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

Two New Park-Related Books by Joe Bissen and Sue Leaf

I’m happy to recommend two books that I’ve recently added to my shelves on Minneapolis history.

Two recent additions to my Minnesota history book shelf

Two recent additions to my Minnesota history book shelves.

Fore! Gone. Minnesota’s Lost Golf Courses 1897-1999 by Joe Bissen. Joe contacted me after reading my pieces on the old Bryn Mawr Golf Club before it spun off Minikahda and then Interlachen. We ended up spending an enjoyable morning roaming around the Bryn Mawr neighborhood trying to pin down the location of the course and the clubhouse. It was a task made more difficult by the changes in street names and house numbering systems over the last 115 years. Bryn Mawr is only one of many long-gone golf courses that Bissen writes about in this entertaining book. If you’ve played much golf in the state, you’ll find these stories especially enjoyable, but you needn’t be a fan of “a good walk spoiled” to enjoy these stories of changing landscapes.

For Minneapolis history buffs, I’d recommend a visit to Joe’s blog as well, where he goes into greater detail on his search for more info on the ancient Camden Park Golf Club that was supposedly built around Shingle Creek by employees of C.A. Smith’s lumber company.

A Love Affair with Birds: The Life of Thomas Sadler Roberts, by Sue Leaf. The wild landscape north of Lake Harriet, which is named for Thomas Sadler Roberts, is widely known as a bird sanctuary in the Minneapolis park system. What is probably less-well known,  is that the entire Minneapolis park system is a bird refuge — and has been for about 75 years. Roberts was a doctor and later in life an ornithologist at the University of Minnesota who was instrumental in creating the fabulous displays at the Bell Museum of Natural History at the U.

When I was still in grade school in the 1960s I remember my parents taking us to see those displays on Sunday afternoons. I don’t think they are as heavily visited now as they once were, but I had such fond memories of those life-like exhibits that I took my daughter there several times in this century. A couple of years ago I included in this blog  a photo of wolves attacking a moose outside the museum.

Now, thanks to author Sue Leaf, I know the story of how the Bell Museum came into existence — as well as many other details of the life of a remarkable man. Leaf places Roberts’ life in the context of the early history of Minneapolis. His friends, colleagues and benefactors included many influential people in the creation of the city’s economy and institutions.

The story Leaf tells heightens appreciation for the wildlife habitat that Minneapolis parks have preserved not only in the Thomas Sadler Roberts Bird Sanctuary, but throughout the park system.

I hope you will keep both books in mind for your book-inclined friends and family this gift-giving season. Or buy one for yourself and save it for a day when you’re snowed in. Sorry, but you know it’s coming.

David C. Smith   minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com

Post script: Check back in a couple days and perhaps you can help us solve a mystery in Thomas Sadler Roberts Bird Sanctuary.

© 2014 David C. Smith

 

Minneapolis Speed Skating Update

The articles I’ve posted on speedskating have been among the most widely read of all topics I have covered. Many readers also have added comments that are full of interesting information and reminiscences. So I would encourage anyone interested in the history of speedskating in Minnesota, especially at Powderhorn Park, to revisit those posts to catch up on the latest info. (Click on “Speed Skating” under “Popular Tags” at right for a list of articles.)

Along those lines, I got a recent note from Patrick Fitzgerald that the description of the photo of the 1948 Olympic team was correct even though it was taken in February, 1947. The 1948 team was selected based on results of the National Championships the year before.

Bob Fitzgerald was the first man named to the 1948 team as a result of his winning the Senior Men’s National Championship in January, 1947, a repeat of his 1946 title. Both times he edged out Ken Bartholomew, another Minneapolitan, for the title.

Who is this Bearcat skater?

Who is this Bearcat skater?

A reader sent me a copy of the 11 x 14 photo above of an unknown skater, which he had found at a local garage sale. He purchased the photo as well as the size 10 Riedell skates the man in the photo was wearing. We believe he is wearing the uniform of the Bearcats from around 1950. Can anyone identify the skater?

I hope to have more recollections of the Powderhorn skating scene from the 1940s sometime this fall.

