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A Home with a Heart

The Alfred Pillsbury Mansion Stands Strong

The Alfred Pillsbury Mansion, located on E. 22nd St., and nestled in the Whittier neighborhood, is a sight to behold. The incredible 10,000-square-foot limestone home was constructed in 1903 by Alfred Pillsbury himself along with Ernest Kennedy as the lead architect. One of the many large homes built by prominent families at the time, the mansion sits where what was then considered to be the edge of town. Although they had no children, Pillsbury and his wife were known to be art collectors, specifically Chinese jade and artifacts of the east. A portion of their collection still resides not far from the home in the Alfred Pillsbury Gallery at the Minneapolis Institute of Art. Designed in the English Tudor style, this property is a beautiful reminder of a time and place in history, yet it has been restored to remain relevant today.    

 Purchased in 2002 by Uri and Melissa Camarena, the property was in dire need of some attention. When asked what drew the couple to the home initially, Uri expresses that they, “love architecture and the historic side of things. We also love to restore homes, and we saw the potential in it. Frankly, we wanted to rescue it.” 

In this case, the old adage, “Home is where the heart is,” most definitely rings true. The Camarenas committed to restoring its beauty while at the same time maintaining the historical integrity.  They have lived in the home for almost 20 years.

"We love the convenience," Uri says. "We have been respectful of the architecture of the house. We were also fortunate that the house had not been abused structurally. They had not torn down walls.”

The Camarenas put a new kitchen in, updated electrical and bathrooms and installed air conditioning. One of the larger projects included the addition of an attached and heated four-car garage, which was done under the Minneapolis Heritage Preservation Commission. But, for all the new that has brought this beautiful home up to date, many of the original elements remain including the 17th century, all oak library which Mr. Pillsbury had shipped over from England. What used to be a vault, now named the “Tequila Room” boasts secret doors with hidden passages and remains perfect for entertaining. The Camarenas say that the changes they have made provide, “a very liveable house.”

“I love history and architecture ... and feel so fortunate that we were able to be part of that. That we are able to enjoy it.” 

After purchasing, they realized there was a bigger, more charitable purpose for the 10,000 square feet. Both wanted to go beyond just loving the home itself and decided to share it with others.

“We could support some of the organizations that we love and contribute to by letting them use the house. We open the house to those organizations on average, about twenty times per year.”

If there is one thing the Camarena’s feel fortunate about in regards to events at the home, it has been, “the opportunity to meet a lot of really great people. These are people who care about the community, and we can be more of an active part in the organizations we support and give back.”

With all of the art, history, and fundraising that has been done here, it appears that 116 E. 22nd St. has a heart of its own.