Contemporary Use of an Historic Structure:
Challenge and Solution
Many historic preservationists express a strong preference for mansions originally designed as single family residences to remain in that mode. Given the financial challenges of rising property taxes, the cost of heating and the ongoing expenses of maintenance, keeping these homes as single family residences presents a significant challenge for most current or potential owners. Practical alternatives need to be explored. Viewed from a broader perspective, such alternatives may, indeed, be essential to preservation of not just a specific home but the historic district as a whole.
Alternatives need to take account of not only the financial costs of maintaining these structures but also the preferred life styles of those currently seeking to live on this beautiful and historic street. Ken Greenberg in his 2011 book, Walking Home, speaks eloquently of the rebirth in the desire of individuals and families to live in cities with walking access to amenities such as shops, restaurants and parks and even places of employment. 370 Summit is positioned to respond to that desire given its location within walking distance of downtown Saint Paul, the shops and restaurants along Grand and Selby Avenue, the Central Corridor Light Rail line and three beautiful parks within a block of the residence - Cochran Park, Nathan Hale Park and Overlook Park.
John Rupp, a well-known Saint Paul developer and his partner, David Washburn, purchased 370 Summit in 1980 with a plan to transform the building into three condominiums. John is the owner of 366 Summit - the home on the east side of 370 Summit Avenue - as well as the University Club located at the crest of Ramsey Hill and W.A. Frost & Co. - a restaurant located nearby at the corner of Selby and Western Avenues.
Prior to 1980, homes along the avenue had begun to deteriorate for a number of reasons. The cost of maintaining homes - many of which were 75 to 100+ years old - was significant. Moving out of the city to the suburbs had become fashionable. The construction of Interstate Highway 94 had disrupted and changed the character of the surrounding community and crime in the area was on the rise. Converting the mansions to condominiums was thought to be one way to preserve the quality of the homes rather than allowing them to become rooming houses with multiple transient tenants as had already happened with a number of them.
The layout of the main house at 370 Summit lent itself well to the creation of three condominiums. The first floor and half of the second floor - the former master's quarters - constituted Unit 1 (4,400 sq. ft.). Unit 2 (1400 sq. ft.) was the remaining half of the second floor and Unit 3 (2400 sq. ft.) was located on the third floor - the former maid's quarters. Unit 4 was the garage located on the south side of the home. The carriage house located on the hill below the home was separated from the main property and ownership was retained by John's co-developer, David Washburn.
The main entrance for Unit 1 is thru the portico on the front of the building facing Summit Avenue. The main entrance for Units 2 and 3 is through the vestibule and foyer located on the southeast corner of the building. In the early 1980s an eight-stall garage was constructed along the western side of the home with access to the three main house units through the basement. Unit 3 has exclusive use of a private elevator that runs from the basement to the third floor.
Leaetta Hough, the current owner of Unit 1, and her late husband, Marvin Dunnette, purchased the Unit from John Rupp in 1980. Units 2 and 3 were sold to other individuals and John retained possession of Unit 4, the garage, as a supplement to his home at 366 Summit. The four units became knows as the Johnston House Condominium Association.Marvin and Leaetta purchased Unit 1 "as is." They contracted with Mervyn Hough, her brother and well-known neighborhood developer, to renovate the unit. Mervyn was committed to the restoration of a thriving community in the area and was a leader in the 1980s of Old Town Restoration - an organization devoted to the cause. One of the "as is" conditions included the lack of a kitchen because the condominium conversion had used the space previously utilized as a kitchen as a foyer for Units 2 and 3. Converting two large pantries into a kitchen was one of several alterations Mervyn designed to accommodate the needs of Leaetta and Marvin. A fireplace was added to the den, increasing the number of fireplaces in the unit to six. With a minor reconfiguration of the doorways on the second floor, he created a third bedroom.
As noted above, the building was operated as the Johnston House Condominium Association with owners contributing financially to the operation and maintenance of the Association in direct proportion to the size of the units they owned. This arrangement worked well for about 30 years until the increasing costs of maintaining the building became a strain for the residents of Unit 2 and 3.
In 2008 Leaetta purchased Unit 3 and again commissioned her brother to embark on an extensive remodeling project designed to turn the unit into a fully furnished, luxury, comfortable and spacious apartment with a country-French motif. When possible, "green" principles guided the effort. In early 2009 work was completed and the unit was fitted with a plaque dedicating the unit to his vision and talent in transforming the space and naming it "The Mervyn Hough Aerie" - a perfect appelation given the unit's elevated view through the ancient oak trees to the city and valley below.
In 2009, following the death of her late husband, Leaetta married Bob Muschewske. Leaetta and Bob modernized Unit 1 with central air conditioning and a sound system as well as refreshing the landscaping and exterior appearance of the home. The room formerly serving as the study where Marvin Dunnette worked for many years was returned to its function as a library and sitting room. The rich African mahogany walls were restored highlighting the spectacular paneling above the fireplace - a product of expert 20th century craftsmanship.
In 2009 Leaetta and Bob purchased Unit 2 and once again engaged Mervyn Hough to remodel the unit into a luxury rental.
The current ownership structure enables Bob and Leaetta to make decisions concerning the maintenance and operation of the building in a manner that ensures issues concerning its short- and long-term viability are addressed in a timely and cost-effective manner.