The Princess Depot at Minnehaha Falls

The Princess Depot is one of the best examples in the Twin Cities of the Eastlake style of architecture, which is named for the English architect and furniture designer, Charles Locke Eastlake.

In his 1872 book, Hints on Household Taste, Eastlake thundered against the florid and highly popular Italianate style:

“The so-called Italian style — now understood to include every variety of Renaissance design which prevailed in Rome, Venice, and Florence, from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century — has its aesthetic merits and its practical advantages.  But they are merits and advantages which are unsuited to the age, to the climate, and to the country [Britain] in which they are reproduced.  It does not require the judgment of an accomplished connoisseur to perceive that mouldings and carved enrichments which look well under the glowing effect of a Venetian sky, must appear tame and spiritless through the leaden atmosphere of  London.”  Hints on Household Taste, pp. 19-20.

Eastlake preferred Gothic Revival for buildings and Arts & Crafts (an outgrowth of the Gothic Revival) for furniture.  He said Gothic automatically projected a sense of dignity and rectitude because it was based on church architecture.  His book is illustrated with his furniture designs, which carpenters in England and America copied and adapted to their own needs in the 1870s and 80s.

Princess Depot at Minnehaha Falls (Richard Kronick)

Princess Depot at Minnehaha Falls (Richard Kronick)

The style is characterized by relatively flat wooden surfaces (as compared with the more voluptuous Italianate style) covered with a combination of incised and built-up geometric patterns in rhythmically repeating borders between panels and on bargeboards and roof ridges.

Closeup of trim on Princess Depot at Minnehaha Falls. (Richard Kronick.)

Closeup of detail on Princess Depot at Minnehaha Falls. (Richard Kronick.)

Often, as in the Princess Depot, the crowning ornament is a complex wooden lattice-work inserted under the overhanging eaves — a tour-de-force by a master carpenter. The other great example of the style in the Twin Cities is the Charles Burwell House in Minnetonka Mills.

Richard Kronick 

Note: Richard Kronick is a writer and architectural historian. He will be leading a walking tour of Red Cedar Lane in southwest Minneapolis on May 30 as a part of Preserve Minneapolis’s summer program.

Two additional notes:

One of the earliest entries on this blog was essentially a question: Did the Princess Depot burn down in 1891? Recent information found by Karen Cooper, which she presented as a comment on that blog post, suggests that it was the “motor line” depot or waiting room, not the Milwaukee Road depot, that burned down as the Minneapolis Tribune had reported. I think that mystery is solved. The information Richard presents above also suggests that the depot’s architectural style was more consistent with the 1875 time of the original construction rather than with a depot that would have been rebuilt in the 1890s.

Richard’s mention of the Charles Burwell House in Minnetonka Mills reminds me that Burwell was the manager of the Minnetonka Mill in the 1880s that was owned by Loren Fletcher and Charles Loring, who both played central roles in the development of Minneapolis parks. Even after Fletcher and Loring sold the mill, Burwell continued to work for them. I recall considerable correspondence in Minnesota Historical Society files among Loring, Burwell and William Watts Folwell in later years when proposals were on the table to change Minneapolis’s charter in a way that would have eliminated the park board. It was obvious from those communications that Burwell was acting as Loring’s employee and agent in those discussions. Charles Burwell named his first son Loring Burwell. You see, I can turn almost any topic into a tribute to Charles Loring!

David C. Smith  minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com

Quotes from “Arts and Parks”: Folwell on Museums

Thanks to everyone who turned out Saturday morning at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts to listen to my thoughts on the people who created parks and a fine art society in Minneapolis in 1883. Special thanks to those who purchased a copy of City of Parks afterwards and introduced themselves. Thanks too to Janice Lurie and Susan Jacobsen for inviting me to speak and hosting the event. I want to remind everyone that all proceeds from the purchase of the book go to the Minneapolis Parks Foundation.

Quite a few of those who attended asked where they could find some of the quotes I used in my presentation, so I promised I would post them here. The most requested, especially from those who work with arts organizations, was William Watts Folwell’s remarks as reported in the Minneapolis Tribune at the laying of the cornerstone of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts in 1913. I’ve provided an excerpt of his remarks from the July 31, 1913 issue of the newspaper, as well as quotes from Charles Loring and Horace Cleveland from earlier times as noted — most of which have appeared in other posts here over the years.

