Minnesota architect — "cabinologist" Dale Mulfinger of SALA Architects — wrote a book, "The Architecture of Edwin Lundie" (Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1995), that explored and celebrated Lundie's legacy, something that Lundie never really did for himself.
"He didn't seem to seek fame," Mulfinger says.
Instead, Lundie's world seemed to revolve around work and his family (especially work). The Lundies, who were married in 1917, had one child, Ellen, born in 1920.
When Lundie wasn't meeting with clients at his house — he had more than 30 commissions in the area for remodels as well as new builds — the family's home life was full of simple pleasures: a porch, two wood-burning fireplaces, a charming garden, a swim at the lake across the way. When they wanted to get away, the Lundies headed to their cabin on the North Shore of Lake Superior — the only place that Lundie ever designed and built for himself and his own family (and not his Thunderbird).
EDWIN LUNDIE'S LEGACY
Grace Lundie died in 1968 at the age of 76. After her death, Lundie sold their home and moved back to the city, to the St. Paul Athletic Club. He passed away a few years later, in 1972. He was 85.
The couple who bought the home from Lundie didn't live there long: Instead, they sold it in 1971 to Fred McDowell, an artist.
"He loved it from the minute he saw it," Lamese says. "Both of us did; neither of us would have lived anywhere else."
Lamese, who is also an artist, moved into the home after she and Fred were married in 1977.
Together, the couple spent a lifetime asking themselves: "What would Lundie do?" before embarking on any changes or updates to the house (as well as consulting with the Lundies' daughter, who passed away in 2000 at 79).
Mulfinger applauds the McDowells.
"Some of the items which Lundie designed — such as the fireplace in the bedroom and some of the trim characteristics — are significant," he says, "but equally significant is how the McDowells, upon buying the house, have improved or altered it to make it feel more Lundie than when Lundie himself lived there. And I think that's very significant — it says something about the influence of someone's work going beyond that person's own life. And the McDowells are extremely proud of their place — they have treasured it.
"Is it a significant house in his body of work? No, but at times there is a distinction between where someone lived and what someone did."
Lundie lived simply, Mulfinger points out.
"I think it's equally significant that it's a very modest house," Mulfinger says. "His work spans some beautiful mansions and country houses down to some intimate cabins and very small houses — and even his big houses seem like assemblages of small spaces. I think this house shows where his heart was; this was where his heart was. He was not a man who needed luxury in his life."
Lundie might have agreed. In his research, O'Toole unearthed this quote:
"I have had a wonderful life," Lundie said. "I have done just what I wanted to do."
EDWIN LUNDIE'S STEWARDS
Lamese McDowell sighs again as she sits in the parlor of the little jewel box of a house on Mahtomedi Avenue.
"If I could move this house to where I want to be, I would," she says.
McDowell's husband, Fred, passed away in 2014; just like Lundie, the widow wants to move closer into the city now — closer to her relatives and her church.
On a tour of the home, she points out its details — the first-floor den with its wall of built-in cabinetry (and its exquisite hinges); the free-standing mirror that Lundie left behind; a custom door. She sounds like a docent at a museum. She kind of is, says her real-estate agent.
"Lamese and Fred have been wonderful stewards of this house — they only brought in the best people to do any type of work, and even some people who worked with Lundie," Meador says. "What we are looking for is really another steward for this house."
1823 Mahtomedi Ave., Mahtomedi
This Mahtomedi cottage was the personal residence of Edwin Lundie (1886-1972), a St. Paul architect who got his start as a student draftsman in architect Cass Gilbert's St. Paul office and whose own notable work includes the main lodge at Lusten, 17 cabins on the North Shore of Lake Superior and many remodels and construction of private residences of the well-to-do, with last names like Dayton, MacMillan, Weyerhaeuser and Griggs. Although Lundie did not design this house, he did work on it through the years — including adding a fireplace in his bedroom and (probably) the exterior shutters and garden gate, as well as building a garage in the back (his blueprints have survived). The home is on a terraced and wooded lot that shares access to White Bear Lake across the street.
- Price: $399,000
- Year built: 1910
- Square feet: 1,392
- Bedrooms: Two (plus den)
- Bathrooms: Full (main floor); three-quarters (second floor)
- Basement: Walkout
- Heating: Forced air
- Cooling: Central air
- Garage: Detached, single stall
- Lot size: 0.28 acres
- Waterfront: Property includes access to White Bear Lake.