Archive for the ‘Lake Calhoun’ Tag
I acquired this photograph because it’s the only one I’ve seen of an outlet from Lake Calhoun. But in light of today’s public tours of Lakewood Cemetery’s greenhouses I looked at the picture differently. Until I was told by Katie Thornton at Lakewood that the cemetery once had six huge greenhouses I had no idea what the buildings in this picture near the southeast shore of Lake Calhoun could be. Now I realize they might be the Lakewood greenhouses.
If you make it over to the Lakewood Cemetery greenhouse tour today and I don’t, please ask if their greenhouses are what we see here and let me know what you learn. If you have better information — or guesses — on what those structures might be, please share.
David C. Smith minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com
What has changed in 100 years? A few times on this site, I have looked back 100 years at park history. I’ll expand my scope this year because of extraordinary political developments. Politics first, then parks.
The national electoral map flipped. The electoral map of the 1916 Presidential contest is astonishing. Woodrow Wilson, a Democrat, won a close re-election against Republican candidate Charles Hughes, a Supreme Court Justice. Compare red and blue states below to today. Nearly inverted. The Northeast, Upper Midwest and Far West — well, Oregon — voted alike. Republican. And lost.
While Minnesota’s electoral votes were cast for the Republican — although Hughes received only 392 more votes than Wilson out of nearly 400,000 cast — Minneapolis elected Thomas Van Lear as its mayor, the only Socialist to hold that office in city history. One hundred years later, Minneapolis politics are again dominated by left-of-center politicians.
The population of Minneapolis in 1916 and 2016 was about the same: now a little over 400,000, then a little under. Minneapolis population peaked in mid-500,000s in mid-1950s and dropped into mid-300,000s in late 20th Century. One hundred years ago, however, Minneapolis suburbs were very sparsely populated.
The world 100 years ago was a violent and unstable place. World War I was in its bloody, muddy depths, although the U.S. had not yet entered the war, and Russia was on the verge of revolution. Now people are killed indiscriminately by trucks, guns, and bombs. People worldwide debated then how to address the excesses of capitalists, oligarchs and despots unencumbered by morality. We still do.
One notable change? Many Americans campaigned in 1916 to put women in voting booths, in 2016 to put a woman in the Oval Office.
Continuing Park Growth: North and South
How about progress in parks? The Minneapolis park board added significantly to its playground holdings in 1916 and 1917 as public demand for facilities and fields for active recreation increased. In North Minneapolis, Glenwood (Theodore Wirth) Park was expanded and land for Folwell Park was acquired. In South Minneapolis, Nicollet (Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.) Park and Chicago Avenue (Phelps) Park were purchased and land for Cedar Avenue Park was donated. In 1917, the first Longfellow Field was sold to Minneapolis Steel and steps were initiated to replace it at its present location.
One particular recreational activity was in park headlines in 1916 for the very first time. A nine-hole course was opened that year at Glenwood (Theodore Wirth) Park, the first public golf course in Minneapolis. Golf was free and greens weren’t green, they were made of sand. In less than ten years, the park board operated four 18-hole courses (Glenwood [Wirth], Columbia, Armour [Gross], and Meadowbrook) and was preparing to add a fifth at Lake Hiawatha.
The Grand Rounds were nearly completed conceptually, when first plans for St. Anthony Boulevard from Camden Bridge on the Mississippi River to the Ramsey County line on East Hennepin Avenue were presented in 1916. Park Superintendent Theodore Wirth also suggested that the banks of the Mississippi River above St. Anthony Falls might be made more attractive with shore parks and plantings, even if the railroads maintained ownership of the land. One hundred years later we’re still working on that, but have made some progress including the continuing purchase by the Park Board of riverfront lots as they have become available.These have been the only notable additions to park acreage in many years.
One important result of the increasing demand for playground space in Minneapolis one hundred years ago was the passage by the Minnesota legislature in 1917 of a bill that enabled the park board to increase property tax collections by 50%. In 2016, the Park Board and the City Council reached an important agreement on funding to maintain and improve neighborhood parks.
In a city blessed with water and public waterfronts, however, some of the most significant issues facing the Minneapolis park board in 1917 involved shorelines — beyond beautifying polluted river banks.
The most contentious issue was an extension of Lake Calhoun, a South Bay, south on Xerxes Avenue to 43rd Street. Residents of southwest Minneapolis wanted that marshy area either filled or dredged — dry land or lake. There was no parkway at that time around the west and south shore of Lake Calhoun from Lake Street and Dean Parkway to William Berry Parkway. As a part of plans to construct a parkway along that shoreline, the park board in 1916 approved extending Lake Calhoun and putting a drive around a new South Bay as well.
