Tucked behind a stand of trees next to the new Bell Museum, the land for the relatively unknown University Grove neighborhood was originally set aside in the 1920s by University of Minnesota Vice President William Middlebrook. After touring a community built for the employees of Stanford University, Middlebrook persuaded the U that such a neighborhood would be a great recruiting tool for faculty and administrators. His vision turned out to be so compelling that plans for a football field originally slated for the location—just across the St. Paul border in Falcon Heights—were switched to make way for the development.
Central to Middlebrook’s vision was that the land in University Grove would be owned by the U; residents would own their homes and lease the land for a nominal fee. This unique ownership structure, which is still in place today, helped control development and costs as well as maintain architectural integrity and character. Each of the 103 homes in the Grove was, per the community’s rules, designed by an architect.
And what architects: The first house, a 1929 English Tudor on Folwell Avenue, was designed by William Ingemann, who was also the architect of Stillwater’s Lowell Inn. But while there’s no shortage of mint-condition Tudors, colonials, and Prairie-style ramblers, it’s the bounty of mid-century modern homes that serves as the neighborhood’s calling card. From Bauhaus to International Style, the Grove is a showcase of Minnesota modern architects including Ralph Rapson (the U’s longtime dean of architecture who designed the original Guthrie Theater and Riverside Plaza) and Winston and Elizabeth Close, who lived in the neighborhood and designed 14 homes there. Today, U employees still have priority when homes go on the market. So if an astrophysicist asks to borrow your lawnmower, you know why.
Adapted from Elizabeth Foy Larsen’s 111 Places in the Twin Cities That You Must Not Miss
Photos courtesy Carrie Hatler and CCBY-SA 3.0/Runner1928
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