Socially Savvy: Eastcliff Garden Party


The official home of the President of the University of Minnesota has been the site of truly lovely parties for nearly 90 years. Eastcliff, the Georgian white-clapboard mansion overlooking the Mississippi River in Minneapolis, was built in 1922 by lumberman Edward Brooks. Donated to the University in 1958, it is the second presidential mansion in the university’s 160-year history.

The mansion has seen its fair share of governors, presidents, and dignitaries. Currently, the stately home is the residence of outgoing President Robert Bruininks and his wife, Susan Hagstrum. In their nine years at Eastcliff, they have overseen a busy schedule of more than 150 parties and a staggering 8,000 visitors per year. Truly a people’s house, it is the venue for functions ranging from formal dinners with state officials to receptions for all graduating University students.

Eastcliff Mansion, prepared for a garden party; The elegant buffet with its flowers, cut from the gardens of Eastcliff. Photos by Sean Ryan

The home is maintained with state funds, but also supported through countless private gifts and fundraisers. The University of Minnesota Technical Advisory Committee oversees capital campaigns, while the Friends of Eastcliff, a board of private citizens and University officials, is charged with raising funds.

On a lovely sunny day in June, Friends of Eastcliff President Linda Cohen and Party Chair Kathy Beenan, along with their steering committee, oversaw one of Eastcliff’s great seasonal parties: The Friends of Eastcliff Garden Party. The annual event is a chance for Friends members to mingle, and enjoy their fundraising efforts.

Stepping onto the terrace from the hall, guests at the garden party were greeted by a beautiful vista of white umbrellas, linens, and a tent on the lawn.

Knowing how to handle crowds, the polished staff was able to make all guests feel comfortable through simple space arrangements. The main hallway in the home filtered guests in several directions, with some drawn to the iced tea and lemonade on the terrace, and others to a wine bar set up in the sunroom. The dining room at the north end of the home was set with an elegant buffet of finger-foods, presided over by a massive floral arrangement set in a great silver tureen.

Among the well-manicured gardens of maroon and gold University of Minnesota-grown plants, guests spoke of the wonderful additions to the landscape and the accomplishments of President Bruininks during his tenure.

Promptly at 4 p.m., the University of Minnesota Marching Band appeared from around the corner of the house, marching in time to old university favorites. As the band finished and guests returned to their seats, Linda Cohen, Chair of Friends of Eastcliff briefly introduced the guests and Susan Hagstrum, who said she and Bruininks were thankful for the time they’d been able to spend at Eastcliff. She told of an old burr oak tree on the grounds that had to be removed, but that now “lives on” in new furnishings in the home, crafted from its wood. Cohen presented a beautiful framed mirror made from the same tree to the couple as a gift of appreciation for their dedication to the residence.

The Brooks family, which had donated the residence to the University, also was thanked for their generosity. Since their donation of the residence, the children and grandchildren of Edwin Brooks have helped maintain the legacy of Eastcliff. A recent project they were involved in was the restoration of the Eastcliff miniature, a scaled down version of the home as it appeared in the 1940s. It was originally crafted, down to the finely woven miniature rugs, by Markel Brooks and Elsa Mannheimer. A fitting symbol for all the people involved in this wonderful home, the restoration of the miniature represents all that has been done to maintain and preserve the residence for the University of Minnesota for years to come.

At the close of the party, President Bruininks was invited to join the marching band. A well-schooled trumpet player, he jumped right in creating a memorable farewell to the party and his era as University of Minnesota President.

• Invitations Since they were for a garden party, the invitations usually feature a bright floral photo. This year it was hydrangeas. Included with the party details was a list of all the Friends of Eastcliff members who had made the event possible. The invitation also advised “Please wear a hat!” a longstanding tradition not overlooked by the well-dressed guests.

• Décor
Eastcliff is decorated in muted tones (except for the gilded peacock bar in the front hall), forming a neutral background for fabulous floral arrangements created by Jim Bernier, a staff member. With the University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum providing plants for the grounds, cutting from this garden reaps rewards. This year, huge peonies and gorgeous lupines graced the elegant rooms.
• Menu Prepared by Gourmet Thyme with the support of University Dining Services, the menu featured finger foods including a goat cheese-topped cayenne shortbread cracker and savory antipasto platters. Desserts ranged from delicate lemon meringues to decadent chocolate brownies. Crystal carafes of iced tea and lemonade were offered on the terrace while wine, provided by event sponsor Big-Top Liquors was poured by staff members in the solarium.
• Party Time As guests approached the home through the white picket gates, they were greeted by President Bruininks under the side porch, where they received a name badge. The beauty of Eastcliff is that it can handle crowds, so upon first entry, it is easy to move about. The beautifully planted terrace offered a perfect garden party backdrop. With the lovely weather, the event depended on outdoor seating and a tent for guests, provided by event sponsor Après Party Rental. As with the home’s exterior, the furnishings were white-on-white-on-white, except for a bright gold stripe through the large frame tent.
• Program Everyone loves a grand entrance, flashbulbs and prospects for the future. But what about goodbyes? Since it was President Bruininks and Susan Hagstrum’s last garden party in the home, the entertainment was especially theatrical, including the marching band and Bruininks’ own musical participation. Hail! Minnesota anyone?

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