Horace Cleveland Hated Rectangles
Oak Lake Addition was a rare real estate development in Minneapolis because the streets followed the contour of the land instead of a grid pattern. While I’ve found no evidence of who was responsible for the layout of the addition in 1873, it is reminiscent of Horace Cleveland’s work in St. Anthony Park for William Marshall at about the same time and later in Washburn Park or Tangletown near Minnehaha Creek. Although I find no reference to the project in Cleveland’s correspondence, it is plausible that he was involved in the layout of Oak Lake Addition.
Samuel Gale, the man who platted the Oak Lake Addition, had his hands in nearly everything in the young city: School Board, Athenaeum and Library Board, Academy of Natural Sciences, Society of Fine Arts, Board of Trade, City Council, the public lecture series, he even sang in the city’s most celebrated quartet along with his brother, Harlow, and it was later claimed that although nearly everyone speculated in real estate in those days, he was the dean of realtors in the city. Given his wide interests and involvement in civic affairs, it would be incredible if Gale hadn’t been one of those who welcomed Horace Cleveland to the city during his first visits in 1872.
In July, 1873 Gale was the chair of the Board of Trade’s committee on parks, which reported that several “public-spirited citizens” planned to devote considerable time to the issue of parks with “Mr. Cleveland, well-known landscape gardener” before the next Board of Trade meeting. (Minneapolis Tribune, July 18, 1873.) I think it is safe to assume that Gale himself was one of those who planned to meet with Cleveland. So it appears almost certain that Gale and Cleveland knew each other and had likely discussed park issues before Gale produced his plat for the Oak Lake Addition.
Absent information on who designed Oak Lake Addition, it’s fun to speculate that Cleveland may have had a hand in it, or at least influenced it through the book he published in early 1873, Landscape Architecture as Applied to the Wants of the West. In his classic of landscape architecture, Cleveland expressed his distaste for the grid pattern of streets in so many cities, because it ignored “sanitary, economic and esthetic sense.”
“Every Western traveller is familiar with the monotonous character of towns resulting from the endless repetition of the dreary uniformity of rectangles,” he wrote.
While he singled out western cities — it was his book’s theme – it takes only a glimpse of a map of Manhattan to know that rectangularism was not a sin peculiar to the frontier. For New York, however, it was already too late to do anything about that “dreary uniformity”; the West still had a chance to get it right. Cleveland added that “even when the site is level” the rectangular fashion of laying out cities “is on many accounts objectionable.”
He suggested that if blocks had to be rectangular at least they should be cocked 45 degrees from the cardinal points of the compass — streets running NE-SW and NW-SE – so that every house would have sunshine on its front doorstep some time during the year.
Another Samuel Gale real estate development in north Minneapolis, Forest Heights, also took advantage of the contours of the land — and also set aside land for parks: Glen Gale, Cottage Park and Irving and Oliver triangles. This development was platted in July, 1883 a month after Cleveland’s presentation to the park board of his “suggestions” for development of the city’s parks and parkways. Is it possible that Gale engaged the services of Horace Cleveland in Forest Heights, too? Possible, yes, but there is no evidence of it — other than the gracefully curving streets, the absence of right angles where streets intersect, and land set aside for parks. But man of many talents that he was, Samuel Gale might have managed the entire layout himself. Still, I bet he at least read Cleveland’s book – if he didn’t consult, or hire, Cleveland directly.
David C.Smith minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com