Archive for the ‘Minneapolis Park Hero’ Category

Influential Women in Minneapolis Park History

I just received a new post from the Minneapolis Parks Foundation blog by Janette Law about five important women in the history of Minneapolis parks. Janette wrote her tribute to celebrate Women’s History Month. I wanted to add to Janette’s tribute by adding the name of Alice Dietz to her list, as well as Inez Crimmins and Lorna Phillips. I have re-posted from my archives a profile of some of Ms. Dietz’s accomplishments as well as additional information on one of Janette’s notable women, Maude Armatage. Armatage was the first woman to serve as a park commissioner and still holds the record for the longest consecutive term of service as a commissioner at 30 years. (Francis Gross served a total of 33 years as a commissioner, but in four segments.) The piece on Armatage is especially important because it includes a photo of Armatage with Crimmins and Phillips, the second and third women to be Minneapolis park commissioners. I also re-posted a charming photo and info sent by reader Bea Dunlap on her memory of Alice Dietz and the playground pageants she wrote, choreographed and directed.

I would encourage someone, perhaps even young historians for History Day projects, to investigate further the contributions of park commissioners Crimmins and Phillips who served from the mid-1950s and Beverly Smerling who served as a commissioner from 1963-1969. In addition, little has been written, to my knowledge, of the first women to be elected President of the Park Board:  Naomi Loper was the first in 1980, succeeded by Patricia Hillmeyer in 1982 and Patricia Baker in 1985.

Many other women who served as recreation directors at parks have also had a profound influence on the people and neighborhoods they served. If you remember someone from your park, I’d be happy to publish your recollections here.

David C. Smith

 

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Alice Dietz and Bea Dunlap in 1939 Playground Pageant

I received this note and photo today from Bea Dunlap of Dallas, Texas, under the subject line, “Alice Dietz and me 75 years ago.”

“This picture was taken about 75 years ago (I am now 85 years old) when I was in a Park board pageant representing Farview Park. Me and almost ever kid in my block were Raindrops in a skit called Umbrella Man. The little ones were turtles who hid under a big umbrella until the “sun came out”. Our costumes were made of silver and blue crepe paper. My Mom sewed most of the costumes for our group.”
Alice Dietz, creator and director of the playground pageants, with ten-year-old Bea Dunlap from Farview Park in 1939. Bea is dressed as a raindrop. (Photo courtesy of Bea Dunlap.)

Alice Dietz, creator and director of the playground pageants, with ten-year-old Bea Dunlap from Farview Park in 1939. Bea is dressed as a raindrop. (Photo courtesy of Bea Dunlap.)

The playground pageants, held at the end of summer, included children from every park in Minneapolis. They were presented on the hillside above the Rose Garden at Lyndale Park. The pageants were created and directed by Alice Dietz. This was one of the last playground pageants. With the creation in 1940 of the Aquatennial, that became the focus of summer celebration in the city and the pageant was discontinued.

Thanks for the wonderful photo and information, Bea.

David C Smith

Minneapolis Park Hero: Alice Dietz

Early in my research of Minneapolis park history for City of Parks, Alice Dietz caught my attention. She had a forty-year career in Minneapolis parks, 1916-1957. She rose to prominence in the park system quickly from her start as a recreation director. In January 1918, the park board received a letter from an appreciative mother asking that Dietz be reappointed as recreation director at Maple Hill (Beltrami) Park. She was not reappointed at Maple Hill; in the park board’s annual report for 1918 Dietz was singled out for praise for her work at bigger, busier Bryant Square Park. The next year Dietz moved again, this time to the most visible and important recreation job in the city as the director of the Logan Park field house, the only year-round facility the park board operated.

Dietz needed very little time to establish her reputation at Logan Park. In an article on the opening of the 1920 summer playground season, the Minneapolis Tribune (June 20) commented that Dietz had already “taught the Logan Park neighborhood what a field house was really meant to be.” Apparently in the seven years between its construction in 1912 and Dietz’s arrival the field house had been less successful.

