Alumni Voices


Alumni and philanthropists spearhead project to restore the history of the Gate Lodge

Drawing of the Gate Lodge from 1928

Preliminary drawing of the Gate Lodge, c. 1928 | Photos courtesy of Meadow Brook Archives

Meadow Brook Hall

icon of a calendarApril 15, 2022

icon of a pencilBy Kelli M. Warshefski

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It’s the late 1920s. You are invited to a party at the 1,400+ acres Meadow Brook Hall estate. Donned in your best garb, you jump into your Dodge Roadster. You drive along the Rochester Hills road and glimpse the peaks of the Tudor-style mansion ahead. But, before you can head down the winding, gravel drive, weaving through hills and meadows, past a deer park and farm buildings, to reach the 88,000-square-foot mansion, you need to first go through the gatekeeper.

The gatekeeper managed access to the estate and lived in the Gate Lodge, a two-bedroom house attached to the primary entrance of Meadow Brook Hall. He would check visitor names on the guest lists and call the hall to confirm their arrival. The gatekeeper logged each visitor’s name, license plate and time in and out.

Additionally, the gatekeeper kept tabs on the estate and its residences, Alfred Wilson and Matilda Dodge Wilson. At night, he would turn on a set of lights that crossed the mile-long drive from the Gate Lodge to the hall; when the residents returned safely home, they would hit a master switch to turn off all the lights along the drive. If the gatekeeper didn’t see the lights turn off within a few minutes of their arrival, he would call the security guard to check in.

Constructed in 1928, the Gate Lodge is approximately 1,100 square feet. It contains a kitchen, living space, bathroom and two bedrooms, along with an attached garden and chicken coop. Throughout the years, the lodge has housed a number of people, including Robert Gaylor who lived in the house from 1967-97.

“Mrs. Wilson or the gatekeepers had planted a garden in the back yard — it was 150' x 100,'” recalls Gaylor. “I planted a garden there as well. There were some flowers and vegetables that Mrs. Wilson had planted a long time ago that would come up every year.”

While not charged with the duties of the early gatekeeper, Gaylor lived in the Gate Lodge while he worked as a librarian in the Oakland University Kresge Library, taking care of the house and grounds. He would also throw yearly volleyball parties in the summer; each year the parties grew until his final year in the house when he received the greatest attendance at 400 people.

Once Gaylor moved out, however, the Gate Lodge sat vacant for more than 20 years.

In 2020, while alumni Michael Klieman, GEN ’83, was golfing at the R&S Sharf Golf Course, he noted the state of the Gate Lodge and asked his playing partner, Michael Westfall, OU’s vice president for advancement, the future plans for the building. When Westfall explained the resource challenges involved in restoring the structure, Klieman called upon fellow Oakland University golfers and alumni to help, and received an overwhelming amount of support.

“It was a shame that a huge part of history was sitting there, deteriorating,” says Klieman. “It was too valuable to let go.”

While the lodge needed a complete overhaul of renovations, the most important and glaring issue was the gate. “What was once a majestic entrance to the estate, was sagging and marred by rotten wood,” explains Madelyn Rzadkowolski, curator at Meadow Brook Hall. “The gate was completely rebuilt by a craftsman using the same techniques and materials that were used a century ago.”

Advised by Rzadkowolski and funded and executed by the Klieman donor group, the Gate Lodge is now undergoing much-needed renovations. Using blueprints, construction plans and Gaylor’s photographs of the building, Rzadkowolski is lending her expertise to help restore the house back to its original glory.

“It’s like a dream come true partnering on these renovations,” says Rzadkowolski. “We didn’t have many interior photos of the house until recently, when Robert shared his with us. Thanks to these photos, I get more and more clues on how to return it back to its original state.”

The Gate Lodge is in its early stages of renovations. So far, enough money has been raised to update the plumbing, ventilation and electrical wiring, as well as restore the bathroom and fix some structural damage to the front of the house. The next step is the kitchen: tiling, painting, flooring and bringing in appliances, all of which will resemble those from the lodge’s early years, with some minor adjustments for modern use.

“Like most kitchens of the 1920s, the room did not originally have tiled walls,” Rzadkowolski explains. “But we were concerned with creating a barrier behind the kitchen sink, so we used the original kitchen of Meadow Brook Hall to inspire the tile used.”

A fully-restored Gate Lodge is still a few years away, but Rzadkowolski, Gaylor and all those invested in its history, are excited to watch the process of bringing this remarkable treasure back to life.

“It’s been so long since I’ve lived here,” Gaylor says with a smile, recently touring through the Gate Lodge to check on renovations. “But, walking in here now, it still feels like home.”

Find out how you can help preserve the historic Gate Lodge by contacting Michael Westfall, vice president of advancement at

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