Bob Coffee, a founding member of the AHCA and a noted Austin architect, passed away on Thursday, June 3.
Coffee was something of a Renaissance man; an architect, craftsman, sculptor, and co-owner of the Travis Peak Ranch west of Austin. A student of western history, Coffee was restoration architect at three frontier cavalry posts in Texas and architect of structures at Big Bend National Park as well as other parks around the state, including several park facilities in Austin. In 1995 Coffee was elected a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects (AIA). He served three terms as president of the Texas Society of Sculptors.
In AHCA circles, though, Coffee was best known for being one of the founding members of the AHCA.
Coffee was among a small group convened by Sue McBee in September 1979, that established the Austin History Center Association, a support organization for the Austin-Travis County Collection, which had been created beginning around 1954 by Katherine Drake Hart. The organization was incorporated with the Secretary of State of Texas on January 25, 1980, as the Austin History Center Guild (later Association). Its central objective was to secure the retired, but architecturally significant, 1933 Austin Central Library building for the Austin-Travis County Collection and rename it the Austin History Center. That goal was achieved by resolution of the Austin City Council in 1980.
“I was involved with the (Austin) parks board and I was also president of the Austin chapter of AIA,” Coffee recalled in a recent interview. “I was restoring a number of buildings in Austin at the time, and a lot of historic structures around the state. And so, I knew the importance of history to us and I was very proud to get something going like the history center and see it take off like it has now.”
Coffee was born in Dallas on Nov. 12, 1933. He grew up in University Park, then a suburb of Dallas. He attended the University of Texas at Austin and graduated in 1955 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and advertising. After a short stint working for an advertising firm in Dallas, Coffee realized he wanted something more and returned to UT to earn a degree in architecture. That led to a career of designing buildings – everything from bank buildings to recreation centers to visitors’ centers for state and national parks.
Coffee’s work in historic restoration and adaptive re-use introduced him to sculpting, which became a passion later in his life. Noted Coffee sculptures include “Partners,” a three-quarter life size bronze of a pensive Texas lawman and his horse, which stands at the center of the Texas Sherriff’s Memorial in Austin. Coffee also sculpted “Marjan,” a three-quarter life size bronze of a six-foot lion that had been attacked and critically injured by Taliban soldiers at the zoo in Kabul, Afghanistan. That sculpture helped raise awareness about the vandalism the Taliban inflicted on the Kabul Zoo and its animals, and it helped raise money to restore the zoo.
Coffee also designed and sculpted “Pop the Whip,” which serves as the award given to the winner of AHCA’s annual Katherine Drake Hart Award competition. The piece expresses the energy created when citizens are working together for a common goal.
Bob Coffee was more than a founding member of the AHCA. He was a friend and supporter of the organization. Visit his Dignity Memorial page and watch his interview from April 2021 with fellow AHCA Founding Member Martha Hartzog.
"I knew the importance of history to us and I was very proud to get something going like the history center and see it take off like it has now.” - Bob Coffee
Top photo: Bob Coffee (left) with AHCA Chair of the Katherine Drake Hart Award Committee, Charles Peveto. Coffee's sculpture, "Pop the Whip," is given each year to the winner of the Katherine Drake Hart Award. Bottom left photo: Bob Coffee with his sculpture, "Partners," which is the centerpiece of the Texas Sheriff's Memorial in Austin. Center photo: Bob Coffee with Austin Mayor Steve Adler (left) and former AHCA President Charles Betts at the 2019 AHCA Annual Meeting. Right photo: Bob Coffee at the 2019 Angelina Eberly Luncheon.