Dancing with the Fishes

Recent news about the discovery of a zebra mussel in Lake Harriet prompted a flurry of activity at the lake to see if more could be found. Thankfully, after nearly 70 hours of searching, no more of the striped invaders were located. Some of that searching was done by divers who filmed their searches.

Although they found no more mussels, what they did find is a bit of a mystery. You can view their discovery on YouTube here.  Thanks to MaryLynn Pulscher at the Park Board for the link.

The divers speculated that what they found was a dance floor from one of the old pavilions at the lake. It is entirely possible that what they found was a remnant of an old pavilion, although I have serious doubts if it was dance floor because dancing was frowned on by a significant portion of society in early park history. I’m not aware of dancing at any of the Lake Harriet pavilions. (When the first recreation center was built at Logan Park in 1913, there was angry opposition to it by those who didn’t want any kind of dances held in their neighborhood. To appease them, the Park Board limited the type and frequency of dances that were permitted.)

The first pavilion constructed at water’s edge burned down in 1903. Perhaps part of that wreckage was simply pushed into the lake. I’ve never seen photos or read descriptions of how any remains of that fire were disposed.

Lake Harriet Pavilion 1895 MHS

First pavilion built on the Lake Harriet shoreline in 1892. The pavilion was designed by Harry Wild Jones. It burned down in 1903. (Minnesota Historical Society)

Another possibility is that when the succeeding pavilion, which extended into the lake, was destroyed by a tornado in 1925, part of the pavilion was blown into the lake and never retrieved.

Lake Harriet pavilion and boat dock, 1906

The new Lake Harriet pavilion, also designed by Harry Wild Jones, and boat dock in 1905. The bandstand seen here on top of the pavilion lasted only one year due to terrible acoustics. It was moved to the east side of the lake at 46th Street where it served as an overlook or “belvidere”.

Lake Harriet Pavilion damaged by tornado

A storm destroyed the Lake Harriet Pavilion in 1925, resulting in two deaths. (Minnesota Historical Society)

Lake Harriet 1925

This photo was taken very shortly after the Lake Harriet pavilion was destroyed in 1925. It’s the only photo I’ve seen of Lake Harriet without a pavilion. A pile of rubble marks the spot where the pavilion once stood. Did some of that rubble remain in the lake? Or were these extensive boat docks eventually dismantled and scuttled in the lake? (David C. Smith)

The second pavilion designed by Jones, which extended into the lake, was also rearranged in 1912 and 1913 because it had become unsafe for the large crowds that listened to concerts on the rooftop. The pilings under the pavilion were replaced in 1912 and the pavilion was extensively remodeled. Perhaps debris was left in the lake when that work was concluded. Another possibility could be that a portion of one of the two floating band shells that were used in the early history of Lake Harriet entertainment were sunk there.

If the remains found on the bottom of Lake Harriet near the shore were just wood, however, why did they sink instead of floating to shore? It’s hard to imagine someone like park superintendent Theodore Wirth, who served in that capacity 1906-1935, permitting something as unsightly as pavilion wreckage to bob around in one of his lakes until it sank.

I would welcome speculation from our many knowledgable readers on what that wreckage on the bottom of Lake Harriet could be and how it got there.

Before leaving the subject, I want to express my support and gratitude to the park commissioners and staff who have kept our lakes mussel-free for this long and to encourage boat owners to exercise extreme caution when putting their craft into city lakes. I hope the lone zebra mussel found was an anomaly — as it appears to be.

David C. Smith

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