Archive for the ‘Minneapolis parks’ Category

The Streetcar through Linden Hills: 100 Years on Xerxes Avenue

Another centennial in our young city. On October 1, 1913 streetcars began running south through Linden Hills on Xerxes Avenue into the Fulton neighborhood. The extension of the Oak and Harriet line ran south on Xerxes from the streetcar right-of-way near 44th out to 50th Street. The hope at the time was that as population in the region grew, the line would be extended east on 50th from Xerxes to Penn and south from there. (The Xerxes line was extended east on 50th to Penn the following year, but the line ended there. The line that eventually ran south on Penn was the Bryant Avenue line.)

Articles in the Minneapolis Tribune (see October 2 and October 6, 1913 issues) gave much of the credit for the line extension on Xerxes to the Robert Fulton School District Improvement Association. The Harriet Heights Improvement Association had supported a six-year campaign for the line extension, but the Fulton association, created in the fall of 1912, “had for its avowed purpose the securing of the car line extension.”

Xerxes Avenue South looking south in the 4500 block. A street car line opened here October 1, 1913.

Xerxes Avenue South looking south in the 4500 block. A streetcar line opened here October 1, 1913, carrying passengers as far as 50th Street. Some rails still lie beneath the pavement. (David C. Smith)

The original idea had been to run the line out from Linden Hills on Upton Avenue or build a new east-west streetcar line along 50th to serve the area south of Lake Harriet. Both plans were “negatived” by the street railway company, the Upton Avenue route due to “mechanical” difficulties and the crosstown route because the company didn’t project enough traffic to make it profitable. (In a 1914 atlas of the neighborhood there were only 11 houses on Xerxes between 47th and 50th, but only a handful of empty lots from 44th to 47th.)

The problem with the Xerxes route was that the streetcar company wouldn’t lay track until the street was graded. The city council was willing to spend only $600 for the grading project, so the neighborhood had to come up with an additional $1,600 to do the job. The Fulton association raised more than three-quarters of that sum.

One of the contributors to the grading fund was Tingdale Bros. Inc., which was developing Harriet Manor, a subdivision that included those blocks of empty lots along Xerxes. A small park in Edina, where the Tingdales were later also active residential developers, is named Tingdale Park,

The economic success of the campaign to extend the streetcar line — and the Tingdale brothers contribution to the road grading fund that made the extension possible — is highlighted by the fact that a quite large, new Robert Fulton School was built at 49th and Washburn only two years later to meet the needs of the burgeoning neighborhood.

The land for Linden Hills Park at Xerxes and 42nd, mostly bog, was not acquired by the park board until 1921 and construction of the park wasn’t begun until 1924. The land for Pershing Field, further south, was acquired in 1922, but construction didn’t begin until 1931. Southwest High School near Pershing Field was built in 1940.

David C. Smith

© David C. Smith

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Friday Photo: How A Stone Arch Was Made

The Stone Arch Bridge over the Mississippi River in downtown Minneapolis is becoming one of the iconic images of the city. Have you ever wondered how those arches were made? I have. So I found this photo of the bridge under construction. The deck of the bridge is maintained by the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, so let’s call it a park. Day and night the bridge provides the best views of the city. A hike over the bridge between Mill Ruins and Father Hennepin Bluffs, in either direction, is a must for visitors and residents.

This stereoscope image shows the stone arches being built over forms in 1883. (Henry Farr, Minneapolis Historical Society)

This stereoscope image shows the stone arches being built over forms in 1883. (Henry Farr, Minnesota Historical Society)

The two-track railroad bridge was being built at the time the park board was created in 1883.

The Stone Arch Bridge deck being completed in 1883. (Burlington Northern, Minnesota Historical Society)

The Stone Arch Bridge being completed in 1883. (Burlington Northern, Minnesota Historical Society)

This is another favorite shot of the bridge as it neared completion

David C. Smith

The Beginnings of a Garden

One hundred years ago next week, Theodore Wirth made a request of the Minneapolis park board that made possible one of Minneapolis’s most cherry-ished landmarks—and parks. The park superintendent who was known for his passion for gardens—and also for hiring a talented full-time park florist, Louis Boeglin—asked the park board to approve preparing a square of ground next to the Minnesota National Guard Armory for a garden. At least for a summer.

