Cass Gilbert Society


Elizabeth Gilbert Residence, Saint Paul, MN

Exterior view

Image ©2009 Sonja Mason

Elizabeth Gilbert Residence

Other Names:
E.W. Gilbert House; Stringer House
471 Ashland Ave, Saint Paul, Minnesota
Design & Construction:
1883-1884[1882-1883 Irish-1999; 1882-1883 Christen-2001]
Cass Gilbert 

The original house Gilbert designed for his mother was more modest than the one that exists today. He began the design in 1882 before he returned to Saint Paul. Gilbert himself remodeled it at least twice, and when the family sold the property to E.G. Stringer in 1902, Gilbert turned over the remodeling to his Saint Paul office. Still, many features of the design are original, including the Richardsonian porch details and the Queen Anne windows. The attic windows provide geometric accents to the shingled surfaces.

An attractive interior detail of the Elizabeth Gilbert House is the design of the fireplace in the front entry. Squares of sky-blue glass cover the fireplace, a feature Gilbert possibly borrowed from the Ross Winans House (McKim, Mead & White, 1882), where blue glazed tile on the fireplace provides the only color in the wood-paneled front hall. Then again, Gilbert could have used as his model the fireplace at Richardson's Ames Gate Lodge (1881), which is covered with blue glass designed by the Tiffany Glass Company. He was very aware of both precedents.

Building permits were first required in Saint Paul in September 1883, but there is no early permit for the Elizabeth Gilbert House. The permit on file for 471 Ashland Avenue seems to describe a house located at 477 Holly Avenue that was designed by Gilbert's local architectural competitor J. Walter Stevens. Ramsey County real estate records, however, reveal that Elizabeth Gilbert bought the building site in the summer of 1883 for $2,350. She put down no money, signing two promissory notes, one for $750 with a two-year balloon, the other for $1,600 with a one-year balloon. Then she sold for $2,100 the lot she had purchased a block away on Laurel Avenue two years earlier for $1,000. In addition to those funds, she also had $1,800 that she had received a year earlier from W.R. Merriam for a portion of property on Aurora Avenue, site of the family's first home in Saint Paul. [The extension of University Avenue in 1882 ran through the middle of property belonging to the Gilbert family. Elizabeth sold the northern portion to adjacent landowner W.R. Merriam who hired Clarence Johnston to design a mansion on the site. The remaining property sat vacant until it was sold in 1908.]