In the 1930s, the Hamm brewing family commissioned Clarence Johnston Sr. to build a Georgian revival in St. Paul on a sprawling 2-acre property.
The picturesque Crocus Hill property has rarely changed hands over the years. Now, after three decades, Bonnie and Jim D’Aquila are ready to hand over ownership to the fourth generation of owners. They put the 10,000-square-foot, eight-bedroom, eight-bathroom home on the market.
“It will be sad to move, but on the other hand it gives someone else the chance to have this wonderful experience,” Jim said. “[We moved here because] we were struck by the history of the house. And that court was extraordinarily private and abundant.”
A History of Minnesota Royalty
According to the book “Minnesota Architect: The Life and Work of Clarence H. Johnston” by Paul Clifford Larson, the house was the last known work of Johnston, who died the year the house was built. Its grand scale is in line with other Johnston-designed residences such as the Glensheen Mansion in Duluth and the Summit Avenue estates.
The D’Aquilas enjoyed the home’s rich history, made even richer when the couple, active in the arts community, met the original owner.
The house was built for Theodora “Pinkie” Lang, the granddaughter of Hamm’s founder, Theodore Hamm, and the daughter of William Hamm Sr., who succeeded her father in the family business.
Like Pinkie, the D’Aquilas are art lovers and met her at the Minneapolis Institute of Art.
Pinkie told the couple the history of the house and how it earned its nickname, the “limousine house”, for its lavish parties.
“We were able to meet her several times. She is a very kind person… [her] son sat in the living room and the memories came flooding back,” Jim said. “Bringing the original owner and his children into our lives has given him more depth.
Preserve and enhance
The D’Aquilas have kept the house well maintained and have also taken on major projects over the years.
“The house needed a full makeover – painting, lots of ceiling and roof repairs,” Jim said. “Over time, we made entirely new mechanics.” Wood finishes, including pecan wood walls and cabinetry, have been preserved.
The house was built with two separate spaces, one for the family, the other for the staff. The couple made the disjoint spaces cohesive and suitable for modern living.
The biggest transformation took place in the kitchen, where they enlarged and removed walls to create a more open floor plan. The original linoleum asphalt slab has been replaced with slate flooring. Top of the line kitchen appliances have been installed.
“The whole family is passionate about cooking,” Jim said.
Other spaces have also been transformed. A former sewing room has become an office area for the couple’s children. A former cannery has been transformed into a wine cellar. In the basement, a sauna has been added.
The outdoor spaces have also received some love. The couple added a veranda to the living room and dining room that overlooks the valley and installed a swimming pool.
The English garden is also decorated with fountains and a greenhouse. They also added a wood-fired pizza oven and a Tuscan terracotta grill.
With their adult children, the soon-to-be-empty nests are ready to move on.
“It’s time for our next step in life,” Bonnie said.
Listing agent Mike Lynch said the property is notable for its history and features – from the floor-to-ceiling windows to the five wood-burning fireplaces.
“To me, this is a supreme illustration of the work of architect Clarence Johnston and the impact he left on the city of St. Paul,” he said. “The sellers of this home have taken the property to the next level with love and thought.”
The D’Aquilas said they loved the house for its large rooms, which served as the perfect backdrop for the things they love.
“It’s such a beautiful space to appreciate art,” Jim said. “With some of these newer homes with such an open floor plan, the wall space and artwork is an afterthought.”
The estate is also ideal for gatherings.
“We could entertain so many people at the same time. It became the center of our family,” Bonnie said. “I hope people use [the house] to celebrate family and friendships like Pinkie did and like we did.”
Mike Lynch ([email protected]; 612-619-8227) of Lakes Sotheby’s International Realty has the $1.85 million SEO.