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.
By Barbara Woshinsky
Original published in the October 2016 issue of 1666 Coffman Newsletter
Read Episode 1
The next morning, I was sitting drinking café con leche in the tiny kitchen of my Coconut Grove cottage. This old Miami neighborhood was once a haven for artists and hippies. Its bohemian flavor has been largely submerged under shopping malls and high-rise condos, but some of the old residential streets still keep their secluded charm: coral rock houses nestle on large lots shaded by live oaks, and you sometimes come across a road with a gumbo limbo tree growing right in the center. At night, it can feel like you’re driving into a forest—a nice respite from a city mostly buried in asphalt.
Before the divorce, I lived in a neo-provençal mansionette in Pinecrest, a pricy but characterless suburb south of Miami. Flat as a pancake, it boasts neither pines nor crests. I call it “Piecrust” because it is the home of so many upper crust doctors and lawyers. My ex-husband Jack is a successful gynecologist who took too close a look at one of his patients. I never suspected anything even though, according to my friends, South Florida is one of the cheating capitals of the US. If the men are honest when they arrive from Missouri or Oklahoma, something in the water must change them. Before I knew it, fluffy haired Vanessa was installed in my house enjoying the services of the Nicaraguan maid and the undocumented yard men (don’t ask, don’t tell.)
Suddenly I needed both a job and a place to live. Desperate, I turned to my friend Sherry, the director of Jasmine House, a refuge for abused women and their children where I volunteer parttime. She took me in, as she had taken in women in need before the refuge acquired its own building. She couldn’t offer me a paying job but pointed me towards Experienced Eyes Detective Services because it is a women-run organization that hires “mature” females. But my first job for them had ended in tragedy.
What would I do now?
As I sat looking out the window, the phone rang. It was my daughter Alexandra, better known as Alex. She is studying at the University of Miami Law School to become an immigration rights attorney.
“Hi, Mom. How are you doing? Have you heard from the Creep’s lawyer lately?” We are still arguing over alimony.
“You shouldn’t call your father that, even if he is one; and no, I haven’t.”
“OK, the Slimeball. How’s your new job?”
“After one day?”
“It was an interesting day. They say they support women, but they put them at risk.”
“Well, that’s too bad; but why not give it another try? Sorry, I’ve gotta go now; I have a huge test Friday. Love you, Mom.”
“Love you, dear. Good luck.”
“You too, Mom.”
I went back to sipping my Bustelo and staring out the window at the sun-dappled queen palm in the back yard. The old air conditioning unit groaned and dripped, trying to cope with the humidity. I knew I should get up and start looking at job listings on the internet, but I felt as limp as a towel left outside overnight in the rain.
The phone rang again. “Hello?” I said.
“Hi, Margaret. This is Rosa, from Experienced Eyes. I’m sorry about what happened yesterday. It was really terrible. But you did a good job. I’d like you to come back to work.”
“I don’t think so.”
“But I have a case that would interest you, helping out another woman. Please come in, and let’s talk about it.”
I hesitated. I had nothing pressing on my schedule—nothing at all, in fact. “Yeah, I guess so. I’ll be there in an hour.”
I walked through the beaded curtains into the small living room. The furniture consisted of an old wicker couch and chair, a glass table, and a poster for the 1981 Grove Art Show. In the bathroom, I stepped into the clawfoot tub and let the cool water wash over me from the old round showerhead. Refreshed, I put on baby powder, deodorant, and my favorite citrusy cologne. I slipped on a beige linen skirt, pink tee, and sandals, and I was ready to go.
When I got to Rosa’s office, she was speaking to a young woman with deep honeycolored skin and big dark eyes. She would have been pretty if she had been smiling.
“Margaret, meet Nella. She was just telling me her story.”
Nella pushed her thick hair away from her forehead. “I don’t know what to do,” she said. “I think my husband is infidèl, but I’m not sure.”
“Why do you think so?”
“The other day, I came back from work—I’m a waitress at Denny’s—and there was a strange red car parked in front of the building. My husband was already home. I asked him if he had a guest, and he said no, but he looked really nervous. I started looking around the apartment and heard a noise from the bedroom closet. I opened the door, and there was a woman inside. I tried to grab her, but she got away and ran out the door.
‘What’s going on?’ I asked my husband. ‘She’s just a friend,’ he said. ‘We were talking and heard you arrive, and she was afraid you’d get the wrong idea so she hid in the closet.’”
“Oh yeah?” “Yes, querida; I love you.”
“What do you think?” asked Rosa.
“I’m really suspicious. Jorge isn’t working right now, so he’s home a lot. But this morning I saw him go out, and the red car was there. So would your operative come with me and try to surprise her?”
If there’s anything I hate more than boa constrictors, it’s cheating husbands, so I agreed. We headed off in Nella’s car to an address off Bird Road (birro in Cuban speak).
Sure enough, the red car was still parked in front of the building. Nella quietly unlocked the apartment and we entered. The bedroom closet door was shut. I opened it quickly. There was no one inside, but on the floor I saw…a pink thong.
To be continued….
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