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Swan Turnblad did what many rich people did at the turn of the century; he built an imposing residence. It was a way to impress and show his wealth.
The family’s trips to Europe gave inspiration to the style of the mansion. In 1903, the Turnblads commissioned the architects Christopher Boehme and Victor Cordella to design their French Chateauesque mansion. In the spring of 1903, the family purchased six lots on the corner of 26th and Park Avenue and got a building permit. Construction of the mansion took approximately five years.
The masonry constructor of the house was Ben (Bengt) Aronson, who with his brother Louis did the masonry work on the Minneapolis Court House, the first three floors of the Guaranty Loan Building, Temple Court, Dania Hall, and the Donaldson’s Glass Block. Chicago Art Institute-trained artist Herman Schlink performed much of the detailed exterior stone carving on the building as well as the plaster ornamentation in all the ceilings. The cabinet and woodworking firm Aaron Carlson Company, still in existence today, was responsible for all the woodwork of the mansion. The company sent out a call for woodcarvers and soon had 18 craftsmen assigned to the job. The highly detailed woodcarvings in the mansion were performed by hand-selected artists Ulrich Steiner and Albin Polasek.
The Turnblads purchased eleven tile stoves, or kakelugnar, in Sweden. Two were made by the Rörstrand Porcelain Company in Stockholm; seven at the Uppsala-Ekeby Porcelain Factory in Uppsala and two are unidentified. No two are alike. Since central heating had been installed in the mansion, they were probably purchased mainly for decorative purposes.
The “barn” or the carriage house, housed Turnblad’s automobiles. It had a turntable that was used to turn the automobiles around. There is some documentation to suggest that Swan Turnblad was the first person in Minneapolis to own a commercially manufactured electric automobile.
Swan and Christina officially lived in the mansion from 1908 to 1929, but they also retained an apartment during that time, which may be where they largely lived especially after 1915. In the census of 1910, two servants living in the carriage house are mentioned at the Turnblad mansion: John and Carolina Gustafsson, a married couple, (married 1892) both immigrated 1890.
In December 1929 the Turnblad family donated their mansion at Park Avenue, Svenska Amerikanska Posten and the Posten office building and residence downtown, to the American Institute for Swedish Art, Literature and Science- what eventually came to be the American Swedish Institute.
Adapted from “Snoose Boulevard and The Golden Mile: Swedish immigrant life in Minneapolis in the early 1900s”, by Ebbe Westergren