Taking a guided tour inside Eastcliff

by Matt Graham

;Eager for attention from visiting faces, the flat-coated retrievers, Foster and Glory, help create a scene common to homes all across the country.

But Eastcliff is anything but an ordinary home.

Donated to the University in 1958 by the family of lumber magnate Edward Brooks, Eastcliff has served as the home of seven University presidents, with Bob Bruininks and wife Susan Hagstrum as its current occupants.

Drawing its name from its location atop the East Bank of the Mississippi River, the two-story Georgian colonial style house features 20 rooms, nine fireplaces and was designed by renowned architect C.H. Johnston Sr. He also designed many other University buildings, including those lining Northrop Mall.

In 2000, the property was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The home, commissioned to be built in 1922, has had many renovations during its long history but still maintains its 1920s charm.

Visitors to the home might be surprised to see a dirt path cutting across the front yard and stretching to the back, where an industrial dumpster sits loaded with debris next to parked Bobcats, their scoops filled with gravel.

Workers have been busy since July transforming what Bruininks called a “pretty ugly” tennis court that had fallen into disuse to what is hoped to be a green community gathering place, fitting in with the awnings, vines, shrubs and flowers covering the rest of the elaborately landscaped backyard.

Bruininks said he hopes to turn the mansion into more of a hub of the University community, fitting with a 15-year trend that began with the formation of the Friends of Eastcliff, a group devoted to raising private funds for the property’s upkeep.

The mansion hosts approximately 150 events and receives 7,500 guests annually, including 1,500 students last year.

“It’s not uncommon for me to walk home and see 40 or 50 visitors here,” Bruininks said.

The house’s interior is constructed of red brick and a different variety of handcrafted wood in each room.

Artwork from the University’s Weisman, Bell and Tweed collections lines the wall along with hundreds of books, a sign of the residents’ academic leanings.

Hagstrum said the house has numerous secret compartments, including one that still holds the wedding bouquet of former University President Nils Hasselmo’s wife.

Signs of changes made to the property throughout the years are evident everywhere.

One bare, concrete room in the basement houses an early 1900s clothes dryer sitting mere feet from broadband Internet wiring.

Hagstrum said she is afraid to check if the dryer still works, emphasizing its age.

“That’s a remnant of the old, old era,” she said.

Some of the house’s artifacts are too rare to be replaced.

The Peacock Bar is a small, art deco side room by the foyer. It has an arched roof and is walled with mirrors, all featuring peacock designs. One of the mirrors has a giant crack, but cannot be replaced.

The main floor and basement are left primarily for public use while the president and his wife keep their living area upstairs.

Bruininks and Hagstrum share the master bedroom, which is adjoined by two connecting offices, one for each of the married couple.

Bruininks uses the back office, which is the same room Edward Brooks locked himself in before he died.

“They had to break the door down to get to (Brooks),” Hagstrum said.

While she hasn’t seen any ghosts, Hagstrum joked that the room does sometimes give her an eerie feeling.

The upstairs also features several guest bedrooms and a workout room that Hagstrum calls “our room of good intentions.”

House manager Dana Zniewski said the house employs several three-quarter time employees, though the number varies depending on the time of year, with summer requiring extra people for landscaping chores.

Despite the restaurant-style kitchen, Hagstrum noted that they do not employ a chef, but take care of their own food.

She said she and Bruininks are particularly fond of Thai food.

Visibly enthusiastic about the property, Hagstrum said, “It’s an honor and a privilege to live here.”

Calling the residence “one of the state’s cultural properties,” Hagstrum said she desperately wants more student groups to make use of the property, which they can do for free.

“I’d love to have more student groups here,” the former teacher said. “Students are fun.”