The Two Pieces of Thomas Lowry Park

After an exchange of several e-mails with Bill Payne on the history of Thomas Lowry Park, I thought I should post the rest of what I know about the former Mt. Curve Triangles. (See the first of my exchanges with Bill in the comments section of the “About” page; and see the posts that generated his questions here and here.) After reading my posts and the historical profile of Thomas Lowry Park at the park board’s website, Bill questioned whether all of the park had ever been called Douglas Triangle before the park was officially named Mt. Curve Triangles on November 4, 1925. I think Bill is right that the larger part of the park — perhaps all of it — never had an official name until then.

On this 1903 map there is no “triangle” of land bounded by Bryant, Douglas and Mt. Curve, center right, at what would become Thomas Lowry Park. (John S. Borchert Map Library, University of Minnesota)

The questions arise because Thomas Lowry Park comprises two parcels of land acquired at different times: the tiny triangle — 0.07 acre — bordered by Douglas Avenue, Mt. Curve Avenue and Bryant Avenue South and the much larger quadrangle — 2.25 acres — between Douglas and Mt. Curve, Colfax and Bryant. This was before Bryant Avenue between Douglas and Mt. Curve was closed.

The 1903 plat map of Minneapolis at left doesn’t show a triangle of land at all east of Bryant. So it’s nearly certain that requests in 1899 from residents of the area, including Thomas Lowry, whose house is upper right on the map, that the park board maintain the grounds between Mt. Curve and Douglas apply to the lot between Bryant and Colfax. The park board denied that request because it didn’t own the land.

The park board’s first acquisition there is a bit cloudy. Park board proceedings note a request from S. G. Palmer et al for the “care of a triangular piece of land at the intersection of Mt. Curve and Douglass (sic) Aves.” The request was referred to the Committee on Designation and Acquisition of Grounds. That committee didn’t report back on the issue until 364 days had passed. When it did, it was unusual.

The April 1, 1907 proceedings of the park board report that the  committee recommended that “said triangle be not accepted.” A member of the committee immediately moved to amend the motion by striking out the word “not” and the amended motion was adopted — supposedly meaning that the park board had “accepted” ownership of the triangle from the city of Minneapolis. It was all a bit odd. The Minneapolis Tribune reported the next day that a group of residents had not only offered to “secure” the land, but “generously” to take preliminary steps to “make it fit.” That likely meant that private money would pay for installing curbs and grading the triangle, a common practice at the time. (The same thing was done at street triangles in Prospect Park and southwest Minneapolis.) Curiously, however, it wasn’t until 1911 that the park board’s annual report listed Douglas Triangle, 0.07 acres, as a new acquisition. There is no record in the proceedings that the name Douglas Triangle ever was adopted officially.

Perhaps events later in 1907 overtook the board’s willingness to accept the little triangle as a park. In August of that year a group of citizens petitioned the board to acquire “Block 29, Groveland Addition” as a park. If you look at the map above, you’ll see that Block 29 is now the major part of Thomas Lowry Park. But that petition was challenged by groups opposing the acquisition as noted in park board proceedings of September 16 and November 9, 1907, and June 15, 1908. The Lowry Hill Improvement Association weighed in in favor of the acquisition of what was commonly known as Hofflin’s Mound.

Mt. Curve Triangles when it was officially named in 1925. It is now Thomas Lowry Park. (Charles Hibbard, Minnesota Historical Society)

If anyone can tell us the story of Hofflin’s Mound I’d love to hear it. As I understand it, Hofflin’s Mound was the lone remaining high spot on Lowry Hill after most of the rest of the peak of the hill had been levelled to accommodate streets and homes. That may be the reason that it wasn’t developed.

The Minneapolis Tribune reported on May 29, 1908 that the park board committee had heard from both sides of the issue in person. Proponents of creating a park argued that it was nearly the entrance to the Minneapolis park system and could be made into a great beauty spot. Among the advocates was Edmund Walton, a prominent real estate man who lived on Mt. Curve Avenue. The newspaper didn’t report the reasons for opposition to the park, but in many other instances around the city opposition to parks was based on an unwillingness to pay the additional property assessments that would be levied to acquire and develop a park. The same can be safely assumed for the opponents of creating a park on Hofflin’s Mound. This may have been especially true because Lowry Hill and Kenwood land owners were already paying assessments for the acquisition of Kenwood Park in 1907. And it is unlikely that assessments for Hofflin’s Mound could have been spread over a very wide area because residents of surrounding neighborhoods, although generally affluent, would not likely have been in favor of paying for a park located amidst the most sumptuous houses in the city.

In the end, opposition to the park won the day. More than a year after the first petition for a park on the spot, the park board adopted a committee recommendation on September 7, 1908 that “further consideration of this matter be indefinitely postponed.”

Then quietly, three years later, the park board officially listed the acquisition of the very small triangle it had “accepted” in 1907 — and called it Douglas Triangle. (I can find no reference in City Council proceedings from 1907 to 1911 that it turned over to the park board any land in the vicinity.)

The park keeper responsible for Douglas Triangle also took care of Stevens Square, and Virginia, Groveland and Smith Triangles, as well as a property I’ve never heard of  — Walton Triangle. He was paid $2.50 a day according to pay schedules published in 1914 and 1915 proceedings of the park board.

There the matter remained until 1922, when John Friedman proposed to build a $2 million hotel and apartment complex on the site. Albert C. Loring, Charles Loring’s son, and other residents of Lowry Hill apparently turned to the park board as the last resort to block a development they didn’t want near their homes. (The park board had the authority to condemn land, the ultimate and perhaps only protection of landowners against unwanted development. This was before zoning regulations in Minneapolis.) A petition was recorded from Loring and others on September 22, 1922, which was referred to committee. By October 4, the committee recommended acquisition of the land as a park with 100% of the cost of acquisition and development to be assessed against neighborhood residents. A vote was postponed, but the acquisition passed unanimously on November 4, 1922.

Wyman’s plan for pools and pergola in what is now Thomas Lowry Park. At the lower left of his design you can see the little triangle cut off from the rest of the park by Bryant Avenue, which has since been vacated. That little triangle was the original Douglas Triangle. The only record I can find of park board improvements to Douglas Triangle before this plan was the planting of 194 shrubs and 1 tree in 1919-1920. (1922 Annual Report of the Minneapolis Board of Park Commissioners)

Writing in the 1922 Annual Report of the park board, park superintendent Theodore Wirth, described the new little park as being “in a class of its own on account of its naturalistic effects in the heart of a residential district.”

Phelps Wyman’s plan for the triangle was published in January 1923 and the plan was implemented the following year. In the 1924 annual report, Theodore Wirth called the park improvements “one of the most expensive undertakings in the history of the department,” but also one of “the most attractive and satisfactory.” Wirth justified the expense, paid 100% over 10 years by nearby property owners, because the park was “at the entrance to one of the very finest residential districts in the city.”

Finally, on November 4, 1925 the park board officially named the two-in-one park “Mt. Curve Triangles.” The plural form of the name was never used, but oddly enough the name of Douglas Triangle did survive for quite some time. In the 1953 annual report, park superintendent Charles Doell referred to improvements made at “Douglas Triangle,” a name that had been officially defunct for 31 years.

Thanks to Bill Payne for his suggestions and for forwarding a copy of an article Phelps Wyman wrote for American Landscape Architect, November 1931 describing the philosophy that informed his design pictured above. Thanks also to Bill for what I understand have been his considerable efforts to maintain and beautify Thomas Lowry Park.

David C. Smith

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