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Happy centennial, Grotto House

Posted on 11 August 2019 by Tesha Christensen

By TESHA M. CHRISTENSEN
Seven years to the day they bought the house at 1012 Grotto St., Emily and Jesse and their 10-pound Chihuahua Buster Busta held a party.
Their home – which they lovingly call the Grotto House – is 100 years old.
And that’s something to celebrate.

Know where you’re coming from
The Bustas bought the house on July 27, six weeks before they wed in 2012.
They met at age 14 while growing up in the east metro, graduated from Tartan High in Oakdale in 2007, and started dating in 2008. They attended school in St. Paul (he at Hamline Law School and she at Bethel University), and decided they wanted to stay in the city.

Emily fostered a love of old houses while growing up inside an 1888-era home in Highwood Hills by Pigs Eye Lake.
“You need to know where you’re coming from to know where you’re going,” Emily stated.
“Emily turned me on to old houses and I love them now,” remarked Jesse.
His dad, Brent Katzemmaier, who grew up near Como Lake, found the foreclosure along Grotto St. They had looked through about five houses before touring this one, and had been looking for an affordable price as Jesse was still in school.
“We saw it and we knew,” Emily recalled.
“I love the character – it’s not a cookie cutter [house],” observed Emily. “No one else has something like this. It’s cozy and not huge.”
They’re not entirely sure of the size of the two-story house, as written reports vary from 900 to 1,200 square feet. There’s an unfinished basement, with main level living room, kitchen, dining room, small bedroom/study and mud room, and two bedrooms with ample walk-in closets and a bathroom upstairs.
The purchase required patience, as the process with the bank took seven months. At one point, they discovered water pooled on the dining room floor. A leak from the second story bathroom trickled down and damaged the ceiling, wall and floor in their dining room. It cost $5,000 to fix, but was covered by the bank.
One of their first steps was gutting and redoing the one bathroom in the house. They worked to match the house’s period and style, but did add the convenience of a heated floor.
Upstairs windows were replaced with new wooden Pella ones. New lights resemble antique ones.
“We tried our hardest to keep original features and the character of the house,” said Jesse.
They ripped the carpet and asbestos tile off the upstairs floors to reveal oak beneath, which they refinished. Unfortunately, they weren’t able to remove the carpet and tile in the living room to reveal the wood there so they settled for new carpet. But just in time for the Centennial, they redid the fir floors in the main level bedroom that had been added to the house at a later time.
“Otherwise it was in pretty good shape,” said Jesse.
The original buffet and plate rail in the dining room stayed, and they didn’t need to make changes to the kitchen.

A big move in 1966
A home inspector clued them in on the fact that their 1919 house had a cinder block foundation, which meant it hadn’t always been at 1012 Grotto.
Last fall they began researching the history of their home’s move. They checked out property tax records, and learned it had been moved from Snelling and Randolph in 1966, and the property transitioned from residential to commercial. It used to sit at what is now the busy intersection of Snelling and University at 475 S. Snelling. The Bustas don’t know what was at 1012 Grotto before their house was moved in.
They do know that the woman, Mary Ann Kester, who moved their home also moved in the house directly south of them. It had originally been at 1510 St. Clair.
From the building permit, they discovered that the house cost $3,000 to construct. Another document from the time of the move showed costs at $1,200 was for concrete block, $2,000 for the movers, $750 for electric, and $1,000 for the plumbers.
Since they bought the house for $88,000, the property value has doubled. “We were in the right place at the right time,” said Emily.

A starter home for many
“I like knowing who came before us in the house,” stated Jesse.
They’re learned that their house has mostly been a starter home for the families that came before them.
Property tax records through the house’s move in the 1940s show that the longest anyone lived at 1012 Grotto was twelve years. “We appear to be the eighth family that has lived here at this site,” said Jesse. They do not have the titles from the time the house was on Snelling Ave.
It was public housing for 13 years after Kester sold the house to the St. Paul Urban Housing and Redevelopment Authority for $1 in 1969.
About five years ago, a car stopped and a woman told them she grew up in their house in the 1970s. She left before they could get any more details. The Bustas hope to learn more about the history of their house, and hope past residents share information with them.

‘They’re not as scary as you think’
Jesse now works for Progressive Insurance in New Brighton, and Emily recently took a job with the state of Minnesota’s education office at Bandana Square. They’ve sold their second car, and Emily enjoys biking to work.
They’re planning to become the longest living family at this address.
“We hope people can grow an appreciation for old houses and keep them in the neighborhood,” said Jesse. “And keep old churches too,” Emily added.
“They’re not as scary as you think they are.”
“They definitely take more work to maintain but it’s worth it in the end,” said Jesse. “The charm wins out.”
~ Contact the editor via email at tesha@MonitorSaintPaul.com.

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