Archive for the ‘Football’ Tag

Commemorating the “Great War” in Minneapolis Parks: Cavell, Pershing, Longfellow, an Airport and a Memorial Drive

As we remember the war that didn’t end all wars, which ended 100 years ago this weekend, I searched through my archives for park stories related to World War I. I found several that are worth sharing. I also wanted to make available the history of Victory Memorial Drive, created in the aftermath of that horrific war, which I wrote for the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board.

When the deadliest of all wars began, an English non-combatant nurse was an early casualty. The story of Edith Cavell soon was known around the world. She was so famous that a Minneapolis school, then park, were named for her. Read the story of Cavell Park and a follow-up story with photos and a comment.

Minneapolis parks also commemorate the most famous American soldier of that war, the commander of American forces, Gen. John “Blackjack” Pershing, for whom Pershing Park is named.

I’ve also re-published the story of how today’s Longfellow Field , the second property with that name, was created when the first Longfellow Field was sold to a munitions maker during the war. Also included in that post is a sidebar on how the Minneapolis airport, owned and developed by the Minneapolis Park Board, was named Wold-Chamberlain Field for two young pilots from Minneapolis who died in France during the war.

Finally, I’ve published below the story of how Minneapolis created a memorial drive in honor of Americans who had died serving their country through World War I. Many of us still know that parkway as Victory Memorial Drive, even though its official name has been Memorial Parkway for 50 years.

Victory Memorial Drive or Memorial Parkway

The parkway was originally named Glenwood-Camden Parkway when the land was acquired for the parkway in 1911, referring to its route from Glenwood Park to Camden Park. (Before the name was adopted it was referred to informally as North Side Parkway.) It was officially named Victory Memorial Drive in 1919 and included all of Memorial Parkway, what is now Theodore Wirth Parkway and Cedar Lake Parkway. The name was changed to Memorial Parkway in 1968 and applies only to the parkway from Lowry Avenue to Webber (Camden) Park. In 2010, the park board approved the use of Victory Memorial Drive again as a renovation and a 90th anniversary celebration were planned. The parkway now contains 75.23 acres.

The idea of a parkway encircling the city, today’s Grand Rounds, is nearly as old as the park board itself. When landscape architect Horace Cleveland submitted to the first park board his formal “suggestions” for a system of parks and parkways in 1883 he envisioned parkways connecting major parks in each section of the city. His original vision for a system of parkways was largely achieved decades later, although most of those parkways ended up being further from the center of city than Cleveland would have liked.

The first suggestions for a parkway in northwest Minneapolis came in 1884 when commissioners proposed a parkway around the western shore of Cedar Lake and from there through north Minneapolis to Farview Park. Some commissioners thought this was a more scenic and certainly less expensive route for a parkway into north Minneapolis than a direct route form Loring Park to Farview Park along Lyndale Avenue North. The western route had the advantage that the owner of considerable land west of Cedar Lake and in north Minneapolis, William McNair, had offered to donate land for a parkway.

Recognizing that the best route for that parkway would actually pass outside of Minneapolis city limits into what is now Golden Valley, the park board even went so far as to introduce a bill to the state legislature in 1885 that would give the park board the power to acquire land outside the city limits. The legislature granted that power to the park board.

In the summer of 1885, the park board arranged a meeting with McNair, a close friend of several of the first park commissioners, to acquire a strip of land 150-feet wide for the parkway. Charles Loring, the president of the park board then, wrote in 1890 that ultimately the board rejected McNair’s offer of free land because the route around Cedar Lake was too far from the city. McNair died in the fall of 1885 and the matter was not pursued. (Many years later the park board had discussions with McNair’s heirs about acquiring that land once again, but other than the purchase of some of McNair’s land along Cedar Lake, nothing came of the those discussions.)

The idea of a parkway around the city was revived by park commissioner William Folwell in 1891, after the acquisition of the first sixty acres of Saratoga Park, which would eventually be renamed Glenwood Park, then Theodore Wirth Park. In a special report to the board on park expansion, Folwell urged the board not to limit parkway development to the southwestern part of the city around the lakes. Giving the credit for the idea to his friend Horace Cleveland, Folwell proposed a parkway around Cedar Lake, through the new Saratoga Park to a large northwestern park, then across the city to another large park in northeast Minneapolis, continuing down Stinson Boulevard to the Mississippi River at the University of Minnesota, and then along the river to Minnehaha Park. Folwell suggested the parkways could be called the “Grand Rounds.”

