Eastcliff recognized as national historic site

Sam Kean

Eastcliff Estate, the home of University presidents since 1958, has long served as an unofficial Minnesota landmark.
But now, the word “unofficial” can be dropped from that description.
The National Park Service recently added Eastcliff to the National Register of Historic Places. According to the service’s Web site, the register lists landmarks that depict significant U.S. history and heritage, and aims to preserve them through recognition and financial assistance.
University President Mark Yudof and his wife Judy celebrated the honor with a public gathering at the end of October. They also unveiled a plaque that will soon be affixed to the house.
Within its St. Paul neighborhood, Eastcliff has long been an icon, Judy Yudof said. For many people, Eastcliff represents “their first touch with the University.”
The historic designation will pique interest in the house just in time for the University’s sesquicentennial celebration, she added.
Included in the register are the house itself, a carriage house and other buildings on the 1.6-acre site.
The mansion, which opened in 1922 and was given to the University 36 years later, was designed by famed architect Clarence Johnston.
Joyce Wascoe, associate to the president, said Eastcliff embodied characteristics of St. Paul in the 1920s. Its style and connection with Johnston, not its University connection, were the reasons for the honor, she added.
The register currently lists 1,510 sites in Minnesota including the State Capitol and Fort Snelling. This list also includes 13 buildings on the University campus.
Minnesota Historical Society director Nina Archabal said four of these University buildings — the Music Education Building, and Jones, Nicholson and Wesbrook halls — were threatened by demolition when Yudof took over as president in 1997.
Instead, Yudof restored all of them, showing his unusual commitment to promoting historical sites above financial concerns, Archabal added.
Because Eastcliff serves as a private home, residents can alter or redecorate it with private money as they see fit; if the funds are part of a federal restoration project, however, the government must approve changes.
MHS said the University has been responsible in implementing such alterations in the past.
Wascoe said the Yudofs are considering one major addition: an elevator to provide access to top floors for people who have disabilities.
Last month, the Board of Regents approved a $400,000 renovation of Eastcliff’s carriage house. The high cost is a result of the register’s strict renovation guidelines, according to University officials.
Eastcliff also has no obligation to open itself to the public, though Judy Yudof said they plan to schedule some tours in the spring and, they often sponsor public receptions and parties.

Sam Kean encourages comments at [email protected]