“Build-your-own-pizza” nights are among the fond memories of important University of Minnesota visitors who stayed at the Wales House.
The Wales House, formerly a fraternity house, opened as bed-and-breakfast-style lodging for visiting researchers, professors and families in 1994. Its closure last month signified the end of an era for Kelly Carver, who bought and ran the guesthouse with his wife, Julieanne Carver.
“We loved meeting so many of these amazingly interesting people,” Kelly Carver said. The pair lived in the house with their two children.
The Carvers met as University students and later took jobs on campus. While working at the University, Kelly Carver saw a need for housing for University guests — whether people needed to stay for a few days or several months.
In August of 1994, the Wales House opened for business in the vacant former Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity house on the 1100 block of 5th Street SE.
The house was furnished with comfortable chairs, a chess table and trinkets gifted by guests from around the world, said Austria resident and Briton Gina Moseley, who stayed in the Wales House two to three times per year starting in 2014 for laboratory research at the University.
The house provided a niche that other short-term rental places could not: a home away from home filled with worldly people, guests said.
“You’d have breakfast with a transplant surgeon from Chile, make dinner and chat [with] a Japanese post-doctoral student or play chess with maybe an Egyptian psychologist,” said Michael Crossland, a London resident who works in partnership with the University and stayed at the house almost every year since 2006.
The guests who came to the house enjoyed having a family living alongside them, Kelly Carver said.
“It was really tough … being away from home so much,” Moseley said. “To have somewhere that’s a home to come back to, that was incredible.”
The Carvers even came to stay with Moseley in Austria once for vacation. For Crossland, the house’s Friday pizza nights are now a tradition for his family in London too, he said.
Moseley recalled “bursting into tears” when she heard the result of her home country’s Brexit referendum while staying at the house. Julieanne Carver comforted her during that time, she said.
Even with the social connections the house provided, upkeep of the house proved difficult, Kelly Carver said.
During his junior year of college, he was diagnosed with a degenerative retinal disease, which has affected his ability to maintain the house in recent years. During the first years of running the house, Kelly Carver surpassed the threshold for legal blindness.
But the changing short-term rental market, including the rise of Airbnb, has also taken a toll on his business, Kelly Carver said.
“We’re a dying breed,” he said.
But the friendships and relationships made through the Wales House continue. Both Moseley and Crossland still plan to meet with the Carvers when they come to Minnesota.
“I loved the ability to host people,” said Kelly Carver. “I loved the idea of having this really unique place and being able to call it ours.”