50 Years of the Sea Villas

  • Dec 18, 2018

We all know that recognizable sign, “Lutsen Sea Villa Townhomes” indicating you’ve made it to Lutsen. Have you ever stayed in a Sea Villa? Do you know what makes them distinct? How about the interesting history behind the development? Built in 1968, the Sea Villas are now celebrating 50 years of accommodating visitors to the North Shore.

log cabins next to the ocean

The primary reason for building the Sea Villas was to fill a growing need for lodging that Lutsen Mountains Ski Area demanded in the winter months. The units are situated right on the shore of Lake Superior, an inland sea. The design was based on a Scandinavian ski villa. Hence the name – “Sea Villas”.  

They were originally developed by George Nelson Jr. and Irving Hansen, the owner of Isak Hansen Hardware. 57 units were built in two phases on two parcels of land separated by a small resort with five seasonal cabins. Believe it or not, the whole idea of townhomes and condominiums was very new back in the late 60’s. The Sea Villas were the first lodging of this kind in Minnesota. A unit could be purchased and used exclusively as a vacation home or contracted with “Lutsen Resort” to manage and rent out the property. This model is now used widely both within resorts and through private homes. 

The small resort property that separated the East and West Sea Villa units was purchased from the Running family in 1990, uniting the Sea Villa properties into one continuous parcel. The picturesque red cabin located on the point is the only remaining cabin from that era. It is now used as housing for resort staff in the summer months. The larger house across from the Guest Services Building is now used for housekeeping purposes, but it will always be referred to as the “Running House”.  

In the mid-90’s a villa owner and architect, Rich Wolfgramm, designed phase one of the Guest Service Building. This was the reception section and it was created in the style of Edwin Lundie who designed the Lodge at Lutsen Resort. The second phase, the recreation/pool building, was designed by SMMA Architects and was completed in 1998. The Sea Villas also feature a playground and a network of hiking trails. 

The Sea Villas have welcomed hundreds of thousands of guests over the years and they remain as a unique lodging experience on the North Shore. They are grand-fathered in as one of the closest properties to Lake Superior and they have large glass windows highlighting this advantage. The Lutsen-Villa Owners Association has created standards that all Sea Villas must abide to. Many have been updated several times since they were built. Most feature fun lofts for kiddos and some are pet-friendly. For some, a trip to the Sea Villas has been a family tradition for all 50 years.