By the end of that summer the Tribune (October 17) provided an unusual glimpse of park life “in a community where there are a dozen nationalities struggling with the intricacies of life in a new country.” In that environment, the paper reported, Mrs. Dietz was trusted by “children and mothers alike.” As a result, Dietz was able to “buoy the self-confidence of the women who are awed by the greater facility of their children in the new tongue and to make the children realize what they owe to their parents.”

Among her responsibilities were teaching drama, dance and arts and craft classes, directing all athletic activities for girls, and putting on plays and pageants. The previous year she had also managed boys athletic activities developing “proficiency in boxing and football that surprised even herself” the Tribune reported. The paper continued that “almost to her regret,” a man had then been brought in to look after the boys and young men. In between all this she “listens to all the troubles that everybody tells her…and never turns a hair through it all.” The Tribune also praised the “Logan Park spirit” she had instilled noting that “the children have come to feel that the place belongs to them and they look over a newcomer with stern eyes.  He has to measure up to what they think is proper Logan Park behavior.”

Dietz’s work with pageants and performances at Logan Park led to her being handed responsibility for the citywide playground pageants staged at Lyndale Park at the end of each summer.

The first playground pageant on the hill above the Rose Garden at Lyndale Park attracted a crowd estimated at 10,000. (1918 Annual Report, Minneapolis Board of Park Commissioners)

The first two pageants, “Mother Goose” in 1918 and “The Pied Piper” in 1919, were directed by Julia Beckman, a teacher at North High School, but from 1920 Dietz wrote and directed the playground pageants as they became one of the highlights of the summer playground program. Children from every Minneapolis park were involved in creating costumes and props for the program. Up to 1,500 children appeared in the pageants each year which were staged on the hill overlooking the Rose Garden in Lyndale Park. The two-night performances were attended by up to 40,000 people.  The popularity of the pageants caused the park board to consider more than once (first in 1930) the construction of an  amphitheater on the site. Except for a brief hiatus during the Depression, the pageants continued through 1941. The pageant was incorporated into the Aquatennial in 1940, the first year of that celebration. With the ascendancy of the Aquatennial, and with the nation at war, the pageant was discontinued a year later.

The pageants were original scripts written by Dietz. While she created small roles in her pageants for park commissioners, she never allowed commissioners to have speaking parts. After her second pageant in 1921, “Weaver of Dreams,” Dietz asked the park board to allow her to retain copyright of the pageant scripts. The park board agreed that she could retain those copyrights as her personal property. (I have seen no indication that Dietz ever licensed those or subsequent scripts for performances by others.)

I recently found in a scrapbook kept by Victor Gallant evidence that Dietz had a background in theater as a performer before she worked for the park board. I had found an item in park board proceedings that Dietz requested a leave of absence for a week in the 1920s to attend a dance workshop in New York at her own expense, which was granted by the board. From that reference I knew Dietz had an interest in dance beyond the classes she taught at Logan Park and the dances she had incorporated into her pageant scripts. But the undated newspaper clip that appeared at the time of her 40th anniversary of employment with the park board (her last year), mentions her own theater performances as a girl.

Alice Dietz in 1957 near the time of her retirement and as a child actor, from an undated newspaper clip.

The article that accompanied the photos above attributed the 1906 photo to a touring company of “Buster  Brown,” the 1910 photo to a performance of J. M. Barrie’s play, “The Little Minister,” with the greatest Broadway actor of that era, Maude Adams, and the 1912 photo to an Orpheum Theater production of “School Days.” In addition to performing with Adams — who originated the role of Peter Pan on Broadway in 1905 and was by some accounts the highest paid actor of her time and the most famous woman in America — Dietz also performed with Eddie Cantor, although that was well before Cantor’s fame on radio.

