The Fontaine marks 40 years in Rochester's skyline
ROCHESTER — The residents of Fontaine Towers have the closest view of the Zumbro River of any downtown Rochester residents.
That’s probably why the residents there are on a first-name basis with the great blue heron that regularly fishes in the shallow water where the river flows through downtown.
“We’ve sat and watched him catch fish,” said Shirley Krause, a Fontaine Towers resident.
“We even gave him a name,” said Lois Whipple.
Harold the heron doesn’t seem to mind being watched from afar.
Whipple lives on the 17th and topmost floor of the building at 102 Second St. SE, one of the highest vantage points among the 150 units in the building.
The 17-story tower of senior and HUD housing building opened 40 years ago in July 1983. It was the first senior subsidized housing complex in downtown. The residents are a mix of ages and mobility, but most are over 60 years old.
Residents there say the views, their neighbors and location all make the Fontaine a good place to live. A few are second-generation residents having moved in after their parents lived there.
Judy Hodge’s mother, Esther Tiedermann, moved into Fontaine a few years after it opened until about 2000. Hodge recalled thinking it was a nice building and when it came time to move somewhere in retirement, she chose there too.
“We don’t have to go grocery shopping, we don’t have to cook if we don’t want to,” said Sue Laack, who moved into the Fontaine about 15 years ago. “The place has been so wonderful.”
Laack might not be alive if she hadn’t moved into the Fontaine. In February, she had a serious heart attack. A friend and neighbor found her unconscious in her apartment.
“We depend on each other,” Laack said.
In previous years, big anniversaries of the building were marked with a celebration — often planned by Joyce Block. Nothing formal to mark 40 years has been planned, said Mark Kasel, president of the Fontaine residents’ club.
The club has begun resuming activities after the COVID-19 pandemic prevented people from getting together in person. The club meets from September through June to plan events and get togethers for residents.
“It’s a small but active faction of us,” Kasel said.
“There’s something for everyone,” said Janet Stenberg, past president of the residents club.
The initial plans for the Fontaine called for a 27-story and indoor shopping center and senior housing complex at Third Street and South Broadway Avenue where the Hilton Garden Inn sits. In 1981, developers Olympus Ltd. announced the project was to receive HUD funding. In September that year, Olympus Ltd. announced it had scaled back the plans for the building. The site was also moved to its footprint on Second Street Southwest where the 66-room Hotel Norton sat. The Norton was gutted and vacant after a fire in 1967.
Shirley Krause, a Fontaine resident, recalled her husband had stayed at the Norton when he first moved to Rochester about 65 years ago.
“And 55 years later, we came back here,” Krause said.
With 40 years of use, residents said they’re not concerned about the building’s structural integrity. Some residents said the thought crossed their minds when the 15-story Rochester Towers Condominium building in downtown was evacuated due to structural concerns June 2, 2023. That building, at 207 Fifth Ave. SW, was built in 1969. However a couple factors have them at ease, they said.
“HUD and Titan do regular inspections,” said Kasel. “So, I’ve got to put my faith in that.”
In 2019, Kraus-Anderson completed an overhaul of the Fontaine Towers. That renovation removed the building’s namesake outdoor fountain — “fontaine” is French for fountain — but otherwise residents said they’re pleased with the renovations.
As new high-rises and developments have sprung up around the Fontaine over the years, residents wonder what role their home will play. They appreciate the skyway connections to Mayo Clinic buildings, parking, the city and county Government Center and wonder if a direct skyway connection to the Rochester Public Library is next and whether a full grocery store will open in downtown.
However, Block notes that the library is across the street, the downtown Eagle Store and International Spices and Grocery offer some grocery essentials and that transit stops at the front door.
“This is a good place to live,” Block said. “Especially if you’re through shoveling and mowing lawns.”