Landmark house gets 'Downton Abbey' makeover
GOLDEN VALLEY, Minn. — How do you decorate a castle?
Tina Wilcox knows — and she didn't even have to switch up her signature style when she moved into her stone French Norman-style home, complete with turret, in Golden Valley.
Gangster Kid Cann's rumored connection to the Golden Valley house known as "The Castle" is shrouded in mystery. But the home has had other brushes with fame.
She already had all the ingredients — grand oversized furniture, chandeliers and candelabras and even a collection of vintage crowns — from her previous house, a century-old Georgian Colonial in Minneapolis' Lowry Hill neighborhood. "In a previous life, I must have lived in the 'Downton Abbey' era," she said of her formal yet whimsical aesthetic.
The only problem was she had too much of it to fit into her new home. The Minneapolis house was 11,000 square feet; the Golden Valley house was 4,600.
"I sold two-thirds of my stuff at an estate sale," she said. Choosing which items to part with was painful. Wilcox, currently CEO of Black, a retail brand agency, had collected things from all over the world during her years traveling on behalf of Target.
"I had things that reminded me of Amsterdam, of Brussels, of Tokyo," she said. "Things my grandmother gave me. You create attachments. ... It was really hard."
The Golden Valley house's mysterious castle-like vibe was what attracted Wilcox to it. She had decided to sell her Minneapolis house, after completely restoring it. "It was hard to do all the upkeep," she said.
But she wasn't sure what would come next. For a while, she looked at hobby farms. "I wanted two horses, a llama, some little pigs," said the animal lover, who has three Brussels griffon dogs.
After she got thrown from a horse, breaking her arm and fracturing her back, she decided her " 'Farmer in the Dell' time" wasn't going to happen.
She started to look for a home closer to the city and easier to maintain. But she couldn't find anything she loved. Older houses needed too much work, and newer houses seemed too generic.
"I need something different. I want a weird home," she told her real estate agent.
" 'The Castle,' " he replied, as the local landmark is known in the neighborhood.
"The minute I walked in, I knew I would buy it," said Wilcox of the 1940 house perched on a hill, with its grand circular staircase and foyer. "I could see all my furniture in here."
The house was bank-owned and not decorated to her taste.
"It was all light and bright with bad carpet and little openings," she said. "I'm into big and massive. And I like rooms that hug you, that are dark and moody."
She had the living room fireplace rebuilt to match one she'd left behind in Minneapolis, and replaced all the lighting, bringing chandeliers from her previous house, including the huge one that now hangs above the circular staircase. "It took three guys to lift it into the house," she said. "We had to take the door off."
Every room was repainted, by her friend/housemate, designer and decorative painter Stephen Trevino, to create the look that Wilcox craved.
Every room also features bold, quirky design statements, from the "man wall" covered with antique male portraits in her family room, to the architectural salvage, from a bank entrance, that serves as a headboard in her bedroom.
Then there are the vintage taxidermy and offbeat collections on display, including antique dog collars, religious icons, French crowns and "oddities," such as skulls under glass. "I like macabre things."
Her quirky collectibles make a stronger statement in the Golden Valley house. "People say my stuff looks better here," Wilcox said. "It's tighter and you can see everything. The rooms were so big" in her Minneapolis house.
The one room that departs from the Old World vibe is the cheery panda-themed guest room Wilcox created for her two young grandchildren. She told her 3-year-old granddaughter she "had a special bedroom for her. She found it, saw the pandas, and said, 'Dis is my room.' "
Even the backyard got a makeover, with a new circular stone planter. Wilcox hangs bird cages on the tree branches, filled with birdseed, to attract feathered visitors. "I just love birds," she said. "They were hesitant at first," but now they fly in and out of the cages.
After she started meeting neighbors, Wilcox learned that her home's history is intertwined with one of the most notorious figures in Twin Cities history: Kid Cann, aka Isadore Blumenfeld, a gangster and bootlegger linked to at least three murders. According to local lore, Cann once lived in "The Castle" and entertained other mobsters there, including Al Capone.
(Hennepin County records don't list Cann or any of his associates as previous owners of the house, and its address does not appear in his voluminous FBI file, said Paul Maccabee, author of "John Dillinger Slept Here: A Crooks' Tour of Crime and Corruption in St. Paul, 1920-1936.")
Still, the gangster's rumored connection is strong; some believe he owned the house under a different name. "Everybody has heard the story but nobody could substantiate it," said Joe Breimayer, who owned the house for 36 years before moving to Oregon.
"When I moved in, people said, 'Oooh! You bought the Kid Cann house,' " Wilcox recalled. "That sounds ominous. I didn't know. Everyone asks, 'Have you found any bodies yet?' "
She hasn't, for the record. Although there is "a creepy crawl space downstairs," she said. "I've never looked in there."