The Society of American Florists and Ornamental Horticulturists (SAFOH) were holding their national convention at the Armory in August 1913. The Armory had been built in 1906 between Kenwood Parkway and Vineland Place adjacent to a park known as The Parade. To the east of the Armory, bordering on Lyndale Avenue, was an empty plot of ground that Thomas Lowry had donated to the park board in 1906. It was that square that Wirth asked for. The park board approved Wirth’s request the day he made it — March 4, 1913 — for the “free use” of the space by SAFOH for “an extensive display of outdoor plants consisting of the best adapted hardy and tender plants that can be used for the decoration of public and private grounds and of plant novelties that are not yet known to many florists.”

The green space to the right of the Armory was the site of the SAFOH Garden. Lyndale Avenue is at right. Kenwood Parkway, which no longer goes through, is at top. Lowry's residence is where the Walker Art Center is now. (1914 Plat Map, relfections.mndigital.org)

The green space to the right of the Armory was the site of the SAFOH Garden. Lyndale Avenue is at right. Kenwood Parkway, which no longer goes through, is at top. Thomas Lowry’s residence is where the Walker Art Center is now. (Atlas of Minneapolis 1914, reflections.mndigital.org)

To prepare for this test garden, the board authorized Wirth to provide the property with “the necessary dressing of good loam,”  which the board would pay for from funds allocated for The Parade.

As recently as 1911 Wirth had proposed to use the space for tennis courts, in keeping with the active recreation focus of the park, but those courts were not built. (See plan in 1911 Annual Report.)

The Minneapolis Tribune enthused that the garden would be one of the “most beautiful and extraordinary displays that the city has ever enjoyed.” The Tribune estimated (April 20) that some bulbs to be planted, which began arriving from florists around the country in April, were valued at up to $100 each and, therefore, a guard would be posted at the garden site.

As the dates of the convention approached much was written in local newspapers about the floral display that would inform and entertain 1,500 guests from around the country who would make Minneapolis the “floral capital of the country” for a week (Tribune, August 10, 1913). Private railroad cars were to bring florists from the major eastern cities and so many florists were coming from, or through, Chicago that both the Milwaukee Road and Great Northern had dedicated trains from there solely for convention goers. Logo1910

The Tribune observed that membership in the Society was “coveted” because there was an “exchange of courtesies” among members, such as the “invaluable service” of a “telegraph order system between cities.” Many of us have used the FTD—originally Florists’ Telegraph Delivery—system, which was created in 1910, only a few years before the Minneapolis convention. The image of Mercury, at left, was first used in 1914.

The garden was such a huge hit—with florists and Minneapolis citizens—that one park commissioner recommended keeping the garden and naming it the Wirth Botanical Garden. Wirth, who was vice president of the national society before the convention, was unanimously elected president of the national organization while it was in session in Minneapolis.

The 1913 garden adjacent to the Armory, looking southwest from intersection of Lyndale Avenue, coming in from left and Kenwood Parkway, at right. The photo was taken from the Palace Hotel between the Parade and Loring Park. The garden is now part of fhe Minneapolis Sculpture Garden

The 1913 garden adjacent to the Armory, looking southwest from the intersection of Lyndale Avenue, coming in from left, and Kenwood Parkway, at right. The photo was taken from the Plaza Hotel between The Parade and Loring Park. The garden is now part of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden.  (MPRB)

The park board did support the continuation of the garden the following year and it became a popular attraction for decades, in part because of the labels that identified the plants. But the garden was never named for Wirth. It was referred to as the “Armory Garden” until the Armory was demolished in 1934.  At that time the land where the Armory stood was donated to the park board. After that the garden became known as “Kenwood Garden.” Those floral gardens, introduced as a concept 100 years ago next week, unquestionably facilitated the current use of the grounds as quite a different type of garden.

For the rest of the garden’s story, look for a documentary being produced by tpt and the Walker Art Center this spring in celebration of the 25th birthday of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. It is scheduled to premier in late May.

David C. Smith

NOTE May 30,2013: The tpt documentary can now be viewed here.

© David C. Smith 2013

 

Park Progress: 100 Years of Engines, Wheels, Automobiles and Metropolitan Parks

Writing one hundred years ago this week, then Minneapolis park board president Edmund Phelps, made several observations in the park board’s annual report for 1912 that attracted my attention.

“I notice in the Board’s report, especially between 1894 and 1900, frequent references to our bicycle paths and the very general use of the bicycle itself. It will be remembered that at one time there was great agitation for fine bicycle paths upon all main thoroughfares. During the last few years there has been nothing said in the reports and there has been no attention paid to keeping up bicycle paths for the reason that the use of the wheel, unfortunately, was very largely diminished.”

This is one of my favorite park photos. It shows bicycle paths around Lake Harriet in 1896. Notice that the layout of walking path, bicycle path and carriage way, there were no cars yet, is almost identical to today. (Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board)

This is one of my favorite park photos. It first appeared in the Minneapolis park board’s 1896 annual report. It shows bicycle paths around Lake Harriet created that year. The layout of walking path, bicycle path and carriage way, there were no cars yet, is almost identical to today. (Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board)

The “wheel,” as Phelps called the bicycle, has made quite a comeback. Bicycle riders were generally called “wheel men” then although as this picture demonstrates riding bicycles was not strictly a male pursuit. Perhaps most remarkable however, despite the fact that today you could spend more on a bicycle than the park board paid for Lake Calhoun, the basic concept of the bicycle has not changed at all: two wheels on a connecting frame, pedals, seat, handlebars—and a dog out for exercise.

Another thematically related passage from Phelps’s 1912 report is worth noting.

“We ought not to mow forty acres of lawn at Lake of the Isles by handpower, but the best power lawn mowers, such as are used by parks and country clubs, should be provided, as they facilitate the work and reduce greatly the expense per acre.”

I have no idea if Phelps was a stockholder in The Toro Company.

Greater Grand Rounds

Finally, Phelps recommended an idea that was not new, but was placed in an automotive context I haven’t seen before. Writing thirty years after the creation of the park board, Phelps looked thirty years into the future and foresaw,

“Two or three trunk lines of excellent highway will connect the eastern and western extremities of our great country. Good roads of high class construction will prevail throughout every state of the Union. While these state roads should and will  radiate from the large cities of the commonwealths, yet all will connect in a nearly direct line with the nearest transcontinental highway.”

Combining the development of good roads for automobiles with his prediction that there would be more than a million people in the Twin Cities in thirty years (1943), Phelps wrote,

“Long before that time the boulevard system of the two cities should be extended so as to make one ‘Greater Grand Rounds’ of one hundred miles or more.”

Phelps then described a parkway system that followed Minnehaha Creek to Lake Minnetonka, around that lake, then south from Excelsior to Shakopee, down the Minnesota River valley and its “enchanting scenery” to Fort Snelling, through St. Paul to and around White Bear Lake, then to Anoka and the Mississippi River, passing many beautiful lakes on the way,” then back to Minneapolis along the river. Phelps concluded,

“I am sure that a boulevard similar to the one suggested eventually will be built. An enabling act should be prepared and presented to the Legislature at the present session, and passed, so that the work may be prosecuted later.”

The parkway Phelps recommended was never authorized or built, but parks have been acquired along much of the route he suggested.

The First Automobile Ordinance

Phelps vision of automobiles, transcontinental highways and “Greater Grand Rounds” is not surprising given his early adoption of the automobile himself.

Phelps first appearance before the park board, more than a year before he was elected to be a park commissioner, was on behalf of the Automobile Club of Minneapolis. On May 7, 1903 Phelps requested permission for the club to have an automobile hill-climbing contest on the steep hill on Kenwood Parkway near Spring Lake. Hill-climbing contests were an early form of car racing, seeing whose car could climb a steep hill in the shortest time. As an inducement for approval of the club’s request perhaps, Phelps invited park commissioners and friends to attend the contest and afterwards be given a ride by automobile around the parkways.

1903 Model A Ford

1903 Model A Ford. It also came in a two-seat version. It was manufactured only in red. It had a top speed of 28 mph. (americanfords.com)

Phelps’s request for use of the parkway was approved, but he may have gotten more than he bargained for.  Immediately following approval of his request, the board directed the Privileges and Entertainments Committee to meet with the City Council Committee on Ordinances to develop an ordinance governing the use of automobiles in parks.

The park board subsequently passed an automobile ordinance on June 20, 1903. The ordinance restricted automobile speeds to 15 miles per hour, required that each car powered by gasoline have a muffler, that each car have a bell or horn, and a have at least one lighted lamp if operated after dark. In addition,

“Every person operating an automobile shall stop upon request or signal from any person in charge of a horse or horses, and shall also stop whenever a horse or horses show signs of fright at the automobile.”

Anyone convicted of violating the ordinance was subject to a fine of $2-$100 and, if in default of payment of a fine, imprisonment in the City Work House for a period of up to 90 days.

To give you some idea of how new cars were at the time, the Ford Motor Company was incorporated only four days before the park board’s automobile ordinance was passed in June 1903 and Ford’s first three Model A’s were manufactured the next month
. The success of those vehicles is still evident in Minneapolis where we refer to the Ford Dam and Ford Bridge, named for their proximity to and relationship with the Ford assembly plant in St Paul. The construction of the Ford Bridge made Minnehaha Park easily accessible to St. Paulites.

David C. Smith

© David C. Smith

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

Delineators in Minneapolis Park Plans

When the park board employed its first full-time engineers it’s likely that those engineers also did the drafting or “delineating” of the plans for new parks. The assumption is supported by the attributions on the first plans published in Minneapolis park board annual reports that included someone’s name other than that of Theodore Wirth, who became superintendent of parks in 1906. In the 1908 and 1909 annual reports, the park system’s two engineers, A. C. Godward and W. E. Stoopes, were cited as both engineer and delineator and no other delineators were credited. There may have been none.

Brief biographical sketches of Godward and Stoopes are provided in a previous post on Engineers, so I’ll begin with the first delineator who was never cited as an “engineer” on a park plan. That man was…

I. Kvitrud. I haven’t even discovered his first name. (Note 11/29: Thanks to an anonymous tip, which I’ve confirmed, I learned that Mr. Kvitrud’s first name was Ingwald. Thanks, “T”. For the Google spiders, that’s Ingwald Kvitrud!) Kvitrud was identified as the delineator of three park plans in 1910 and 1912. He was an engineering graduate of the University of Minnesota and served as an officer of the Minnesota Engineering Society in 1910 and 1912. He was hired in 1914 as a full-time instructor in Drawing and Geometry at his alma mater and he was still employed there in 1919, his annual salary having increased in five years from $900 to $1500, according to University records.

The most interesting reference I’ve found to Kvitrud was in an article in the San Francisco Call, July 19, 1913. In a story datelined Minneapolis, Kvitrud was identified as the Minneapolis park board clerk in charge of selling material from the demolition of buildings for a park at The Gateway. Read more

Engineers in Minneapolis Park Plans

I was curious about the people who created the park plans I featured in the Catalog of Minneapolis Park Plans, 1906-1935, which was presented in three installments recently (Vol. 1, Vol. 2, Vol. 3). The catalog identifies all the plans and drawings published in Minneapolis park board annual reports during the tenure of Theodore Wirth as Minneapolis’s park superintendent.

I’ve tried to piece together info on the men whose names appear on those plans as engineers or delineators using park board reports, newspaper archives, and miscellaneous documents found through online searches. I’m not aware of any other background information at the park board on the early engineering and planning staff.

The park board engineering staff about 1915 in their 4th floor offices in City Hall. From left: Alfred C. Godward, Charles E. Doell, Clyde Peterson, Herman Olson, Dick Butler, “Spud” Huxtable, “Spike” Miller and Al Berthe. (Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board)

The man whose name appears on almost all of the plans, Theodore Wirth, superintendent of parks, is already well-known. Most of the others, much less so—although two of them, Charles Doell and Harold Lathrop, became very well-known nationally as park administrators.

During that time, the park board employed no “landscape architects.” The profession was still relatively new. The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) was founded in 1898 and the first university programs in the field were created at Harvard and MIT around the turn of the century. This was after the first generation of true landscape architects in the United States, led by Frederick Law Olmsted and H W. S. Cleveland, had already passed from the scene. Cleveland had been the Minneapolis park board’s advisor and landscape architect from the creation of the park board in 1883, and had helped define the profession in this country. The park board had also hired landscape architect Warren Manning on a few occasions from 1899-1904 to provide advice and park plans after Cleveland retired.

Theodore Wirth was likely hired as park superintendent in Minneapolis in part because he had some experience designing parks in Hartford, Conn. He is credited with the designs of Colt and Elizabeth parks in Hartford. (Early in Wirth’s time in Hartford, the landscape architect role was filled by the Olmsted Brothers, the firm run by the sons of Frederick Law Olmsted. The senior Olmsted was a native of Hartford.) Wirth certainly played the role of landscape architect in Minneapolis, but I’m not aware of him ever calling himself one. He was active in the American Institute of Park Executives, and its predecessor organizations, but never ASLA. For ten years, 1925-1934, Wirth’s name appears on park plans as “Sup’t & Engineer” even though he did not have a formal engineering credential—apart from a course at a technical school in his native Switzerland as a young man. That course may have focused more on gardening than engineering. His first jobs were as a gardener. I could only guess at Wirth’s reasons for taking the “Engineer” title on park plans for the first time at age 62.

During his long tenure in Minneapolis, Wirth built a staff of men with Civil Engineering degrees—all from the University of Minnesota—not landscape architecture degrees or training. The first landscape architect hired full-time by the park board was Felix Dhainin in 1938. (If anyone could tell us more about Dhainin, I’d appreciate it.)

