625 5th St. N. Stillwater, MN
4 Bed | 3 Bath | 7,052 sq. ft. | $1,500,000 | MLS# 5231161
Built in 1902, by the famous Stillwater lumber baron, William Sauntry, this opulent home was originally built as an entertainment space for the wealthy Sauntry and his guests. Sauntry always had a desire for bigger and better and this could be seen in his own home, the now Sauntry Mansion. In his quest for grandeur (and rumor has it to "outdo" those on Summit Hill), the well-traveled Sauntry had an idea and went straight to work on his newest project.
From right to left: William Sauntry, Fire Plans from 1904, Sauntry's Company Logo
Inspired by the 14th-century Moorish palace of Spain, the Alhambra was designed by Chicago architects with extravagance in mind. The indoor pool, bowling alley, and almost unimaginable details were its allure. Once having a covered passageway connected from the Sauntry Mansion, guests could walk straight down the stairwell and marvel at the stunning ballroom. In September of 1902, Mr. and Mrs. Sauntry held their first soiree with only the creme de la creme of Stillwater society in attendance. A journalist from the Stillwater Daily Gazette was a guest and reported what he witnessed, "The scene below might have been fairyland. Certain it was a veritable Moorish palace reproduced. The soft, dazzling lights, radiating from the many colored globes of the chandeliers, exquisite in design and workmanship, caught the beauty of harmony and coloring, polished floors and rugs and draperies, all of the Oriental design, reflected the scene, radiant with grace and beauty, again and again in the long mirrors extending from floor to ceiling"
Original photos of the lavish ballroom, July 11, 1919. Photo Credit: Minnesota Historical Society
After Sauntry's death, the corridor connecting the Sauntry's home and gymnasium were eradicated, making the two into entirely different properties. Over the years, the home has gone through many transformations until the current owners made the decision to make the house what it once was. A masterpiece.
The project, which quickly turned into a passion, of restoring the home started in 1999 with a family who saw a home that was crying for help. Their inspiration: the original photos of the home. "I think that's why I heard it calling", recounts Judi Nora, one of the owners along with her husband Marty. "We didn't know a lot of history about the home and we never thought about living in Stillwater". When they looked at the state of the once lavish rec room and saw what it could be, the Nora's, in hand with their 3 young children, decided that this was going to be their new home. "We definitely moved for the house"
They had the vision, they just needed to find who could actually do it. "We worked with people who really valued history and were sensitive to the architectural intricacies. When we interviewed people, if they didn't get us, we didn't hire them. If it wasn't for the people we hired, especially Henning Church and Historical Restoration, we wouldn't have this house. 'No' wasn't in their vocabulary", remarks Judi.
It didn't happen overnight. It was almost a decade in the making.
With their passion and the help of contractors who understood the history of the home, a restoration company who never said no, a designer who could think outside of the box, and craftsmen who were more like artists themselves, the Alhambra came back to life.
Nothing was overlooked in the remodeling. The 20 ornate lights with 3,200 beads of the ballroom were hand-blown in India, the 14 foot full-length mirrors were re-silvered in Chicago, the maple hardwood floors with inlays were re-purposed, custom molds were made for the trim, marble from the original pool room were installed in the bathrooms, artifacts around the world were placed within the home. The home itself contained multiple original artifacts. Judi and Marty remember, "It was like an Acme bag-we never knew what you were going to get". Artifacts found within the home were used as decor or inspiration, "We always had a little something in the house we could go off of". The canvas ceiling which was falling apart, either had to be replaced or restored. After finding an original swatch for the ceiling, they knew to replace it wasn't an option, it had to be restored. "We did have a budget, but once we reached it, we decided we need to see it through to completion."
Passion project turned into the restoration of a lifetime.
As a family, the most important aspect wasn't just making the gymnasium into the lavish Moorish mansion it once was, it was also about making it into a home. The raucous bowling alley is now the children's loft style bedrooms, the old indoor pool is now the spacious kitchen, the second floor now has the open concept master bedroom with ensuite, there are various built-in sitting areas, a media and music room, and a stunning dining room with 25 foot vaulted ceilings with the original light fixtures.
The outside of the home is almost as stunning as the inside. The elongated fountain that serenades you, the luscious gardens that surround the home, the stained glass windows that dazzle at night-giving hints of the impressive ambiance inside.
The real outside treasure is the pool house. Surrounded by multiple french doors to let the light and breeze in, the pool house boasts a deep end pool, beautiful sconces, high vaulted ceilings, multiple changing rooms, a powder room, and a shower. "The pool house was our saving grace when we were restoring the home. It was entertainment for our kids, we were able to eat outside, enjoy the atmosphere and go in at night".
The Nora's love the whole house. Marty's favorite part of the home is the kitchen and he enjoys sitting and reading the paper in the chair by the entryway. Judi appreciates the loft bedroom and the master bedroom, but her favorite is the dining room. "I love to entertain. The house is happiest when there is a party going on".
And that is truly the sense you get from it. It's an entertaining home. Yes, you walk in it and the ballroom is literally jaw-dropping. Constant eye candy with more details popping out at every turn. But then you feel the warmth and you see the details and almost feel the perseverance they put in, to make it a home.
When asked if they have regrets about the home and would do it all over again, the Nora's overwhelming said "No regrets. The only reason we are really selling is that we are in the next phase of our life. It's time for someone else to have the parties".