Norma Olson Remembers Prospect Park Triangles
In Devon, England last week a former resident of Minneapolis found this website and was intrigued by my account a few years ago of the smallest parks in Minneapolis, the triangles in Prospect Park, near Tower Hill. Becky Stannard, my correspondent, remembered them well, having attended Pratt School. But she had more than memories, she had a story about how the boulders appeared on the triangles there. It was written by her mother, Norma Olson. I have printed it below, with thanks to Becky and Norma.
Maris’s Mini Parks
By Norma Olson, 2-28-94
In Prospect Park
Where we lived for 40 years
Scattered through the neighborhood
At the intersections of streets
Are small triangles and squares of land
Left over from the making of streets
Whose design was influenced
By the old cow paths
Dating back to farming days.
When Lady Bird declared
With enthusiasm, if not passion
That Beauty was important
That wherever possible, in America
We plant a shrub or tree
We took it to heart.
The local Beauty Committee
Especially Maris Thomes
Who has lived some in Japan
Started talking about the opportunity
Offered by our bits and pieces — the triangles.
She cocked her head and mused
Wouldn’t it be nice
If we had some big rocks
To help us dress up those triangles?
For some months, after finding myself
President of the Minneapolis Committee on Urban Environment
An organization with big ideas, little power and no budget
I had been visiting around City Hall
With the pros at the Park Board, the Housing Authority and Public Works
It’s sort of a treat for middle management bureaucrats
To dream a little and to visit with neighborhood people
Who aren’t asking for anything.
While I knew most of these folks from other contexts
They might have eyed me with
A certain amusement
But a condition of trust existed.
On this day, in late winter I dropped in on Martin,
Associate Operations Engineer
At Public Works, during his coffee break.
“Well, come in and sit a spell. What are you up to today, Norma?”
“Don’t tell me you don’t have a project up your sleeve.”
“Well, there is Maris’ dream.”
“Heavens, what’s that?”
“Well, you know all those triangles in our neighborhood
That you folks long ago left behind
When you designed the streets.
They look bad but they could be a visual asset.”
“We have in mind that we’d like to do
Something with them.
Like clean them up, do some planting.
Maris says we need some big rocks
To add a sculptural quality.
Remember, Martin, you asked me and I thank you.
So thanks for listening.
But as you can see, I’m not setting
The world on fire.”
One evening in early fall, the phone rang at 10 P.M.
“Hello, Norma, this is your friend
Martin from Public Works.
You know, we are excavating
For those huge storm sewers all over S.E.
And you can’t believe the big rocks we are encountering
I mean two or three tons.
Could you use some?
“Twenty-seven. Three for each of the nine street triangles
We talked about earlier.
But we’ve got no trucks, no transport, no manpower, no budget.”
“Well, no problem,” says Martin.
“If you will wait until the ground freezes
So we don’t break the curbs driving over them
And if you will let me know
Exactly where you want them
I will deliver them to you in the evening
And give you warning when they are coming.”
Maris responded to this offer with wild enthusiasm.
And with three weeks of lead-time!
Preparing plans would be easy. Agreed.
Being an artist, it was not difficult for her to take
Measurements of the nine sites.
And in consultation with resident architects
She mapped each triangle xxxing in the rock locations
Respecting that some would be more round or oblong
Then came the phone call.
Meet Martin at the Franklin Hill triangle at 8 P.M. tomorrow night.
Before midnight, under Maris’ directions
All 27 rocks were in place
In dynamic groupings of three.
In the morning, neighbors looked out on a new landscape.
Well, not everyone was enchanted.
Bill called to say, “Do you know that one neighbor is hopping mad
To find those big rocks on her triangle.”
But the unfriendly soil was worked
Tulips bought with memorial money were planted
A few shrubs went in
And we sat back to wait for spring.
Propriety residents from the immediate rock locations
Joined the work crews
And soon the neighborhood had a new visual identity
The triangles had become a unifying factor in the
Then came the day
When the street repaving crews showed ready and raring to tear up
Existing curbs and streets. Panics. The phone rang off the hook.
We went immediately to see
Perry, the chief of Public Works and told him our story
And insisted that the triangles had to be respected as follows:
Leave the rocks in place or replace them precisely if the have to be moved.
Let the new landscape designs for the neighborhood include the triangles.
Assign a budget number for new materials
As compensation for time and plant materials expended.
These requests were in written form
We were accompanied on this mission by the
Administrative Assistant of our Alderman.
Perry was impressed that the requests were reasonable
Agreement was reached. The neighborhood was reassured.
And so the newly curbed triangles, after consulting, were
Expertly planted with many new evergreens as a base
Were ready for spring materials.
And so they have become a vital part of
The Neighborhood landscape
With adjacent owners feeling possessive
Looking after maintenance.
Mandy managed her triangles.
Kate planted a tree for John Berryman
The Franklin Avenue Bridgehead Planting included a Ginkgo Tree.
It was a project of enormous satisfaction to me
Because it cost so little, brought staff and citizens
Into an effective working relationship
And strengthened the neighborhood
With another point of pride. It was fun making it happen.
Thanks also to Maris Thomes, Martin, Perry, Bill, Kate, Mandy and everyone else who took part in this successful collaboration.
While on the subject of Prospect Park and Tower Hill, I have a question. Does anyone know the inside story on what happened to plans to vacate Malcolm Ave. S.E. between Pratt School and Tower Hill Park? I recently came across park board resolutions and drawings of plans to vacate the street and turn it into a playground for the school. The original plans were dated 1928, but the issue was raised again in 1950 in response to petitions from the neighborhood and another resolution was approved to complete those plans. The park board announced in the 1950 annual report that the vacation of Malcolm Ave. had added 0.17 acres to Tower Hill Park. But Malcolm Ave. still runs between the school and park. Was it closed, then reopened? I’m sure someone knows the story. Please share.
David C. Smith minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com