The idea—and the name—struck a chord, but before the park board could build the connecting parkways, it needed the anchoring parks. And those would take many years to acquire. Keeping the idea of a northwestern parkway alive, Folwell wrote in 1901 that “but for the sudden deaths of two public-spirited citizens, the Hon. W.W. McNair and the Hon. Eugene M. Wilson, the grand rounds would long since have been extended from Calhoun to Glenwood Park and thence along the west boundary of the city to the north line.”

The idea of the northwestern parkway came up again in 1909, after the board had expanded Glenwood (Wirth) Park from its original sixty-six acres to more than eight hundred acres and also acquired Camden (Webber) Park in north Minneapolis. The park board had acquired Columbia Park in northeast Minneapolis less than two years after Folwell’s proposal. With parks to connect, the desire to build parkways between them took on new urgency.

At the end of 1909, the park board asked park superintendent Theodore Wirth to prepare plans for a parkway from Glenwood Park to Camden Park. The following year, July 21, 1910, the park board designated land for the parkway, on the condition that residents of the area would not request improvements on the land for some years, except for opening a road from 19th Avenue North (Golden Valley Road) into Glenwood (Wirth) Park. With only that stretch of road completed residents of north Minneapolis would have a parkway connection to the lakes in south Minneapolis and Minnehaha Park beyond. The only controversy surrounding the location of the new parkway, which was through open farmland, was whether the east-west section should follow 43rd Avenue or 45th Avenue. The preference expressed by the Camden Park Commercial Club for 45th Avenue seemed to resolve the issue for the board.

A total of 170 acres were acquired for the parkway at a cost of nearly $170,000. The parkway on the western city limit was 333-feet wide and the east-west section on 45th Avenue was 200 feet wide. The cost of the land for the parkway, along with land for the expansion of Glenwood Park and the purchase of the west shore of Cedar Lake, a total of $350,000, was paid for partly with bonds—30%—and the remainder with assessments on property deemed to be benefited by the new parkway.

Construction of the parkway, in keeping with promises that it would take some time, began in 1913 when the parkway was built from 16th Avenue North to 19th. The next stage of the parkway from 19th to Lowry Avenue was begun in 1916, but due to spending constraints during World War I, it wasn’t completed and opened to traffic until 1920. Park superintendent Theodore Wirth called the parkway “one of the most impressive parts of the Grand Rounds system.” In the 1916 annual report, Wirth presented plans for completing the parkway north of Lowry Avenue, then east to Camden (Webber) Park. Noting that “the country traversed is rather uninteresting,” Wirth proposed a straight parkway on the west side of the land, leaving space on the east side of the parkway for playgrounds and athletic fields.

Wirth altered his plans for the parkway in 1919 when former park board president Charles Loring made a generous offer to the park board. Loring had already donated to the park board the recreation shelter in Loring Park and had paid for the construction of an artificial waterfall flowing into Glenwood (Wirth) Lake. Loring had long desired to create a memorial to American soldiers. In 1908 he had commissioned a young Minneapolis architect, William Purcell, to design a memorial arch dedicated to soldiers. Where he hoped to place the arch is not known. But in the wake of World War I, Loring proposed another kind of monument; he would plant memorial trees to soldiers along the city’s parkways. Wirth had a better idea. He thought the planned Camden-Glenwood Parkway was the ideal place to plant rows of stately elm trees as a memorial. Loring liked the idea and agreed to pay for the trees and fund a $50,000 trust account for their perpetual care. The result was a memorial drive, with the parkway centered on the strip of land, instead of off to one side.

The board accepted Loring’s offer, named the new parkway Victory Memorial Drive, and Wirth set out to find the perfect tree. He found a type of elm, called the Moline elm, in nurseries in Chicago and New York, and brought them to the park board’s nursery at Glenwood (Wirth) Park in 1919, so they would be well-established for replanting along the parkway when it was finished.

With memorial trees ready to be planted, and an additional 5.3 acres of land acquired for a monument at the northwest corner of the parkway, the final three miles of the Victory Memorial Drive were completed in 1921. On June 11, 1921 the new parkway, and its news trees, were dedicated in a grand ceremony. Loring, then age 87, was not healthy enough to attend, but drove over the new parkway the day before with his old friend William Folwell.

Later that year both General John Pershing and Marshal Ferdinand Foch, the French commander of Allied forces during World War I, visited the parkway and expressed their admiration for the living memorial. The name of each soldier from Hennepin County who had died in war was placed on a wooden cross in front of a tree. Unfortunately the special elms selected for the drive weren’t hardy enough for Minnesota’s winters and were replaced in 1925.

