In downtown Stillwater, just blocks from antiquing day-trippers, a 118-year-old monument to the famed Moorish palace of Alhambra sits on an unassuming residential block.
Originally built as a gym for the adjacent Sauntry Mansion, 625 5th St. N. is now an architecturally fascinating single-family home, one that can be yours for $1.5 million. (Update: The property was pulled from the market without a buyer, but reappeared on Aug. 12, 2020, with the asking price of $1.4 million; click here to view the current listing.)
“It’s a stunning property,” says Richard McDonough, the listing agent with RM Realty. “If you’re having a party, this is the ultimate place.”
Lumber baron William Sauntry had fitness and entertainment in mind when he constructed the ornate “Recreation Hall.” His mansion was connected via skyway to the satellite structure, which originally housed a bowling alley and indoor pool.
“I hate to use this word, but it was the first man cave, in a ballroom sense,” McDonough chuckles.
Sauntry ended up pivoting to the mining business, losing his fortune, and killing himself with a handgun in St. Paul in 1914. His mansion would become a booming B&B, but his spectacular gymnasium fell into disrepair as a triplex.
Marty and Judi Nora, determined to restore the building’s former glory, acquired it in 1999 for $366,000, according to county records. They’d pour considerable funds into the restoration project, using original photos as their guide and even traveling to India to buy materials.
“They just saw this house that needed to be saved; it’s amazing the extent they went to rebuild this property,” McDonough says. “It’s one of the best known examples [of Moorish architecture] in the United States.”
Today, Sauntry’s gym is a four-bedroom, four-bathroom, 7,052-square-foot home. Is the dazzling, 1,350-square-foot ballroom -- with its 25-foot vaulted ceilings and original light fixtures -- larger than this reporter’s entire house? It is. There’s also a gourmet kitchen, master bedroom, and newer detached pool/pool house.
“[Potential buyers] have to kind wrap their heads around the fact you can live there and it’s a comfortable home; it’s a very welcoming and cozy environment,” McDonough says. The Noras are simply ready to move on and let another family enjoy the daily splendor, he says. Their property has been on and off the market since 2017, and its current listing price represents a $150,000 discount. “You could not build this for $1.5 million, whoever ends up buying it will truly have a treasure,” McDonough adds.
And a piece of Minnesota history.
“If Sauntry’s death is a mystery, his architectural legacy is not,” local architectural historian Larry Millett writes in his 2014 book, Minnesota’s Own: Preserving Our Grand Homes. “His mansion and his fabulous Moorish pleasure palace remain essential landmarks in Stillwater from a time when lumber was king and even the most magical dreams could be made real.”
Let's take a photo tour of Sauntry's revived pleasure palace, courtesy of RM Realty and Spacecrafting.