June 30, 2013
10.5 miles Highland Park
The house at 550 Montcalm fits perfectly in its Highland Park neighborhood. Although there is no way to tell from looking at it, the house has a remarkable history that began about a mile away.
According to Vikki Bleise, her Dad built the house in 1952 at 1655 West Seventh, a corner lot at West Seventh and Vista Avenue. Once completed, Vikki and her parents moved into the house from an apartment building owned by her grandfather on another corner of West Seventh and Vista. The Bleise family lived in the house until 1962 when the State of Minnesota used eminent domain to take the property, and with it the house, as part of the Interstate 35E project.
Said Vikki, “My dad decided he really wanted to keep the house because it was only about 10 years old so he bought the house back from the state of Minnesota.”
The Bleises purchased three pieces of property in different Saint Paul neighborhoods with the plan to move the house to one of them. They picked the lot at 550 Montcalm Place, a choice that initially caused a rift with some neighbors. “The neighbors in the neighborhood didn’t want the house moved in here because this was too exclusive of a street to have a house from West Seventh Street … But ultimately the house came.”
Vikki said her Dad quickly won over the folks along Montcalm Place by taking exceptional care of the house and yard.
House moving day was Halloween 1962. Vikki chuckled as she talked about that time, “I remember my mom was really spooked because she thought for sure some ghost was going to abscond with the house or something. It was just too ominous to move a house on Halloween.”
Halloween fell on Saturday in ’62 and Saturday night and Sunday morning were the only times power lines could be moved and roads closed to move a house.
Vikki’s parents added a two-car garage to the house as part of the move and over the years, did two additions. The first was a kitchen bump-out in the late ‘60s and later, Vikki’s small bedroom was enlarged and a bathroom built to create a new master suite.
When Vikki grew up, she moved to Edina where she lived for 30 years. Her father died unexpectedly and as the only child, she inherited the family home. About that time, she adopted two miniature dachshunds but the kitchen of her town home was being remodeled so she brought the dogs to live in Saint Paul until construction was finished. Two of her closest friends threw her a “doggie shower” and that’s when Vikki knew the old family house would be her home. “They came over one night for dinner shortly after I had gotten the dogs and we were sitting in the kitchen. Suddenly I knew that was where I was going to live. There was just something that said, ‘This is where you belong.’ It was an emotional feeling that I was called to move back to my house. This is where I would find joy.”
That decision meant remodeling the house. The footprint of the house wasn’t changed but the entire first floor was stripped to the studs; the kitchen became living room, the dining room morphed into the kitchen, three small bedrooms were transformed into the master suite and the front door was moved.
With all that is new in the house, there remain many connections to the past. Decorative hardware and light fixtures were reused, old ceiling beams hang in the library and all but six pieces of furniture are either Vikki’s or her parents’.
Vikki opted to move back into the house on December 24, 2010, “This was really a gift my parents had given me and so I was going to move in on Christmas Eve.”
With little work to do inside, you’ll often find Vikki working in her picturesque gardens or entertaining in her one owner, two address, three design home.
Most of the houses on the three block span of Edgcumbe Road south of Highland Parkway and east of Hamline Avenue vary between sizable and expansive with an assortment of architecture (some of which is notable) and age.
The estate at 1590 Edgcumbe has to be among the largest yards in Highland, if not Saint Paul. Past residents include the former head of Cray Research who was nominated for the U.S. Deputy Secretary of Commerce in the Clinton Administration and the disgraced former owner of a travel agency.
Renovation of the War Memorial on Edgcumbe Road is getting close to completion.
Built as Edgcumbe School in 1939, the building at 768 Hamline now is home to a charter school and a private school.
The distinctive contemporary house at 1316 Bohland Place was designed and built by architect Donald Haarstick in 1955, according to Larry Millett’s AJA Guide to the Twin Cities.
Highland National Golf Course is one of two 18 hole links owned and operated by the City. It is bounded by Montreal Avenue on the south, Highland Parkway to the north, Snelling on the west and Hamline to the east. Looking for a lesser challenge? A nine-hole “executive” course is across the street on the south side of Montreal.
This striking church re-opened in March 2005 as Lumen Christi Catholic, the result of the merger of three nearby churches. Originally called St. Leo’s, it opened in 1965.
Some final thoughts:
- Moving a house to a new location is a combination of engineering, physics, brawn and finesse.
- Cap Wigington’s architecture is plentiful in the Highland Park area.
- Edgcumbe Road is not at the same architectural level as Summit Avenue but it features many outstanding examples of design.
Click on the link to view the map of today’s ride: