Archive for the ‘Minneapolis Parks: General’ Category

What were the first two names for Loring Park?

A comment received today from Joan Pudvan on the “David C. Smith” page made me think of some little known facts in Minneapolis park history. So here’s your park trivia fix for today.

Joan asked if Loring Park was once named Central Park? Joan is a post card collector and has seen many post cards from the early 1900s labelled “Central Park.” Those cards feature images of what we know is Loring Park, so the answer to Joan is, “Yes.” When did the name change?

Central Park officially became Loring Park in 1890 when the park board’s first president, Charles Loring, was leaving the board. He, along with every other Republican on the Minneapolis ballot that year, had been defeated at the polls in a shift of political power. At the end of Loring’s tenure, his friend and fellow park advocate, William Folwell, proposed renaming Central Park for the man who had helped create it, and had even supervised much of the landscaping in the park (to H.W.S. Cleveland’s design). Loring said he would prefer that the park be named Hennepin Park for its location on that avenue, but the rest of the board agreed with Folwell that Loring should be honored. So the name was changed, a fact that the post card publishers hadn’t caught up with as many as ten or fifteen years later.

Loring was not, however, the first person to have a Minneapolis park named for him. That distinction goes to Jacob Elliot who, in 1883, donated his former garden to the city as Elliot Park. Elliot had been a prominent doctor in Minneapolis who had retired to Santa Monica, California. The handwritten document (as all were at that time) donating the land to the city as a park — recently discovered in a park board correspondence file — was signed by Wyman Elliot as the attorney-in-fact of his father Jacob Elliot. Wyman Elliot later became a park commissioner himself, when he was elected to fill out Portius Deming’s term from 1899-1901 after Deming was elected to the Minnesota legislature.

In the document that officially donated the land, the most interesting paragraph required the creation, within 18 months, of a fountain in the park with a reservoir “of oval shape” with a diameter of at least 50 feet.

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One condition of Jacob Elliot’s donation of land for Elliot Park in 1883 was the creation of fountain. Elliot Park was the first Minneapolis park named for a person. The clause pictured is a part of the original document donating the land. (Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board)

Additional recently found correspondence sought Dr. Elliot’s approval for the plaque he had specified.

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The fountain built as a condition of the donation of Elliot Park. From a postcard published around 1910. The “fountain” was a single standpipe in the middle of the pond. The Elliot Park pond was very similar to the one created in Van Cleve Park in the early 1890s.

EPSON MFP image

Elliot Park fountain and Asbury Hospital from a post card with an eerie pink tinge. A soccer field now occupies this section of the park.

One other bit of naming trivia before we get to the other name for Central/Loring Park. In 1891, Judson Cross, one of the first 12 appointed park commissioners, wrote to the park board suggesting that the pond in Loring Park be named Wilson Pond for Eugene M. Wilson, one of the first and greatest park commissioners. He also served as the board’s attorney in the 1880s. He had also been elected to Congress and as Mayor of Minneapolis twice. He died at age 56 in 1890 in the Bahamas where he had gone to try to regain his health. Cross claimed that the name was appropriate because Wilson had been the strongest advocate of securing the land surrounding what had once been Johnson’s Pond for the park that became Central Park. Wilson may have played one of the most important roles in creating a park system in Minneapolis because he was one of the most prominent Democrats to strongly favor the creation of the park board. Without Wilson’s influence among Democrats, many of whom opposed the Park Act — the Republican Party supported it — Minneapolis voters may not have passed the act in the April 1883 referendum.

The board did not add Wilson’s name to Loring Park, but it did rename nearby Hawthorne Square, Wilson Park — which was particularly appropriate because Eugene Wilson’s home faced that park. Unfortunately, the park was wiped out for the construction of I-94 in 1967, so we have been without Wilson’s name in our park system for nearly 50 years.

The other name by which Central and Loring Park was known lasted only a month. In 1885, the park board voted to name the park Spring Grove Park. Without much explanation, but apparently in the face of considerable opposition, the park board backtracked to Central Park a month later.

So…Central Park, Spring Grove Park, Loring Park. I think the park board ended up in the right place.

One among many reasons for that opinion is another historical document rediscovered in the last few months: a letter from Charles Loring to the board from which the excerpt below was taken. In the letter, Loring proposes to create a Memorial Drive, a tribute to fallen American soldiers, as part of the Grand Rounds. The result was Victory Memorial Drive.

1919-02-04-letter-suggesting-memorial-drive-perpetual-care-donation

Charles Loring suggested a Memorial Boulevard and pledged to create a trust fund that would provide an annual revenue of $2,500 for the perpetual care of trees along the drive. (Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board)

Without any such intention when I started writing this, I have highlighted the incredible time and resources that have been donated to the Minneapolis park system. Loring, Elliot, Wilson: all people who shared a commitment to parks and were willing to give time, money and land to the city to realize their visions of what city life should be. Their example is particularly significant now as park leaders are trying to raise funds for new park developments downtown, along the river, and in north and northeast Minneapolis. Not a bad way to be remembered.

David C. Smith

 

 

 

 

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Shared History: Edina’s Early Days

Edina and Minneapolis share more than France Avenue—and history buffs aren’t restricted by city boundaries.

Henry Brown played an important role in the history of Edina as well as the history of Minnehaha Falls as a Minneapolis park.

There is a Chowen Park in both Edina and Minneapolis.

Minnehaha Creek flows through Minneapolis parkland  before it gets to Edina — and, of course, all of Minnehaha Creek after it leaves Edina on its way through Minneapolis to Minnehaha Falls and the Mississippi River is parkland.

The Interlachen neighborhood grew up around a golf course created by golfers who had outgrown their nine-hole Bryn Mawr course near downtown Minneapolis. 

That’s just a taste of the rich information on Edina history—and Minneapolis history— on the web site of realtor Ben Ganje. Go to the neighborhood directory on his site then look at the right margin for a list of Edina neighborhoods. Each of Edina’s 45 official neighborhoods is profiled with historical info and interesting bits of trivia.

I read about Todd Park because of my interest in famous diva Emma Abbott, a Minneapolis girl made good. Her father was one of those first interested in developing this part of Edina.

Why was I interested in Emma Abbott? She was buried next to her husband in Oak Grove Cemetery in his home town, Gloucester, Mass. Their monument is the most impressive in that cemetery, which I visited this fall.

Oak Grove, Emma Abbott Memorial

Emma Abbott’s memorial in Oak Grove Cemetery, Gloucester, Mass. Designing the cemetery was one of H.W.S. Cleveland’s first commissions as a landscape architect in 1854. (Photos: David C. Smith)

Laying out Oak Grove Cemetery was one of the first commissions Horace William Shaler Cleveland received as a landscape architect. Oak Grove, Emma Abbott WetherleyHe was hired for that job, with his young partner Robert Copeland, in 1854. The next year they tackled the design of the much more prestigious Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord, Mass., the eventual resting place of many of the great writers of early America: Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Louisa May Alcott, Nathaniel Hawthorne and his wife, Sophia, who was a childhood friend of Horace Cleveland.

More Edina History of Interest to Minneapolitans

Another Edina neighborhood profile I liked was Creek Knoll, which borders Minneapolis and was first promoted as a residential development for its nearness to Lake Harriet.

Also check out the profile of Morningside, a neighborhood that was also subdivided and developed partly because of the rapidly rising prices of residential lots nearer Lake Harriet in the early 1900s.

For those of you interested in park history in general, you might want to read about park development at Pamela Park, Bredesen Park and also the land once owned by four-term Minneapolis mayor, George Leach, that became Braemar Golf Course. The Lake Cornelia history also presents some of the challenges of park making as well as stormwater management that face cities as well as suburbs.

Can you still catch northern pike in Centennial Lakes?

Worth a look if you want to know more about our southwestern neighbor—and our metropolitan area from water management and freeways to shopping centers.

David C. Smith

Defending Minneapolis Parks

For decades, public and private parties have claimed that they need just a little bit of Minneapolis parkland to achieve their goals. And now even Governor Dayton has joined the shrill chorus of those who think taking parkland is the most expedient solution to political challenges. The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (MPRB) is justified in examining very skeptically all desires to take parkland for other purposes and in rejecting nearly all of them categorically.

Commentators writing in December in the StarTribune asserted that the Park Board is wrong to object to just 28 feet of bridge expansion over Kenilworth Lagoon for the construction of the Southwest Light Rail Transit (SWLRT) corridor. They write as if that bridge and expansion of rail traffic across park property were the only alternative. Gov. Dayton seems to repeat the error. Other political jurisdictions involved in the proposed light rail corridor have objected to this or that provision of the project and their objections have been given a hearing, often favorable.

I didn’t hear Governor Dayton threaten to slash local government aid to St. Louis Park when officials there objected to the Met Council’s original proposals for SWLRT. But the Park Board is supposed to cave into whatever demands remain after everyone else has whined and won. Minneapolis parks are too valuable an asset – for the entire state – to have them viewed as simply the least painful political sacrifice.

Should the SWLRT bridge be built? I don’t know—but I do want the Park Board to ensure that all options have been investigated fully. That desire to consider all feasible options to taking parkland for transportation projects that use federal funds was first expressed in 1960s legislation. The legislation was meant to ensure that parkland would be taken for the nation’s burgeoning freeway system only as a last resort. In the present case, the Park Board was not convinced that the Met Council had investigated all options thoroughly once it had acquiesced to the demands of other interested parties.

A Park Board study in 1960 identified more than 300 acres of Minneapolis parkland that were desired by other entities both private and public. Hennepin County wanted to turn Victory Memorial Drive into the new County Highway 169. A few years later, the Minnesota Department of Highways planned to convert Hiawatha Avenue, Highway 55, into an elevated expressway within yards of Minnehaha Falls—in addition to taking scores of acres of parkland for I-94 and I-35W. In the freeway-building years, parkland was lost in every part of the city: at Loring Park, The Parade, Riverside Park, Murphy Square, Luxton Park, Martin Luther King Park (then Nicollet Park), Perkins Hill, North Mississippi, Theodore Wirth Park and others, not to mention the extinction of Elwell Park and Wilson Park. Chute Square was penciled in to become a parking lot.

In 1966, faced with another assault—a parking garage under Elliot Park—Park Superintendent Robert Ruhe, backed by Park Board President Richard Erdall and Attorney Edward Gearty, urged a new policy for dealing with demands for parkland for other uses. It was blunt, reading in part,

“Those who seek parklands for their own particular ends must look elsewhere to satiate their land hunger. Minneapolis parklands should not be looked upon as land banks upon which others may draw.”

With that policy in place, the Park Board resisted efforts by the Minnesota Department of Highways to take parkland for freeways or, as a last resort, pay next to nothing for it. Still, the Park Board battled the state all the way to the United States Supreme Court over plans to build an elevated freeway within view of Minnehaha Falls—a plan supported by nearly every other elected body or officeholder in the city and state, including the Minneapolis City Council.

Robert Ruhe, middle, Minneapolis Superintendent of Parks 1966-1978 proposed a tough land policy to defend against the taking of parkland for freeways and other uses. In this 1968 photo he is accepting a gift of 60 tennis nets from General Mills. Before that time, nets were not provided on most city courts. Players had to bring their own. (MPRB)

Robert Ruhe, middle, Minneapolis Superintendent of Parks 1966-1978 proposed a tough land policy to defend against the taking of parkland for freeways and other uses. In this 1968 photo he is accepting a gift of 60 tennis nets from General Mills. Before that time, nets were not provided on most city courts. Players had to bring their own. (MPRB)

The driving force behind the park board's defense of its land was better known as a Minnesota legislator and President of the Minnesota Senate from 1977-1981. Ed Gearty, far right, was President of the Minneapolis Park Board in 1962 when he was elected to the Minnesota House of Representatives. He had to resign his park board seat, but was then hired by the park board as its attorney. He helped devise a pugnacious strategy that helped keep park losses to freeways as small as they were. This photo with other state lawmakers was taken in 1978.

The driving force behind the park board’s defense of its land was better known as a Minnesota legislator and President of the Minnesota Senate from 1977-1981. Ed Gearty, far right, was President of the Minneapolis Park Board in 1962 when he was elected to the Minnesota House of Representatives. He had to resign his park board seat, but was then hired by the park board as its attorney. He helped devise a pugnacious strategy that helped keep park losses to freeways as small as they were. This photo with other state lawmakers was taken in 1978. Gearty deserves credit along with Ruhe, counsel Ray Haik and park board Presidents Dick Erdall and Walter Carpenter for trying to keep Minneapolis parks intact as a park “system.”

While the Supreme Court chose not to hear the Minnehaha case, its decision in a related case involving parkland in Memphis, Tenn. established a precedent that forced Minnesota to reconsider its Highway 55 plans and provides the basis for the Park Board today to investigate alternatives to taking park property for projects that use federal funds.

The Park Board is right to do so, even at the high cost it must pay—which the Met Council should be paying—and regardless of the results of that investigation. The Park Board needs to reassert very forcefully that taking parkland is a very serious matter and not the easiest way out when other arrangements don’t fall into place.

In a report to park commissioners on a proposed new land policy on April 1, 1966 Robert Ruhe concluded with these words,

“The park lands of Minneapolis are an integral part of our heritage and natural resources and, as such, should be available to all present and future generations of Minneapolitans. This is our public trust and responsibility.”

That trust and responsibility has not changed in the intervening 50 years. And it is not exercised well if the Park Board allows land to be lopped away from parks—even 28 feet at a time—without the most intense scrutiny and, when necessary, resistance. It could help us avoid horrors like elevated freeways near our most famous landmarks.

What I find most troubling about events of the past year relating to Minneapolis parks is the blatant disregard by elected officials—from Minneapolis’s Mayors to Minnesota’s Governor—of the demands and complexity of park planning and administration, as if great parks and park systems happen by accident. They don’t. They take conscientious, informed planning, funding, programming and maintaining. We can’t just write them into and out of existence as mere bargaining chips in some grander game. Parks should not be an afterthought in the crush of city or state business.

I worry when an outgoing mayor negotiates an awful agreement for a “public” park for the benefit of the Minnesota Vikings without the input of the people who would have to build and run it. I wince when an incoming mayor trumpets a youth initiative without input from the organization that has the greatest capacity for interaction with the city’s young people. And I am really perplexed when a governor makes so little effort to engage an elected body with as important a stake in a major project as the park board’s in the SWLRT.

Other elected officials seem more than happy to rub shoulders with park commissioners and staff when the Minneapolis park system receives national awards, or a President highlights the parks on a visit, or when exciting new park projects are unveiled. But they seem to forget who those people are when they are sending out invitations to the table to decide the city’s future. That is a serious and easily avoidable mistake.

David C. Smith

© 2015 David C. Smith

Two New Park-Related Books by Joe Bissen and Sue Leaf

I’m happy to recommend two books that I’ve recently added to my shelves on Minneapolis history.

Two recent additions to my Minnesota history book shelf

Two recent additions to my Minnesota history book shelves.

Fore! Gone. Minnesota’s Lost Golf Courses 1897-1999 by Joe Bissen. Joe contacted me after reading my pieces on the old Bryn Mawr Golf Club before it spun off Minikahda and then Interlachen. We ended up spending an enjoyable morning roaming around the Bryn Mawr neighborhood trying to pin down the location of the course and the clubhouse. It was a task made more difficult by the changes in street names and house numbering systems over the last 115 years. Bryn Mawr is only one of many long-gone golf courses that Bissen writes about in this entertaining book. If you’ve played much golf in the state, you’ll find these stories especially enjoyable, but you needn’t be a fan of “a good walk spoiled” to enjoy these stories of changing landscapes.

For Minneapolis history buffs, I’d recommend a visit to Joe’s blog as well, where he goes into greater detail on his search for more info on the ancient Camden Park Golf Club that was supposedly built around Shingle Creek by employees of C.A. Smith’s lumber company.

A Love Affair with Birds: The Life of Thomas Sadler Roberts, by Sue Leaf. The wild landscape north of Lake Harriet, which is named for Thomas Sadler Roberts, is widely known as a bird sanctuary in the Minneapolis park system. What is probably less-well known,  is that the entire Minneapolis park system is a bird refuge — and has been for about 75 years. Roberts was a doctor and later in life an ornithologist at the University of Minnesota who was instrumental in creating the fabulous displays at the Bell Museum of Natural History at the U.

When I was still in grade school in the 1960s I remember my parents taking us to see those displays on Sunday afternoons. I don’t think they are as heavily visited now as they once were, but I had such fond memories of those life-like exhibits that I took my daughter there several times in this century. A couple of years ago I included in this blog  a photo of wolves attacking a moose outside the museum.

Now, thanks to author Sue Leaf, I know the story of how the Bell Museum came into existence — as well as many other details of the life of a remarkable man. Leaf places Roberts’ life in the context of the early history of Minneapolis. His friends, colleagues and benefactors included many influential people in the creation of the city’s economy and institutions.

The story Leaf tells heightens appreciation for the wildlife habitat that Minneapolis parks have preserved not only in the Thomas Sadler Roberts Bird Sanctuary, but throughout the park system.

I hope you will keep both books in mind for your book-inclined friends and family this gift-giving season. Or buy one for yourself and save it for a day when you’re snowed in. Sorry, but you know it’s coming.

David C. Smith

Post script: Check back in a couple days and perhaps you can help us solve a mystery in Thomas Sadler Roberts Bird Sanctuary.

© 2014 David C. Smith

 

“The Yard” — or Downtown East Commons: A Caution from Minneapolis Park History

Hurrying to create a park in “The Yard” (since renamed the “Commons”) between downtown and the new Vikings stadium could result in disaster, if the history of Minneapolis parks provides any lessons. The greatest land-use mistakes in Minneapolis park history came from creating parks for purposes other than the relaxation, recreation, entertainment or edification of its citizens. Creating grounds for a pleasant stroll to a stadium eight days a year isn’t reason enough to make “The Yard” work as a park. Planning for those two blocks has to go well beyond landscaping only for the benefit of surrounding property owners, too.

An Expensive Failure: The Gateway

On four notable occasions, the park board has created parks largely for other than “park” reasons. The first, and still most-disastrous, was the creation of The Gateway in 1913 at the junction of Hennepin and Nicollet Avenues just west of old Bridge Square approaching the Hennepin Avenue Bridge. The triangular park was created to be an attractive “gateway” from the railroad station into downtown. The welcome intended for visitors, or travellers returning home, was clear from the words carved in stone on the pavilion at The Gateway:

“More than her arms, the city opens its heart to you.”

That slogan must have sounded less smarmy to 1913 ears than it does to mine. Parks, as well as slogans perhaps, were still on experimental footing in the “new” cities of the American west and The Gateway was the first venture of the Minneapolis Board of Park Commissioners into downtown Minneapolis.

The buildings razed to make room for the park reportedly housed 27 saloons, which for many park advocates was reason enough to create the park. But neither open heart nor closed saloons were enough to make the park successful.

The Gateway 1918 at the intersection of Nicollet Avenue (left) and Hennepin Avenue (right). (Charles P. Gibson, Minnesota Historical Society)

The Gateway 1918 at the intersection of Nicollet Avenue (left) and Hennepin Avenue (right).  The Mississippi River and Hennepin Avenue Bridge are behind the photographer, Charles P. Gibson. (Minnesota Historical Society)

By 1923, the park board was spending more than 5% of its annual citywide operating budget on the park, mostly on park police patrols, because, in addition to the city’s arms, the park board had opened toilets – er, “comfort stations” – in The Gateway’s pavilion. The park quickly became a favorite hangout for lumbermen between jobs, as well as the unemployed, indigent or inebriated. What was supposed to get rid of ugliness and beautify the city, became an eyesore itself.

This infamous 1937 photo may overstate the case, but it does suggest one common use of the park. (Minneapolis Star Journal, Minnesota Historical Society)

This infamous 1937 photo may overstate the case, but it does suggest one typical use of the park. Notice however that there are no nappers across the street, on the block that holds the pavilion and fountain. (Minneapolis Star Journal, Minnesota Historical Society)

Despite an attractive pavilion and a fountain donated by Edmund Phelps (now in Lyndale Park near the Rose Garden), the park served too few constituents (or at least some the city thought undesirable) and little park purpose beyond decoration. The park was controversial even when it was built, with such thoughtful park observers as former park commissioners William Folwell and Charles Loring opposing the park. Loring’s wife owned some property condemned for the park, but nonetheless he predicted correctly that it would become a home for indigent men. (See Florence Barton Loring’s reflective response here.) The pavilion was closed and leveled in 1953 and the fountain was removed to Lyndale Park in 1963, when the old Gateway ceased to exist. (For the rest of The Gateway story go here, then click on “Parks, Lakes, Trails…”, then “Gateway” in the index.)

The Gateway in July 1954 after demolition of the pavilion. Fenced, desolate, doomed. (MInneapolis Star Journal Tribune, Minnesota Historical Society)

Fenced. Desolate. Doomed. The Gateway in July 1954 after demolition of the pavilion, looking toward the river from Washington Avenue.  (Minneapolis Star Journal Tribune, Minnesota Historical Society)

The Gateway was by far the most expensive park built during the first thirty years of the Minneapolis park board’s existence. The total cost was nearly one million dollars, more than had been paid to acquire  Lake Harriet, Lake Calhoun and Lake of the Isles – plus parks and parkways along both sides of the Mississippi River – combined!

A Huge Success: Wold-Chamberlain Field

The next time the park board was asked to build something for the city turned out quite differently. When Minneapolis needed an airport, the park board was the only municipal entity that could legally own land outside city limits. Therefore, it fell to the park board in 1928 to own and operate the municipal airport on the site of the old motor speedway next to the Fort Snelling military reservation. The park board operated and developed Wold-Chamberlain Field, built it into a respectable airport, and turned it over in the mid-1940s to the newly created Metropolitan Airport Commission. Chalk one up to collaboration among city, park, civic and business interests. The goals, however, were clear, unambiguous and limited – and in the 1920s the airplane was still little more than a curiosity. Few people anticipated the future importance of flying machines and places to land them.

Wold-Chamberlaind Field, Minneapolis's airport, 1941. Owned and developed by the Minneapolis park board, 1926-1943. One of the only success stories when the park board was asked to develop something other than a "park." (Minneapolis Park and Recretion Board.)

Wold-Chamberlain Field, Minneapolis’s airport, 1941. The passenger terminal is lower right. Owned and developed by the Minneapolis park board, 1926-1943. One of the only success stories when the park board was asked to develop something other than a “park.” (Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board)

A Second Downtown Disaster: Pioneer Square

The next effort at collaboration was much less successful. Like The Gateway, it was downtown. Another cautionary tale. The U.S. government wanted to build a new post office in downtown Minneapolis in 1932, but asked that a proper setting be provided for the building on the west bank of the river just above St. Anthony Falls – a stone’s throw from The Gateway, which was already admittedly a failure as a park. In the grip of Depression, however, the city needed the jobs and the federal money that would be spent, despite what seem to have been the obvious warnings of The Gateway experience.

Dedication of Pioneers Statue in Pioneers Square in front of the post office, 1932. (Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board)

Dedication of Pioneer Statue in Pioneer Square in front of the post office, 1936. (Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board)

The city asked the park board to build a post office park, but the park board demurred until the city agreed to finance most of the land acquisition instead of having the park board assess property owners. Enough money was left after land acquisition, demolition and improvement to commission a sculpture for the park, which depicted pioneers. Despite the sculpture (now in B.F. Nelson Park) and the attraction of a new, immense post office, Pioneer Square soon followed the path of The Gateway. According to Charles Doell, park superintendent in the 1950s, after the snow melted at the end of the winter of 1953, maintenance crews picked up 70 bushel baskets of empty wine and whiskey bottles from The Gateway. One Monday morning in the summer of 1953, crews picked up 62 empty wine and whiskey bottles from the grass at Pioneers Square. (Charles E. Doell Papers, Hennepin History Museum). Further proof that you can’t just plop green space down in a city and expect it to serve some vague “beautifying” or “park” purpose – even with some dressing up. Pioneer Square also fell to urban renewal in the 1960s. (Read more about Pioneer Square and other “lost” Minneapolis parks here.)

A Drainage Ditch

The fourth instance of the park board acquiring a park for non-park reasons occurred in the far north of the city. The low land around Shingle Creek north of Webber Park often flooded, so was unusable for development. Due to a critical housing shortage for returning soldiers and sailors and their new families after World War II, the city asked the park board to acquire Shingle Creek – from Webber Park to the northern city limit — and lower the creek bed to drain the neighborhood so homes could be built there. The park board very reluctantly complied with the city’s request, even though the park board had higher priorities elsewhere. The effort succeeded in creating new housing lots, but has contributed little to the overall park experience in the city. Creekview Park is certainly a positive in the neighborhood despite its location only a few blocks from Bohannon Park, but Shingle Creek, in places, still resembles what you’d expect of County Ditch Thirteen. (I think Shingle Creek could and should be made a more valuable park resource.)

The Yard. Somewhat off topic, history suggests the advisability of a different name than “The Yard.” It’s kinda folksy and cute, but Minneapolis has twice tried “The (Something)” and both were trouble. (Try writing about them or describing them and you’ll see.) The Gateway and The Parade, both official names, were inevitably shortened to Gateway and Parade. Those two words were distinctive enough to stand alone without creating confusion, at times, but “Yard” isn’t. Whose Yard? Not to mention connotations of prison and the Hennepin County Jail overlooking it. The name may have served Vikings or Wells Fargo or Ryan or Rybak’s marketing efforts, I don’t know its origin, making the place sound homey, as if it was “our” space, personal space, but it has severe limitations for daily usage.

Of these four cases of park building for non-park reasons, the two parks created downtown, The Gateway and Pioneer Square, stand out as dismal and expensive failures. They were built strictly to provide a more attractive setting for other activities and buildings. I’m afraid that is all that the Downtown East Park or “The Yard” is now. And if that is where the discussion remains, it will fail as a park and become an eyesore, a headache or both. Who will go there, why will they go there, what will they do there? What use will be made of the space, what traditions will be shaped there, what memories will be recorded there? If the answer doesn’t involve more than eight Sundays a year, it is the wrong answer. And this is not Chicago, New York, Palo Alto or Cambridge, Mass. It is Minneapolis, which already has parks, lakes, river, streams – and history. Don’t give us someone else’s park and expect it to work.

David C. Smith

© 2014, David C. Smith

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

I Finally Made It!

I finally climbed the Witch’s Hat Tower in Tower Hill Park. The erstwhile water tower was completed in 1914 after the park was acquired by the Minneapolis Board of Park Commissioners. I have already written about the tower here and here and here. Today I’m just providing proof of my climb with photos and a few brief observations.

Most years the tower is only open one night a year, the night that Pratt School has its ice cream social, which was last Friday, but this year the tower will also be opened to celebrate the dedication of the tower 100 years ago. That will take place July 12 and 13. So you get an extra chance to see the view from the top this summer.

The view west toward downtown -- and into the sun. Pratt School is at the bottom. I took the picture a little after 5 p.m. I didn't have to wait in line to make the climb, but by the time I descended about 100 people were in line waiting their turn. (David C. Smith)

The view west toward downtown — and into the sun. Pratt School is at the bottom. I took the picture a little after 5 p.m. I didn’t have to wait in line to make the climb, but by the time I descended about 100 people were in line waiting their turn. (David C. Smith)

The Witch's Hat from the terrace near the entrance to the tower. It was a perfect day to climb the tower. It really is this white and sky really was this blue. My Dad, who turns 90 this year, chose not to climb the 100+ steps to the top of the tower, but still enjoyed the spectacular view from the terrace. Even if you miss the few chances to climb the tower, visit the park for spectacular views of the city. (David C. Smith)

The Witch’s Hat from the terrace near the entrance to the tower. It was a perfect day for a view. It really is this white and sky really was this blue. My Dad, who turns 90 this year, chose not to climb the 100+ steps to the top of the tower, but still enjoyed the spectacular view from the terrace. Even if you miss the few chances to climb the tower, visit the park for beautiful views of the city. (David C. Smith)

The view from the Witch's Hat to the southwest, across Prospect Park and the Mississippi River into South Minneapolis. This was my favorite view, in part, because of how well the Mississippi River is hidden. You can tell it's there and you can see part of the railroad bridge over the river, but it is amazing how such a prominent and predominant geograpical feature can be swallowed by the landscape. I couldn't help but imagine the wildness of teh view from here 150 years ago -- before buildings and also before the Minneapols park board planted hundreds of thousands of trees along city streets. Early writers note that what is now South Minneapolis from the river gorge to the lakes in the southwestern part of the city was mostly treeless prairie.

The view from the Witch’s Hat to the southwest, across Prospect Park and the Mississippi River into South Minneapolis. This was my favorite view, in part, because of how well the Mississippi River is hidden. You can tell it’s there and you can see part of the railroad bridge over the river, but it is amazing how such a prominent and predominant geographical feature can be swallowed by the landscape. I couldn’t help but imagine the wildness of the view from here 150 years ago — before buildings and also before the Minneapolis park board planted hundreds of thousands of trees along city streets. Early writers note that what is now South Minneapolis, from the river gorge to the lakes in the southwestern part of the city, was mostly treeless prairie. The Tower Hill Park tennis  courts are visible in the lower right corner. (David C. Smith)

The top of the stairs down the Witch's Hat. (David C. Smith)

The top of the stairs down the Witch’s Hat. (David C. Smith)

 

The spiral staircase of the Witch's Tower. It was narrow enough that I had to suck in my (shrinking) stomach to pass people going the other way. The large deck at the top of the tower was intended to be a bandstand for concerts, but musician's had a difficult time gettig their instruments up this narrow staircase. Imagine lugging a bass or a tuba up or down. But others were once able to enjoy the view any time. When the tower was first opened in 1914, the park board paid a park keeper to open the tower to the public five days a week. (David C. Smith)

The spiral staircase of the Witch’s Hat. It was narrow enough that I had press up against the wall and suck in my (shrinking) stomach to pass people going the other way. The large deck at the top of the tower was intended to be a bandstand for concerts, but musicians had a difficult time getting their instruments up this narrow staircase. Imagine lugging a bass, bass drum or tuba up or down. But others were once able to enjoy the view any time. When the tower was first opened in 1914, the park board paid a park keeper to open the tower to the public five days a week. (David C. Smith)

If you took better photos than I did, please email them and I’ll post them here.

David C. Smith

© 2014 David C. Smith

Horace Cleveland Gets a Park!

It could finally happen! I was delighted to learn that Minneapolis Park Commissioners Scott Vreeland and Steffanie Musich will introduce to the board this week a formal proposal to name all or part of the Mississippi River gorge in Minneapolis after Horace William Shaler Cleveland. He was the landscape architect who was so influential in the creation of the Minneapolis and St. Paul park systems and, especially, the protection and preservation of the incomparable river gorge as a park.

The cover of the park board's 1905 annual report shows the Mississippi River gorge looking up river from the mouth of Minnehaha Creek at left. (Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board)

The cover of the park board’s 1905 annual report shows the Mississippi River gorge looking up river from the mouth of Minnehaha Creek at left. (Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board)

I can think of no higher or more appropriate honor for a man whose vision meant so much to life in this metropolis than to name this magnificent ribbon of untrammeled, still-wild green in his name.

Scott Vreeland has pointed out that the proposal he will read this week is only the beginning of the process that must gain approval now from many jurisdictions, from the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board to the National Park Service. Perhaps it is indicative of Cleveland’s profound legacy that local, regional, state and national entities are now involved in the continued preservation and administration of the treasure the river gorge has become.

But it is a start. To read more about why I believe this is important, read my earlier articles here and here. Or click on Cleveland’s name in the tag cloud at right to learn a great deal more about this extraordinary person.

Thanks Scott and Steffanie for taking this step.

I hope all other organizations, public and private, that are interested in the river will support them.

David C. Smith

© 2014 David C. Smith

Perkins Hill Park Was Not Named for Frances Perkins

A few days ago Wendy Hajicek commented on an earlier post, mentioning her memories of Perkins Hill. Wendy asked if Perkins Hill was named for Frances Perkins the Secretary of Labor in the Cabinet of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. I had written in a historical profile of Perkins Hill for the Minneapolis park board’s website that the park was named for the Perkins Hill Addition, a property development. Park board proceedings from that era do not indicate that the name was ever formally approved. It is one of those “so-called” properties.

I had never heard before the possibility that the park had been named for Frances Perkins, so I quickly looked  up the time frame of the acquisition to see if it would have been possible. The park was acquired in 1948 and Frances Perkins had served in Roosevelt’s cabinet from 1933 to 1945. The time period fit perfectly.

So then I went back to the plat maps from 1914, 1903 and 1892 that I consult so often from the Minnesota Digital Library and the Borchert Map Library at the U of M. I wanted to see how the property was named at those times. The name Perkins Hill Addition is on the 1903 plat map and the 1892 plat map notes that four adjoining parcels of land are owned by people with the Perkins surname. So it appears that the name is based in Minneapolis, not Washington, D.C.

Frances Perkins, Secretary of Labor, 1933-1945.

Frances Perkins, Secretary of Labor, 1933-1945.

I haven’t looked up the Perkins family that owned, then subdivided, the north Minneapolis property in the late 19th century. Perhaps they were leading citizens of the community and I wouldn’t want to diminish their part in the early history of Minneapolis, but part of me was hoping that the park could have been named for Frances Perkins, the first woman to serve on a presidential cabinet and, therefore, the first to take a place in the line of succession for the presidency. A brief online exploration of her life suggests that she was influential in formulating Roosevelt’s labor policies, Depression-era work relief programs, and the creation of social security.

I’ll look for info on the Perkins family of north Minneapolis as well. If you know any of their story, let me know.

And as I mentioned in my reply to Wendy’s comment, I hope more people stop by Perkins Hill Park for a picnic or a visit. The view of the city is splendid. Does anyone have a photo to share?

David C. Smith

© 2013 David C. Smith

Approaching Lake Calhoun — A Couple Years Later

Julieann Swanson, Assistant Curator of Digital Collections and Archives at the University of Minnesota’s College of Design  just sent a fabulous photo of the Lake Street, Dean Parkway, and West Calhoun Parkway intersection from about 1956 in response to my post earlier today. See Julieann’s comments on that post for more information on this photo and the Digital Content Library.

Looking west on Lake Street at the intersection of Dean Parkway and West Calhoun Parkway. (University of Minnesota, Digital Content Library)

Looking west on Lake Street toward the intersection with Dean Parkway and West Calhoun Parkway. (Photo: University of Minnesota, Digital Content Library)

Julieann suggested that the photo is circa 1955, but I’ve advanced it a year to 1956, because I believe that is a red 1956 Chevy sitting at the east-bound stop light. And, yes, the traffic lights are quite visible in this photo! Would that car have been called, “Cherry”? I’m a little too young to remember ’50s slang.

Thanks, Julieann.

David C. Smith

© 2013 David C. Smith

Approaching Lake Calhoun

Two photos from the 1950s, and two that are much older, show how people got to Lake Calhoun once upon a time. Both photos are from the Minnesota Historical Society’s online collection. I haven’t written about that collection in some time, but I continue to use it extensively for research on Minneapolis parks and other historical subjects. You should take a look if you haven’t before. It’s a treasure.

The first photo shows the intersection of Lake Street, Dean Parkway and West Calhoun Parkway, looking west.

Many Minneapolis parkways were once called “boulevards”, but that changed in 1968 when the Minneapolis park board renamed nearly all of them “parkways.” The park board wanted to create uniformity in treatment, but also believed that by calling them parkways, people would better understand that they were owned by the park board and were part of the park system. I still refer to them as boulevards at times, out of habit, as do many others. Curiously, Google maps hedges, labelling the road around the west side of Lake Calhoun “W Calhoun Pkwy” and “Calhoun Blvd”.

Travelling west on Lake St. at Dean Parkway. West Calhoun Parkway begins at far left. (Norton and Peel, Minnesota Historical Society)

Travelling west on Lake St. at Dean Parkway. West Calhoun parkway begins at far left. (Norton and Peel, Minnesota Historical Society)

Note that the lot on the southwest corner of the intersection (upper left) is still undeveloped in 1953.

Aerial view of the American Hardware Mutual Insurance Company building. Excelsior Blvd. is in the foreground. 1956. (Minneapolis Star Journal Tribune, Minnesota Historical Society)

Aerial view, 1956. Excelsior Blvd. is in the foreground.  Minnesota Historical Society)

The earliest photos I’ve found of the American Hardware Mutual Insurance Company building on the site are dated 1956, such as this aerial photo from the Minneapolis Star Journal Tribune.

The park board never owned that piece of land, although it would have been a good addition to the lake park. The park board reported in 1916 that the purchase of 93 acres on that corner was pending, but the deal never was completed. The land behind the building to the southwest was once a small bay of the lake, which the park board filled with material dredged from the lake bottom.

Perhaps it’s simply an issue of the resolution of this photo, but I don’t see traffic lights even though it appears that east- and west-bound  traffic is stopped. The lights must have been installed about this time, because the city engineer had developed an initial plan for lights at this increasingly busy intersection in 1951.

The photo below was taken at the opposite, or southeastern, corner of Lake Calhoun at about the same time.

36th Strret approaching the southestern corner of Lake Calhoun. 1955. (Norton and Peel, Minnesota Historical Society)

36th Street approaching the southeastern corner of Lake Calhoun, 1955. Lakewood Cemetery is on the left. (Norton and Peel, Minnesota Historical Society)

The photo is notable especially because the foundation of the street railway bridge over 36th Street still stands. This was the location of the rails that went to Lake Harriet and beyond to Excelsior and Lake Minnetonka. Of course, there were no traffic lights at the intersection of 36th and East Calhoun Parkway either.

In this photo of East Calhoun Parkway in about 189, you can see the bridge foundation at the extremeright, where one carriage is turning onto 36th Street. The fountain in the boulevard for watering horses was an interesting touch.(Minnesota Historical Society)

East Calhoun Parkway in about 1890. Looking north from Lakewood Cemetery.(Minnesota Historical Society)

The trestle had been there since before the park board built the parkway. (See more on the Lyndale Railway Company at Lake Calhoun and Lake Harriet.) In the photo at right you can see the bridge foundation (far right), in front of the carriage turning east onto 36th Street. The fountain in the boulevard for watering horses was an interesting touch. So was the scalloped hedge between the parkway and the lake. Does anyone know when the street railway bridge supports were torn down?

Most of the earliest parkways around lakes ran right along the water’s edge. That feature of early parkways is more prominent in the photo below of the end of Calhoun Parkway in about 1905. At that time the parkway ended where it turned south to connect to Lake Harriet. The land behind the photographer in this photo was private land all the way around the west shore of the lake back to Lake Street and the top photo.

The end of Calhoun Parkway at the south end of Lake Calhoun in 1905. The road turned to the right, the future William Berry Parkway, connecting to Lake Harriet. (Minnesota Historical Society)

The end of Calhoun Parkway at the south end of Lake Calhoun in 1905. The road turned to the right, the future William Berry Parkway, connecting to Lake Harriet. (Minnesota Historical Society)

The photo below shows the approach to the north end of Lake Calhoun from about the same time period as the photo above.

The north shore of Lake Calhoun from Lake Street, facing west in about 1902.

The north shore of Lake Calhoun from Lake Street, facing west in about 1902. (Minnesota Historical Society)

This photo shows Lake Street facing west at the northeast corner of Lake Calhoun. This was before the park board acquired the north shore of the lake. The only park land around the lake at this time was Calhoun Parkway beginning at the left of this photo and continuing to the previous photo.

David C. Smith

A Missed Opportunity: The Witch’s Hat Is Closed for Another Year!

The view from Tower Hill -- at the base of the Witch's Hat. Imagine the view form the observation deck above. (Talia Smith)

The view from Tower Hill — at the base of the Witch’s Hat. Imagine the view from the observation deck above. (Talia Smith)

For years my “To Do in Minneapolis” list has included a climb that I have never made. And it’s not something I can do just any old day. We get one evening a year and that’s it. And once again I missed my chance. I wasn’t paying close enough attention that the Prospect Park/Pratt School Ice Cream Social was May 31. The night of that neighborhood party is the one time a year that the Witch’s Hat Tower on Tower Hill Park is open for climbing.

The climb would have been especially gratifying this year because it was the tower’s 100th birthday. The City of Minneapolis built the water tower on the hill, with the park board’s permission, in 1913. As explained before, the park was already named Tower Hill, at the request of neighborhood residents, when the Witch’s Hat water tower was built.

Since my earlier post on the Witch's Hat, I found this stereopticon image of "Cheever's Tower" dated 1858. (Minnesota Historical Society)

Since my earlier post on the Witch’s Hat, I found this stereopticon image of “Cheever’s Tower” dated 1858. (Minnesota Historical Society)

The Witch’s Hat tower was designed by Frederick Cappelen, as noted on a plaque that was put on the tower in 1999. I have a complaint about that plaque.

Cappelen is described on the plaque only as a “Norwegian architect.” Concise, but really misleading. Yes, he was Norwegian by birth, but he had immigrated to the United States at the age of 23 in 1880. He went to work for the City of Minneapolis in 1886 as a bridge engineer and in 1893 was elected Minneapolis’s City Engineer. He left that office in 1899, but was elected City Engineer again in 1913 and held that title until he died of complications from appendicitis in 1921. So, although Norway-born, he lived nearly his entire adult life in Minneapolis and during much of that time was a city employee.

The graceful arch of the bridge was the world's longest concrete span at the time it was completed in 1923. (Mulad)

The graceful arch of the bridge was the world’s longest concrete span at the time it was completed in 1923. (Mulad)

Cappelen’s greatest achievements in Minneapolis had nothing to do with the Witch’s Hat. He was the designer of the Franklin Avenue Bridge over the Mississippi, which was completed after his death. At that time, the bridge was the longest concrete-span bridge in the world, with a central span of 400 feet. The bridge’s official name is F. W. Cappelen Memorial Bridge.

Cappelen was also a key figure in designing the city’s water distribution system from the 1890s into the 1900s. He was so well-known as a bridge designer and a water works designer that his obituary was included in both the Proceedings of the Society of American Civil Engineers and the Journal of the American Water Works Association.

Cappelen was a Public Servant

Here’s my complaint about the plaque. I have no problem with identifying him as a “Norwegian architect” despite the fact that he was as American as everyone else in the city. My problem is with not identifying him as a public employee, as the City Engineer, a description that has far more to do with our memory of him than that he was Norwegian by birth.

The omission of his status as a public employee is part of my larger complaint that too many people praise everything in the private sector and disparage everything and everyone in the public sector. Too many people have such blind reverence for business methods and profit motives that they cannot distinguish between public and private good and the sometimes vastly different challenges involved in each. Some public problems cannot be solved by methods designed to maximize private profits.

I have also witnessed first-hand brilliance, stupidity and sloth in both government and corporate worlds. I have known very successful business people whom I would not trust to walk my dog around the block for fear that they’d screw it up somehow — or sell my dog before they made it back. I have known public employees with whom I would trust my life.

I have no tolerance for people who assume that someone who gets his or her paycheck from a government entity is incompetent and that everyone who works for a profit-making enterprise is more industrious and resourceful.

I have as much tolerance — none — for those who assume the only reason we have parks at all was a conspiracy of capitalists to enrich themselves. This myopic view, in my recent experience, seems particularly prevalent among people writing doctoral dissertations and some of those advising them.

To emerge from our present political quagmire, we have to be better than those extremes.

If there is a valuable lesson in Minneapolis park history it is that a great variety of people, with disparate philosophies and political views, have worked together on issues of the common good and achieved marvelous results. They included “capitalists” who looked beyond self-interest and profit, and they certainly included talented and dedicated public servants — like Frederick William Cappelen, City Engineer.

I’m sorry I missed again a chance to climb the tower he imagined 100 years ago. I’ll have to settle for a walk over his bridge.

David C. Smith

NOTE (6/6/2013): abockheim raises an excellent point in a comment on the post I linked to above about the identity of the tower that led to the naming of Tower Hill. Can anyone shed light?

An illustration of the view from Cheever's Tower in 1857 by Edwin Whitfield from the digital gallery of the New York Public Library.

An illustration of the view from Cheever’s Tower in 1857 by Edwin Whitefield. The lithographer was W. Endicott & Co. (Digital gallery of the New York Public Library.)

Here’s the link to the above illustration. I can’t picture this view from the campus or Tower Hill.

© David C. Smith 2013