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Three volunteers painting the Washington Avenue bridge.

Pink no more: Washington Avenue bridge gets paint job

Washington Avenue bridge gets paint job

By Pauline Oo

Published on April 29, 2004

The Washington Avenue bridge was grey in the '60s, brown in the '70s, and finally, fading maroon in the '80s. Today, more than 20 years later, the new University of Minnesota Maroon rules. The quarter-mile walkway was repainted the brilliant maroon shade on Beautiful U Day, April 22. The job was finished in an hour-and-a-half thanks to hundreds of volunteers, 12 University painters, and about 100 gallons of donated paint and brushes from The Sherwin-Williams Co. "We were overwhelmed by all the people that came by to help," says Tom Elton, who heads the University's painting crew. "We scrambled for a while to get them their equipment, but we pulled it off. It was great to see the community spirit. People really care about this bridge."

University colors

In the late 1870s, University English instructor Augusta Smith was asked by President William Folwell to choose ribbons for the University's graduation diplomas. She picked maroon to represent the oak tree and gold for the maple.

It wasn't until the 1930s that her choices received the blessing of the Unversity's Board of Regents, which made maroon and gold the official University of Minnesota colors.

The bridge was last painted in 1998. And if you saw it before this recent paint job, you must be smiling right now. The former maroon shade had faded to a color many were starting to call pink. "The color before wasn't the true maroon or the quality wasn't there," says Elton. "This time we've used University of Minnesota Maroon, and now we're trying as much as we can to use this one, standard color [across the campus]." University of Minnesota Maroon is a shade specially formulated by Sherwin-Williams. Elton says he and others in the University's construction department worked with representatives from the national paint company to develop it to "our satisfaction."

Neighbor-to-Neighbor program

The Sherwin-Williams Co. is offering University of Minnesota staff and students a 20 percent discount on all regularly priced merchandise with the Neighbor-to-Neighbor Sherwin-Williams University discount card.

Sherwin-Williams will donate three percent of all sales to the University Relations Gopher Wagon project, an interactive traveling exhibit featuring University research in children, youth, and families.

The free card is available at the Coffman Memorial Union information desk, the St. Paul Student Center, and Gopher Express West on the West Bank until Friday, May 21. You can pick up the card after May 21 at University Relations in 3 Morrill Hall. For more information, call 612-624-6868.

"The paint has a blend of different colorants to give it that maroon," says Scott Williams, a Sherwin-Williams sales representative. "It's a high-performance acrylic made with new technology [that's become available] in the last two years. It'll definitely last longer, but I don't know time-frame wise exactly how much longer. The longest lasting [paint] for color retention and gloss retention is a urethane coating, like what you have on a car. This paint has similar properties to that." So, does the University have a standard gold paint color as well? Not yet, according to Elton. "That's something else I'd like to work on. We have one in mind, and we'll rely on Sherwin-Williams again to come up with the color." If you're curious about the gold shade Elton has in mind, then take a walk on the Washington Avenue bridge. "That's the color you see now on either side of the [bridge's] center--a kind of an orange gold not yellow."

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