Minneapolis Tribune headline July 31, 1913

Folwell’s remarks included these observations on his hopes for the Institute:

The primary function of the institution will naturally be exhibition of works of art. I trust it will be the governing principle from the start that no inferior works shall ever have a place. Better bare walls and empty galleries than bad art. A single truly great and meritorious work is worth more in every way than a whole museum full of the common and ordinary. A few such works might make Minneapolis a Mecca for art lovers. Gift horses should be carefully looked in the mouth. I am almost ready to say that none should be received. Let benefactors give cash.

“The museum should appreciate and encourage the artistic side of all structures, public, domestic and industrial, and of all furnishings and appliances. ‘Decorative art’ should never be a term of disparagement here. Men have the right to live amid beautiful surroundings and to handle truly artistic implements.”
– William Watts Folwell, as reported in the Minneapolis Tribune, July 31, 1913.

Folwell was not one to mince words. It is noteworthy, especially considering his comments on decorative arts, that one of the influential people in the creation of the Society of Fine Arts and the Institute was interior designer and furniture maker John Scott Bradstreet. You can read much more about him here.

Other quotes from Horace William Shaler Cleveland:

“Regard it as your sacred duty to preserve this gift which the wealth of the world could not purchase, and transmit it as a heritage of beauty to your successors forever.”
–H.W.S. Cleveland, 1872

“If you have faith in the future greatness of your city, do not shrink from securing while you may such areas as will be adequate to the wants of such a city…Look forward for a century, to the time when the city has a population of a million, and think what will be their wants. They will have wealth enough to purchase all that money can buy, but all their wealth cannot purchase a lost opportunity, or restore natural features of grandeur and beauty, which would then possess priceless value, and which you can preserve for them if you will but say the word and save them from the destruction which certainly awaits them if you fail to utter it.”
— H.W.S. Cleveland, Suggestions for a System of Parks and Parkways for the City of Minneapolis, presented June 2, 1883  to the Minneapolis Board of Park Commissioners.

“The Mississippi River is not only the grand natural feature which gives character to your city and constitutes the main spring of prosperity, but it is the object of vital interest and center of attraction to intelligent visitors from every quarter of the globe, who associate such ideas of grandeur with its name as no human creation can excite. It is due therefore, to the sentiments of the civilized world, and equally in recognition of your own sense of the blessings it confers upon you, that it should be placed in a setting worthy of so priceless a jewel.”
– H.W.S. Cleveland, Suggestions for a System of Parks and Parkways for the City of Minneapolis

“No city was ever better adapted by nature to be made a gem of beauty.”
— H.W.S. Cleveland to William Folwell, October 22, 1890, Folwell Papers, Minnesota Historical Society

“I have been trying hard all winter to save the river banks and have had some of the best men for backers, but Satan has beaten us.”
– H.W.S. Cleveland to Frederick Law Olmsted on his efforts to have the banks of the Mississippi River preserved as parkland, June 13, 1889, Library of Congress.

The west bank of the Mississippi River Gorge from Riverside Park near Franklin Avenue to Minnehaha Park was not acquired as parkland until after Cleveland died.

“There does not seem to be another such place as Minneapolis for its constant demands upon the time of its citizens. Everyday there is something that must be done. I suppose, perhaps, this may be why we are a great city.”
– Charles Loring in a letter to William Windom, September 27, 1890, Minnesota Historical Society

It is worth noting that Loring was the president of the Minnesota Horticultural Society, vice president of the Minneapolis Society of Fine Arts, president of the Minneapolis Board of Park Commissioners, president of the Minneapolis Improvement Association, and an officer in the Athenaeum and the Board of Trade. It could be said that he alone was one of the reasons Minneapolis was a great city.

Finally, the newspapers were active supporters of arts and parks through most of the history of Minneapolis. I pulled this quote from an editorial in the Minneapolis Tribune:

“While looking after the useful and necessary, let us not forget the beautiful.”
Minneapolis Tribune, June 30, 1872

Words we could all live by.

David C. Smith   minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com

Last Minute Reminders: Minnehaha Falls and the Minneapolis Institute of Arts

In case you forgot.

Karen Cooper is speaking tonight at 7 at St. John’s Episcopal Church on Sheridan Ave. South and 42nd on Minnehaha Falls. Still plenty of time to grab a bite to eat and get to Linden Hills. Should be informative. Karen has promised some new revelations about the history of Minneapolis’s most famous park and she has a library of great photographs of the park and falls.

