ST. PAUL, Minn. — In the summer of 1919, a brokenhearted 22-year-old Army lieutenant climbed to the third floor of his parents’ rowhouse in St. Paul, Minn., and began to write a novel. He pinned the outline of his manuscript to the curtains of the bedroom window.
Those pages became “This Side of Paradise,” and the months its young author, F. Scott Fitzgerald, spent toiling on it made him a literary sensation. Published in the spring of 1920, the novel sold out quickly and earned him acclaim, remuneration and the woman of his dreams: He married Zelda Sayre, who had quickly reconsidered his romantic entreaties in light of the promise of his debut.
At least partially, Fitzgerald owed his career to the solitude of that quaint bedroom on the top floor of his parents’ St. Paul home. In 1971, the Interior Department recognized the significance of the brownstone by declaring it a registered national landmark.
And now that home is for sale. Just think about it: A relic of America’s cultural history can be yours for $625,000.
The 3,500-square-foot residence dating to 1889 is located at 599 Summit Ave., just blocks from the governor’s mansion in a leafy, upper-class neighborhood. The home has four bedrooms, including the one occupied by Fitzgerald in July and August of 1919. He was known to step out for cigarette breaks onto a narrow ledge beyond the bedroom windows. Attached to the wall next to a door is a brass speaking tube that he used to call down for lunch.
For the past 19 years, Michael and Nancy Jones have lived in the house, but they’ve decided to offer the place for sale to relocate to a more rural area in Minnesota.
“We’ve finally decided to go back to our roots,” Michael said.
In the two decades they have lived there, the Joneses have become used to strangers, onlookers and tourists taking pictures of their home, peeking through the windows or knocking on the door asking for a tour of “the Fitzgerald museum.” (Although the Joneses pay homage to Fitzgerald with copies of his books on their shelves, the house is not a museum.)
Michael Jones said that he’s a voracious reader — the spines of Dick Francis thrillers and Ken Follett sagas adorn their bookcases. But the man who has lived in the house Fitzgerald called home is not much of a fan of the great American novelist, an alcoholic who died of a heart attack at 44, having squandered his fortune.
Fitzgerald’s New York Times obituary stated that “Mr. Fitzgerald in his life and writing epitomized ‘all the sad young men’ of the post-war generation. With the skill of a reporter and ability of an artist he captured the essence of a period when flappers and gin and ‘the beautiful and the damned’ were symbols of the carefree madness of an age.”
When you’ve shared the same house as Fitzgerald, you become closely acquainted, which doesn’t necessarily lead to admiration. “You know Scott,” Jones says, “was, umm, a leader in the moment of decadence. He and Zelda were the leading partyers of the day. I’ve thought of myself as having more middle-class American values.”
“I didn’t feel compelled to read any others,” Jones said.
So with the house on the market, the Joneses will beat on, boats against the current, to a quieter life in the countryside.
T. Rees Shapiro is a reporter for The Washington Post.