Lake Minnetonka Condos and Townhomes
Both the natural and built environments around Lake Minnetonka are exceptional. Of course the lake itself is the primary focus—an extraordinary visual resource located within a few miles of a major American downtown, and within a half-hour of a million people, and an hour of a million more. But the wooded, elevated shoreline encircling much of the lower (eastern) lake is essential to Minnetonka's ambiance.
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Lake Minnetonka Real Estate
Lake Minnetonka, located about a dozen miles west of Downtown Minneapolis, has been a magnet since pioneer times. The original European settlements on or near the lake were agricultural townsites: Minnetonka Mills, Excelsior, and Wayzata, all platted between 1852 and 1854. By comparison, settlement of the St. Anthony Falls east bank of the Mississippi River began in 1848; this village was incorporated into the younger, west bank town of Minneapolis in 1872.
By then, Lake Minnetonka was well-established as a resort area. Steamboats began running summer pleasure cruises in 1860. The first resort hotel was opened in 1868. Minnetonka was a regionally popular destination because of its size (with an estimated 450 miles of shoreline) and beauty, but primarily because it was accessible. After 1880, both the north and south shores were served by railroad, and large resort hotels proliferated.
Lake Minnetonka was drawn closely into the explosively growing Twin Cities area in 1905, when a streetcar line extending from Stillwater to Excelsior opened. Branch routes were soon extended westward from Excelsior to Tonka Bay, and up along the eastern shore into Deephaven. The rapid transit company opened an amusement park on Big Island at this time, intended to increase streetcar ridership. This was replaced after the First World War by an easily accessible amusement park located right next to the streetcar line, on the Excelsior lakefront.
By then, Lake Minnetonka had evolved into a metropolitan attraction, as regional tourism increasingly reached into northern Minnesota. In the 1920s, only six resort hotels were still operating, and by the 1950s, hotels and lake steamers were gone.
Community HistoryA dozen-and-a-half distinct communities and townships orient directly to the lake. The largest of these is the city of Minnetonka, with a population of more than 50,000. At the other population extreme are village-sized enclaves like Crystal Bay, located within Orono.
Each of these places has a unique history, and consequently a unique personality. As a useful generalization, the lands around Lake Minnetonka developed in three distinct patterns. One of these was in the northeast part of Lake Minnetonka, where Minneapolis First Families began to build summer houses around Wayzata Bay in the 1890s, when the railroad offered relatively convenient connections into Downtown. Meanwhile, Excelsior in the southeast attracted the middle class, once the streetcar was operating. Mound, in the west, retained a semi-rural orientation, in some ways closer to Watertown in rural Carver County than to Minneapolis, well into the postwar years.
Most of the historic structures in these three areas (and elsewhere near the lake) have disappeared (the cottage-like neighborhood just north of downtown Excelsior is a notable exception), while household income has gone upscale pretty much everywhere near the lake over the past generation. Even so, at least a subtle sense of the historic social groupings remain, especially the perception that Wayzata is the nexus of Lake Minnetonka affluence.
With the demise of resort tourism in the 1950s, Lake Minnetonka was widely understood as residential. Yet there has also been substantial business activity, whether Tonka Toys up through 1979, or Cargill, among the world's largest private corporations. TCF Financial moved its headquarter from Downtown Minneapolis to Wayzata, and numerous less-prominent companies are located nearby. Other social-cultural institutions include the Wayzata and Minnetonka yacht clubs, and the Minnetonka Art Center and Noerenberg Gardens, the latter two located almost within sight of each other in Crystal Bay.
Visual PersonalityAs already noted, each of the lakeside communities offers a distinct character, socially and physically. The residential areas east of the lake are particularly attractive, heavily wooded and broken down into countless short streets and cul-de-sacs—personable mini-neighborhoods.
The Minnetonka area has historically been an architectural treasure trove. Unfortunately, most of the Shingle Style and Colonial Revival houses of a century ago have been demolished, and many of the remaining postwar landmark houses are inaccessible to public view. Downtown Wayzata has been vamped up in recent years into a visually engaging townscape, including preservation of the 1932 Wayzata Theater marquee. Among other visual landmarks are the 1862 Trinity Episcopal Church at 332 2nd Street in Excelsior; the 1887 Camp Memorial Chapel (St. Martin's-by-the-Lake) on County Road 15 in Minnetonka Beach; and the 1963 Highcroft School at 301 Peavey Lane, west of Wayzata.
The Lake Minnetonka area offers a very wide range of housing choices, from cottages, to apartments and condos, to mansions. These are situated across a very wide range of settings, on and off the lake, in secluded lots, conventional subdivisions, and in the walkable town centers of Wayzata and Excelsior. No high rises (yet) but pretty much anything else you might wish.
On the down side, there is much less economical housing than there was up to a generation ago. Into the 1970s, it was possible to find inexpensive lakefront housing on the upper (west) lake, and here and there elsewhere not far from the lake. Those days of bargain properties are now just about over—the recent norm is relentlessly upscale. Even so, as the real-estate maxim goes, they aren't building more lakes, and Minnetonka remains a crown jewel of the metropolitan area.
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