The new Queen Anne

Bill Dick and Sidney Orchard have restored their Victorian-era house in Marcy-Holmes.

Photo by Linda Lincoln

Marcy-Holmes renovation revives old house—and memories

Prospect Park resident Janet Lund used to drive her older sister, Jean Lund, a nursing home resident, on short trips around the city. On one trip, Jean was surprised to see the Marcy-Holmes house they lived in as children during the Depression, at 411 Seventh Ave. SE. “She said, ‘Why didn’t it look that good when we lived in it?’” said Janet.

What Jean saw was a house that had been — and is still being — transformed by the hard work of Bill Dick and Sidney Orchard and their two children, Aidan and Macalester. Since purchasing the house in 1999, they have been painstakingly restoring it, inside and out and from top to bottom. Tall and stately, the Queen Anne–style house now sits proudly up from the sidewalk, with gray clapboard siding, a picturesque front porch, huge windows, a steeply pitched roof and a classic turret.

That’s not what the house looked like when the family first saw it, however. While Dick was impressed with the 10-foot ceilings, spacious rooms and large windows, the house “was in pretty rough shape,” he said. The front part was built in 1888, and the back kitchen area is thought to be even older. Over many years and successive owners, the house had become rundown, with problems either unattended to or covered up with cheap paneling and plywood.

Still, Dick said he and Orchard liked the size and style of the house, and they loved the neighborhood. With professional experience fixing up other people’s houses, Dick felt he could take on the task of fixing one of his own. From his experience, however, he knew it would be a long haul.

“He said right away it would be five years,” said Orchard. “I kind of fooled myself and thought, ‘no way could it take that long.’”
Eight years later, the work continues.

The oldest house in Minneapolis?

Penny Petersen researched the house at 411 Seventh Ave. SE for her book, “Hiding in Plain Sight,” a history of the Marcy-Holmes neighborhood. Petersen said the house was built in 1888 by Julia A. Morrill, who came to what was then St. Anthony from Maine in 1852 with her mother, Julia Brown. Brown bought the lot in 1857 and built a small house there. The Hennepin County Historical Society has a photograph of that house, a simple Greek Revival–style structure; the accompanying description calls it the oldest house in Minneapolis.

Petersen speculates that the old house was razed or moved when the 1888 house was built, but Lund thinks the old house became the back kitchen area. “When my family first moved to the house in 1939,” she said, “I remember talking to a very old man over the back fence who said the house was really two houses put together. The back part definitely predates the front part.”

That kitchen area became one of Dick’s first projects when the family moved in. “We thought it would just take a few months and it ended up taking years,” he said. “With old houses like this, you start to peel back the layers and you find unexpected problems.” In the kitchen area, for example, the whole back staircase was unsupported, so he had to rebuild it.

While he was remodeling the kitchen, Dick also turned a first-floor pantry into a bathroom. Doing the two jobs together was a suggestion from Stanley Masoner, a Marcy resident whose company, City Venture Corp., specializes in remodeling historic homes. “Stan said there was no sense doing the two rooms separately because it’s so much more efficient and economical to do the steps together,” said Dick.

Without a functioning kitchen, Orchard made do with a microwave, an electric frying pan and wok, and other cooking gadgets. “We cooked a whole turkey dinner once in the frying pan,” she said, “and we learned to boil pasta in the microwave.” While she’s proud of how well they managed, she thinks it may have delayed the work some. “I always say, if I had just given Bill Campbell’s tomato soup every night, I think the kitchen would have gotten done sooner,” she said.

After the kitchen and bathroom were completed, Dick moved on to the house’s spacious dining room and two living rooms. He put in maple flooring; repaired and repainted the walls, ceilings, and trim; installed new lighting fixtures; and replaced the baseboard heating with radiators. He also replaced the boiler in the basement.

Dick estimates he’s done 90 percent of the interior work himself, all while working full-time as a mechanical engineer. For the huge job of restoring the exterior, however, he hired City Venture, who rebuilt the front porch, repaired the roof, tore off the brown asphalt siding, repainted the original clapboard shakes and added new scallop trim. “That original clapboard was in great shape,” said Orchard. “The asphalt siding covering it was really ugly — a terrible brown — but it protected the clapboard for 30 years.” The same couldn’t be said for the windows, unfortunately; they all needed to be replaced due to water damage.

A modern feel in a historic home

Orchard contributed to the project with interior design choices that create a modern, open feel in the Victorian-era structure. “I just don’t go for period looks,” she said. “A lot of people will choose certain elements, like apron-front sinks, that are of the period, but I’m more of a minimalist. The Victorian look … is just too dark and layered for my taste.”

Instead, Orchard wanted to add a modern style to the open, airy feeling created by the large windows and tall ceilings. Many of the fixtures, such as a wall-mounted faucet for the bathroom sink or a clear-glass shower stall, had to be special ordered because the designs weren’t available in this area. “I get so annoyed when I watch the decorating shows on TV,” she said. “Every time they want a piece they just run out and get it, and for me, each step was a big deal.”

The payoff is a beautifully remodeled home that combines the character and craftsmanship of a historic structure with the style, comfort and feel of modern design. And while the work continues — Dick plans to install a buffet in the dining room and put up the yellow Oriental-style wallpaper that Orchard has picked out — the house is now a comfortable home and a showpiece for the neighborhood.

Lund, who has fond memories of living in the house during the Depression, when her widowed mother would rent out rooms, is pleased to see the grand old house restored. “I’m so happy the house wasn’t just left to deteriorate,” she said. “I think it’s just lovely now.”

last revised: July 18, 2007