The Big Bowl: Seven Oaks Oval

It’s a steep descent into Minneapolis’s cheapest park, more than twenty-five feet down from the street. And it contains no river or creek bed; at least there’s no water in it anymore. It’s a huge bowl full of wild greenery one block west of West River Parkway and East 34th Street.. There are many little parks in Minneapolis that no one but neighbors really knows about, like the triangles I wrote about earlier this summer. But this park covers more than two acres, more than half the size of a typical city block. And the only evidence that the park board has ever spent a penny on the interior of the park is the dreaded orange paint ring around the tree trunk in the picture: a park board forester has been here. Someone is watching.

Seven Oaks Oval: The cheapest park in Minneapolis, twenty-five feet below street grade

Seven Oaks Oval has to be the cheapest park in the city measured by the cost-per-acre to acquire and maintain the property during its life as a park. Seven Oaks Oval officially became a park in 1922, at least that’s when the park board accepted the property as a park. Park board proceedings claim it was platted as a park in the original plat of Seven Oaks River Lots in 1913, but that plat already shows up with a park in the middle on the 1903 plat map of the city. Regardless, it cost the park board nothing to acquire.

A young woman, maybe a phantom, darted through the green and disappeared.

The year the park was acquired, 1922, was such a busy one at the Minneapolis park board that the acquisition wasn’t even mentioned in the park board’s annual report for the year. Park superintendent Theodore Wirth included a modest plan for the park in the 1928 annual report, a few criss-crossing paths and two campfire sites for the Boy Scouts and Campfire Girls, but nothing ever came of it. Perhaps the park board placed the boulders in a small bit of grass border around the bowl, but what they cost to place there might have been the only money ever spent on the park beyond mowing the thin fringe of grass beside the curb.

It seems a place to exercise the imagination, a kind of spooky hideaway, the kind of I-dare-you place kids tell their visiting cousins scary stories about. When I visited, old branches had been stacked to form a crude shelter halfway down the hill, a pirate’s lair or the shelter of a shipwrecked sailor. I’m sure once inside that one would hear lions or tigers sniffing about the entrance. Perhaps someone who lived in the neighborhood can provide an account of the odd park. I’d love to know more. If any geologist out there could explain this topographical oddity to me, I’d also appreciate that.

Odd Shapes

What I know for sure is that Seven Oaks Oval is one of only two park properties named for shapes that don’t have angles. The other is Caleb Dorr Circle on the east end of the Franklin Avenue Bridge. Ironically, Caleb Dorr Circle has for many years actually been a triangle. There used to be other ovals and circles, but they’ve been lost to streets and traffic.

By my last count there are 33 “triangles” and 7 “squares” remaining in the Minneapolis park system. The squares are nearly evenly distributed throughout the city. How many can you name?

David C. Smith   minneapolisparkhistoryt[at]q.com

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9 comments so far

  1. Jo on

    I, too, grew up by the “Oval.” My understanding is that it was a collapsed sink hole. Our home on Edmund Blvd. did have a cave underneath it. We’ve seen a map and know how far the cave extends. Also, “back in the day”, my brother would bounce his basketball in our unfinished basement (concrete floor) and our next door neighbor could hear the bouncing basketball in their house!

    • David Smith on

      Thanks, Jo. Must have been hard to keep secrets!

  2. mnwindowrestoration on

    According to a neighbor who grew up here in the 1930’s , there was an additional sink hole on the northeast corner of 47th Ave and 34th St. It was filled in the 1930’s and the two houses that stand there now were erected on the site. At one point these holes were part of the Mississippi River system and connected to the river via a cave. The cave still exists. There is an access door in the road on West River Parkway below the stone wall at 34th St. but it is sealed shut. Allegedly, the cave goes back 800 ft from the river bluff towards the sink holes.

  3. […] one has answered correctly my challenge of a couple weeks ago to name the seven “squares” that are parks in the Minneapolis park […]

  4. Jim on

    I grew up in the neighborhood in the 60’s. We simply called it “the Oval”. It was a great playground with great hiding places. It was a wonderful place for little imaginations to run wild!

  5. David C. Smith on

    Thanks for the info Tim and Michael.

  6. […] read from original news source: The Big Bowl: Seven Oaks Oval « Minneapolis Park History […]

  7. Tim Casey on

    It’s a sinkhole. A cave collapsed.

  8. Michael on

    Oh, no! You let out one of our neighborhood secrets! We often swing on the ropes hanging from the trees and explore the stick forts; in the winter there are some (kind of scary) sled runs down the hills, and it’s a great place to practice hill climbing in snowshoes.

    My wife, who is a water resource engineer, tells me that this is the site of a cave collapse, and that there are networks of caves under the neighboring houses. It’s basically a sink hole, and undesirable for much use beyond its current state (you nail it perfectly as the “I-dare-you place kids tell their visiting cousins scary stories about”). Every neighborhood should have a neglected piece of wasteland around which imaginations can weave terrible tales.


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