David C. Smith  minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com

© 2014 David C. Smith

“The Yard” — or Downtown East Park: A Caution from Minneapolis Park History

Hurrying to create a park in “The Yard” between downtown and the new Vikings stadium could result in disaster, if the history of Minneapolis parks provides any lessons. The greatest land-use mistakes in Minneapolis park history came from creating parks for purposes other than the relaxation, recreation, entertainment or edification of its citizens. Creating grounds for a pleasant stroll to a stadium eight days a year isn’t reason enough to make “The Yard” work as a park. Planning for those two blocks has to go well beyond landscaping only for the benefit of surrounding property owners, too.

An Expensive Failure: The Gateway

On four notable occasions, the park board has created parks largely for other than “park” reasons. The first, and still most-disastrous, was the creation of The Gateway in 1913 at the junction of Hennepin and Nicollet Avenues just west of old Bridge Square approaching the Hennepin Avenue Bridge. The triangular park was created to be an attractive “gateway” from the railroad station into downtown. The welcome intended for visitors, or travellers returning home, was clear from the words carved in stone on the pavilion at The Gateway:

“More than her arms, the city opens its heart to you.”

That slogan must have sounded less smarmy to 1913 ears than it does to mine. Parks, as well as slogans perhaps, were still on experimental footing in the “new” cities of the American west and The Gateway was the first venture of the Minneapolis Board of Park Commissioners into downtown Minneapolis.

The buildings razed to make room for the park reportedly housed 27 saloons, which for many park advocates was reason enough to create the park. But neither open heart nor closed saloons were enough to make the park successful.

The Gateway 1918 at the intersection of Nicollet Avenue (left) and Hennepin Avenue (right). (Charles P. Gibson, Minnesota Historical Society)

The Gateway 1918 at the intersection of Nicollet Avenue (left) and Hennepin Avenue (right).  The Mississippi River and Hennepin Avenue Bridge are behind the photographer, Charles P. Gibson. (Minnesota Historical Society)

By 1923, the park board was spending more than 5% of its annual citywide operating budget on the park, mostly on park police patrols, because, in addition to the city’s arms, the park board had opened toilets – er, “comfort stations” – in The Gateway’s pavilion. The park quickly became a favorite hangout for lumbermen between jobs, as well as the unemployed, indigent or inebriated. What was supposed to get rid of ugliness and beautify the city, became an eyesore itself.

This infamous 1937 photo may overstate the case, but it does suggest one common use of the park. (Minneapolis Star Journal, Minnesota Historical Society)

This infamous 1937 photo may overstate the case, but it does suggest one typical use of the park. Notice however that there are no nappers across the street, on the block that holds the pavilion and fountain. (Minneapolis Star Journal, Minnesota Historical Society)

Despite an attractive pavilion and a fountain donated by Edmund Phelps (now in Lyndale Park near the Rose Garden), the park served too few constituents (or at least some the city thought undesirable) and little park purpose beyond decoration. The park was controversial even when it was built, with such thoughtful park observers as former park commissioners William Folwell and Charles Loring opposing the park. Loring’s wife owned some property condemned for the park, but nonetheless he predicted correctly that it would become a home for indigent men. (See Florence Barton Loring’s reflective response here.) The pavilion was closed and leveled in 1953 and the fountain was removed to Lyndale Park in 1963, when the old Gateway ceased to exist. (For the rest of The Gateway story go here, then click on “Parks, Lakes, Trails…”, then “Gateway” in the index.)

The Gateway in July 1954 after demolition of the pavilion. Fenced, desolate, doomed. (MInneapolis Star Journal Tribune, Minnesota Historical Society)

Fenced. Desolate. Doomed. The Gateway in July 1954 after demolition of the pavilion, looking toward the river from Washington Avenue.  (Minneapolis Star Journal Tribune, Minnesota Historical Society)

The Gateway was by far the most expensive park built during the first thirty years of the Minneapolis park board’s existence. The total cost was nearly one million dollars, more than had been paid to acquire  Lake Harriet, Lake Calhoun and Lake of the Isles – plus parks and parkways along both sides of the Mississippi River – combined!

A Huge Success: Wold-Chamberlain Field

The next time the park board was asked to build something for the city turned out quite differently. When Minneapolis needed an airport, the park board was the only municipal entity that could legally own land outside city limits. Therefore, it fell to the park board in 1928 to own and operate the municipal airport on the site of the old motor speedway next to the Fort Snelling military reservation. The park board operated and developed Wold-Chamberlain Field, built it into a respectable airport, and turned it over in the mid-1940s to the newly created Metropolitan Airport Commission. Chalk one up to collaboration among city, park, civic and business interests. The goals, however, were clear, unambiguous and limited – and in the 1920s the airplane was still little more than a curiosity. Few people anticipated the future importance of flying machines and places to land them.