The wooden crosses were replaced as well in 1928, on the tenth anniversary of the end of World War I, when bronze crosses and stars, each inscribed with the name of a soldier, were installed.

The original wooden flag pole installed as a monument where the northbound parkway turns east at 45th Avenue was replaced by a bronze flag pole and ornamental base in 1923 by the American Legion of Hennepin County. A statue of Abraham Lincoln, a replica of St. Gaudens’ famous sculpture, was installed at the intersection in 1930.

In November 1959, the park board received a scare when consultants hired by the Hennepin County Board recommended that the county take over the parkway for the purpose of creating a county highway. The park board registered its opposition to the proposal in early 1960, as did the Veterans of Foreign Wars, who opposed the “desecration” of memorials to soldiers.

While the conversion of Memorial Parkway into a freeway appears not to have been seriously considered, two years later the board still included Victory Memorial Drive among parks and parkways that could be reduced or lost to freeways. During the 1960s and after when freeways were built across the city, the park board did lose two parks (Wilson Park and Elwell Park) and parts of several more to freeways. But all of those losses were for interstate freeways, not county highways.

Many of the majestic elms in two rows beside the parkway succumbed to Dutch Elm disease in the 1970s and after. Now a less uniform growth of a variety of trees covers the parkway with shade.

The parkway, flag plaza and monuments were renovated prior to the 90th anniversary of the dedication of the parkway and monuments in 2011. Eight intersections across the parkway were vacated, trails were repaved, and new lighting was installed.

Impact on Recreation Programs

One other impact of WWI on parks in Minneapolis as elsewhere was an increase in recreation programming as part of a national reponse to the alarmingly poor physical condition of so many young men who entered the U.S. Army. It was thought that better recreation programs might make the army’s training tasks somewhat easier. The subject might be worth a bit of research someday.

David C. Smith

 

 

 

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Minneapolis Park Memory: More Folwell Football

In September of ’63 dad dropped off Mike Boe and myself at Folwell for Pee Wee football.  We were coached by Bob Shogren a corpulent but athletic looking guy who showed up at our practices in a big yellow cab. Word was that Bob had signed with the Cowboys, but had a knee problem that ended his career. Bob seemed to know what he was doing, and taught us about ‘dives’, ‘cross-bucks’, ‘sweeps’, and ‘reverses.’ We learned the idiosyncrasies of the ‘safety’ and the ‘on-side’ kick.

Saturday morning, 45 minutes before kickoff we would assemble in the Folwell pavilion, a strange salmon-colored stucco structure built into a hillside in the middle of the park for the weigh in. Pee Wees could weigh no more than 100 lbs without equipment.  A couple of the guys, had a heck of a time making weight.

We then slipped into our gear, a helmet, jersey, and shoulder pads. Football pants were optional, and if they did appear they were the tan canvas ones right out of Norman Rockwell.

This left the game, which consisted of 4 seven-minute quarters, played on a hard pan field marked with powdered lime or pea gravel.  We played with a yellow Penn Rubber Co. black striped football, which I never saw any where else.

Two high school-age refs and a volunteer chain gain kept things in order as the assembled parents on the sideline cheered us on and we all enjoyed what at that age was a simple and nonviolent game.

Jim Krave

Thanks for the memory, Jim.

Talmud Torahs vs. Swastikas

The combination of words was eye-catching. And image-generating: holocaust, horrors. But on the sports pages of the Minneapolis Tribune? In 1921?

There they were, two teams competing in the 125-pound division of the Minneapolis Amateur Football Association: the Swastikas and the Talmud Torahs. But this was before the Nazis stigmatized the swastika, which had Sanskrit origins and had been used around the globe for millenia as a symbol of good luck or success. It was a good word, a positive symbol. It was only a year earlier that the German National Socialist Party had adopted the swastika as its symbol and it would be nine years more until Adolph Hitler created the famous red, white and black swastika flag.

I haven’t been able to find any information on who sponsored the Swastika team or what part of the city they came from. I know more about the Talmud Torah teams. The Talmud Torah was a Hebrew free school, established in 1893, that instructed Jewish children in Hebrew language and literature and the history and traditions of the Jewish people. Students attended the Talmud Torah after their regular day of study at public schools.

Talmud Torah, 725 Fremont Avenue North, ca. 1950, sponsored sports teams in park recreation leagues beginning in 1919. (Minneapolis Star Journal Tribune, Minnesota Historical Society)

In 1915 a new Talmud Torah opened on Fremont and Eighth Avenue North. The original Talmud Torah had been supported by the Keneseth Israel congregation, but the school in the new building had a wider base of support than a single congregation. According to an article in the Minneapolis Tribune, January 10, 1915, the school “will make Minneapolis famous as the only city in which practically all the people of the Jewish race have united in providing an institute … for Jews of any language and social condition.”

