Architectural styles are determined not only by tastes and trends but by lifestyles. Distinctive designs that have emerged in many Edina neighborhoods can be attributed to the evolution of transportation, convenience and cultural norms. What was once an agrarian outpost of grain mills and farmsteads has grown into a bustling and diverse suburban hot spot. In 21st-century Edina, taste, trends and lifestyle still play important roles in determining which neighborhoods and which architectural aesthetics attract prospective homebuyers.
Morningside, platted in 1905, was Edina’s first residential neighborhood. The advent of streetcar service provided Morningside residents with commuter transportation to and from Minneapolis. It also gave middle-class homebuyers an opportunity to trade urban bustle for a taste of rural charm. The primary architectural style of homes built in Morningside between 1905 and 1940 is the bungalow. This seems fitting, since the bungalow had been known as the preferred styling of summer homes and cottages.
Considered small by some of today’s standards, a bungalow typically provided homeowners with up to 1,200 square feet of living space and a large covered front porch as part of its Arts and Crafts exterior. They were built with easily obtained materials such as stucco, wood and fieldstone, and were considered modest and practical dwellings.
The lack of any specific design criteria resulted in an interesting and eclectic mix of Morningside neighborhood homes. This mix has prevented Morningside from being designated a landmark district. However, individual homes that meet specific criteria may be designated as Edina Heritage Landmarks.
Contrast the practicality of the Morningside neighborhood with what would later establish Edina as an affluent suburban community. In 1924, Samuel Thorpe of Thorpe Brothers Realty Company platted the Country Club District south of West 44th Street and east of Minnehaha Creek. This planned community was the first of its kind in Minnesota. Strict building regulations and the style preferences of upper-class residents led primarily to homes designed in period revival architecture. There were eight choices of model homes originally for sale in the Country Club neighborhood. Most prevalent were colonial, Mediterranean and Tudor styles.
Colonial revivals homes have symmetrical designs that often incorporate brick exteriors, decorative porch columns and Palladian windows. Mediterranean homes resemble elaborate villas that look as though they could have been plucked from an Italian seaside retreat. And the English Tudor style appears a bit medieval with steep gables, stucco and exposed beams.
Joyce Repya, associate planner for the City of Edina, notes that in addition to architecture that was particularly appealing to the affluence of Country Club homebuyers, specific lifestyle distinctions also characterize the history of the neighborhood. “It was assumed that everyone would go down to the country club for recreation,” says Repya. “That meant that large backyards were mostly viewed as unnecessary. Also, unlike Morningside, it didn’t matter how closely these homes were situated to streetcar lines. The advent of the automobile meant that upper-income professionals would simply drive to work.”
Further west, Rolling Greens, built in the 1930s, offered similar period revival homes on larger lots near a riding trail. “Owning horses for riding instead of farming further set the tone for Edina as being a well-heeled community,” says Repya.
The largest population growth in Edina happened between 1945 and 1974. Most of Edina’s remaining neighborhoods were built during that time. New home construction pushed south and west toward what is now Braemar Golf Course, established in 1964.
The groundbreaking architectural development of Southdale Mall also happened during this population boom. As part of the 1953 Southdale development deal, the Dayton brothers donated 15 acres of land north of Lake Cornelia to the city of Edina for use as a park. They then sold a residential section of land nearby to the Thorpe Brothers, the same Thorpe brothers who had previously established the Country Club District. That piece of land is where 160 home sites were originally built in the Lake Cornelia neighborhood just south of West 66th Street and west of France Avenue.
This was a real country meets city situation where houses were built side by side next to farms. The initial idea was for homeowners to be able to walk to the mall. But, as time went on, automotive traffic on France Avenue has hindered the area’s walkability. But that didn’t matter much during a time when families were purchasing second cars. Envision a station wagon parked in most driveways of these newer homes.
The architecture surrounding Southdale Mall mirrors much of what was being built throughout Edina during that time. An explosion of Mid-Century Modern accompanied the baby boom. Ramblers and split-levels with long, low rooflines and minimalist exteriors are abundant in post-World War II construction.
Fast forward a few decades and you can see sporadic 1990s mini-mansions intermixed with a few surviving farmhouses. Transplants from around the United States often brought with them a particular penchant for architecture that was popular in their home state. Repya notes that over the decades, certain design aesthetics tend to transcend time. “Those large Palladian windows are making a comeback,” says Repya. “We’re also seeing more use of stone on exteriors, cottage style construction and the return of the large front porch.
“Mid-Century Modern was all about elbowroom, privacy and backyard decks. But some recent homebuyers are returning to a more urban feel and are choosing to live in Edina’s older neighborhoods like Morningside.”
Marci Matson at the Edina Historical Society notes that 2012 was a record year for home teardowns in Edina, especially on the north side. Construction to replace homes built in the past reflects a continued change in cultural norms.
REFINED LLC. Builder, Andy Porter has been rebuilding homes in the Morningside and Country Club vicinity for the past 10 years. “It’s interesting that some people expect us to rebuild homes exactly as they were in the 1920s and 30s,” he says. “But homebuyers of that era were more influenced by European architecture than the modern homebuyer. That style is still part of the marketplace, just not large a part.” Porter notes that families move to northeastern Edina for the same reasons they did almost a century ago. Good schools and easy transportation access to the larger metropolitan area.
“Many current homebuyers come from more varied cultures,” says Porter. “Clients from non-European backgrounds sometimes prefer non-European home styling. Most families still want four bedrooms and a second floor laundry. But we’re seeing a trend toward a cleaner, contemporary style with less ornamental detail.”
REFINED LLC built the home that John Cox and his family purchased in 2011. “We moved out of a house that had been built in 1928,” says Cox. “It had a lot of small rooms and we wanted a more open floor plan. We’re especially happy with our new open kitchen space that allows us to see what the kids are doing while we cook and chat with guests over a glass of wine. Technology is also huge for us. Our new house is completely wired for sound and other high-tech convenience. And an attached garage definitely trumps having a detached one on an alley when you have small children or if there is bad weather.”
Cox says Porter melded classic features of an older home with more modern ones. “We have a big front porch similar to the ’20s era,” he says. “We love the idea of getting to know our neighbors and seeing what’s happening in the neighborhood. But other exterior styling is more modern like larger windows that are not double-hung. There is a stone façade but it’s more rectangular and contemporary versus an old-fashioned stone front. The window clad matches the color of the house in lieu of traditional white trim. The entire look is a bit sleeker. We like it.”
Cox says that he and his wife chose their neighborhood primarily for its convenient location. “I grew up in Edina,” he says. “I understand the amenities and benefits of living in this city, particularly the schools. But walkability and access to nearby lakes, parks, coffee shops, restaurants and a dry cleaner make our neighborhood very desirable. It’s also close to downtown Minneapolis so we don’t have to spend a lot of time in the car to get to work.”
When asked how he feels about the variety of architectural styles that are cropping up around his area, Cox says, “As long as the homes are done well, I’m open to variety. Part of the lens that some people look through is to see only what they’ve always known. This prohibits us from seeing what is possible. I’m all for trying to make architecture fit in with a neighborhood. But I’m open-minded and believe that a variety of styles can be pulled off if done well.”
& MORE INFORMATION
To learn more about Edina’s architectural history, visit edinahistoricalsociety.org, edinamn.gov/heritagepreservationboard or follow @edinahistory on Twitter.