Too bad houses can’t talk. The massive mansion on Lake Minnetonka that music producer James “Jimmy Jam” Harris called home during the 1990s would undoubtedly have some star-studded tales to tell.
Singer Janet Jackson was a frequent guest. Former Timberwolves player Kevin Garnett, who married Harris’ wife’s sister, reportedly spent time there. During the years that Harris and his songwriting/producing partner Terry Lewis operated Flyte Tyme studio in the Twin Cities, they collaborated with a who’s who of musical luminaries, including Michael Jackson, Mariah Carey, Boyz II Men and Usher. The producing duo is tied at No. 3 (with Elvis’ producer) for most No. 1 singles.
Harris’ former house, all 23,000 square feet of it, boasts everything you’d imagine in the home of a Grammy-winning mogul: seven bedrooms, 11 bathrooms, indoor and outdoor pools, a sauna, 12 garage stalls including one deep enough for a limo, a three-story master suite and a theater — complete with box office. That’s not all. There’s a hair salon, an exercise studio and two staff apartments with their own elevator from the garage.
“It’s California-style contemporary, built to display art,” said real estate agent Scott Stabeck of Edina Realty, who is seeking a buyer. “It’s a Hollywood, look-at-me kind of property.”
Harris reportedly spared no expense during the Minnetrista home’s construction, at a rumored cost of more than $10 million. Built by the late Bruce Bren, the house represented “the best of the best at that time ,” according to Stabeck. “Any contractor who worked on it will tell you that.”
The ultra-glam dwelling was featured in Ebony magazine shortly after it was built.
But the house fell on hard times after Harris moved his family and his business to Los Angeles. On the market for more than a year, it eventually sold for $7 million in 2007, and went into foreclosure a few years later. Now bank-owned, “it needs a little TLC,” Stabeck acknowledged. “Everything is 1991 contemporary” — soaring ceilings, walls of glass, skylights, white-on-white interiors and lots of mirrors. “It’s not a ‘Minnesota house.’ If it was traditional, it would be easier to sell.”
More TVs than a sports bar
The house’s overwhelming size, its need for updates and its coveted 296 feet of prime Lake Minnetonka shoreline have prompted speculation that it might be a candidate for a teardown. That’s always a possibility, Stabeck acknowledged, but he remains optimistic he’ll find a buyer with the interest and the means to make it his or her own. (Valued at $6.4 million for tax purposes, the house is now listed for $4.275 million after a recent price reduction. The property taxes are $94,000 a year.)
“I think it’s going to be renovated,” he said. “It’s such a legendary property. Somebody’s going to have a lot of fun with the house. There’s so much here you can work with.”
The house includes many one-of-a-kind built-ins, including a circular, solid marble dining table built into the circular dining room. The master suite includes a built-in bed platform and matching TV console, while the his-and-hers offices come with built-in desks — his a massive slab of limestone, hers antiqued wood, French Provincial style. The hallway outside Harris’ former office features built-in display niches that reportedly held the producer’s Grammy Awards.
At one point, there were 86 TVs in the house, according to Stabeck, including one entire wall of screens, some connected to security cameras. “The bank took out 56, but there are 30 left.”
That’s the way love goes
A lakeside guest room, where Janet Jackson, godmother to the eldest of the Harrises’ three children, was rumored to stay for months at a time, includes a fireplace, wet bar, luxury bath and walk-in closet. “At the time, it was quite the little suite,” Stabeck said.
In a 1998 interview with the Star Tribune, Jackson talked about staying with the Harrises while in town working on her albums. “Minneapolis means a lot to me, it’s like my home away from home,” she said. (The fuse panel is still labeled “Janet’s bedroom,” according to Stabeck.)
Although the house is vacant, some details are just as the Harris family left them, including grand, distinctive window treatments, decorative painting — faux marble finishes at the theater entrance, and a mural of flowers and butterflies in a child’s room — and a huge play structure in the playroom. The lower-level bar still boasts a red neon “Jimmy Jam” in script.
“It’s original. Nothing has been touched,” Stabeck said. The bank has invested $90,000 in the property, including installation of five new furnaces, “trying to get things presentable for a buyer, so they don’t think they have to tear it down. I sure hope it isn’t going to go that way.”
He’s shown the house to 14 prospective buyers, and is planning an open house from 1-4 p.m. on Oct. 6.
“It’s an iconic house,” he said. “It would be a shame for it to go.”