Here’s what I learned about the engineers for the park board 1906-1935. I’ll get to the draftsmen and delineators in a later post. Turns out the most interesting of all the park board engineers wasn’t featured in annual report plans at all! Read on

Those Darn Cars!

“It is the sense of this Board that the practice of tooting Automobile horns, by way of applause, at the concerts given in the parks should be discontinued.”

Motion proposed by park commissioner Charles M. Loring and adopted by the Minneapolis Board of Park Commissioners, June 18, 1906.

A Railroad Town

To reinforce recent articles that addressed the dominance of railroads and mills along the Minneapolis riverfront, I found these photos from about 1920 to be fascinating. Both are from the photo collection of the Minnesota Historical Society, a fabulous resource for understanding how our city and state came to be. The collection includes other aerial photos by Paul W. Hamilton of Minneapolis and St. Paul from the same time. They’re worth a look.

The west bank of the Mississippi River in Minneapolis looking downriver from above St. Anthony Falls. Nicollet Island is far left, the Stone Arch Bridge upper left in about 1921 (Paul W. Hamilton, Minnesota Historical Society)

North Minneapolis at Plymouth and Washington looking east toward the Mississippi River and Plymouth Bridge in background. Railroads consumed a lot of land in about 1920 on the west bank. (Paul W. Hamilton, Minnesota Historical Society)

When you look at these pictures it’s obvious why the Civic Commission and the park board were interested in reclaiming the riverfront 100 years ago.

David C. Smith

Pushball at Powderhorn

Does anyone remember “pushball”? This photo was taken at Powderhorn Park, but the date isn’t marked. It looks like a fair number of kids were left standing and watching.

This is “Pushball.” The apartments in the background appear to be those on Powderhorn Terrace just north of the park. Date unknown. (Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board)

Any guesses on the date?

Do you remember any other playground games that aren’t played anymore? Got pictures?

David C. Smith

Low River Redux

The dry weather this year is evident on the Mississippi River at St. Anthony Falls. A couple weeks ago I posted an aerial photo of St. Anthony Falls when it was very dry in 1955. The water levels on the river appear to be similar now. Larry Dillehay sent this photo taken on the afternoon of October 2. The concrete apron at the Falls isn’t quite dry, but there’s not enough water flowing to make a ripple at the bottom. The horseshoe dam above the falls is now completely out of the water. What a gorgeous day—again.

St. Anthony Falls in a very dry year, as seen from the Stone Arch Bridge, October 2, 2012. (Photo: Larry Dillehay)

Horseshoe dam exposed, with Nicollet Island in background. From 3rd Avenue Bridge just upriver from St. Anthony Falls, October 2, 2012 (Photo: Larry Dillehay)

David C. Smith

Postscript: Both the horseshoe dam and Lock and Dam #1, or Ford Dam, were repaired while the water was at this level, suggesting that while the summer had been very dry, the water levels had been lowered intentionally by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to facilitate mainteneance.

Catalog of Minneapolis Park Plans: Volume III, 1926-1935

The thirty annual reports produced while Theodore Wirth was superintendent of parks in Minneapolis—1906-1935—were rich in detail and illustrations. Those reports included 328 plans, designs and maps of parks and park structures. The publication of those plans usually coincided with the acquisition or development of new properties or the improvement of older ones, so they are a good guide to where to find some discussion of those park properties in annual reports or proceedings. So, long ago I catalogued all of those plans in one document to create a searchable guide to park development during those years. I have relied on that list for the last few years and assumed other researchers and park lovers would find it useful as well.  I’ve already posted the first twenty years worth of plans, and today is Volume III, 1926-1935.

Detail of a plan published in the 1912 annual report showing a proposed canoe house on a peninsula in Lake Harriet. (1912 Annual Report, Minneapolis Board of Park Commissioners)

The plans published in annual reports were not the only plans created by the park board staff in the years Wirth was superintendent of parks. They are mostly conceptual plans, rather than working plans. The park board requested many of the plans specifically as park commissioners considered various park proposals and possibilities.

The number of employees in the park board’s engineering department are not published in every annual report, but in most years for which that info is provided, it appears that one or two draftsmen were employed. A few of their names appear as “Delineator” or “Del.” on the plans. Sometime in the near future, I’ll provide a guide to some of the names of the people who helped prepare plans.

The titles of the plans are verbatim as they appear on plans. I’ve also copied dates, names and titles as they appear, but have added some punctuation to make them easier to read. Parenthetical comments identify current park names or mention important plan elements.

The annual reports from 1931 to 1935 were not typeset in order to cut costs during the Depression. The reports also contained very few plans or illustrations, not just to reduce printing costs, but because the park board had no money to spend on improving parks. Continue reading