Archive for the ‘Cedar Lake’ Tag

CIDNA Presentation and Minneapolis Winter Olympics Nuggets

You’re all invited to my next public presentation Sunday, February 25, 3:00 p.m. at Jones-Harrison Residence, 3700 Cedar Lake Avenue. My talk, which I’ve entitled “Linking Shrinking Lakes, a Deadly Railroad Crossing, and the Northwest Passage: CIDNA’s Rich Park History” is part of the CIDNA Speaker Series. CIDNA is the Cedar-Isles-Dean Neighborhood Association, which encompasses parts of Cedar Lake, Lake of the Isles and Lake Calhoun. It’s free and open to anyone, not only CIDNA residents.

I’ll talk mostly about the history of parks in that neighborhood, but as always I would be happy to entertain questions about park history throughout the city.

To relieve any apprehension of controversy and fisticuffs, my reference to a “deadly railroad crossing” has nothing to do with SWLRT, but rather goes back about 10 park superintendents. Perhaps you’ve heard of the “missing link” in the Grand Rounds parkway system. Historically that refers to the gap in the Grand Rounds from St. Anthony Parkway (and Stinson Boulevard at one time) in Northeast Minneapolis through the U of M campus back to East River Parkway. But there was once, technically, another gap in Minneapolis parkways right in the middle of the CIDNA neighborhood.

Winter Olympics and Minneapolis

To elevate this post above crass self-promotion, I’m including some wildly entertaining and illuminating Minneapolis historical info that relates to the Olympic games which many of us are watching this week.

The trials for the U.S. Ski Team for the 1924 Winter Olympics were held in Minneapolis. The ski jump at what was then Glenwood, now Theodore Wirth, Park was one of the best in the country. Olympic skiing did not include any Alpine events then. Skiing meant “ski-running” — cross country — or ski-jumping, the traditional Nordic events. (Alpine events, such as downhill and slalom, weren’t included in the Olympics until 1936.) Based on the success of the ski trials here in 1924, park superintendent Theodore Wirth speculated that Minneapolis would host the 1928 or 1932 Winter Olympics. Also based partly on that success, Minneapolis Mayor George Leach, an avid sportsman, was named the manager of the U.S. Ski Team for the 1924 Olympics in Chamonix. Mayor Leach was later the man who formally applied to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for Minneapolis to host the 1932 winter games. Instead, Lake Placid was chosen to host the Games that year. In those days the nation that hosted the Summer Olympics was also given the first chance to host the Winter Games. Because Los Angeles was hosting the 1932 Summer Olympics, the Winter Games were expected to be held in the U.S. too. Seven American cities officially applied to host the 1932 Winter Games, including Duluth and Minneapolis.

Please, Please Come!

That was far from the last time that Minneapolis put in a bid to host the Olympics. Minneapolis mounted serious efforts to host the Summer Games in 1948, 1952 and 1956. (When downhill ski events and more sledding events were added to the Olympic agenda, and ski-jumping techniques outgrew our hills, we flatlanders had no more chance to host the Winter Olympics.) Minneapolis came close in 1952, finishing tied for second — with LA — behind Helsinki in IOC voting to host the Summer Olympics. The effort to win the 1952 games was complicated by bids from Detroit, Chicago and Philadelphia in addition to Minneapolis and Los Angeles. IOC representatives from the rest of the world were a bit puzzled and not impressed by the infighting among American cities to host the games.

Another major effort was made in 1988 to host the 1996 Summer Olympics. By that time the U.S. Olympic Committee would approve only one American bid for consideration by the IOC and the USOC chose Atlanta’s bid over Minneapolis’s. To the surprise of many, Atlanta’s bid won that year over the bid by Athens to host the centennial of the modern revival of the Olympic Games where they had begun.

Think how much more impressed the world would be by Minneapolis if visitors saw our summers instead of only our Super Bowl and Final Four winters!

Didn’t MacArthur Like Lutherans?

