Archive for the ‘Minneapolis Airport’ Category

Is that a lake?

This photo illustrates the difficult history of Diamond Lake. It doesn’t look like a lake at all — and it might not have been. The 1938 annual report of the park board refers to “the dry lake bed at present.”

Diamond Lake, center, looking northwest. Pearl Park is upper right and the future Todd Park at center right. Lake Harriet and Lake Calhoun are near horizon. (Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board)

Diamond Lake, center, looking northwest. Pearl Park is upper right and the future Todd Park at center right. Lake Harriet and Lake Calhoun are near horizon. (Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board)

I recently received an email from a reader who lives near Diamond Lake who commented on the differences in how Diamond Lake is treated from other Minneapolis lakes in that there is no hiking or bicycle trail all the way around it. Many perceive the west shore to be private property. In fact, the entire lakeshore is park property. The photo above is undated, but I think it was shot in the 1940s. According to Hennepin County property records, the houses on the east side of Pearl Park were built in 1938.

At this time Todd Park — the dark area north of 57th Street at Portland — was referred to simply as the “east swamp.” It was dedicated as a “park” on the plat of the neighborhood, but it was, on average, 12 feet below the grades of surrounding streets.

Filling and grading Pearl Lake. View looking west near 54th St. (Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board)

Filling and grading Pearl Lake. View looking west from near 54th St. and Portland Avenue, likely taken about 1936. (Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board)

Pearl Lake was filled in 1936-37, with dirt from extensive runway excavation and construction at Minneapolis Municipal Airport, which the park board owned and operated at the time. The runway construction and lake filling were both WPA projects. About 200 men and 75 trucks were assigned to the project in 1936. About one foot of peat was peeled off the old lake bed, a couple feet of airport fill smoothed over the skinned landscape, and the peat reinstalled as a top coat.

In the 1938 annual report of the park board, superintendent Christian Bossen wrote that Diamond Lake had almost dried up in the 1920s due to development and low rainfall, but, “With the separation of the storm water drainage from the sanitary sewers, the City Engineer is now using and expects to use to a greater extent Diamond Lake as a storm water reservoir.”

The 1938 annual report contains a detailed description of what the park board hoped to accomplish around Diamond Lake. It  provides the details of an important chapter in the history of the lake and the neighborhood.

David C. Smith

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First shipment of merchandise by air lands in a Minneapolis park

Another first for a Minneapolis park: The nation’s first commercial air shipment landed at The Parade near downtown Minneapolis on May 8, 1920.

This entry in the proceedings, or minutes, of the Minneapolis park board on May 5, 1920, had puzzled me from the time I first saw it a couple of years ago.

Petitions and Communications

From Dayton Company —

Requesting permission to have the two airplanes bringing freight from New York to overcome the embargo to land on The Parade Friday morning.

Commissioner Gross —

Moved that the request be granted under the supervision of the Superintendent of Parks.

Adopted

Dayton’s Express air merchandise shipments arrived from New York at The Parade, May 8, 1920 (Charles J. Hibbard, Minnesota Historical Society, HE1.21 p53)

Only recently did I look up newspapers from the time to see if the event was mentioned. When I read the coverage in the Minneapolis Tribune, I knew I had seen a photo of the event somewhere and went straight to the Minnesota Historical Society’s Photo Collection, one of the most interesting places on the Internet. Sure enough, there were two photos of the event recorded by the superb photographer Charles Hibbard.

Dayton’s air merchandise shipment was unloaded after the plane was towed, minus wings, from The Parade to Dayton’s store on Nicollet Ave., May 8, 1920. The man on the plane is likely Ray S. Miller, the pilot who flew from New York via Buffalo. (Charles J. Hibbard, Minnesota Historical Society, HE1.21 p52)

This is the story of a retail innovation by Dayton’s (now Target) and another small part in history played by Minneapolis parks.

In April 1920, a wildcat strike by railroad switchmen in Chicago eventually spread to railroads and rail yards throughout the country causing a near shutdown of national transportation. Even after the strike had ended goods had piled up around the country threatening food and fuel shortages in a kind of gridlock from New England to the Pacific Northwest. While the Interstate Commerce Commission, White House and Congress grappled with the problem and eventually reinstituted some World War I-era government controls on railroads, the department store of George Draper Dayton developed an innovative plan: it would ship goods from New York City to Minneapolis by airplane.

The Minneapolis Tribune announced Dayton’s intentions April 30, 1920 along with the news that two airplanes had already left the Curtiss airplane plant in Buffalo, New York bound for Roosevelt Field on Long Island. The planes would commence their journey west as soon as they were loaded. The Tribune also noted the interest in the flight by Minneapolis Postmaster E. A. Purdy, who asked the company to give him all particulars on the flight. United States airmail service from Chicago to Minneapolis was scheduled to begin two months later on July 1. And none too soon. The Minneapolis post office had just set a record on April 8: the first time it had handled 100,000 packages in one day.

Dear Target, Thank you. Yours Truly, FedEx and UPS

In the next day’s edition, the Tribune reported that the plan to fly merchandise to Minneapolis had attracted considerable attention. The New York American had carried a story of the flight by which a half-ton of goods was to be transported aboard two Curtiss Oriole airplanes. “The plan is described as a pioneer step in shipments of goods by plane,” the Tribune reported, “and is  declared to bear the possibilities of an extensive development of the use of aircraft for freight-carrying purposes.”

On May 2 the Tribune ran photos of the two dapper pilots, Ray Miller and Charles Keyes, who had traveled to New York to pilot the planes back to Minneapolis. In this edition the Tribune claimed that the effort by Dayton’s had attracted the attention of both New York and Chicago retailers.

Perhaps the weather was not good or it took a long time to load 1,000 pounds of merchandise, but the planes didn’t depart New York until May 6. The May 7 Tribune reported that the pilots had flown through a blinding snowstorm over the Mohawk Valley before arriving in Buffalo the night before and were expected to arrive in Minneapolis the morning of May 8.

“Permission for the airplanes to land on The Parade grounds has been granted by the Board of Park Commissioners,” the Tribune reported. “The wings will be removed and the airplanes will be towed through the streets to Dayton’s store.”

And they were — as Charles Hibbard showed us.

While Target’s history website portrays the air shipment as a response to empty shelves in Dayton’s store, and it may have been, it was also a carefully constructed publicity campaign — from the daily press coverage, including photos of the pilots, to painting “Dayton’s Express” on the fusilages. The planes could have landed at the Speedway Airport, later Wold-Chamberlain Field, and the merchandise trucked to the store. Landing the planes in a park in the center of the city and then hauling them wingless into downtown for unloading made a good story that much better. Very clever.

Of course, in later years the park board became heavily involved in aviation. In 1927 the park board acquired the land of the fledgling Wold-Chamberlain Field in Bloomington and built it into a world-class airport. The park board turned the airport over to the Metropolitan Airports Commission in 1944, but retained title to about 600 acres of land at the center of the airport.

This was not George Dayton’s first encounter with the park board. When the Street Railway Company’s pavilion on park land beside Lake Harriet burned down in the spring of 1903, George Dayton was on a committee for the Retailers Association that worked with the park board and Street Railway to build a new pavilion. The Street Railway Company decided not to build a new pavilion itself but to contribute the $15,000 it collected in insurance on the burned building to the park board. The remaining $15,000 the park board needed to build a new pavilion? It was loaned to the park board on attractive terms by Dayton and the other retailers.

(See earlier post on the original plans for The Parade by Warren Manning.)

David C. Smith

© David C. Smith