By Barbara Woshinsky
To commemorate the 30th anniversary of 1666 Coffman, the archive sub-group of the Library Committee has gathered a rich collection of early records. The following short account is based on these materials.
How did 1666 Coffman come to be? Our home did not spring full-blown from the Jovian heads of the Minnesota Board of Regents; rather, it emerged from the wise, graying pates of the University of Minnesota Retiree Housing Board. These visionary profs had to travel a “long and tortuous pathway” of bureaucratic procedures and neighborhood hurdles before arriving at their destination.
How to build a $6,000,000 building with no money and no land? Slowly and persistently. The idea of housing for senior U of M employees dates back to before the formation of the Retiree Housing Board in 1979, which became the U of M Retirees Housing Corporation in 1982. After diligent searching, the Housing Corporation identified a neglected parcel of university land in Falcon Heights, containing a small student residence, a bee house and “a row of scruffy shade trees” facing Larpenteur Avenue. In July, 1983, the Housing Corporation petitioned the Board of Regents to lease this 7 1/2-acre property. This proposal sparked a Star-Tribune article entitled “U Employees seek free land.” Actually, the 99-year lease agreed upon in 1984 called for a payment to the University of $3,250.91/month. This amount, and other initial costs, were met by tax increment bonds issued by the town of Falcon Heights, which was eager to receive extra revenue from the 100 planned apartments.
NIMBY. Before construction could begin, however, the Housing Corporation had to deal with objections from Faculty Grove residents, who were concerned about increased traffic from an “institutional” building located in their “back yard”—no doubt associating retired professors with nursing homes rather than with their own future selves. At a public meeting, Grovites were assured that traffic would be restricted to Larpenteur and that residents would park underground. Aesthetic concerns were allayed by architect Milo Thompson, who described his vision of an elegant “academic country house” inspired by Renaissance architecture. The Corporation also ceded an acre of the original parcel as a “buffer zone” between the neighborhood and the encroaching oldsters. This acre of land, added to a pre-existing hockey field, became the well-used Grove Park south of our property.
A vision realized. In January, 1985, the Park Bugle announced a condominium would be built in Falcon Heights to “celebrate aging;” Sales chair Leon Reisman preferred the phrase “to flower geriatrically.” Through shrewd and energetic marketing, over 60% of the units were already sold by the time of ground-breaking on May 2. The dedication of the building was celebrated on December 7, 1986, to the sound of a trumpet.
The continuing history of 1666 has brought triumphs and challenges. In Gertrude Esteros’s words, “A building which simply houses people is sterile. This building, planned to foster human growth and fulfillment, will become a living organism.” In honor of another fabled voyage—the 50th anniversary of Star Trek—let’s raise our (metaphorical) glasses in a toast: live long and prosper, 1666!
Submitted by Barbara Woshinsky, member, Library Committee and archive subgroup.
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