As the Director of Community Centers in Minneapolis parks, Dietz played a central role in the redefinition of recreation in the park context. The range of activities and classes offered at Logan Park was unprecedented in Minneapolis. In addition to expanding the range of activities provided for both children and adults, Dietz oversaw the conversion in 1922 of the large social room at Logan Park into a gymnasium for sports. The other recreation centers in Minneapolis at that time were little more than warming houses for skaters. They were later criticized by a national park expert as too big for warming houses and too small for anything else. (Weir Report, 1944.) Despite the phenomenal popularity of Logan Park under Dietz’s direction, the park board did not build another similar facility until the 1960s. Perhaps park commissioners feared that while they could replicate the field house they could not replicate Dietz.

Dietz’s role in the development of park programming in the 1920s at Logan Park was significant, but her greatest achievement may have been in training the army of recreation supervisors who worked in parks across the city in the 1930s. With the onset of the Depression in 1930 and the slashing of recreation budgets, Dietz lost her three assistants at Logan. Summer recreation positions in parks across the city were slashed from seventy-five to zero in 1933. When the American Legion tried to fill the void in eleven parks by providing volunteer supervisors, they were sent to Dietz for training.

That was just a glimmer of what would follow. For the 1934 playground season the Works Progress Administration inaugurated a recreation program that at its peak would place more than 240 recreation supervisors in Minneapolis parks and playgrounds. The WPA recreation program continued until 1943. During those ten years, thanks to federal and state work-relief programs, Minneapolis parks offered the most comprehensive, year-round recreation programming in the city’s history. The entire program, including the training of hundreds of new personnel, was coordinated by Alice Dietz from her office at Logan Park.

That experience served her and the city well after WWII when the park board was able to expand recreation programming and offer year-round activities at a handful of parks. Dietz was once again responsible for training the first generation of full-time, year-round recreation supervisors employed by the park board.

These are the outlines of Alice Dietz’s remarkable career in the recreation department of Minneapolis parks. I know little about Alice Dietz beyond what I have related here other than the fact that she was president of the Minnesota Recreation and Park Association in 1947. If you can tell us more about Dietz — or you have another person to nominate as a Minneapolis Park Hero — please comment here or contact me at the e-mail address below.

David C. Smith

© David C. Smith

Florence Barton Loring

Charles Loring was married to Emily Crossman for 38 years, to Florence Barton for only 27, but he probably knew Florence longer than he knew Emily.

The “Father of Minneapolis Parks” likely met Florence more than 30 years before he married her, but he may not have noticed her much at first. She was the daughter of his friend and business associate Asa Barton. Barton, like Loring, was an immigrant from Maine. (Barton also has his name on the Minneapolis map: Barton Avenue in Prospect Park.) Continue reading

The Smack and Tang of Elemental Things

One of the coolest things I’ve ever purchased online was a book of poetry about trees published in 1923 or 1924. Not your ordinary, run-of-the-paper-mill tree poetry book. It was published by Florence Barton Loring as a remembrance from her husband, Charles M. Loring, “The Father of Minneapolis Parks.” (Do not accept imitation “creators” of the Minneapolis park system. More to come on that subject.) Only forty-eight pages with a hard cover. The little book was explained this way in a brief foreword by Mrs. Loring:

In explanation of this booklet’s publication, it may be stated that my beloved husband requested me, when circumstances favored, to compile a collection of  verses from which we had derived much pleasure, on the subject of trees, for distribution as a parting souvenir of himself, among those who knew him well, and share his tastes and enthusiasm…It does not require this parting remembrance from Charles M. Loring to keep his memory alive in the hearts of his friends, but that may render it none the less acceptable to the recipients; while, to the compiler, it has been not only a means of redeeming a promise, but, also, has provided a labor of love.

Poets included range from Byron, Longfellow and William Cullen Bryant (Bryant Avenue) to Minnesota poets Henrietta Jewett Keith and May Stanley.