I will be speaking Saturday morning at 11 at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. The title of my presentation is Arts and Parks: Culture and Beauty on the Frontier.  I’ll talk about the indefatigable promoters of both fine arts and parks in the early history of Minneapolis.

Hope to see you at one or both.

David C. Smith    minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com

 

Minneapolis Park History Update

I enjoyed seeing many of you last Monday night at St. Peder’s Church for the Longfellow Community presentation on the Mississippi River Gorge. I promised Carolyn Carr that I would provide a brief synopsis of my presentation and post a few of the photos here. And I will. But first I wanted to post a photo I forgot to include in my presentation.

As a tribute to our hosts on Monday night, I wanted you to see this wonderful photo from the Hennepin County Library special collection. I haven’t given a proper plug to the library or the historical society in a while. They remain marvelous resources. If you haven’t visited Special Collections at the Central Library or the library at the Minnesota History Center in St. Paul, you really should. Take some time for the exhibits at the history center too. And for those of you who prefer to shop locally, you can buy your copy of City of Parks in their book store instead of online! Can’t beat that.

The congregation of St. Peder's Danish Evangelical Luthern Church at Minnehaha Falls in 1886 -- before the falls became a park. Some parishioners must have had large families of daughters. (Hennepin County Library, Special Collections)

The congregation of St. Peder’s Danish Evangelical Lutheran Church at Minnehaha Falls in 1886 — before the falls became a park. Some parishioners must have had large families of daughters. (Hennepin County Library, Special Collections)

Thanks to the descendants of those in the picture, physically or spiritually, for providing the venue for last Monday’s meeting.

Speaking of special collections at the Central Library, it looks as if I may reprise — and embellish — my presentation on the Mississippi River Gorge at the Library on October 3. I hope to travel this summer to libraries in other parts of the country to continue my research into the life and work of H.W.S. Cleveland, so I may have some new nuggets for that presentation. I’ll keep you posted.

David C. Smith   minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com

Minneapolis Park History Live!

One of my favorite Minneapolis park history topics, the Mississippi River Gorge, will be the subject of an illustrated presentation by yours truly next Monday night, March 23, at St. Peder’s Lutheran Church, 4600 E. 42nd St. The curtain rises at 7 p.m.

The Jewel of Minneapolis
And if you want to hear more, on a different topic, I’ll be speaking at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Saturday, May 9. Click the link above and put it on your calendar. I’ll remind you!

I hope you’ll stop by, introduce yourself, ask the burning question that’s been nagging you about parks, or tell me your park story.

Copies of City of Parks will be for sale with all proceeds going to the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board. I’d be happy to sign one for you.

David C. Smith   minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com

Monument Men: Minneapolis Park Board Property

I received a note today from Craig E. Johnson that might help solve a mystery from 2012 when I posted another note about an unusual marker found near Minnehaha Parkway.

“I’m a land surveyor and work for Clark Engineering in Golden Valley. We recently did a survey of the Northeast Athletic Field Park in Minneapolis where we found a monument similar to the ones you were asking about in a blog in 2012. I thought you might be interested in a photo, this monument was found on a park boundary.”

The marker Craig found in Northeast Athletic Field Park.

The property marker Craig Johnson found in Northeast Athletic Field Park is, he says, “almost certainly” a park boundary marker.

The letters MBPC on the marker probably stand for “Minneapolis Board of Park Commissioners”, the official name of the park board until 1969, when it became Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board or MPRB.

While the letters and type face on the marker found near Minnehaha Parkway are different — CMPC — the design is the same, which suggests they may be related. The Minnehaha Parkway marker appears much older, which would make sense as that property was acquired by the park board, therefore surveyed, about sixty years before Northeast Park. The park board acquired most of Northeast Park in 1941 at no cost from the state of Minnesota as tax-forfeited property. Most improvements were delayed, however, until well after World War II.

To catch up with the exciting changes taking place now at Northeast ,visit the park board’s website.

Thanks for the info and photo, Craig.

David C. Smith  minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com

© 2015 David C. Smith

Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board Annual Reports and Proceedings Online

Something I’ve been meaning to do for some time: publish a list of and links to the annual reports and proceedings (minutes) of the Minneapolis Park Board that can be found online. These were scanned and published by Hathitrust and Google Books.

