Landfall Village is Washington County’s smallest city and is regarded as the Twin Cities’ most affordable community. It is a manufactured home community adjacent to the Ramsey County line. The population is about 750 people living in about 300 manufactured homes.
Landfall occupies the southwestern corner of what was once Oakdale Township. In 1901, John Schiltgen farmed the land Landfall sits on. Surrounding his property to the north and east was the 300-acre Oak Woods Stock Farm owned by Frank Morris. On the south was Hudson Road leading from St. Paul to the St. Croix River bridge between Lakeland and Hudson, Wisconsin.
The City of Landfall Village was developed by Mitzi and Jim Olson. Mitzi, born in Chicago, Illinois where she attended high school, was a very successful dancer. Mitzi worked with famous entertainers such as Liberace, Imogene Coca and Victor Borge. She was approached by a Hollywood agent who urged her to move to Los Angeles for screen tests and a potential career in film. However, her mother did not agree. Mitzi graduated high school with honors and enrolled at Macalester College in St. Paul. She met Jim Olson while acting in a play on campus. They married in 1951 and traveled to Massachusetts where Jim had a job as stage manager at the Falmouth Playhouse. Mitzi and Jim spent several years living in a luxury travel trailer that they personally designed and constructed from scratch, allowing them to move with Mitzi’s work as a professional dancer. In the tiny travel trailer’s kitchen, Mitzi cooked for and entertained stars such as Walter Matthau and Eva Gabor. Mitzi and Jim were inspired by their RV lifestyle and in 1953, returned to St. Paul to purchase 53 acres on the shores of Tanner’s Lake, located in Oakdale Township. The site even had an abandoned dairy barn and silo. It was the Olson’s dream to build a park for travel trailers and larger manufactured homes.
The Olson’s named the manufactured home park “Landfall” after their favorite Massachusetts wharf side restaurant, across the bay from Martha’s Vineyard. (“Landfall” is an old sailor’s term for the first welcome sight of land after a long sea voyage). The Olson’s developed the park, later to be called “Landfall Terrace,” in four stages. The first 20 spaces were in the clump of trees next to the lake and this area also had spaces to rent overnight to transient travel trailers. In 1964, the Olson’s opened 60 more spaces on the hilltop. In 1965, the Olson’s developed 165 spaces north along the lake and on the terrace that overlooks the lake. In 1971, Olson’s added 70 spaces in the back of a commercial strip. In 1992, the original part of Landfall Terrace was redeveloped into larger spaces for double-wide homes which formed a gateway to the community.
Commercial development has been limited over the years. There was a truck stop located in the southeastern part of the community that began in 1953. In 1973, the truck stop was converted into a dinner theatre which was followed by a series of other businesses. In 1997, the property was sold to a used car business and auto repair service that remained until 1999. This property was later sold to a motorcycle dealership. The southwestern corner of the community had been the location of a home and garden center but was sold to a different motorcycle dealership in 1997.
Landfall, being a part of Oakdale Township, did not have municipal services. The township board was insensitive to Landfall’s needs. Based upon this attitude, the Olson’s convinced the park’s residents that incorporation was the only way to obtain the municipal services that the township refused to provide. At the time, the only legal requirement in Minnesota for a vote to incorporate an area into a city was a petition signed by 100 residents. Landfall had a population of 315 persons at the time the petition was being proposed. On April 6, 1959, Landfall incorporated itself by a vote of 99 to 2. The incorporation of Landfall into a city produced an extraordinary situation of a municipality whose entire land area was owned by private individuals – the Olson’s. The “city” and its owners worked out a mutually agreeable allocation of responsibilities. The city contracted with area cities to provide police and fire protection. The owners were responsible for providing water and sewer services and maintaining streets and sidewalks.
Jim Olson passed away in 1985. Prior to his death, local residents had indicated that Mr. Olson had lost interest in Landfall. He had real estate holdings elsewhere including two other manufactured home communities. The city seemed to be going “downhill,” according to some of its residents at the time. The Olson’s were not reinvesting in the city’s infrastructure nor were they addressing ongoing maintenance issues.
In 1991, Jim Olson’s widow, Mitzi, decided to sell Landfall Terrace and put it on the market for $6.3 million. Mitzi Olson believed that the land was prime real estate because it was located next to Interstate 94 and in the shadow of 3M’s world headquarters in nearby Maplewood. Residents were concerned the property would be sold to a developer who would evict them in order to construct a commercial development. The residents decided that it would be better if they tried to purchase the property. The city of Landfall had no bonding capability at the time and approached the Washington County Housing and Redevelopment Authority (WCHRA) for assistance. In order to preserve this housing, WCHRA agreed to issue long-term bonds to be paid off through the rents collected from the residents leasing the property for their owner-occupied homes. WCHRA instructed the city of Landfall to create its own HRA to operate and manage Landfall Terrace. WCHRA issued $7.2 million in long-term debt, on behalf of the Landfall HRA, for the park.
Back in 1997 and as it is today, the Landfall HRA and the city of Landfall are separate entities but the members of the city council also form the board of the HRA. Once a month, the HRA Board meets and handles its business first followed by the city council meeting where members deal with city related issues. The annual budget of the Landfall HRA is approximately $1.1 million. The annual city budget is approximately $830,000. The city of Landfall receives minimal revenue through property taxes. Most of the city’s general fund revenue is generated through Local Government Aid (LGA) and fiscal disparities, programs funded through the state of Minnesota.
Fire protection is provided by the city of Oakdale. Police protection is provided by the Washington County Sheriff’s office. Rents paid go towards principal and interest payments on the long-term debt and operating expenses. As part of the management agreement that the Landfall HRA has with the WCHRA now the Washington County Community Development Agency (WCCDA), the city is required to have a professional administrator to serve as the City Administrator/HRA Executive Director. The WCCDA wants assurance that the city of Landfall and its HRA are going to be professional and fiscally responsible for the operation and management of Landfall Terrace.
Residents living in Landfall are appreciative of the city and what it offers. The city hall was constructed in 1996 and adequately serves the needs of the community. Across the parking lot, a storm shelter/community center is available during severe storms as well as for community events. Residents are also able to rent the facility for private use. The city also has a park/beach with an area for basketball, playground equipment and a picnic shelter. Adjacent to the park is a fishing pier where residents can fish. There is also a nearby public access in the city of Oakdale for those interested in launching a boat onto Tanner’s Lake. Currently, Washington County and its cities are studying the feasibility of a bus rapid transit system that will operate between downtown St. Paul and Woodbury. The bus rapid transit system would travel into Landfall and stop at the eastern edge of the city. In 2008 and 2009, the city was presented with the “Playful City USA” award by the KaBOOM! National Campaign for Play. In 2010, the city was presented with the “Best 100 Communities for Young People” award by ING.
From its very simple beginnings, Landfall has become a vital community within Washington County serving low and moderate income residents. As a result of efforts to preserve Landfall by Jim and Mitzi Olson, the community continues to be safe and affordable. Landfall is certainly one of a kind but to residents, it is their home. ##
MMHA President Mark Brunner commented that Landfall Village has been active in the Association for many years, since its development, and has recently recommitted to maintaining a professional management team as active MMHA members.
Sources: “The Unknown World of the Mobile Home,” by John Fraser Hart, Michelle J. Rhodes and John Morgan publication date unknown; St. Paul Pioneer Press Obituary, June 3, 2012.
(Editor’s Note: This guest column by Ed Shukle was arranged by Mark Brunner, President of the Manufactured & Modular Home Association of Minnesota.)