Linnea Gardens isn’t what it used to be.
The solidly constructed complex on Como Avenue started life as the Linnea Home, a shelter for single Swedish women who had come to seek their fortunes in the New World, but found instead a solitary room in a sturdy brick barracks whose beguiling Swedish name didn’t entirely disguise its institutional character.
Built in 1917, the Linnea Home was named for a small pink flowering shrub from the Scandinavian homeland that so many of its early residents had left behind. For almost 90 years it offered refuge, first to Swedish “hired girls” and later to elderly residents when it became a small nursing home.
Lately, though, there are some newcomers who call Linnea home.
Over the last year and a half, the north St. Anthony Park landmark on Como Avenue has reinvented itself as a condominium development under the leadership of local resident Ray Peterson and other investors.
From the outside, the distinctive façade is relatively unchanged, surrounded by manicured landscaping that has provided the justification for attaching the name Gardens to the original Linnea.
Inside, the building is completely renovated. The 22 one- and two-bedroom units, with their spacious arched windows, skylights, trendy Silestone countertops and walk-in closets, give no clue of the congregate living quarters they replaced.
For possibly the first time in its worthy existence, the venerable Linnea has become trendy. It’s also good value, says real estate broker Steve Townley.
For those who aren’t ready for — or no longer want — a single-family house, Linnea Gardens offers the opportunity to buy into what Townley calls “one of the most stable real estate markets in the Twin Cities.”
“Linnea Gardens is a neat old building,” he adds, “but it’s the St. Anthony Park area above all that makes this so desirable.”
The units at Linnea Gardens, which range in price from around $200,000 to the mid $300,000s, are about half sold, says Townley — most of them to residents who have previous connections to the neighborhood. The ages of the residents range from mid-20s to mid-80s, according to Townley.
“There are first-time buyers, last-time buyers and some in between,” he says.
Fiftyish Kathy Magnuson downsized from “a beautiful huge old house” near Langford Park to a 1300-square-foot condo at Linnea.
“I’ve lived in St. Anthony Park all my adult life,” she says, but the house that had suited a family of five so well was no longer appropriate for a divorced mother of grown children.
For some time, she had been looking forward to a situation with “no more lawn mowing, no more snow shoveling,” but she also wanted to stay in the neighborhood.
Choices offering the right combination of space, location and condo-like features were limited until the Linnea Gardens project came along.
“It’s a historic building,” says Magnuson of her new home, “but the inside was totally gutted. There’s new wiring, new plumbing, new appliances. I like the combination of old and new.”
Magnuson is especially impressed with the solid construction of her new home.
“There are those really thick walls and lots of cement between you and your neighbors,” she says. “I don’t think it would be a problem if the people next door gave a party.”
And that’s just what at least one of her new neighbors plans to do. Twenty-something Kate Townley is planning to celebrate her move to Linnea Gardens.
“I definitely will have a little get-together with my friends,” she says. Townley points out that she’s not really the boisterous type but that those foot-thick walls are an encouraging sight as she plans her housewarming party.
Townley, who works for the Minnesota Twins, says that the Linnea Gardens condo is “the very first place I’ve ever owned.” Because she travels frequently on business, she says she was attracted to the possibility of building up equity without signing on for yard care and the other burdens of home ownership.
Kate Townley is one buyer who really trusts the investment advice she got from her real estate guy. For one thing, he happens to be her dad.
“I love the community and the way St. Anthony Park sits between both (Twin) cities,” she says. “I also like the uniqueness of Linnea. With only 22 units, you get to know your neighbors. I highly recommend Linnea Gardens, and not just because my dad is the real estate agent.”
Family relationships of another sort were a selling point for Joan Laux, one of the few Linnea owners who didn’t have a previous connection with
St. Anthony Park. Laux, 60, a retired school social worker from the Milwaukee area, moved to the Twin Cities to be closer to her married children and her 10-month-old granddaughter.
For Laux, an enthusiastic gardener in her previous home, one attraction of Linnea is the option to involve herself in as much — or as little — of maintaining the landscaped grounds as she desires.
“In Wisconsin I owned quite a large yard,” she explains, “but I had reached a point where I was thinking, ‘This is taking a lot of time.’”
Laux is considering planting a vegetable garden in one of the plots being readied behind the garage space. As for the rest of the gardening, Laux says, “Residents will decide how much they want to do” and how much will be contracted out as part of the building maintenance plan.
Laux can pinpoint the moment she decided she’d made the right move to Linnea Gardens. She was sitting on the floor, looking out the large, arched windows of her unit.
“I could see a beautiful blue sky with cumulus clouds, and I thought, ‘Oh yes!’ This is a place where I can age well.”
For information about Linnea Gardens, call 644-3557 or visit www.SteveTownley.com.