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 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.
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.
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