The first sports score I can find for the Talmud Torahs was a basketball victory at their gym in December 20, 1919, when they defeated the Eagle A. C. 56-4. Nice debut. (Minneapolis Tribune, December 21, 1919.) But the Talmud Torahs — that’s what newspapers called them, just as they referred to the “Bottineaus” or “Powderhorns” for teams representing those parks — showed up in the sports pages of the Tribune especially during the football season. That was presaged perhaps by an article in the Minneapolis Tribune, November 28, 1915, which announced that the Newsboys Club of some 300 boys “accustomed to the life of the streets” had been taken under the wing of the social settlement house also established at Talmud Torah and that they would be instructed by University students that were “expert in football.” Those newsboys may have been the foundation for later Talmud Torah teams. Perhaps the most famous newsboy of that neighborhood is Sid Hartman of the StarTribune sports page, although he isn’t quite old enough to have been in the club at that date.

The home football field of the Talmud Torah teams was Sumner Field, just two blocks east of the school on Eighth. The school sponsored one to three teams each year in the early 1920s.

The weight divisions in those days were determined quite differently from today, when most restrictions on youth football are based on a weight limit. Only players under a certain weight are allowed to play in that league. It was different in the late 1910s and 1920s. Then each team registered with 16 players on its roster. The players were weighed and the average weight of those players determined the league they played in. Leagues ranged from 95 or 100 pounds to 140 pounds. increasing in 5 or 10 pound increments, with a “senior” division in which weight did not matter. Also interesting is that the weight classes applied without apparent regard to age. For example, an article in the Tribune about a 135-pound league game in 1921 noted that the match-up featured several former All-City high school stars.

The first Talmud Torah football team, 1920 (Jewish Historical Society of the Upper Midwest, jhsum.com)

In 1920 the Talmud Torah team played in the 140-pound league and deep into the season was undefeated and unscored upon. In 1921 Talmud Torah had two teams, one played in the 125-pound league with the Swastikas  — and won their division, a playoff with the winner of the other 125-pound division was snowed out — and the Talmud Torah Cubs played in the 100-pound league. The next year Talmud Torah sponsored three teams, one each in the 130-, 100- and 90-pound divisions.

In 1922, the Talmud Torahs were joined in park football by another Jewish team from the Judea A.C. Later Judea football teams were sponsored by the Emmanuel Cohen Center, a social service center established in 1924. The first Judeas team played in the 90-pound division — along with a Talmud Torah team — which is not likely the weight classification in which these fellows played.

The Rise of Activities Councils

If you happen by a soccer field in the fall or a park gym in winter now you’ll see nearly every team in uniforms with a name that ends in AC. Whether the uniform says WESAC, MFAC, SWAC, SIBAC, or something else, the AC stands for “activities council.” Activities councils — call them boosters or volunteers — associated with parks are a phenomenon that began with the creation of the Minnehaha Falls Activities Council (MFAC) serving Keewaydin Park in 1936. In the booklet, “Recommended Procedures for Park Area Recreation Councils” published by the park board in 1971, Robert Ruhe, park superintendent at the time, wrote that the councils were to his knowledge “unique among park and recreation departments in the United States.” The councils were and are independent of the park board recreation staff but work closely together to finance teams, buy equipment and provide coaches. The 1971 document lists the creation dates of 27 activities councils, many of which still exist.

While MFAC was the first booster club that promoted activities park wide, the idea of booster clubs was given a boost itself in 1951 and 1952 when new playgrounds were opened at Waite Park and Armatage respectively. Both school/park combinations were joint projects of the park board and the school board from the ground up. New parks were fertile ground for booster clubs and one was created at both parks. They were soon followed by the Southwest Activites Council (SWAC) in 1953 that covered two parks: Pershing and Linden Hills. SWAC was one of the most successful booster groups, providing a model for other parks. Two early activists in SWAC later became park commissioners, Inez Crimmins and Leonard Neiman, for whom the sports complex at Fort Snelling is named.

The booster clubs organized by park gradually replaced the more loosely managed efforts of players or businesses to put togther teams and secure equipment and create schedules. The job of organizing teams was more complicated then also because park recreation centers, other than the Logan Park Fieldhouse, were open and staffed only in the summer. There was no such thing as a year-round playground staff or recreation supervisors

For more photos and information  about 1920s park football see this story about the football team from Bottineau.

