A Vacant Mansion

Josh Linehan

Leaves line the lawn, and the cold, overcast skies keep activity to a minimum. Walking up to Eastcliff, one gets the impression no one’s home.

Inside, little appears to counter this notion.

Gone are former University President Mark Yudof’s humidor and a big screen television from the second-floor room where he liked to spend his time.

In their stead sits some rented furniture, holding a place until a new tenant moves in and becomes the seventh president of the University to occupy the official residence.

Eastcliff will host approximately 150 events this year, even as it stands empty – temporarily, at least.

Built in 1922 and donated to the University in 1958, Eastcliff is the official University president’s residence. But since Yudof accepted a position as chancellor of the University of Texas System over the summer, it remains empty, awaiting a new guest.

Interim University President Robert Bruininks stays in the house after late events, house manager Dana Zniewski said, but elected not to live there.

“It gets kind of quiet around here lately,” he said.

Outside, Facilities Management employees work on replacing the siding around the second-floor bay windows. Eastcliff, like any 80-year-old house, requires a lot of upkeep.

The maintenance put into the house also serves as a barometer of a presidency.

Two separate boards – the Eastcliff Technical Advisory Committee, a group of faculty, staff and experts guiding the house’s renovations, and Friends of Eastcliff, a donor group which raises money for upkeep and nonessential improvements – supervise the house.

These groups were created in large part after former University President Ken Keller was pressured to resign in 1988 after extensive, unapproved house renovations.

Keller spent $528,000 to remodel the kitchen and dining room, $192,000 on painting the white mansion and an additional $207,000 on landscaping, according to an exclusive Minnesota Daily report on Feb. 11, 1988. The University had allocated just $400,000 for renovations.

Nils Hasselmo, Keller’s succesor, remained very cautious about spending public money on the house – even buying new light fixtures at Menard’s to avoid the impression of impropriety.

All told, renovations made during Hasselmo’s tenure totaled nearly $200,000, with $90,000 of public funds used.

In contrast, Yudof succeeded in upgrading the house and returning it to some of its former glory without rancor or ruffling of feathers.

While Yudof was president, the floors were stained dark to hide the amount of traffic public areas of the residence weather. New wallpaper and fixtures, as well as a new chandelier, were installed. Even Hasselmo’s light fixtures were replaced.

From 1997-2000, approximately $1.35 million of work was done to the house, largely in an attempt to restore it to its original condition.

Built for lumber magnate Edward Brooks and his family, Eastcliff features original woodwork done in many different types of wood, from the winding main staircase to the darkly stained walnut room.

Downstairs, a rumpus room features a pool table and benches set into the wood walls.

Even without a resident, Eastcliff serves as a reception area for numerous University functions, from a marching band visit to a gala held for the Ridder family, prominent donators to the women’s hockey facility.

Though many improvements have been made over the years, Eastcliff is far from an opulent mansion.

Built on a down slope with a view of the Mississippi River, the 10 city lots the house sits on pose landscaping and backyard problems.

The tennis court, long in disuse, is cracked and broken. The poolhouse and pool, which measure 4,500 square feet, are no longer used.

The house’s nine fireplaces stay cold these days, and paintings selected by Judy Yudof from University collections at the Goldstein Gallery and the Weisman Art Museum still line the walls.

Such is life for the house that is not a home, the half-public, half-private abode a University president is contractually obligated to occupy.

Josh Linehan covers student life and welcomes comments at [email protected]