The Summit Grotto condominiums look like they have nothing in common with each other, and that's exactly what builder/developer Michael Lander intended. The eclectic character of the new buildings enables them to fit seamlessly into one of St. Paul, Minn.'s original neighborhoods.
The back-to-back condos turn the corner of Grotto Street and Summit Avenue, which was developed in the 1880s and is home to the Governor's mansion and the grand addresses of famous railroad robber barons. The rest of the street is a hodgepodge of large single-family homes and small apartment buildings.
Although the district is over a century old, the 1/2-acre site where the condos now sit wasn't developed until a church was built there in the 1950s. By the late 1990s the congregation had outgrown the church, and the president of the Lander Group in Minneapolis purchased the property.
"When we approached the historic preservation commission for a demolition permit they not only granted it, they wanted to give us an award for ridding the neighborhood of this inappropriate building," says Lander of the incongruous mid-century design.
The commission keeps a careful eye on the Avenue, and the developer had to be extra conscious of the historical significance of the site. He endured the long approvals process and several design reviews. "They liked our concept because it fits in with the historic buildings, but it's not a re-creation," Lander notes.
The Summit is four spacious attached flats that form a single "mansion" building that complements the scale and character of the street's notable neighbors. The square and sturdy design is quasi-Prairie style with stucco, cultured stone, and rough sawn cedar and batten. Side balconies provide outdoor space and views, and the two subterranean parking spaces per unit are accessed via elevator or stairs.
The three two-story townhouses next door face Grotto Street and reflect the small buildings and brownstones on that block. "It's a modern interpretation of a row house," says architect Scott Mower of Progressive Architecture in Minneapolis. "We used a few tricks to break up the massing and added some real contemporary twists." The red and cream fa ade features brick, stucco, and touches of fiber cement siding. "On the center unit we mimicked old-fashioned cornice details, but we made them out of metal," he adds.
Zoning required detached parking, so a six-car garage that is subdivided into groups of two is on the right side of the building. The arrangement allowed extra space for a rear courtyard and a finished basement for each townhome.
History inspired the exteriors, but the market drove the plans. "We were coming into a market with a tremendous affection for the neighborhood," says Lander. "But there were no housing types here that people are looking for today." The Summit units were aimed at empty-nesters and move-down buyers attracted to a single-level living environment and the three-story Grotto row houses were aimed at younger buyers.
All seven of the units are 2,100 square feet, and prices range from $284,000 to $520,000. Because it is such a unique product in a desirable location, sales were swift, especially for the Summit flats, which went for $430,000 to $520,000, because the configuration is so rare in the market. The pre-construction prices set records for the neighborhood, and price levels rose 18 percent by the completion of the project.