This Camden team won the 1922 senior or open division of the Minneapolis Amateur Football Association managed by the park board recreation department.

David C. Smith

© David C. Smith

Minneapolis Park Memory: Coach Marv Nelson

I was at a Patrick Henry Foundation ‘doings’ a couple of weeks ago and Marv Nelson’s name came up. Marv was a milk driver for Ewalds or Clover Leaf, but his passion was sports. He coached baseball, football, and hockey and the Cootie VFW was the sponsor, so his teams were the ‘Antsinpants’, but also called Marv’s Boys. It’s not like there was just one team. There were peewees, cubs, and midgets and Marv would have players on the midget teams coach the cubs and the peewees. Marv followed the Henry thing, so everything was red and gray. He always wore a sweat shirt, khakis (work pants, not dockers) and a red ball cap. He had glasses, a snarl and a cauliflower ear. He was ancient in 1965 and coached several more years. He was at Folwell, Bohanan, Shingle Creek. Any given spring there were at least 100 kids on Marv’s Boys teams. The northside never saw anyone like him.

The VFW also sponsored a “Cootie Bum Band” which would march in parades far and wide all through the 70s.

Jim Krave

McRae Park: Football Team Photos

Thanks to Ann Kegley, recreation director at McRae Park, for these photos of youth football teams from McRae. None of the players or coaches in these photos is identified. If you can identify anyone, send me a note. The team wore the jerseys of the Seaman Gilfoy VFW post. I can find little information online about that post. Did the post sponsor teams only at McRae Park or other parks, too?

McRae Park midget football team, 1963 (Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board)

I love it when people label photos. The next one is not even identified by year, but looking at hair styles, I’m guessing mid-1970s. Could the building in the background be Regina High School?

McRae Park youth football team, year unknown, but judging by hair styles probably mid-1970s. Photo may have been taken at nearby Regina High School. (Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board)

The final older football team photo we found was taken in 1979. The photo was also labelled “light cubs” apparently referring to the weight class in which the team played.

McRae Park youth football team, 1979 (Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board)

Does anyone know anything about any of the sponsors of the 1979 team: Ken and Norm’s, Cruse Construction, Eddie’s Barber Shop and Benedict?

I’d especially like to know who the coaches in these photos are. Could the coach on the left in the middle photo be Edward Solomon? Solomon was one of the better-known volunteer football coaches in the Minneapolis park system. He was a park commissioner 1996-2002. A new park southwest of Lake Nokomis was named for him in 2004.

McRae Park is unusual because it does not occupy all of the two square blocks on which it is located. The southwest corner of the park at 47th and Chicago is occupied by businesses. I have not found an explanation for why the park board didn’t acquire all of the land on those blocks — as it usually did. Ray N. Welter Heating moved to its present location on Chicago Avenue in the early 1940s not long before the land for the park was acquired in 1946. A person at the heating company told me the land that is now the park was a garbage dump when Welter moved its business to the site from Lake Street. Can anyone tell us the history of the street corner and why the park board didn’t buy all the land on that block? Some of the land for the park was purchased through condemnation; some was tax-forfeited land that the state owned and gave to the city.

David C. Smith

Powderhorn Park Football

A recent visit to Powderhorn Park and a chat with recreation coordinator Dave Garmany turned up an excellent photo of the Powderhorn football team from 1925. Unusual for its time, it was labeled with the names and positions of the players.

1925 Powderhorn Football Team at The Parade (Basilica in background). First Row L-R: Helmar Larson OB, Claude Casey FB, Manley Peterson LT, Kenneth Johnson RH, George Carlson RG. Second Row, L-R: Lee Blood RT, Joe Listered LE, John Larson RE, John Martin LE, Ed Mandeck LE. Third Row L-R: Frank Shogren LG, Hersel Johnson RE, Howard Shenessy Capt., Leonard Herlen RG, Walt Nordstrom LH, Al Dunning RH. (Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board)

The best part of the photo — for those not related to the players — is the location at The Parade, which is obvious because of the Basilica looming in the background. The year the photo was taken, 1925, was the year that the north end of Powderhorn Lake was filled in to create more athletic fields. I’ve spoken with one woman who remembered skating on the lake before the north end was filled. Do you remember that or know anyone who does?

The only other photo I’ve seen of early Powderhorn football players is this one from the collection of the Minnesota Historical Society.

Powderhorn football team, 1908 (Minnesota Historical Society)

Have you seen others? Let us know.

David C. Smith