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Walz, family move into Eastcliff

Minnesota’s First Family move-in becomes the first time elected officials have lived in the mansion.
Image by Photo by CJ Bonk
Gov. Tim Walz (DFL) in his office in the Capitol on Friday July 21, 2023.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz (DFL), who recently moved into the University of Minnesota’s Eastcliff Mansion off of East River Road, said he has already seen a beautiful sunset against the Minneapolis skyline.

“The style is just lots of big windows,” Walz said. “It was just beautiful.”

The view looking over the river has been a part of Walz’s appreciation for the home even before he moved in.

“I do remember I visited, it was early in my congressional career, [and] I got invited by President [Robert] Bruininks at the time and had the opportunity to go see it,” Walz said, referring to the University president who lived in the house from 2002 to 2011. “It’s a beautiful home.”

Walz and his family — his wife Gwen, son Gus, and his dog and cat — moved into Eastcliff on July 10 after the Board of Regents approved a lease in April for the First Family to temporarily live there through September 2024. The governor’s mansion on St. Paul’s Summit Avenue started renovations in June and, according to the StarTribune, will likely take more than a year.

“The foundation cracked and the whole house is sinking,” Walz said. “This isn’t like a renovation to put in a pool or something.”

After looking at a lease in Dakota County, Walz said the First Lady started looking at other opportunities. The timing was such that the University’s mansion was going to be empty after former president Joan Gabel announced her resignation.

Interim-president Jeffrey Ettinger is living at a non-University residence off campus, according to a University spokeswoman.

Vice President for University Services Alice Roberts-Davis — who was commissioner for the Department of Administration in Walz’s cabinet before coming to the University — said the Walzes can make the house theirs as much as they want. According to a University spokeswoman, Roberts-Davis recused herself from leasing negotiations because of her transition from the state to the University.

“They moved around some paintings and just made it more of a home for them, because they will be there for the next 18 months,” Roberts-Davis said, also mentioning the family brought furniture from the Governor’s Residence.

Walz said he and his family are getting settled into the space and have started to make it their own. He noted “a little different demographic” at the mansion because of his high-school-age son and his dog and cat, Scout and Afton.

“The home is meant to be used. It’s meant to be a place of welcoming for dignitaries coming in, legislators, things like that. But, on the second floor, it’s where we live,” Walz said. “It kind of feels like the place woke up.”

Walz still plans on hosting regular gatherings that would normally happen at the Governor’s Residence, like trick-or-treating on Halloween or decorating the house for Christmas. 

However, Eastcliff — usually a University center for fundraising — will find other spaces. Roberts-Davis said the University “has effectively turned over the property to the governor and his family for the next 18 months.”

The Regents announced in December they needed roughly $15 million to renovate and sustain the building, including projects like structural stabilization and window replacement, according to the StarTribune. The University proposed its early version budget request for next year and did not ask for money for renovating the property.

“I don’t want a thumb on the scale — the U will make a decision on where they go,” Walz said. “Personally, I would say this is an amazing piece of Minnesota history that belongs to the University of Minnesota. I would just hate to see that go.”

The family who initially donated Eastcliff to the University, the Brooks family, and a donation fund started by Pat Hasselmo — wife of former University president Nils Hasselmo — have financially supported the building in the past, according to former Eastcliff resident Karen Kaler. Kaler, wife of former University president Eric Kaler, lived in the house from 2012 to 2019.

Kaler also wrote an extensive history of the home, culminating in a book published in late April 2023.

Walz, nonetheless, is still enjoying the large windows.

“They’re both beautiful,” Walz said, referring to Eastcliff and the Governor’s Residence. “This is not in my official duty, it’s me personally: I think the architect and design of Eastcliff, because of all the windows, it seems really appealing.”

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