Here’s the really great news: the Park Board, Hennepin County Library and Minnesota Digital Library are talking seriously about scanning and publishing online more of the annual reports, even beyond those that are in the public domain (pre-1923). If that is done, it could include many of the maps, plans and images that have been skipped or scanned poorly in already published efforts. It could also include the informative and insightful reports of the 1880s and 1890s not yet scanned and listed below. That would be a marvelous service to historians interested in local parks as well as those investigating national and international park developments.

The list below corrects some labeling errors on the various sites.  If you find any errors remaining in this list or know of any other sites that provide additional information, please send it to me and I will post it in comments or as a follow-up.

Year Document Site
1883 1st Annual Report Hathitrust
1888 6th Annual Report Hathitrust
1890 8th Annual Report Hathitrust
1892 10th Annual Report Hathitrust
1893 11th Annual Report Hathitrust
1895 13th Annual Report Google Books
1895-1902 13th-20th Annual Reports Hathitrust
1896 Proceedings Hathitrust
1897 15th Annual Report Hathitrust
1897 Proceedings Hathitrust
1898 Proceedings Hathitrust
1899 17th Annual Report Hathitrust
1899 Proceedings Hathitrust
1900 18th Annual Report Google Books
1900 Proceedings Hathitrust
1901 19th Annual Report Hathitrust
1902 20th Annual Report Hathitrust
1903 21st Annual Report Hathitrust
1903-1909 21st-27th Annual Reports Hathitrust
1905 23rd Annual Report Hathitrust
1906 24th Annual Report Hathitrust
1907 25th Annual Report Google Books
1907 Proceedings Hathitrust
1908 26th Annual Report Hathitrust
1909 27th Annual Report Hathitrust
1910 28th Annual Report Hathitrust
1910-1913 28th-31st Annual Reports Hathitrust
1910 Proceedings Hathitrust
1911 29th Annual Report Hathitrust
1912 30th Annual Report Hathitrust
1913 31st Annual Report Hathitrust
1913 Proceedings Hathitrust
1914 32nd Annual Report Hathitrust
1914-1916 32nd-34th Annual Reports Hathitrust
1914 Proceedings Hathitrust
1915 33rd Annual Report Hathitrust
1915 Proceedings Hathitrust
1916 34th Annual Report Hathitrust
1916 Proceedings Hathitrust
1917 35th Annual Report Hathitrust
1917-1921 35th-39th Annual Reports Hathitrust
1918 36th Annual Report Hathitrust
1919 37th Annual Report Google Books
1920 38th Annual Report Hathitrust
1921 39th Annual Report Hathitrust
1922 40th Annual Report Hathitrust

Observation: these reports come from many libraries, but my favorite stamp is in the 1919 Annual Report from the library of landscape architect Warren G. Manning. Manning’s work around the country included several projects for the Minneapolis park board. Look in the 1899 annual report for Manning’s recommendations on the Minneapolis park system.

A note on using the annual reports and proceedings: search the annual reports first to find the years of acquisitions or improvements in specific parks, then go to the proceedings from those years to find more detail. Using the multi-year reports list above can speed general searches, but it’s easier to find specific references in the single-year reports.

Perhaps within this year many more park board records and images will be available online. Research will be so much easier!

David C. Smith   minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com

© 2015 David C. Smith

 

Frozen Falls: Minnehaha in Winter

A frozen Minnehaha Falls has always intrigued people. Many photos exist of the falls in winter, including those published recently in the StarTribune that created a ruckus. Several shots of the ice wall were popular as postcards in the early 1900s, such as the one below.

Minnehaha Falls on a postcard around 1910.

Minnehaha Falls on a postcard around 1910.

I recently received a photo from Edward Tobin Thompson of Maple Grove that I like as well as any.

An unknown man staqnds at the foot of Minnehaha Falls in January, 1899. (Photo courtesy Edward Tobin Thompson)

Minnehaha Falls in January, 1899. (Photo courtesy Edward Tobin Thompson)

The photo, dated January 15, 1899, comes from an old family photo album. Ed doesn’t know who is standing at the foot of the falls, but it is likely the same man pictured on the park bench below, a photo that carries the same date and inscription on the back.

Resting on a bench in Minnehaha Park, January 1899.  Judging from the hat, this may be the same man posing in front of the falls. (Photo courtesy Edward Tobin Thompson)

Resting on a bench in Minnehaha Park, January 1899. Judging from the hat, this may be the same man posing in front of the falls. (Photo courtesy Edward Tobin Thompson)

Ed guesses that the man is one of his Tobin ancestors. The Tobins immigrated from Ireland and settled in Wisconsin about 1846, he says. They later lived in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan before moving to Montana.

