Minnesota’s governors did not have an official residence until 1965, when the daughters of lumber magnate Horace Irvine donated their family home to the state. Over the years, the house on Summit Avenue has provided Minnesota’s First Families with a comfortable home and has served as a ceremonial building for visiting dignitaries and the public alike, though not without controversy.
The effort to provide Minnesota’s governors with an official residence began in the 1940s, when the tax-forfeited home of Oliver Crosby, inventor and founder of American Hoist and Derrick, was repeatedly offered to the state. The legislature ultimately refused. Its members believed that the public would resent the governor living in such luxury during the post-World War II housing shortage. Rural legislators especially opposed the idea of an official residence.
The Minnesota governor’s residence at 1006 Summit Avenue in St. Paul began as the home of the Horace Irvine family. Irvine purchased the lot in 1910 for $7,000 and hired architect William Channing Whitney to design the approximately 16,000-square-foot Tudor-style house. When completed, the house cost $50,000. The Irvines took up residence in 1912.
Following the deaths of their parents, daughters Olivia Irvine Dodge and Clotilde (Coco) Irvine Moles deeded to the state of Minnesota on August 31, 1965. Governor Karl Rolvaag and family moved into the home on October 1. A mad scramble ensued to furnish the home in anticipation of a reception for their first state guest, Crown Prince Harald of Norway, just four days later.
Each successive governor’s family has added its own touches to the residence. In 1969, First Lady Iantha LeVander formed a committee of women to raise funds for a sculpture for a Vietnam Memorial Garden on the property. The committee held a competition for the artwork with a budget of no more than $10,000. It awarded the $5,000 prize to Paul Granlund for his sculpture Man-Nam. The finished piece, dedicated on September 27 the following year, remains a prominent feature on the grounds.
Governor Wendell Anderson and First Lady Mary Anderson remodeled the third floor into a family kitchen. Gretchen Quie established a First Lady’s portrait gallery in the lower level conference room. Governor Arne Carlson and First Lady Susan Carlson added a Peace Officers Memorial plaque in 1997 in honor of Timothy Bowe, a state trooper killed in the line of duty after leaving the governor’s security staff.
Open houses and public tours at the residence have become popular events. The Andersons welcomed 11,000 people at the first open house, held on July 4, 1973. The Quies held drawings with the winners given the opportunity to spend a night at the residence with the governor’s family.
The state legislature established the Governor’s Residence Council in 1980 to oversee the maintenance of the residence. The council includes both private citizens and state officials. To assist with raising funds in support of maintaining and furnishing the building, First Lady Gretchen Quie founded the 1006 Summit Avenue Society in 1982.
The state-owned property at 1006 Summit Avenue has not escaped controversy. Some Minnesotans have criticized the perceived “lavish lifestyle” of the governors’ families. In 1989, First Lady Lola Perpich went on the defensive by suggesting that the state sell the house and give the proceeds to the poor. In 2001, Governor Jesse Ventura asked the legislature for $4 million to either restore the residence or demolish it to make way for a new residence. The estimated value of the property at that time was $3.5 million. Governor Ventura closed the residence in April the following year after the legislature cut $175,000 from his personal security budget.
The residence operates with a full-time residence manager, assistant manager, housekeeper, chef, and groundskeeper, all appointed by the governor. The property is protected by a twenty-four hour security detail.
Over the years, the governor’s residence has hosted a wide range of visitors, including aviator Charles Lindbergh, Soviet official Mikhail Gorbachev, the families of Minnesota’s military men and women, and members of Minnesota’s sports teams.
The Irvine house celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2012. To mark the event, the 1006 Summit Avenue Society and Governor’s Residence Council co-sponsored public tours throughout the summer.
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