Saturday, August 28, 2010

Yet more historic real estate

No. No. No. The Iowa governor's mansion is not for sale. But Terrace Hill is one of the state's grandest homes and I like it --- a spectacular and extremely harmonious example of the highest Second Empire style. The photo above belongs to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, not to me, by the way.

It came to mind today when I happened upon the photo below, taken I believe by Ben Carter (although I'm not sure of that) during January of 1983 when Terry and Chris Brandstad moved in --- loading the contents of their Lake Mills home into one of Jim Siddall's big trucks and heading south.

That's interesting now because it's entirely possible that Terry and Chris will move back in next year --- providing he is elected governor again. Terry is a Republican, so of course I deplore that possibility. But poor Chet Culver, one of my beloved Democrats, has proved to be remarkably inept in several instances and is trailing badly in the polls. The big lug probably hasn't been that bad a governor as governors go --- just inept.

That of course has allowed Terry to run on a two-plank platform --- "I used to be governor" and "I'm not Chet Culver." Like death and taxes, Republicans always will be with us. So it may be necessary to adapt.

The moving-in photo was taken for The Forest City Summit, in Terry's home county of Winnebago, and since I was interested in Terrace Hill I took it after publication, stuck it into one of my Terrace Hill books and have held onto it ever since.

The governor and his family do not live in the whole house by the way. They occupy a very nice --- and spacious --- three-bedroom apartment on the third floor, inserted into an area formerly occupied by servants' rooms, storerooms and rooms for overflow guests. And no, they don't have to climb a lot of steps, unless they want to. There's a private entrance, lobby and elevator on the west side of the House, underneath and behind the porch roof railing that's just showing above the moving van.

 The first floor contains five exceedingly grand state rooms, a smaller but equally grand music room and an amazing amount of hall and cross-hall plus a very grand stair hall and staircase. Home offices for the governor and his wife, meeting rooms, VIP guest rooms and the like occupy the second floor.

The house was built for Benjamin Franklin Allen in 1866 and 1867 on a wooded hill south of Grand Avenue west of downtown Des Moines and was ready for occupancy in the spring of 1868. He spent about $250,000 on it --- imagine how much that would be now --- and then proceeded to prove the accuracy of the old adage, "fools build big houses for others to live in." In other words, he went bust.

The house and its surrounding grounds were tied up in litigation for years until finally, in 1884, Frederick M. Hubbell bought the whole shebang for $60,000. He died there in 1930 and his heirs --- some of whom still are alive and kicking and influential in Des Moines --- gave it to the state in 1971. Gov. Robert D. Ray and his family moved in during 1976. The Branstads were the second official occupants.

It has cost millions over the years to restore, remodel and maintain the house --- and there used to be quite a bit of grumbling about that. It seems to have died down, at least for now. But no matter how folks feel about the cost of upkeep, few deny that Terrace Hill is one of the state's treasures.

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