An imitation Minnehaha Falls? Date and place unknown.(Courtesy Edward Tobin Thompson)

An imitation Minnehaha Falls? Date and place unknown. (Courtesy Edward Tobin Thompson)

Ed also sent this photo of a waterfall without a label from the same album and he wondered if it could be Minnehaha Falls as well. I don’t think so because in hundreds of pictures I’ve never seen the lip of the falls or the pattern of falling water like this, or the pool of water below the falls so large. Any opinions? Are you watching, Karen Cooper? (Karen has to be the world’s leading authority on images of Minnehaha Falls.) If not Minnehaha Falls, what falls? Any other cataracts in Wisconsin or Minnesota like this? Send in your guesses.

 

Danger Under the Falls

When photos appeared in the StarTribune recently of people behind the frozen falls, it brought to mind a story from Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper dated December 25, 1869, which was featured in Minnesota History, the magazine of the Minnesota Historical Society.

An engraving of photographer Charles Zimmerman being knocked unconscious by an icycle, November 28, 1869.

An engraving of photographer Charles Zimmerman being knocked unconscious by an icicle, November 28, 1869.

The article described a near tragedy when the falls wasn’t completely frozen. The article was illustrated by the engraving at right. This is how the events involving well-known photographer Charles Zimmerman were originally described in the newspaper:

“Wishing to obtain winter views of a place Longfellow has immortalized in his classic verse, Mr. Zimmerman passed under the falls. An hour later, a Mr. Haines, while exploring the rocks, happened to look behind the curtain of water as it leaped from the edge of the precipice to the abyss beneath and was startled by what he saw. A large icicle weighing between two and three hundred pounds, loosened by the thaw, had severed its connection with the roof above, and had fallen on Mr. Zimmerman, crushing him down, and leaving him insensible beneath it. Mr. Haines quickly relieved the prostrate artist, whom he found nearly frozen. Indeed, had succor been delayed half an hour longer, the unfortunate man would have most certainly died.”

The photographer conked on the head by the giant icicle, Charles Zimmerman, became one of the most prolific shooters of scenes in St. Paul and Minneapolis in the late 1800s. Most of his photographs were sold as stereoviews, the side-by-side photos that took on a 3D appearance when viewed through a stereoscope. If Zimmerman had perished that day under the ice of Minnehaha Falls we would not have nearly so thorough or enjoyable a record of life in Minneapolis in the 19th Century.

Don’t Be Left Insensible

I’d recommend that you not climb up under the falls either. (It is illegal!) Maybe you will do something memorable someday, as Charles Zimmerman did, if you live a little longer.

David C. Smith   minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com

© 2015 David C. Smith

Defending Minneapolis Parks

For decades, public and private parties have claimed that they just need a little bit of Minneapolis parkland to achieve their goals. And now even Governor Dayton has joined the shrill chorus of those who think taking parkland is the most expedient solution to political challenges. The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (MPRB) is justified in examining very skeptically all desires to take parkland for other purposes and in rejecting nearly all of them categorically.

Commentators writing in December in the StarTribune asserted that the Park Board is wrong to object to just 28 feet of bridge expansion over Kenilworth Lagoon for the construction of the Southwest Light Rail Transit (SWLRT) corridor. They write as if that bridge and expansion of rail traffic across park property were the only alternative. Gov. Dayton seems to repeat the error. Other political jurisdictions involved in the proposed light rail corridor have objected to this or that provision of the project and their objections have been given a hearing, often favorable.

I didn’t hear Governor Dayton threaten to slash local government aid to St. Louis Park when officials there objected to the Met Council’s original proposals for SWLRT. But the Park Board is supposed to cave into whatever demands remain after everyone else has whined and won. Minneapolis parks are too valuable an asset – for the entire state – to have them viewed as simply the least painful political sacrifice.

Should the SWLRT bridge be built? I don’t know – but I do want the Park Board to ensure that all options have been investigated fully. That desire to consider all feasible options to taking parkland for transportation projects that use federal funds was first expressed in 1960s legislation. The legislation was meant to ensure that parkland would be taken for the nation’s burgeoning freeway system only as a last resort. In the present case, the Park Board was not convinced that the Met Council had investigated all options thoroughly once it had acquiesced to the demands of other interested parties.