1928 was a cruel year for some Minneapolis Lutherans. When the American amateur hockey establishment was looking for a hockey team to represent the U.S. at the Olympics in St. Moritz four teams emerged as favorites: Eveleth Junior College, University of Minnesota, Harvard and Augsburg. For various reasons three of the teams withdrew from consideration, mostly due to the long time scholar-athletes would be away from classes and the travel expense. The U of M administration determined that Olympic play was outside the scope of interscholastic sports and withdrew the Gopher hockey team from consideration. Olympic athletes or their home towns were expected to pay most of the expenses of competing. The only team that agreed to play — and pay — was Augsburg and the team was duly named by the amateur hockey authorities to represent the U.S. in St. Moritz. Augsburg was coming off a championship season in the first official season of hockey competition in the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.

A fund drive was launched in Minneapolis to raise $4,500 to underwrite the Auggie’s expenses. After $2,000 had been raised, S.O. Severson, former athletic director at Augsburg and then principal of Franklin Junior High School in Minneapolis, pledged to cover any of the remaining amount. Augsburg was in!

Except the U.S. Olympic Committee and its president, Douglas MacArthur, had other ideas. When MacArthur looked at the Augsburg team he saw something he didn’t like and he declared that Augsburg would not go to the Olympics as the U.S. team. Augsburg’s hockey team, he declared, was not representative of American hockey. Perhaps this was the catch: Augsburg’s five starting skaters were the Hanson brothers and while the Hansons were Americans they had grown up partly in Canada. The U.S. was not represented in hockey at the 1928 Olympics by Augsburg — five Hansons and a goalie — or anyone else.

Of the 11 countries that did enter hockey teams in the 1928 Games, 10 were divided into three pools for round-robin play. The three winners of those groups were joined by Canada in a final round-robin tourney. Canada’s extraordinary bye into the final group was apparently well-deserved because in their three games in the medal round the Canadian team, the University of Toronto Grads, won by an average score of 13-0 to claim the gold medal.

Imagine this: Just prior to the Olympics, the body that governed international hockey allowed several rule changes proposed by the Canadian association. But the international authorities declined to approve two changes: defenseman still would not be allowed to kick the puck in the defensive end and goalies would not be permitted to drop to their knees to stop the puck. Imagine if goaltenders today had to stay on their skates to make a save. What a different game it would be.

There are so many more stories involving Minneapolis and the Winter Olympics that I hope to tell one day. Nearly all involve ski jumping and speed skating, but Minneapolis also had some notable figure or “fancy” skaters and cross-country skiers.

Our compatriots have not performed well in the more military-oriented Olympic shooting events. Odd isn’t it that a country like ours with such an entrenched history of gun ownership doesn’t perform better in shooting events in both Winter and Summer Games? The overlay of the Parkland school shooting last week with various shooting and skiing competitions in the South Korean snow was striking. The U.S. has more guns and more shooters, but apparently fewer marksmen and women than other countries.

Epilogue: An Augsburg athlete finally made it to the Winter Olympics 20 years after the hockey team was denied its chance. John Werket, an Augsburg student, made the U.S. Olympic speed skating team in 1948 and, after he graduated, again in 1952 and 1956. Werket also qualified for the 1960 games but withdrew because he said he couldn’t afford to take two months off work to train and compete. While Werket’s best Olympic finish was a sixth place in 1948, he won several medals in world championships from 1948 to 1952.

U of M Hockey and Minneapolis Parks

One more hockey story. The University of Minnesota made an effort to put a varsity hockey team on the ice in 1903, but hockey history really begins at the U in 1921 when varsity hockey got its true start. However — in 1914 the regents awarded $25 to a group of students that wanted to form a hockey team, although it wasn’t given varsity status. The elated student hockey promoters immediately announced their first hockey team tryouts would be held at the nearest hockey rink — in Van Cleve Park.

I hope to see you Sunday afternoon.

David C. Smith

 

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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