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?”
“Nothing much.”
“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.”
“How so?”
“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?
“Oh, yes!”
“How many”
“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.”
Agreed.
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
Than others.
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
Neighborhood design.

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

 

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3 comments so far

  1. Joan Pudvan on

    HI DAVID,

    I GUESS I’M ONE OF THE OLDEST PROSPECT PARK PEOPLE LEFT…..AND YOU KNOW HOW MUCH I LOVED GROWING UP IN THE PARK!! ALSO LOVED THE LONG POEM THINGY ABOUT THE TRIANGLE PARKS…NORMA WROTE FOR MY PROSPECT PARK BOOK, TOO, ..I WONDERED HOW THE PLANTINGS CAME TO BE AROUND THEM…..BUT THE LARGE BOULDER AT MALCOLM AND UNIVERSITY HAS BEEN THERE LONG BEFORE ANY PLANTING AROUND IT……I WAS BORN IN 1931 AND SAW IT EARLY IN MY YEARS. ..IT HAS ALWAYS SAID PROSPECT PARK, BUT I DON’T REMEMBER THE BIG CRACK IN IT WHEN I WAS LITTLE…MAYBE IT WAS THERE AND I JUST DON’T REMEMBER. I’M GLAD TO KNOW WHO HELPED WITH THE PLANTINGS…..THANKS TO THEM ALL! AS KIDS FROM SEYMOUR AVE, JUST A BLOCK AWAY, WE SPENT HOURS AND HOURS AT TOWER HILL AND AROUND IT, GROWING UP. IN SUMMER, PRATT’S SCHOOL LIBRARY REMAINED OPEN, YOU HAD TO GO DOWN TO UNIVERSITY AVE. TO CATCH A STREET CAR, OR YOU WERE PLAYING ON THE HILL, ETC. ALL MY LIFE, THERE WERE LOTS OF REASONS TO GO DOWN THAT WAY FROM HOME. ODDLY ENOUGH, I DON’T REMEMBER SPENDING PLAY TIME ON THE UNIVERSITY AVE. SIDE OF TOWER HILL…LOTS OF TIME UP AT THE TOP, WALKING AROUND AND LOOKING AT THE CITY FROM THERE.LOTS OF TIME ON THE MALCOLM SIDE,….BUT THE BACK SIDE DIDN’T HOLD MANY ATTRACTIONS FOR ME AND MY BUNCH OF FRIENDS. MY BROTHER AND THE BIGGER BOYS SKIIED THERE IN THE WINTER.

    BUT WHEN I WAS A KID, THE TOWER HILL LAND ON MALCOLM, RIGHT ACROSS FROM PRATT’S CEMENT PLAYGROUND WAS BARE….NO TREES AND SHRUBS. NONE!! THAT’S WHEN ALL THE KIDS MADE SLIDES ALL WINTER LONG AND SLID DOWN ON CARDBOARD, OR IF YOU WERE A BRAVE BOY, STANDING UP, DURING RECESS OR AFTER SCHOOL.THIS WENT ON EVERY DAY, ALL WINTER. THERE WERE 2 OR 3 GROOVES, SIDE BY SIDE, WORN THROUGH AND REALLY SLIPPERY. ICY GROOVES THE WHOLE TIME. FROM THE TOP OF THAT LITTLE HILL, WHERE THE TENNIS COURT REAR FENCE IN NOW, ALL THE WAY DOWN TO MALCOLM…. YOU COULD WORK UP QUITE A BIT OF SPEED BY THE TIME YOU SLID TO THE BOTTOM WHERE THE STREET WAS. ONCE FROZEN, IT BECAME A REAL LONG AND TREACHEROUS TRIP IF YOU HAD GOOD CARDBOARD TO SLIDE ON!! (A PIECE OF EXTRA “GOOD” CARDBOARD WAS VALUABLE AND KEPT IN THE CLOAKROOM DURING SCHOOL…..SOME WAS BETTER THAN OTHERS.)