A Park Board study in 1960 identified more than 300 acres of Minneapolis parkland that were desired by other entities both private and public. Hennepin County wanted to turn Victory Memorial Drive into the new County Highway 169. A few years later, the Minnesota Department of Highways planned to convert Hiawatha Avenue, Highway 55, into an elevated expressway within yards of Minnehaha Falls – in addition to taking scores of acres of parkland for I-94 and I-35W. In the freeway-building years, parkland was lost in every part of the city: at Loring Park, The Parade, Riverside Park, Murphy Square, Luxton Park, Martin Luther King Park (then Nicollet Park), Perkins Hill, North Mississippi, Theodore Wirth Park and others, not to mention the extinction of Elwell Park and Wilson Square. Chute Square was penciled in to become a parking lot.

In 1966, faced with another assault – a parking garage under Elliot Park – Park Superintendent Robert Ruhe, backed by Park Board President Richard Erdman and Attorney Edward Gearty, urged a new policy for dealing with demands for parkland for other uses. It was blunt, reading in part,

“Those who seek parklands for their own particular ends must look elsewhere to satiate their land hunger. Minneapolis parklands should not be looked upon as land banks upon which others may draw.”

With that policy in place, the Park Board resisted efforts by the Minnesota Department of Highways to take parkland for freeways or, as a last resort, pay next to nothing for it. Still, the Park Board battled the state all the way to the United States Supreme Court over plans to build an elevated freeway within view of Minnehaha Falls – a plan supported by nearly every other elected body or officeholder in the city and state, including the Minneapolis City Council.

Robert Ruhe, middle, Minneapolis Superintendent of Parks 1966-1978 proposed a tough land policy to defend against the taking of parkland for freeways and other uses. In this 1968 photo he is accepting a gift of  60 tennis nets from General Mills. Before that time, nets were not provided on most city courts. Players had to bring their own. (MPRB)

Robert Ruhe, middle, Minneapolis Superintendent of Parks 1966-1978 proposed a tough land policy to defend against the taking of parkland for freeways and other uses. In this 1968 photo he is accepting a gift of 60 tennis nets from General Mills. Before that time, nets were not provided on most city courts. Players had to bring their own. (MPRB)

The driving force behind the park board's defense of its land was better known as a Minnesota legislator and President of the Minnesota Senate from 1977-1981. Ed Gearty, far right, was President of the Minneapolis Park Board in 1962 when he was elected to the Minnesota House of Representatives. He had to resign his park board seat, but was then hired by the park board as its attorney. He helped devise a pugnacious strategy that helped keep park losses to freeways as small as they were. This photo with other state lawmakers was taken in 1978.

The driving force behind the park board’s defense of its land was better known as a Minnesota legislator and President of the Minnesota Senate from 1977-1981. Ed Gearty, far right, was President of the Minneapolis Park Board in 1962 when he was elected to the Minnesota House of Representatives. He had to resign his park board seat, but was then hired by the park board as its attorney. He helped devise a pugnacious strategy that helped keep park losses to freeways as small as they were. This photo with other state lawmakers was taken in 1978. Gearty deserves credit along with Ruhe, counsel Ray Haik and park board Presidents Dick Erdman and Walter Carpenter for trying to keep Minneapolis parks intact as a park “system.”

While the Supreme Court chose not to hear the Minnehaha case, its decision in a related case involving parkland in Memphis, Tenn. established a precedent that forced Minnesota to reconsider its Highway 55 plans and provides the basis for the Park Board today to investigate alternatives to taking park property for projects that use federal funds.

The Park Board is right to do so, even at the high cost it must pay – which the Met Council should be paying — and regardless of the results of that investigation. The Park Board needs to reassert very forcefully that taking parkland is a very serious matter and not the easiest way out when other arrangements don’t fall into place.

In a report to park commissioners on a proposed new land policy on April 1, 1966 Robert Ruhe concluded with these words,

“The park lands of Minneapolis are an integral part of our heritage and natural resources and, as such, should be available to all present and future generations of Minneapolitans. This is our public trust and responsibility.”

That trust and responsibility has not changed in the intervening 50 years. And it is not exercised well if the Park Board allows land to be lopped away from parks – even 28 feet at a time – without the most intense scrutiny and, when necessary, resistance. It could help us avoid horrors like elevated freeways near our most famous landmarks.