Wold-Chamberlaind Field, Minneapolis's airport, 1941. Owned and developed by the Minneapolis park board, 1926-1943. One of the only success stories when the park board was asked to develop something other than a "park." (Minneapolis Park and Recretion Board.)

Wold-Chamberlain Field, Minneapolis’s airport, 1941. The passenger terminal is lower right. Owned and developed by the Minneapolis park board, 1926-1943. One of the only success stories when the park board was asked to develop something other than a “park.” (Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board)

A Second Downtown Disaster: Pioneer Square

The next effort at collaboration was much less successful. Like The Gateway, it was downtown. Another cautionary tale. The U.S. government wanted to build a new post office in downtown Minneapolis in 1932, but asked that a proper setting be provided for the building on the west bank of the river just above St. Anthony Falls – a stone’s throw from The Gateway, which was already admittedly a failure as a park. In the grip of Depression, however, the city needed the jobs and the federal money that would be spent, despite what seem to have been the obvious warnings of The Gateway experience.

Dedication of Pioneers Statue in Pioneers Square in front of the post office, 1932. (Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board)

Dedication of Pioneer Statue in Pioneer Square in front of the post office, 1936. (Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board)

The city asked the park board to build a post office park, but the park board demurred until the city agreed to finance most of the land acquisition instead of having the park board assess property owners. Enough money was left after land acquisition, demolition and improvement to commission a sculpture for the park, which depicted pioneers. Despite the sculpture (now in B.F. Nelson Park) and the attraction of a new, immense post office, Pioneer Square soon followed the path of The Gateway. According to Charles Doell, park superintendent in the 1950s, after the snow melted at the end of the winter of 1953, maintenance crews picked up 70 bushel baskets of empty wine and whiskey bottles from The Gateway. One Monday morning in the summer of 1953, crews picked up 62 empty wine and whiskey bottles from the grass at Pioneers Square. (Charles E. Doell Papers, Hennepin History Museum). Further proof that you can’t just plop green space down in a city and expect it to serve some vague “beautifying” or “park” purpose – even with some dressing up. Pioneer Square also fell to urban renewal in the 1960s. (Read more about Pioneer Square and other “lost” Minneapolis parks here.)

A Drainage Ditch

The fourth instance of the park board acquiring a park for non-park reasons occurred in the far north of the city. The low land around Shingle Creek north of Webber Park often flooded, so was unusable for development. Due to a critical housing shortage for returning soldiers and sailors and their new families after World War II, the city asked the park board to acquire Shingle Creek – from Webber Park to the northern city limit — and lower the creek bed to drain the neighborhood so homes could be built there. The park board very reluctantly complied with the city’s request, even though the park board had higher priorities elsewhere. The effort succeeded in creating new housing lots, but has contributed little to the overall park experience in the city. Creekview Park is certainly a positive in the neighborhood despite its location only a few blocks from Bohannon Park, but Shingle Creek, in places, still resembles what you’d expect of County Ditch Thirteen. (I think Shingle Creek could and should be made a more valuable park resource.)

The Yard. Somewhat off topic, history suggests the advisability of a different name than “The Yard.” It’s kinda folksy and cute, but Minneapolis has twice tried “The (Something)” and both were trouble. (Try writing about them or describing them and you’ll see.) The Gateway and The Parade, both official names, were inevitably shortened to Gateway and Parade. Those two words were distinctive enough to stand alone without creating confusion, at times, but “Yard” isn’t. Whose Yard? Not to mention connotations of prison. The name may have served Vikings or Wells Fargo or Ryan or Rybak’s marketing efforts, I don’t know its origin, making the place sound homey, as if it was “our” space, personal space, but it has severe limitations for daily usage.