    THE TENNIS COURTS WEREN’T BUILT UNTIL 1939, WE KIDS PLAYED ON THAT PART OF TOWER HILL LONG BEFORE THAT. IT WAS THE BIG PART OF RECESS IN COLD MONTHS. I REMEMBER TALK ABOUT CLOSING OFF THAT BLOCK OF MALCOLM DURING THE WINTERS, JUST FOR THAT REASON…AS I RECALL, I FIRST HEARD THAT TALK AFTER .ALDEN BENISCH GOT HIT BY A CAR THERE. HE SLID TOO FAST AND FAR DOWN THE HILL AND ENDED UP IN THE STREET JUST AT THE WRONG TIME…HE WASN’T KILLED, BUT HE WAS IN MY CLASS AND I REMEMBER THE AMBULANCE COMING…IT CREATED A STIR. THAT’S WHEN THEY STARTED TO PUT UP YELLOW STREET BARRIERS FOR THAT BLOCK. THAT MUST HAVE BEEN ABOUT ’39, BEFORE THE WPA PUT IN THE TENNIS COURTS THE FOLLOWING SUMMER……..? MAYBE EVEN EARLY 1940’S, , BUT NOT MUCH LATER THAN THAT…..I DON’T REMEMBER THE COURTS BEING IN WHEN THE SLIDES WERE IN, BUT IF 1940ISH, THEY WOULD HAVE BEEN THERE…. I DON’T REMEMBER WHEN THEY PUT THE YELLOW WOODEN BARRIERS UP OR TOOK THEM DOWN. WAS IT JUST DURING SCHOOL HOURS? SOMEHOW, I THINK SO…… BUT THE WHOLE REASON WAS BECAUSE OF THE THRONGS OF KIDS PLAYING ON THAT PART OF TOWER HILL DURING SCHOOL HOURS. MISS PADGETT (SP?) WAS THE BELOVED SCHOOL PRINCIPAL DURING MANY YEARS AND SHE WAS VERY INFLUENTIAL IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD,…..DON’T KNOW IF SHE WAS WITH THE CITY, BUT SHE PROBABLY WAS THE MAIN PERSON DEALING WITH THE CITY ABOUT BARRIERS AND MALCOLM… AT ANY RATE, BACK THEN, IN THE LATE THIRTIES AND EARLY FORTIES, THERE WAS THAT PROBLEM WITH THE HILL….BUT .CLOSING MALCOLM THERE WAS A BIT OF A PROBLEM TOO, SINCE IT WAS ONE OF THE MAIN GATEWAYS INTO THE PARK…I CAN IMAGINE A LOT OF ADULTS COMPLAINED ABOUT ANY IDEA OF REALLY CLOSING THAT WHOLE BLOCK..I DON’T REMEMBER ANY TALK OF CLOSING IT PERMANENTLY.. BUT MANY, MANY KIDS DID RACE BACK AND FORTH ACROSS THAT BLOCK, TO AND THE HILL AND BACK. LAST TIME I WAS HOME, I WAS AMAZED TO SEE THAT HILL ALL OVERGROWN WITH TREES AND UNDERGROWTH……..NO PATHS ACROSS IT TO GET TO ORLIN…..NO WAY TO MAKE ICE SLIDES IN WINTER…. SO NO PROBLEMS WITH KIDS IN THE STREET…….I CAN’T THINK OF A REASON THE BLOCK SHOULD BE CLOSED NOW….NO ONE COULD HAVE MUCH FUN OVER THERE, WINTER OR SUMMER.

