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Historic Wayzata Mansions on Death Row

BonSyde has had a number of owners since the Northrups, each filling its walls with new life and memories of their own.

he Northrup-Jorgenson Home, also known as the BonSyde Estate. Photo: Karen Melvin, www.karenmelvin.com.
he Northrup-Jorgenson Home, also known as the BonSyde Estate. Photo: Karen Melvin, www.karenmelvin.com.

Originally published on Preservation Alliance of Minnesota and posted here at request and permission of the author.

Chances are you’ve heard the news out of Wayzata: the Dayton-Burnet Home, Romaldo Giurgola’s mathematical masterpiece straight out of the Modernist Era, has been slated for demolition with approval granted by the City. The new owner plans on replacing the home with another, larger, home after the current structure has been razed. The rest of the property has already been subdivided, with new homes currently under construction on the property’s northeast side.

Lesser known to the media and public, however, is the Dayton-Burnet Home’s next-door neighbor to the southwest. There, hidden by an alee of trees on one side and a large McMansion on the other, lies an impressive Greek revival that has looked over the waters of Lake Minnetonka for more than a century. The Northrup-Jorgenson Home, also known as the BonSyde Estate, has been kept relatively quiet from the public eye as it, too, faces the same fate of its well-covered neighbor. But that is about to change.

BonSyde’s history begins in the 1890s, a time when Lake Minnetonka was emerging as a place to actually live, rather than vacation. Some of the Lake’s finest and grandest homes were built during this era, the largest and most prestigious of which along the Ferndale Shore. It was here in 1894 that William G. Northrup, an entrepreneur, purchased a section of land to build his home upon.

Northrup commissioned famous Twin Cities architect William Channing Whitney to design for him a true testament of classical architecture that would dominate all others in its vicinity. BonSyde, as Northrup came to name it, was designed to impress, and these intentions remain clearly evident today: Corinthian columns, both structural and aesthetic, are prominently used throughout the house at the front entrance and on many of the interior archways. Hardwood floors and fine fixtures are used throughout as well, topped off with a total of seven fireplaces. But perhaps the most impressive feature of the home is the bank of Doric columns lakeside. Together, the columns support the roof over a large outdoor balcony. Ivy has crept up the height of the columns over the years, and today the balcony appears to be a scene worthy of Lake Como. Between the home and the Lake lie formal gardens, French in style, fountain pool and all. The gardens, along with a boathouse and pool house, both continuing in Greek revival style, are all dominated by the manor house and its Doric columns on the hillside – a truly authentic rendition of an estate. Its overall dominant impression has even prompted many to call it “the White House of Minnesota.”

BonSyde has had a number of owners since the Northrups, each filling its walls with new life and memories of their own. Eventually though, like any aging structure, the home fell into disrepair. It could have easily been torn down then, but Clyde Jorgenson, who purchased the property in that less-than-desirable condition, had the entire estate completely and thoroughly restored “down to the studs” in the late 1990s, a task which took four years to complete. Ever since then, it has remained in absolutely pristine condition as an icon of Wayzata and Lake Minnetonka as a whole – a valid time capsule from the Gilded Age.

But now, only recently (within the past year), the Jorgensons have sold BonSyde to its current owner, Michael Reger. And Mr. Reger has won approval from the City of Wayzata to have it demolished, erased for eternity.

This is a scheme which is all too familiar for the Lake Minnetonka area. Estates of all ages and grandeur have continuously fallen victim to the wrecking ball, their sites replaced with newer, “better” homes, with little or no attention from the media or public; aside from a small paragraph in a larger article concerning the Dayton-Burnet Home, BonSyde’s situation has received none. This home is one of the best examples of Greek revival architecture ever built in Minnesota and is one of the best-preserved examples of William Channing Whitney’s work still in existence today. As one of the last original estates of Lake Minnetonka, the demolition of BonSyde would surely be a terrible civic atrocity, perhaps the worst Lake Minnetonka has ever seen – and Lake Minnetonka has seen plenty. It is a needless waste of a perfectly sound, beautiful, and cherished home that has been loved and cared for by many a family (and the community) for nearly 120 years, and now it must face the same fate that has become all too common for so many other historic homes in the area: death.

Aaron J. Person grew up in the Lake Minnetonka area and has always had a strong interest in history. To satisfy that interest, he is currently studying History at Minneapolis Community & Technical College and plans on continuing his education at the University of Minnesota, specializing in Historic Preservation.

All photos are courtesy of Karen Melvin, www.karenmelvin.com.

S. K. Andreassen II August 01, 2013 at 11:54 AM
To tear down such an Important home like this is HORRIABLE!!! I could see if it was original and need $4 million worth of work but all that was done not to long ago by the Jorgenson's. They gave new life to this wonderful property and to let it go is a huge MISTAKE! Why are these houses not on some Historical list? I do not agree with the authors label of The Holm's giant Mansion next door being labeled a "McMansion" Those are built big and cheap and fast and are all over Eden Prairie, Plymouth and Maple Grove. Holm's house took over 3 years to build and the quality set the bench mark for a "real" Mansion in MN. If Reger has so much money why does he not buy the empty lots on either side of BonSyde and let someone with taste and class and a sense of honor buy BonSyde and preserve it...
Joseph Finley August 01, 2013 at 07:54 PM
A sad reflection on the City...
Orono August 02, 2013 at 12:47 PM
This article is garbage. McMansion? please understand the term before trying to actually use it. The drama used in this story is way over the top. Clearly the author has never owned a home and has no idea what it takes to own one. Sure the home is beautiful on the outside, but the owner has to live in the INSIDE.

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