CORONAVIRUS

Brucemore ready to welcome visitors for outside-the-mansion experiences

A tour group walks the grounds of Brucemore in Cedar Rapids in 2016. Personalized outdoor tours for groups of two to six
A tour group walks the grounds of Brucemore in Cedar Rapids in 2016. Personalized outdoor tours for groups of two to six people are being offered Thursdays to Sundays, focusing on the history and stories of the 26-acre estate and the families and staff who lived there. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
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The doors to Brucemore mansion, the Visitors Center and the venerable property’s other vintage buildings remain closed during the pandemic, but the estate’s 26 acres in the heart of Cedar Rapids provide plenty of living history to explore — safely.

According to Brucemore’s website: “The story of Brucemore, at its core, is the story of three families: the Sinclairs who built it, the Douglases who transformed it, and the Halls who gave it to the community. The wealth of these families allowed them freedom to pursue their cultural and philanthropic interests. Each of these families created a home at Brucemore which reflected their passions.”

Those stories can be told outdoors.

“What we’re looking to do in the weeks and months ahead is to design ways to enjoy the property that are engaging and safe,” said David Janssen, Brucemore’s executive director. “We don’t want people to expect to see our traditional menu of options. We are re-creating the experiences from the ground up. ...

“What Brucemore has been really good at in the last nearly four decades is finding innovative ways to use this residence for purposes for which it was not designed,” he said.

“If you’ve been to any of our programming in the last 40 years, you’ll see how we’ve adapted to change. This is another adaptation. It’s another chance for the staff to flex their muscles and find new ways to do things, with the absolute focus on being as safe as we possibly can with our space, our performers and our staff.”

The site is open daily for casual strolls on your own, through the vibrant gardens, an orchard, pond, timber, the sweeping front lawn and past the buildings. Once home to lions and dogs, buried long ago in the pet cemetery, visitors’ pets on leashes are allowed on Brucemore’s grounds, too, but be sure to pick up after your pooch.

Gates are open 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Sunday, and admission is free.

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If you’re looking for a little deeper dive into the stories behind this 19th-century National Trust for Historic Preservation site, personalized tours for two to six people are being offered through Sept. 6, as the grounds reopen for organized activities.

Guided tours led by Brucemore staff members step off from the Visitors Center at 1, 2 and 3 p.m. Thursday through Sunday, at $9 per person, by online reservation only. Participants are asked to fill out a survey when ordering tickets, so staff members can tailor the tours to individual interests.

Groups can choose two of the following options:

• Spend a fun afternoon with family/friends

• Explore historic content

• See something beautiful

• Enjoy time outside

• Gain knowledge of a particular person or event

• Experience a connection to history

• Learn more about Cedar Rapids

Safety protocols will be in place, with participants committing to either wearing masks or staying 6 feet away from the guide and any other people they may encounter. Likewise, safety protocols also are requested of people who are exploring the grounds on their own.

Cultural Events

The other outdoor activities reflect Margaret Douglas Hall’s desire for the property to become a cultural hub.

Need a gnome for your home? Artists from the Iowa Ceramics Center and Glass Studio will guide up to 18 masked participants through making one of these sprightly symbols of good luck. The workshop will be held from 1 to 2:30 p.m. Saturday. Cost is $30. All materials will be supplied, and the creations will be fired in the Ceramics Center’s kilns in the Cherry Building.

Cabaret in the Courtyard is being re-imagined on a smaller scale for weekends from Aug. 13 to Sept. 6. Musical fare includes hits from Broadway and coffee shops in “Unforgettable & Unplugged,” and hits from the ’70s and ’80s showcased in “Hair & Product.” Guests may bring their own snacks and beverages, since none will be available on-site.

Brucemore staff members have been working with a scale model of the Courtyard to work out physical distancing for the stage and table arrangements. Cost is $100 for a table for four, limited to people who come together. Groups will not be mixed to fill tables.

Shutdown ups & downs

The hardest part of having most of the staff work remotely during the shutdown has been “feeling physically disconnected from the estate, and emotionally disconnected with serving our mission,” Janssen said.

“I know that sounds lofty, but there’s a great deal of pride on the part of the staff in preserving the estate — a great deal of satisfaction we derive from watching people enjoy the estate as much as we do. None of us is in it for the money — it’s a nonprofit. One of the greatest rewards we have in our profession is service to that mission.”

He’s thankful the preservation work has been able to continue safely, especially since the current phase involves restoring and preserving the woodwork around the windows and doors, to keep the elements outside and deterioration at bay. Other work around the property involves upgrading the infrastructure and the power drops for cultural events, as well the lighting along the driveways for safety during evening performances.

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“The estate was designed to be a family residence, not host to thousands and thousands of people,” Janssen noted.

The closure also has allowed for time to enhance Brucemore’s website, with more history and resources for exploring the estate online, and to do those “someday” tasks.

But the doors will stay closed for the foreseeable future, since it’s too hard to clean the mansion and other interiors between public use. And unlike purpose-built museums with wide-open galleries, the mansion’s rooms are relatively small and full of antiques, putting people in too-close proximity. No one knows how long it will take, or if Santa will have to hear wish-lists outside this year.

However, Brucemore is committed to helping performers rebound from the pandemic and find their audiences again.

“We’re excited about seeing people come back, and sharing the property when it’s safe,” Janssen said, “but we also feel the responsibility to help the artistic community recover, as well.”

So for now, that means in the great outdoors.

If You Go

• What: Outdoor events

• Where: Brucemore, 2160 Linden Dr. SE, Cedar Rapids

• Gates open: 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Sunday; stroll the grounds on your own; pets allowed on leashes, owners must remove waste

• Personalized tours: 1, 2 and 3 p.m. Thursday to Sunday through Sept. 6; $9 person, limited to groups of two to six people

• Art in the Garden: Outdoor ceramics workshop, 1 to 2:30 p.m. Saturday; $30, includes supplies; face coverings required

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• Unforgettable & Unplugged: Broadway to coffee shop concert in the Courtyard, 7:30 p.m. Aug. 13 to 16 and 27 to 30; $100 per table seating up to four people

• Hair & Product: ’70s and ’80s music in the Courtyard, 7:30 p.m. Aug. 20 to 23 and Sept. 3 to 6; $100 per table seating up to four people

• Details and tickets: Click on the dates at Brucemore.org/events/calendar/

Comments: (319) 368-8508; diana.nollen@thegazette.com

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