    THE OTHER THING ABOUT TOWER HLL WHICH NO ONE EVER MENTIONS, I GUESS. IS THE HUGE BOULDER ABOUT HALF WAY UP THE HILL FROM THE TENNIS COURTS. IT IS REALLY BIG, SEVERAL TONS AND P GUESS ABOUT THREE FEET BY THREE FEET OR SO……AND WE USED TO PLAY ON IT A LOT…THE WORD WAS THAT AN INDIAN CHIEF OR PRINCESS WAS BURIED UNDER IT….WE ALL BELIEVED THAT WHOLE HEARTEDLY. AGAIN, WHEN I WENT HOME FIFTY YEARS LATER, I WENT TO FIND THAT BOULDER WE LOVED SO….AND I THOUGHT IT HAD BEEN MOVED…I COULDN’T FIND IT AT FIRST….BUT IT WAS THERE….EXCEPT IT IS NOW BEHIND A TANGLE OF UNDERGROWTH AND STUFF, TOO…..YOU CAN’T SEE IT…..YOU HAVE TO GO THROUGH ALL THAT TO FIND IT….ANOTHER PLAY PLACE GONE…..IT WAS SMOOTH ON ONE SIDE…WE SPENT HOURS PLAYING AND SLIDING ON THAT, TOO.

    I GUESS WE WERE PRETTY SIMPLE KIDS, BUT THE TIMES WERE PRETTY SIMPLE…NO TV, NO DANGERS WE KNEW ABOUT FROM STRANGERS AROUND THERE….WE JUST ROAMED FREE ALL THE TIME. DON’T KNOW IF THAT HELPS WITH THE MALCOLM AVE. CLOSURE QUESTIONS, BUT I KNOW IT WAS VERY IMPORTANT AND DISCUSSED A LOT AFTER ALDEN GOT HIT BY THE CAR…THAT WAS THE BEGINNING OF SEEING YELLOW BARRICADES ON THE BLOCK.

    IT’S ALSO THE SUBJECT OF ONE OF THE ESSAYS IN THE PROSPECT PARK BOOK…….

    On Sat, Oct 8, 2016 at 11:02 AM, Minneapolis Park History wrote:

    > David C. Smith posted: “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, rememb” >

    • David C. Smith on

      Thanks so much for reminiscing for us, Joan.

      • David C. Smith on

        Additional comment from Joan received October 8, 2016:

        WELL, DAVID, I SEE I MADE A COUPLE OF MISTAKES ON THAT LETTER I SENT YOU….FOR ONE THING, THE TENNIS COURTS WENT IN AT TOWER HILL IN 1938, NOT 1939. NOT THAT IT MATTERS MUCH, BUT IT IS IN KEEPING WITH WHAT I SAID ABOUT ALL THE TOWER HILL ACTIVITIES WHEN I WAS VERY YOUNG. ALSO, MISS HARGER WAS PRATT’S PRINCIPAL, NOT MISS PADGETT…MISS PADGETT WAS THE OTHER LONG SERVING TOTEM AT THE SCHOOL….SHE TAUGHT KINDERGARTEN THERE FOREVER. THE OLSON FAMILY MEMBER WHO WROTE A STORY FOR MY BOOK WAS A GENERATION OR TWO LATER, ALSO. I SHOULD JUST CHECK MY FACTS BEFORE I GO BY MEMORY, I GUESS. MY MEMORY DOESN’T ‘T SEEM AS RELIABLE AS IT USED TO BE..OLD LADY MISTAKES….. BUT THANKS FOR THE THOUGHTS ABOUT PP… . ESPECIALLY NOW, WHEN THE WEATHER HERE IS JUST BEGINNING TO COOL OFF. FALL WAS MY FAVORITE TIME THERE. ESPECIALLY WALKING TO THE WONDERFUL CRUNCHY SOUND OF A ZILLION OAK LEAVES, UNDERFOOT. AND OUR WHOLE NEIGHBORHOOD SMELLING LIKE OAK PERFUME ON SATURDAY AFTERNOONS , WHEN IN THE OLD DAYS, YOU WERE ALLOWED TO BURN LEAVES AT THE CURB. ANYWAY, I THINK I SPELLED THE NAMES RIGHT THIS TIME… JOAN


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