Red Cedar Lane neighborhood

Once chosen as the best street in the Twin Cities by Mpls./St. Paul Magazine, Red Cedar Lane is a small street with a big story.

Red Cedar Lane – an Introduction

The story of Red Cedar Lane revolves around John Jager (pronounced yăger) who was born in Slovenia in 1871 and died in Minneapolis in 1959. In 1898, Jager received a degree in architecture from the Vienna Polytechnic Institute. In 1901, the Austro-Hungarian Empire sent him to China where he designed and superintended re-construction of the Empire’s Beijing embassy, which had been destroyed a year earlier in the Boxer Rebellion. Jager also visited Japan and became very interested in Chinese and Japanese language, art, and culture. He eventually spoke and wrote seven languages fluently.

In 1902, Jager immigrated to Minneapolis where he joined his two brothers. One brother, a Catholic priest, was instrumental in getting Jager his first architectural projects in Minnesota: several churches, including St. Bernard’s, 187 Geranium Ave. W., in St. Paul, and St. Stephen Catholic Church in St. Stephen, Minnesota (Brockway Township, Stearns County).

In 1903, Jager’s fiancée, Selma Erhovnic, whom he had met in Vienna, joined him in Minneapolis, and they were married. Selma, a talented fabric artist, was a graduate of the Imperial and Royal School of Lace Making in Vienna. She later taught embroidery, lace-making, and other fabric arts for the Minneapolis School of Fine Arts, precursor of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. The Jagers’ daughter, Katherine, was born in October, 1903.

In 1904, the Jagers purchased 20 acres on Minnehaha Creek in the southwestern corner of Minneapolis. There they built a house and over the next 50 years, John Jager developed the land, laying out Red Cedar Lane and later, the street called Forest Dale, which circles around Red Cedar Lane . He planted trees and shrubs all over the area, including the rows of red cedar trees that still make Red Cedar Lane seem like a canopied outdoor room.

In 1908, Jager attended a lecture in Minneapolis by the architect, William Gray Purcell. Subsequently, the two men became best friends. When Purcell’s partnership with George Elmslie ended in 1921, Purcell moved to Portland, Oregon, and later to southern California. Purcell and Jager maintained a voluminous correspondence that lasted until Jager’s death in 1959. Purcell wrote, “John, my life-long friend, has the best brain – the most powerful creative urge – and the biggest heart of all the men I’ve known.”

From 1909 to 1933, Jager held the title of Superintendent in the Minneapolis architectural office of Hewitt and Brown. While his duties were mostly administrative, Jager did at least one design project for the firm; he designed much of the woodwork in the sanctuary of St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral in Minneapolis. Other notable buildings by Hewitt and Brown are Hennepin Avenue Methodist Church (1916) and The Architects and Engineers Building, 1200 2nd Ave. So. (1921), which housed the firm’s offices for many years.

In 1927, Purcell designed the house at 3 Red Cedar Lane for Henry M. Peterson, a real estate developer. Then, working for Peterson, Purcell and Frederick Strauel, a draftsman who had worked in the Purcell & Elmslie office, designed six other speculative houses (i.e., built for sale; not for a specific client) in the area. In 1930, Jager purchased a half share in an additional piece of land at the northeast corner of his original 20-acre parcel. This new section became Russell Court, a cul de sac that now contains four mid-century Modern houses.

As the Jager-Purcell friendship grew, Jager came to be regarded as the ceremonial “silent partner” in the Purcell & Elmslie firm. In his later years, Jager and Strauel organized the firm’s accumulated papers, including hundreds of building drawings and Purcell’s many essays, articles, and a large amount of correspondence. This collection eventually became the William Purcell Papers, which are housed at the Northwest Architectural Archives, a component of the library system of the University of Minnesota.

Houses in the Red Cedar Lane neighborhood

The houses on Red Cedar Lane itself are all of a piece: They are versions of what the architectural historian David Gebhard called the English Cottage Fantasy Revival Style — though real estate agents usually call the style “Tudor” or “Tudor Revival.” The English Cottage Fantasy Revival Style is characterized by:
• Asymmetrical facades – balanced in terms of massing
• Natural materials: stone, wood, and brick
• Natural color schemes
• Prominent, steep roofs covered with wood shakes
• Thick wood posts and beams, often in timber frames
• Fake half-timber on upper walls
• Lantern-style exterior light fixtures and iron hardware
• Multi-pane windows organized in horizontal bands
• Pointed arches and battered walls (i.e. walls that slope inward as they go up)