Governor’s Residence: The people’s house

  • Article by: KIM PALMER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 17, 2012 - 6:23 PM

It's made news and welcomed newsmakers -- from Jack Nicholson to Al Gore. Now the Governor's Residence is 100, and ready to celebrate.

No, we can't drop by unannounced, but as citizens of Minnesota, we're the collective landlords of the state-owned house at 1006 Summit Avenue.

First built as a lumber baron's private home, it has served as the official governor's residence for almost five decades. The current tenant of the of the $2.9 million mansion is Gov. Mark Dayton.

It's a house with a split personality -- part residence and part ceremonial headquarters -- that has produced its share of drama and headlines over the years. It's been kicked around like a political football, prompting news conferences and televised tirades about its condition, who's responsible and who did what on its premises.

But through all the residence's ups and downs, it's remained "The People's House," a place where Minnesotans can come together and celebrate their history and heritage -- when it's open, which isn't often, and only in the few rooms the public is allowed to see.

Even Vicki Ford, who grew up having the run of the place when it was her grandparents' house, had to get in line with the rest of the tourists last week to join a public tour.

Ford loved seeing the rooms where she once played the Victrola, learned to make polite dinner conversation and sipped Coca-Cola while the grown-ups had cocktails in the den. But she doesn't regret that her longtime family home is no longer in the family.

"When the state decided it would take it on and make it into a residence for the people, we were thrilled," recalled Ford, who lives in Bronxville, N.Y., and was in town to see "Coco's Diary," the new play based on her late mother's life in the mansion. "The house is part of Minnesota's roots. It needs to be shared."

It's going to be shared plenty this year, as it celebrates its 100th anniversary with expanded tours and festive events.

"We're using the whole year as a catalyst for fundraising and community outreach," said Kristin Parrish of the 1006 Summit Avenue Society, a nonprofit group dedicated to preserving the residence. She is co-chairing the 100th anniversary celebration.

Like any old house, it needs work, she said. "It's a beautiful home. It's holding up. But there are lots of continual little projects."

The mansion lived a quiet private life during the decades it was home to the Irvine family. But after it was donated to the state in 1965, it became Minnesota's version of "Upstairs, Downstairs," only in reverse.

While governors and their families make their home in the second-floor living quarters, the first floor and lower level are official ones, used to host visiting dignitaries and gubernatorial staff meetings. (The third floor morphs to suit the First Family's needs. Originally a ballroom, it was converted to a playroom, then an exercise room. Now it's used for storage.)

The home's interior looks much like it did when the Irvines lived there, according to Parrish, with the exception of the kitchen, which has been updated. "It has to be able to handle state dinners and parties," she said.

Yet official residents have added their own touches. A bench in the front hall, for example, is upholstered with a cherub tapestry fabric that First Lady Terry Ventura discovered in the attic.

Original woodwork that was bleached when blond wood was in vogue was restored to its dark color during Gov. Arne Carlson's tenure.

There's plenty of elegant furniture, but it belongs to the residence and is selected by the 1006 Summit Avenue Society. "Artwork is the one thing in the residence the First Family can change," a tour guide noted. Governors can display pieces from their own collections, as Dayton does, and borrow pieces from local museums.

The residence comes with five full-time staffers (down from 10): a chef, a manager, an assistant, a housekeeper and a groundskeeper, plus 24-hour security. Staff offices are in the carriage house, which is connected by tunnel. Staffers don't live in the residence, but often work irregular hours.

"We're here if there's a dinner," said assistant manager Cherie Yates. "We work the event, help serve food and clean up." They'll get the governor a snack (often yogurt and granola). But they're there to help with state business, not to be at the governor's personal beck and call. "We can't walk the dogs," Yates said. "As state employees, we can care for the residence but not his dogs. He has a personal assistant."

Dan Creed, who served as residence manager during the Ventura administration, remembers it as a demanding yet exhilarating time. "I loved that job," he said. "We did 200 events a year; the place was rocking."

His high point was a visit by Vice President Al Gore, wife Tipper and a brigade of Secret Service. "They invited the staff to take a tour of Air Force Two," Creed recalled, and the vice president gave him a pair of cufflinks. "He said it was one of the best times they had, that they were able to relax."

Creed was laid off, along with the rest of the staff, when Ventura closed the residence. Still, Creed, who now teaches business and hospitality at Normandale Community College, plans to attend one of this year's public tours.

"I miss it very much," he said of the mansion. "I want to see it again and relive those memories."

Kim Palmer • 612-673-4784

  • related content

  • The residence's first century

    Saturday March 17, 2012

    Notable events and residents through the past 100 years.

  • A year of celebrating

    Saturday March 17, 2012

    Events to honor the mansion

  • The drawing room in the Governor's Residence in St. Paul

  • Governor's mansion on Summit Av.

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close