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You Could Own F. Scott Fitzgerald’s House

Live in the Victorian rowhouse where a career was born

For sale: a home with a bookish past. (Holly Hayes (Flickr/Creative Commons))
smithsonian.com

Got $625,000? You could own a piece of literary history. As T. Rees Shapiro reports for The Washington Post, fans of F. Scott Fitzgerald now have the chance to purchase a Minnesota rowhouse in which he wrote one of his first and most famous novels.

The novel in question was This Side of Paradise, which launched the young author into superstardom when it was published in 1920. Fitzgerald wrote his debut novel while holed up in a bedroom in his parents’ home in St. Paul, Minnesota under tense circumstances: He was drinking heavily, had broken up with his girlfriend Zelda and hoped that if he finished and sold the book, he could win her back and marry her.

Fitzgerald’s parents moved into a unit in Summit Terrace, a collection of ornate Victorian row houses, in 1918 (four years earlier, they had moved to another house in the row). The national landmark home was designed by Clarence Johnston, a prominent Minnesota architect known for constructing some of the state’s most stately mansions. The house’s Zillow listing touts its historic features, like a “dramatic 3-story staircase,” walk-in pantry, formal dining room and three fireplaces.

It was an unlikely setting for a tortured young writer, but certainly a comfy one for book writing. To write This Side of Paradise, Fitzgerald cannibalized an earlier novel, The Romantic Egotist, he had written while in college. But This Side of Paradise was bigger and better. It’s the story of a young writer who loses the love of his life in a post World War I setting—a premise that was pretty similar to the situation Fitzgerald found himself in after he moved back home. But Fitzgerald wasn’t content to write a mere Mary Sue-type novel. Rather, he transformed a familiar coming-of-age story into a thoroughly modern novel of disaffected youth and postwar wealth and corruption.

Spoiler alert: Fitzgerald didn’t just publish the book; he got the girl, too. When the book sold, an impressed Zelda accepted his hand in marriage. “I hate to say this, but I don’t think I had much confidence in you at first,” she wrote in regard to the book. “It’s so nice to know that you really can do things—anything.” Her gushing praise was just the beginning. Critics loved Fitzgerald’s book, declaring it a work of “glorious spirit of abounding youth,” and he became an immediate literary superstar.

There’s no telling whether you’ll write your next bestseller in the house Fitzgerald once occupied, but it’s not that often you get a chance to live in a house of history for less than a cool million. But there’s a price to pay for living among literary fame—as Shapiro reports, the residents of the home must steel themselves for a cavalcade of curious tourists.

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