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Successful fundraising helps spruce Terrace Hill

Published: Monday, Nov. 4, 2013 10:53 a.m. CST

DES MOINES (AP) — Shiny new kitchen equipment, a modern furnace and fresh paintwork are among the recent updates at the historic Iowa governor’s mansion thanks to a successful fundraising campaign.

Just over $2 million has been pledged to a fundraising effort led by the Terrace Hill Foundation for improvements and to establish an endowment for the Victorian mansion donated to the state in 1971 for use as the official governor’s residence. The fundraising has exceeded the $1.6 million goal set two years ago, and several key renovation projects have already been completed.

“It turned out better than we thought,” said Barbara Filer, the Terrace Hill administrator, who has worked on and off at the mansion since 1988.

Not all the improvements to the three-story building perched on a hill just outside downtown Des Moines are visible to the public eye. About $700,000 went to fully redo the basement kitchen, which had seen little improvement since the 1970s. A new energy-efficient heating and cooling system cost $1.3 million— an expense that was shared with the state. Those updates were long overdue, said Filer.

“The Branstads love to have people visit here. They love to entertain,” she noted Friday, as the mansion was being put to rights after a Halloween bash the previous night.

Some more esthetically pleasing improvements include repairing plaster walls and repainting traditional stenciled wall art in the dining room and an upstairs hall. On deck for the future are new storm windows for the first floor and bathroom updates in the basement level.

Filer said the fundraising dollars were essential because the state only budgets about $500,000 annually for upkeep and staffing at the mansion. Some additional funding goes to two household employees.

“We’ve been conservative with state money,” Filer said. But she noted that the house is a special place to many Iowa residents. “Everybody loves it. It’s one of the neatest houses in the state of Iowa and we’re very proud of it.”

Terrace Hill was built in the late 1860s by Iowa’s first millionaire, Benjamin Allen, who outfitted the Second Empire style mansion with ornate decor and modern conveniences, such as an elevator and gas lights. When Allen fell on hard financial times, he sold the mansion to wealthy businessman Fredrick Hubbell, whose family kept the home until it was donated to the state in 1971.

Four governors have lived in Terrace Hill. Gov. Terry Branstad, who served as governor from 1983 to 1999 and then returned to office in 2011, is on his second stint in the home. The family’s private residence is on the third floor, while the first two floors are open to the public for tours.

Allison Kleis, of Two Rivers Capital, a firm that is managing the fundraising effort, said it was important to Branstad that an endowment be established for Terrace Hill. She said the fundraising campaign continues and will now focus more heavily on the endowment effort.

“We are most definitely still fundraising,” said Kleis. “One of the goals of the governor and Mrs. Branstad is to leave a legacy for Terrace Hill.”

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