A Feat of Craftsmanship

Shoemaker John Kinsell built a home that made a difference.
This grand house, built by Polish immigrant John Kinsell, became a home for many.
This grand house, built by Polish immigrant John Kinsell, became a home for many.

It was a humble shoemaker named John Kinsell who built this extraordinary home facing Highway 7, where it stood for decades before coming to an unfortunate end. Kinsell came to America from Poland in 1913 and worked in Minneapolis. In 1936 he bought property in St. Louis Park at Sumter and 37th, the latter being a service road to the recently completed Highway 7.

Over the course of a decade, Kinsell and his family built this very large and impressive home. The house was faced with clay tiles and then covered with stucco. Kinsell dug the basement by hand. It had a flat roof, which "leaked like a sieve," according to his grandson.  The home included a self-contained separate apartment which could be rented out. Kinsell moved into the 15-room house in March 1947, and worked at a shoe repair store in Texa-Tonka. He sold the house in 1977 and died in 1980.

After changing hands a couple of times, the house was purchased by state representative Gloria Segal in 1992. Rep. Segal had a child who had mental illness, and she was a driving force behind funding programs for the mentally ill from 1982 to 1992, when she was part of the Minnesota Legislature. Segal donated the property to Vail Place, an organization that provides housing and treatment for the mentally ill ; the organization remodeled the building using a $50,000 state grant.

On August 20, 1999, one of three residents living in the building set it on fire. Damage was estimated at $50,000, and although it was limited to the second-story bedroom where it started, the decision was made to demolish the house. In 2002, Vail Place built a new, seven-unit apartment building on the property called Vail in the Park, which now serves as permanent, supported housing for people with mental illness. 

Jeanne Andersen is a trustee on the board of the St. Louis Park Historical Society.

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To learn more about these and other historical buildings in St. Louis Park, visit the St. Louis Park Historical Society website at slphistory.org.