BPC: Board of Park Commissioners or Buttered Pop Corn?

I recently received a note from Marge Siers who wrote about her memories of growing up in Minneapolis parks. Her dad, Earl Baker, was a park board employee from 1952 into the 1980s. She wrote of her father:

He took care of Marshall Field and Bottineau Field in northeast Minneapolis and later was in charge of Webber Park in north Minneapolis. My dad loved his job and took great pride in caring for his parks. He remembers when the guys would get on a wagon going from park to park to cut the grass and rake leaves when all that work was done by hand and there were about 5000 acres of lawn. When we were kids, many Sunday drives were spent checking out the parks and how they were being kept. Dad could tell by looking at the grass if mower blades needed sharpening or if they were cutting unevenly or cutting too short. And, yes, Monday morning those problems were taken care of (he still does this today).

The dam on Shingle Creek next to the old pool and library at Webber Park, where Earl Baker worked. The wall at right surrounded the pool. The pool was built originally to be filled with water from the creek, but as the creek became more polluted, city water was used. Marge Siers didn't know when the photo was taken or who took it, but remarked that in her childhood "photo taking cost money so they were reserved for special occasions."

The dam on Shingle Creek next to the old pool and library at Webber Park, where Earl Baker worked. The wall at right surrounded the pool. The pool was built originally to be filled with water from the creek, but as the creek became polluted, city water was used. Marge Siers didn’t know when this photo was taken or who took it, but remarked that in her childhood “photo taking cost money so they were reserved for special occasions.”

Marge wrote that she and her siblings remember going to work with their dad and playing all day in the park or ice skating all day during winter vacations.

Two of her dad’s vivid memories were of an older colleague who told about maintaining the Minneapolis airport in its early days — yes it was owned and operated by the Minneapolis park board. His colleague told of planes buzzing the maintenance building to get someone to turn on the runway lights. Earl also recollected a frantic, but successful, effort to keep an oil spill out of Shingle Creek when vandals damaged tanks in the pump house at the Webber Pool.

Marge also recalled the times when she and her siblings would help set up folding chairs for events at North Commons. Stencilled on the back of each chair was “BPC”, which they pretended stood for “Buttered Pop Corn.” In fact, it was the mark of the “Board of Park Commissioners”, the official name of the park board from 1883 until it was changed in 1969 to the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board or MPRB. When the BPC was created, active recreation — things like running, jumping, climbing, swinging or playing ball games — was not considered appropriate behavior in parks. Parks were for quiet rest and relaxation in beautiful surroundings.

The memories of Marge and Earl put in context the park board’s current efforts to secure needed funds for maintaining and operating neighborhood parks throughout the city. TImes change, needs change and we constantly ask for more and better services at facilities that play central roles in so many of our lives. Now we have incredible public spaces for many types of recreation from the most active to the most tranquil — even if the park board no longer owns an airport.* Those spaces, which were created to meet needs, often demands, expressed by us, can’t be maintained without funding.

Thanks for the memories Marge and Earl.

David C. Smith

© 2015 David C. Smith

* The latest calculation from Renay Leone, park board real estate attorney, is that the park board still owns about 35 acres of land under the runways at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

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9 comments so far

  1. Christina on

    I wonder if her dad worked with my great-uncle, Art Gunderson. He was also an employee of the Minneapolis Park Board in these years. Retired in the 80s.

    • David C. Smith on

      Does anybody know both Earl and Art? Christina, your note and earlier comments emphasize the rich tradition in Minneapolis of not only using, but caring for our parks. I have always been impressed with the personal commitment and dedication of park board employees. They are justly proud of the park and recreation system they built, maintain and continue to improve.

    • marge Siers on

      Christina, Earl remembers the name, he said he knew him in passing so I am assuming they did not work together. He said after they made divisions he did not get to all the parks like he used to . Earl worked out of the north side warehouse. ( left a reply but dont know if it went through so re-posting it)

  2. Whitney Clark on

    David, Another great post. As a Minneapolis boy who literally grew up in our amazing parks, I enjoy every one of your articles…never miss reading them. Thanks for your excellent work!

  3. Marge Siers on

    Thanks David for posting some of my family’s memories. Starting in the 1950’s the park keepers flooded their own rinks, Earl said between Dec. 5 and 10 is when they most often had the right temps to start flooding.

    • David C. Smith on

      I wonder if the average date for flooding rinks is different now. Anyone from the park board have a record of that?

  4. […] Pudvan’s comment on the previous post reminded me to share a wonderful image of Tower Hill that she sent to […]

  5. Joan Pudvan on

    FASCINATING, AS USUAL…SOUNDS LIKE MY PROSPECT PARK MEMORIES OF THE ICE MAN, SHORTY, THE MILK MAN, MR. BLEED AND ICE SKATING AT THE (PARK) RINK WITH THE WARMING HOUSE, NOW NAMED AFTER GEORGE LUXTON, I THINK….FIREMEN FLOODING THE RINK AT FIRST POSSIBLE MOMENT IN THE LATE 30’S, FORTIES…..MUCH ANTICIPATED ICE!! .LUCIOUS MEMORIES OF LONG AGO..THANKS


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