Of these four cases of park building for non-park reasons, the two parks created downtown, The Gateway and Pioneer Square, stand out as dismal and expensive failures. They were built strictly to provide a more attractive setting for other activities and buildings. I’m afraid that is all that the Downtown East Park or “The Yard” is now. And if that is where the discussion remains, it will fail as a park and become an eyesore, a headache or both. Who will go there, why will they go there, what will they do there? What use will be made of the space, what traditions will be shaped there, what memories will be recorded there? If the answer doesn’t involve more than eight Sundays a year, it is the wrong answer. And this is not Chicago, New York, Palo Alto or Cambridge, Mass. It is Minneapolis, which already has parks, lakes, river, streams – and history. Don’t give us someone else’s park and expect it to work.

David C. Smith   minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com

© 2014, David C. Smith

The Last of the Deluge: Minnehaha Creek Floods Meadowbrook Golf Course

Ok, enough about flood waters — but I had to post a couple more shots of water winning. These were taken at Meadowbrook Golf Course, the Minneapolis park course located in St. Louis Park and Hopkins on Excelsior Boulevard. (Click here to learn why the Minneapolis Park Board owns a golf course outside city limits. In fact, it owns four courses outside of Minneapolis: Theodore Wirth, Francis A. Gross, Fort Snelling and Meadowbrook.)

Meadowbrook Lake. Meadowbrook Golf Course doesn't usually have a lake in the middle. The pond on Minnehaha Creek on teh east side of the course was created in the late 1920s shortly after the course opened, because high water in the creek flooded part of the course. The pond was dredged to deepen it and use the earth dredged to raise the level of the course around it. That has worked pretty well through the history of the course -- but not when Minnehaha Creek rises this much. This was more than a week after the heavy rains of June 19. (David C. Smith)

Meadowbrook Lake! Meadowbrook Golf Course — seen here from Excelsior Boulevard in St Louis Park — usually doesn’t have a lake in the middle of it. A pond on Minnehaha Creek on the eastern edge of the course — several hundred yards from this scene — was created in the late 1920s shortly after the course opened, because high water in the creek flooded part of the course. The pond was dredged to hold potential flood water and the earth dredged for the pond was used to raise the level of the course around it. That has worked pretty well through the history of the course — but not when Minnehaha Creek rises this much. This photo was taken more than a week after the heavy rains of June 19. (David C. Smith)

Another shot of the new lake in Meadowbrook Golf Course taken from near Excelsior Boulevard. (David C. Smith)

Another shot of the new lake in Meadowbrook Golf Course taken from near Excelsior Boulevard. (David C. Smith)

A different lake view, this looking east from Meadowbrook Road through the heart of the golf course. Great new wildlife habitat.  (David C. Smith)

A different “lake” view, this looking east from Meadowbrook Road through the heart of the golf course. The 14 water hazards the course normally features appear to have merged into one. (David C. Smith)

As of this afternoon, the only Minneapolis public courses that remain closed due to flooding are Meadowbrook and Hiawatha. Only this afternoon, Theodore Wirth began allowing the use of carts again. There is no target date for when the two closed courses will reopen, but it’s likely to be awhile — especially with another 2-4 inches of rain forecast for this weekend.

Not only will cleanup and repair of these courses be expensive, but the revenue they typically generate will be lost to the Park Board for much of the summer.

David C. Smith  minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com

© 2014 David C. Smith

Mississippi River flood

Saturday afternoon I spent a bit more time looking at high water around the city. On that gorgeous afternoon, Minneapolis parks were heavily patronized, partly because of the beautiful day and partly because people were curious about the effects of our summer deluge.

The banks of the Mississippi River that I helped clean in April were under water again. Maybe when these flood waters subside, Friends of the Mississippi River should sponsor another trash pick up. Or we could each take a trash bag along when we go out for riverside hikes.

More evidence of high water on the big creek at the Ford Dam.

High water over the Ford Dam June 21, 2014. Late last summer at one time there was no water flowing over the dam and below the dam was mostly dry land. (David C. Smith)

High water over the Ford Dam, June 21, 2014. Late last summer, there was no water flowing over the dam and below the dam was mostly dry land. (David C. Smith)

Last summer you could walk from the locks to the island where the usbmerged trees are now. (David C. Smith, June 21, 2014)

Last summer you could walk from the locks to the island where the submerged trees are now. The Ford Dam is just to the left of this photo. (David C. Smith, June 21, 2014)

Both photos were taken from the bluff at Minnehaha Park and the Soldiers Home. Water levels in Minnehaha Creek had subsided little, if at all, from Thursday to Saturday. Water was still thundering over Minnehaha Falls.

David C. Smith  minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com