Cleveland’s First Residential Commission in Minneapolis?

Today I’m reposting an article on the creation and demise of Oak Lake Park as a pricey residential neighborhood on the near north side of Minneapolis in the 1870s. Oak Lake itself sat exactly on the site of today’s Farmers’ Market on Lyndale Avenue. I wrote it in 2011 when the Minnesota Vikings were thought to prefer the Farmers’ Market site for a new stadium. Of course that new stadium was eventually built on the site of the old Metrodome, so that focus of the article is outdated. But the historical information on the site as one of Minneapolis’s first upscale residential developments is still accurate. Not many people know of the ritzy history of the site where the market now stands.

I had set this post aside originally because I had intended to make the case that Horace William Shaler Cleveland was likely the man who advised Samuel Gale on the layout of the new neighborhood. The curving streets adapted to the topography are certainly hallmarks of Cleveland’s work–as are the parcels of land set aside for parks. It is also clear that Cleveland and Gale knew each other. Cleveland’s participation in the Oak Lake development is informed speculation on my part; I have found no documentary evidence of his hand in the project.

The most intriguing part of this post is my surmise that what killed the upscale Oak Lake neighborhood was the creation of the Minneapolis park board. With the acquisition of shores on larger lakes as public park land, wealthy Minneapolitans suddenly had even more attractive sites for their new homes. Without buyers for the larger homes built at Oak Lake, they were eventually divided into rooming houses in a neighborhood that gradually became inhabited by arriving immigrants.

Oak Lake itself was eventually filled in by the park board after it became an unsightly and odiferous hazard.

David C. Smith


4 comments so far

  1. Michael Fleming on

    Do you think the old lake would have been underneath the I-94 bridge of today? It seemed so from my uneducated review of the old map you posted.

    (Fascinating article… I’m going to meander around there someday and see if there’s any evidence of what was once there…)

    • David C. Smith on

      I picture it just east of the freeway, but it’s hard to tell exactly. My favorite landmark is Lakeside Avenue — without a lake in sight. The streets were straightened but not renamed. I think the Borchert Map Library at the U of Minnesota has a feature that allows you to overlay maps of different eras. I might need to check that again.

  2. Dan Lapham on

    Howdy David-I remember reading an autobio from Harrison Salisbury years ago where he wrote fairly extensively about growing up in the Oak Lake neighborhood.

    • David C. Smith on

      That is one of many, many books I wish I’d read, but haven’t!

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