What I find most troubling about events of the past year relating to Minneapolis parks is the blatant disregard by elected officials – from Minneapolis’s Mayors to Minnesota’s Governor – of the demands and complexity of park planning and administration, as if great parks and park systems happen by accident. They don’t. They take conscientious, informed planning, funding, programming and maintaining. We can’t just write them into and out of existence as mere bargaining chips in some grander game. Parks should not be an afterthought in the crush of city or state business.

I worry when an outgoing mayor negotiates an awful agreement for a “public” park for the benefit of the Minnesota Vikings without the input of the people who would have to build and run it. I wince when an incoming mayor trumpets a youth initiative without input from the organization that has the greatest capacity for interaction with the city’s young people. And I am really perplexed when a governor makes so little effort to engage an elected body with as important a stake in a major project as the park board’s in the SWLRT.

Other elected officials seem more than happy to rub shoulders with park commissioners and staff when the Minneapolis park system receives national awards, or a President highlights the parks on a visit, or when exciting new park projects are unveiled. But they seem to forget who those people are when they are sending out invitations to the table to decide the city’s future. That is a serious and easily avoidable mistake.

David C. Smith  minneapolisparkhistory.com

© 2015 David C. Smith

1911 Minneapolis Civic Celebration: Junk Mail

I have neglected these pages in recent months, yet I have so many good park stories to tell, some of them from readers. I will get to them soon I hope. In the last eight months I have discovered more fascinating information about Minneapolis parks and the people who created themthan at any time since my initial research for City of Parks. But until I can get to those stories, I wanted to show you one of the more interesting bits of history I’ve encountered recently. Garish, but oddly charming.

The images below are of a promotional envelope used by a Minneapolis merchant in advance of the July 1911 Civic Celebration that was conceived primarily to celebrate the digging of the channel that connected  Lake Calhoun with Lake of the Isles — as is noted at the bottom of the envelope. I found these images on an Ebay auction site and use them with permission of the seller of the envelope who sells mostly postal history under the name of “gregfree”. This envelope is for sale at an opening bid of $150 — more than I can pay. I appreciate gregfree’s willingness to let me share the image with you. Maybe you should buy it. If you do, thank him for me.

A promotional envelope used by a Minneapolis merchant. One of the objectives of the Civic Celebration was to give businesses an opportunity to contact, perhaps entertain and certainly solicit business from their clients throughout the region.

A promotional envelope used by a Minneapolis merchant. One of the objectives of the Civic Celebration was to give businesses an opportunity to contact, perhaps entertain and certainly solicit business from their clients throughout the region.

I love the background in green, a photo of the Stone Arch Bridge and Mill District, laid over a map of the city that shows the Chain of Lakes and Minnehaha Creek meeting the Mississippi River in the lower right corner.

Teh back of teh envelope is an advertsiemen tfor Minneapolis, and from my perspective the lede is inot buried.

The back of the envelope is an advertisement for Minneapolis, and from my perspective the lede is not buried — “Public Park System Unequalled.” That puts the emphasis exactly where it should be!

It’s nice to know that Minneapolis also had the lowest death rate in the United States. How that was measured, I’m not sure.

The coincidence of me finding this image now has a bit of Ouija-Board spookiness to it, because the lake connections have been on my mind — and in the news — a good bit lately. The channel that was celebrated 103 years ago between Isles and Calhoun has been in the news because the developer of a residential building at Knox Avenue and Lake Street has been pumping millions of gallons of water from a flooded underground parking garage into that channel, which has prevented it from freezing and caused considerable increase in phosphorous levels in the lake. More phosphorous means more algae. The Park Board and the City have sued to stop the pumping. Good! Such negligence on the part of a developer is astonishing. Hmmm, what do you think might happen if you put a parking garage below the water table between two lakes? I’m no engineer, but I think I’d be a tad suspicious of anyone who told me, “Hey, no problem.” The next time you hear people complaining about too much government regulation, ask them if it’s cases like this that they have in mind? I hope the Park Board uses every weapon at their disposal in this case to protect our lakes.

The other lake connection issue is not so clear-cut, but may be more important. That is the issue of tunneling under or bridging over the Kenilworth Lagoon that connects Lake of the Isles and Cedar Lake in order to build the Southwest LRT.

