In today’s housing market, Twin Cities homes don’t sit long on the MLS. But, since 2017, it’s proven trickier to move one of the metro’s most spectacular and historic homes: Stillwater’s Alhambra estate, which just hit the red-hot market for $1.4 million.
Finding buyers for beige, suburban, cookie-cutter homes is easy. Finding the right one for 625 5th St. N.—a 120-year-old monument to an ancient Moorish palace—hasn’t been easy. The historic property has bounced on and off the housing market since 2017, its asking price slowly dropping from a peak of $1.65 million.
There’s a lot to like about the 4-bed, 3-bath, 5,426-square-foot house that was originally constructed as a satellite gym for the nearby Sauntry mansion.
“It’s a stunning property,” former listing agent Richard McDonough told me in 2019. “If you’re having a party, this is the ultimate place; I hate to use this word, but it was the first man cave, in a ballroom sense.”
William Sauntry, a lumber baron, envisioned Alhambra as an ornate “Recreation Hall,” complete with bowling alley and indoor pool, and connected his properties via a since-removed skyway. Sauntry would pivot to mining, lose his vast fortune, and kill himself by handgun in St. Paul in 1914. His mansion, built in 1881, became a B&B (sale currently pending); his jaw-dropping man cave became a triplex around the Great Depression and fell into severe disrepair.
Current owners Marty and Judi Nora, who purchased Alhambra for $366,000 in 1999, were determined to restore its splendor. The couple invested considerable funds into its restoration, using original photos as guideposts and traveling to India to procure materials. The decades-long project has been a “joy—pure joy,” Judi told Artful Living earlier this year.
“They just saw this house that needed to be saved, it’s amazing the extent they went to rebuild this property,” McDonough told me in ’19. “It’s one of the best known examples [of Moorish architecture] in the United States; whoever ends up buying it will truly have a treasure.”
Updates include a gourmet kitchen and master bedroom, though the centerpiece remains the 1,350-square-foot ballroom with soaring, 25-foot vaulted ceilings and original light fixtures. A newer, detached, 2,000-square-foot pool house sits on the nice .69-acre corner lot, located blocks from the St. Croix River and downtown antiquing district. The current listing nudges potential buyers to explore alternative uses—spa, art gallery, music studio—but notes that such changes would require city approval. The Stillwater City Council might prove accommodating: In July, it passed an ordinance that allows some historic structures to function as commercial spaces, including the the Sauntry mansion which is set to become a Realtors’ office. The goal, according to the council? To help monetize maintenance and repair historically significant buildings.
Alhambra, after all, is 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, courtesy of Coldwell Banker.