The poem excerpt that caught my attention though was a few lines from “Lincoln: The Man of the People,” by Edwin Markham. Loring cites only six lines of the poem including the closing four lines:

And when he fell in whirlwind, he went down
As when a lordly cedar, green with boughs,
Goes down with a great shout upon the hills
A
nd leaves a lonesome place against the sky

That was perhaps Mrs. Loring’s tribute to Lincoln as well as her husband, who had been a stalwart of Lincoln’s party. But she left out Markham’s great description of Lincoln including the fabulous line used as a title here:

The color of the ground was in him, the red earth;
The smack and tang of elemental things;

A reading of Markham’s poem was part of the dedication of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. in May, 1922. Markham, who had published the poem in 1901, read it himself. The dedication took place a little more than a month after Charles Loring died at the age of 88.

Florence Barton Loring and Charles Loring, about 1915, likely in Riverside, California where they often spent the winter. (Minnesota Historical Society, por 16225 r3)

I first saw the book at the Minnesota Historical Society Library in St. Paul (there is also a copy in Special Collections at the Hennepin Country Central Library downtown Minneapolis). Because relatively few copies were printed for gifts to Loring’s friends I was surprised to find one for sale online from a Los Angeles rare book dealer. It is one of only a few souvenirs I have collected from my research of Minneapolis parks.

More on Florence Barton Loring soon.

David C. Smith

© David C. Smith

Charles M. Loring, Father of Minneapolis Parks

“We must all work and work together, and it will be but a short time before we shall see what a united effort and good example can do toward forming a public sentiment so strong that the city government will give us the trees and parks we so much need for breathing spaces for the poor who cannot ride to the country for air.”

—  Charles M. Loring, April 14, 1882

Charles M. Loring, Father of Minneapolis Parks, about 1900 (Brush, Minnesota Historical Society)

If you’ve read City of Parks or the history of Loring Park at minneapolisparks.org you already know how much I admire Charles Loring, the first president of the Minneapolis Board of Park Commissioners (BPC). He was one of the most effective advocates for parks before the park board was created and during a couple stints on the park board. He was a man of national reputation and influence on park matters. In addition, he donated the recreation shelter at Loring Park in 1906, paid for an artificial water fall to be built beside Glenwood (Wirth) Lake in 1917, and paid for the original trees for Victory Memorial Drive and created a $50,000 fund for the perpetual care of those trees. He was one of the most remarkable men in Minneapolis history. So once in a while I will tell a story here about Charles Loring that I haven’t had space to tell anywhere else. I will likely do the same for William W. Folwell, but that comes later.

On April 14, 1882, nearly a year before the creation of the BPC by the Minnesota legislature, Loring was asked to address the first annual meeting of the Oak Lake Addition Improvement Association. The neighborhood, which once stood where the Farmer’s Market now stands beside I-94, was the first in the city to create a homeowners association to care for the streets and grounds and sanitary requirements of  a neighborhood. For their annual meeting, which was held at Hennepin Avenue Methodist Church, they asked Loring to speak about the care and culture of trees in the city.

According to newspaper coverage, Loring’s remarks focused on the experiences of W. R. Smith, the superintendent of parks in Washington, D.C. and the president of the Botanical Garden there. The park commission in D. C. had the power to plant and remove trees at will and they consulted with no one. (Loring obtained that same much-envied power for the BPC from the Minnesota legislature in 1887.) Loring commented that he thought Congress had done a very wise thing when it put the important matter of trees in the hands of arboriculturists “who go about their work without fear or favor,” Loring said.

Loring told that night of an unnamed U. S. Senator who sent a messenger to W. R. Smith asking if the superintendent could not remove a tree that the Senator believed obstructed his view from a window in his home. Loring said Smith responded by asking the Senator if he could not move his house.

The tree stayed and Loring had a story that entertained an influential Minneapolis audience and perhaps helped nudge public sentiment toward acceptance of a park commission that would also plant trees without fear or favor and convert a city that was largely open prairie into one of the greenest cities in the United States.

David C. Smith