Living in the lion house


To generations of visitors to Como Park and the State Fairgrounds, the distinctive edifice on the northwest corner of Midway Parkway and Hamline Avenue is a landmark, whether they know anything about its history or not.

“Somebody will ask, ‘Where do you live?'” says Tim Dickinson. “When I tell them, they invariably say, ‘Oh, the house with the lions.'”

Dickinson and his wife, Terri Tacheny, own “the house that Frankson built,” the green-and-white-tile mansion with the lion statuary in front, where they live with Tacheny’s teenage daughters.

The neighborhood to the north and west is platted as Frankson’s Como Park Addition. When its developer, Thomas Frankson, moved his family into its new $17,000 home in the fall of 1914, theirs was one of the first houses on what had been 120 acres of farmland. C.L. French designed the mansion and, given the scale of the structure, it seems ironic that he was associated with a builder called the Bungalow Construction Company.

The highly recognizable lion statues out front have been there since the beginning, and the basic footprint of the structure remains the same as well. The living room is mostly unchanged, as is the library immediately behind it, both with fireplaces. It was the latter space that Frankson used as an office.

Dickinson estimates the house has 120 windows, most with the original leaded and beveled glass with a distinctive diamond design. Most of the downstairs light fixtures, including chandeliers, are original.

But in 95 years there have been many changes to room configurations and other interior features. The butler’s pantry is gone, freeing up space for a larger kitchen. Dickinson says there is evidence that a fire damaged what originally was a conservatory on the front of the house. There’s still a dome over that space, which now is incorporated into the dining room.

In the beginning, the second floor contained bedrooms for the Franksons and their three children, but that layout has been modified over time. There’s a sun porch/parlor on the east side of the house on both floors. A bedroom on the third floor housed the Frankson’s housekeeper for many years and later was rented to college students.

A two-bedroom apartment has been added to the basement, along with a separate entry on Hamline Avenue. On the outside, there’s a moat-like feature in front of the former conservatory and a cast-iron sculpture of two deer standing in a pool, in the same area where a deer statue originally stood.

The large detached garage, built in the same handsome detail as the house, complete with tile exterior and roof, no longer accommodates seven cars, as it once did. A large portion is dedicated to Dickinson’s well-equipped workshop, which he says he needs in order to keep up with maintenance of the house. He points ruefully to several bullet holes in the leaded glass windows, attributed to a former owner’s dislike of pigeons.

In 1926, Frankson sold the house to Nathan Goffstein, of Goffstein Realty Co., whose family lived there until 1945. It then became the home of the Midwest Hebrew Mission, a Baptist-affiliated organization. In the 1970s, a subsequent owner ran a dance studio in the building. From 1982 to 1993, it was owned by attorney Bill Jones, who is credited with starting the process of bringing the property back from a period of severe decline.

Despite the amount of maintenance and upkeep associated with the house, Dickinson enjoys living in a building to which so many people feel a connection.

Tacheny adds, “If you value privacy this is probably not the house for you. But I’ve grown to enjoy having people stop when I’m working in the yard or ring the doorbell to say that ‘I used to live on the third floor’ or ‘I took dance lessons in the basement.’ It’s fun to hear their stories.

“I feel very lucky to live in this wonderful house. On a sunny day, the light shines through the leaded glass and it’s filled with rainbows.”

The preceding is an excerpt from a profile of Frankson that will appear in the summer issue of Ramsey County History, the magazine of the Ramsey County Historical Society.

Thomas Frankson was a businessman who developed several northwest Como neighborhoods and donated the first buffalo to the Como Zoo. He also invested in Kansas oil and Missouri timber, and was a two-term lieutenant governor of Minnesota and an unsuccessful gubernatorial candidate who lost out in an era of political turmoil.