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Brucemore Celebrates 25 Years As a Thriving Corridor Attraction

Eric Clark

The Gazette

February 19, 2006

Brucemore Facts

[Note: This material is copyright by The Gazette, and is reproduced here as a matter of "fair use" for non-commercial, educational purposes only. Any other use may require the prior approval of The Gazette.]

CEDAR RAPIDS — Twenty-five years ago, Margaret Hall bequeathed Brucemore to the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
At the time, there were no plans to offer tours of the historical mansion at 2160 Linden Dr. SE. The idea was to use the mansion, which was built in 1885, for community meetings and activities.
That idea lasted only a few seconds.
‘People immediately started calling for tours,’’ said Peggy Whitworth, the only executive director Brucemore has ever had. ‘‘I had more best friends than anybody in the world.’’
The day before Whitworth started working at Brucemore, a whopping 3,300 people showed up to get the first peek inside a mansion they had gazed at for years while driving on First Avenue.
Today, Brucemore continues to make a mark in the community, with 24 employees, 200 volunteers and a full schedule of events, which includes must-sees like Bluesmore, Classics at Brucemore and Cabaret in the Courtyard. Not to mention mansion tours, which continue to draw nearly 30,000 people a year. ‘‘We are so fortunate to have a place like Brucemore,’’ said Mary C. Jones of Cedar Rapids, who has been a tour guide at the mansion since 1986. Jones points out that historical buildings are hard to come by in Cedar Rapids. ‘‘As far as I know, this is about the only historic thing we have,’’ Jones said. ‘‘We’ve torn down plenty of buildings that should have been preserved.’’
Hall ensured Brucemore’s legacy by donating the estate to the National Trust.
In the early days of the turnover, Whitworth said, there was plenty of work needed to change the mansion from a private home into a public museum. Supplies had to be bought, policies had to be set and parking lots had to be built — along with about a million other little things.
‘‘To go from a private house to a full-fledged community center was not something that could be done overnight,’’ Whitworth said.
Hall wanted the mansion to be rife with events, and Brucemore’s staff wasted no time creating a schedule of activities. One of the first events was an appearance by talk-show host Phil Donahue in 1981.
Over the years, other events have come. Some have disappeared, but many have thrived.
Whitworth considers Classics at Brucemore the estate’s premier event. Classics is an annual outdoor theater series that was founded in 1996 by Jim Kern, Brucemore’s assistant director.
Kern said he was long interested in starting an outdoor theater series but couldn’t figure out the proper way to pull it off. When he finally pitched the idea to Whitworth, she immediately offered her support.
Classics at Brucemore now draws about 5,000 people a year.
‘‘We thought the public would be interested in the series, and that ended up being true,’’ Kern said.
Although Brucemore’s staff is proud looking back on the past 25 years, Whitworth said she always is looking toward the estate’s future. Brucemore’s Web site has become a major marketing tool, with webcasts and podcasts giving potential visitors more information.
Whitworth said she strives to keep Brucemore’s mission from getting lost in the shuffle.
‘‘Brucemore isn’t just ours, it’s the community’s,’’ she said. 

Location: 2160 Linden Drive, SE, Cedar Rapids
Built: 1885
Bequeathed: 1981 to National Trust for Historic Preservation
Annual Budget: $900,000
Endowment: Unavailable
Employees: 24
Volunteers: 200
Tours: 30,000 participants a year