The history of other interests, public and private, wanting to take a little park land here or there for this or that good idea is long and sordid. For decades the park board has had to fight those who wanted just an acre or a little easement across park property. If the Park Board had acquiesced, all we’d have left of a magnificent park system would be a couple triangle parks. The reasons for taking park land have often been legitimate. For instance, I’m strongly in favor of better mass transit in Minneapolis and the entire Twin Cities metro area, but only if it doesn’t harm parks — or even the notion of parks. Is a tunnel or a bridge over Kenilworth channel better for the LRT? That question and a hornets nest of others, isn’t the right place to start. The only place to start in my very prejudiced opinion is with “Will it harm park property?” If the Park Board determines that the answer to that question is “Yes,” it is obliged to oppose those plans with all its might — regardless of how small the “harm.” Because in historical terms, “harm” seems more than precedent, it is invitation.

I have more to write about the issue. Did you know that the Park Board once went to the United States Supreme Court to prevent the State of Minnesota from taking Minneapolis parkland? True story. Til then quite an interesting envelope. Thanks again gregfree.

David C. Smith  minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com

© 2014 David C. Smith

More Edith Cavell School and Park

Virginia (Dregger) Dantona sent a note a few weeks ago about my post on Edith Cavell Park and School. She included two photos and a recollection of the school and playground that I thought other readers would appreciate.

Virginia wrote: “I could not resist sending you two pictures of my classmates who enjoyed the playground before it became a park. The one taken on the steps of the school dates to 1944 or 1945, the other, by the side of the school, a few years earlier.”

An informal class photo at Edith Cavell School from 1944 or 1945. (Photo courtesy of Virginia [Dregger]Dantona)

Edith Cavell School classmates in 1944 or 1945. (Virginia [Dregger] Dantona)

Edith Cavell class in early 1940s. (Virginia [Dregger] Dantona)

Some of the same kids a few years earlier. (Virginia [Dregger] Dantona)

 She also had this recollection of an event in the school hallway:

Hardly a man is still alive, who remembers this catch in ‘45.
Bad weather meant indoor recess, held in Edith Cavell’s long hallway. We were playing volleyball, and the ball struck the ceiling fixture! As it fell, the fixture turned over, so the light bulb was on top, with its open glass shade beneath. It fell safely into my waiting hands, and became a vivid memory.

Thanks for the memory, Virginia. Other readers have commented on the original post, so you might check there to see more recollections of former Cavell students.

If you have memories of your favorite park or playground — or school playground that became a park — send me a note.

David C. Smith  minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com

 

 

 

Trunk Highway 55 — Hiawatha Avenue — Through Minnehaha Park in 1968

The Minnesota Department of Highways’ first rendering of the elevated freeway proposed for Hiawatha Avenue — Trunk Highway 55 — through Minnehaha Park appeared in the Minneapolis Tribune on February 15, 1968. The view below is looking down Minnehaha Creek toward Minnehaha Falls.  The canoe is a nice touch. An illustration from a similar distance from the proposed freeway looking upstream would place you near the precipice of the Falls. There is only one reason this monstrosity wasn’t built: the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, then still named the Board of Park Commissioners, fought it all the way to the United States Supreme Court.

The Minnesota Department of Highways' first depiction of the elevted freeway it planned for Trunk Highway 55, Hiawatha Avenue, through Minnehaha Park. The illustration is dated 2-14-1968.

The Minnesota Department of Highways’ first depiction of the elevated freeway it planned for Trunk Highway 55, Hiawatha Avenue, through Minnehaha Park. The illustration is dated 2-14-1968.

I recall seeing a comment a few months ago on another blog that the proposed freeway was not elevated. It wasn’t originally — it was to be built on a steep embankment — but in response to criticism that the freeway would be a barrier between Minnehaha Falls and Longfellow Garden, the highway department proposed putting this 1000-foot section “on stilts”, in the words of the Minneapolis Tribune’s caption.

This was the first of two drawings of the elevated freeway that I know of. The highway department later produced a revised drawing that showed softened lines and curved supports to make the freeway “more graceful and attractive,” according to a description in the Minneapolis Star, August 6, 1969. The new design featured “gracefully curved lines on the road deck and possibly colored concrete,” said the Star. I’m trying to get my hands on the second drawing too. If anyone has a copy, I’d love to see it.

The brief that Minnesota Attorney General Douglas Head submitted to the U.S. Supreme Court in opposition to a Writ of Certiorari in October 1969 claimed that in addition to elevating the freeway the state had tried to address park board concerns by also removing a diamond freeway interchange originally planned on park property!

David C. Smith  minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com

© 2014 David C. Smith