The Award for Prettiest Triangles Goes to….Prospect Park!
The prettiest little parks in Minneapolis are in Prospect Park.
I visited that neighborhood recently — it’s not a place you pass through conveniently on your way to anywhere else — to see what kind of damage the Emerald Ash Borer had done to Tower Hill Park.
Last year nearly 80 diseased ash trees were removed from the park in which the green beetle had staked its first claim in Minneapolis. I anticipated seeing the Witch’s Hat on a bald head. Not so. Other species, especially the old oaks, make the absence of ashes barely noticeable. Several new trees had been planted, but the vegetation around the hill and tower is very dense. Given the weather of the last few months, the park, as well as the rest of the neighborhood, had the feel of a rain forest. The gentle mist at the time exaggerated the effect.
While in the neighborhood I wanted a closer look at the street triangles that are owned as parks by the MPRB. My recollection from visiting them a few years ago was that they were among the smallest “parks” in the city and the MPRB inventory lists Orlin Triangle (SE Orlin at SE Melbourne) as one of six triangles that measure 0.01 acres. The other one-hundredth-acre parks are Elmwood, Laurel, Oak Crest, Rollins and Sibley, all triangles; however, all but Elmwood appear to the naked eye to be considerably larger than Orlin.
Orlin Triangle measures roughly 30 feet per side. What’s remarkable about the triangle though is that it is a little garden. The unifying element of the little triangle gardens in Prospect Park is that each has one, two or three boulders.
The first record I can find of requests to have the park board take over Prospect Park street triangles was in 1908. In response to a petition from the Prospect Park Improvement Association, the park board agreed on September 7, 1908 to plant flowers and shrubbery on the triangles and care for them if the neighborhood would curb them and fill them with “good black soil,” and “obtain the consent of the City Council to the establishment of such triangles.” The triangles were apparently at that time just wide and probably muddy spots in the roads.
The association reported in November of that year that the triangles were ready for planting. There is no indication in park records of how many triangles were involved or exactly where they were. Nor is there any record of whether the park board planted the flowers and shrubs as promised, or cared for them.
The next time I can find those properties mentioned in park board proceedings is 1915 when the City Council officially asked the Board of Park Commissioners to take control of four triangles in Prospect Park, which the park board agreed to do in October, 1915. In November the board named the four after the streets on which they were located: Barton, Bedford, Clarence and Orlin. Bedford was at some point paved over and no longer exists.
As for Clarence Triangle, its official address is listed in the middle of a block of houses and there is no traffic triangle at the corner of Bedford and Clarence where it is supposed to be. There is a triangle, however, at Clarence and Seymour, which is considerably smaller than the 0.02 acre that Clarence Triangle is listed at. If this were a park triangle it would easily be the smallest in the park system, measuring only 20 feet per side.
Somebody must mow the grass around the little maple tree. Did MPRB plant the maple tree or did someone else? Was it the same someone elses who maintain the other triangles in Prospect Park?
The other impressive non-park triangle in Prospect Park is at Orlin and Arthur. This is a three-boulder triangle blooming with gorgeous flowers. I’m sure the rest of the park system would be honored if this, too, were an official triangle park.
These little gems of gardens are what the park founders had in mind for the park system. They didn’t imagine giant sports complexes or ball fields in parks. They imagined parks to be little places of beauty — civilizing natural beauty — which is why they agreed to make parks of small odd lots at street intersections anyway. When you see the triangle parks of Prospect Park, you will understand better the intentions of the founders of Minneapolis parks.
Somebody deserves an award for maintaining those beautiful triangles, I just don’t know who to give it to. If you do, let me know.
The runner-up for prettiest triangle is Laurel Triangle at the intersection of Laurel Ave. and Cedar Lake Road in Bryn Mawr. Whoever planted and tends that garden deserves praise too.
David C. Smith minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com