The challenge, of course was how to pay for it. The park board’s plan to assess property owners in the area for the expensive improvements was met with furiuos opposition and lawsuits. Many property owners thought that assessments they were already paying for acquisitions and improvements over the years at Lake Calhoun, Lake Harriet and William Berry Park were too heavy. The courts eventually decided in favor of the park board’s right to assess for those improvements, but by then estimated costs for the project had increased and become prohibitive and the South Bay scheme was abandoned.
Instead land for Linden Hills Park was acquired in 1919 and the surrounding wet land was drained into Lake Calhoun in the early 1920s. Dredged material from the lake was used to create a better-defined shoreline on the southwestern and northwestern shores of the lake in 1923 in preparation for the construction of the parkway.
Flowage Rights on the Mississippi River and a Canal to Brownie Lake
Minneapolis parks also lost land to water in 1916. The federal government claimed 27.6 acres of land in the Mississippi River gorge for flowage rights for the reservoir that would be created by a new dam to be built near Minnehaha Creek. Those acres, on the banks of the river and several islands in the river, would be submerged behind what became Lock and Dam No. 1 or the Ford Dam. In exchange for the land to be flooded, the park board did acquire some additional land on the bluffs overlooking the dam.
The other alteration in water courses was the dredging of a navigable channel between Cedar Lake and Brownie Lake, which completed the “linking of the lakes” that was begun with the connection of Lake of the Isles and Lake Calhoun in 1911. The land lost to the channel was negligible and probably balanced by a slight drop in water level in Brownie Lake. (A five-foot drop in Cedar Lake was caused by the opening of the Kenilworth Lagoon to Lake of the Isles in 1913.)
Another potential loss of water from Minneapolis parks may have occurred in 1917. William Washburn’s Fair Oaks estate at one time had a pond. I don’t know when that pond was filled. The estate became park board property upon the death of Mrs. Washburn in 1915. Perhaps in 1917 when the stables and greenhouses on the southwest corner of the property were demolished, the south end of the estate was graded and the pond was filled. Theodore Wirth’s suggestion for the park, presented in 1917, included an amphitheater in part of the park where the pond had once been.
The Dredge Report
The year 1917 marked the end of the most ambitious dredging project in Minneapolis parks — in fact the biggest single project ever undertaken by the park board until then, according to Theodore Wirth. The four-year project moved more than 2.5 million cubic yards of earth and reduced the lake from 300 shallow acres to 200 acres with a uniform depth of 15 feet.
That wasn’t the end of work at Lake Nokomis, however. The park surrounding the lake, especially the playing fields northwest of the lake couldn’t be graded for another five years, after the dredge fill had settled.
Dredging may again be an issue in 2017 if the Park Board succeeds in raising funds for a new park on the river in northeast Minneapolis. Dredges would carve a new island out of land where an old man-made island once existed next to the Plymouth Avenue Bridge. But that may be a long time off — and could go the way of South Bay.
One other development in 1917 had more to do with standing water than was probably understood at the time. The Park Board joined with the Real Estate Board in a war on mosquitoes. However, after spending $100 on the project and realizing they would have to spend considerably more to achieve results, park commissioners terminated the project. It was not the first or last battle won by mosquitoes in Minneapolis.
As we look again at new calendars, it’s always worth taking a glance backward to see how we got here. For me, it is much easier to follow the course of events in Minneapolis park history than in American political history.
David C. Smith minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com
Comments: I am not interested in comments of a partisan political nature here, so save those for your favorite political sites.
I have neglected these pages in recent months, yet I have so many good park stories to tell, some of them from readers. I will get to them soon I hope. In the last eight months I have discovered more fascinating information about Minneapolis parks and the people who created themthan at any time since my initial research for City of Parks. But until I can get to those stories, I wanted to show you one of the more interesting bits of history I’ve encountered recently. Garish, but oddly charming.
The images below are of a promotional envelope used by a Minneapolis merchant in advance of the July 1911 Civic Celebration that was conceived primarily to celebrate the digging of the channel that connected Lake Calhoun with Lake of the Isles — as is noted at the bottom of the envelope. I found these images on an Ebay auction site and use them with permission of the seller of the envelope who sells mostly postal history under the name of “gregfree”. This envelope is for sale at an opening bid of $150 — more than I can pay. I appreciate gregfree’s willingness to let me share the image with you. Maybe you should buy it. If you do, thank him for me.
I love the background in green, a photo of the Stone Arch Bridge and Mill District, laid over a map of the city that shows the Chain of Lakes and Minnehaha Creek meeting the Mississippi River in the lower right corner.
It’s nice to know that Minneapolis also had the lowest death rate in the United States. How that was measured, I’m not sure.
The coincidence of me finding this image now has a bit of Ouija-Board spookiness to it, because the lake connections have been on my mind — and in the news — a good bit lately. The channel that was celebrated 103 years ago between Isles and Calhoun has been in the news because the developer of a residential building at Knox Avenue and Lake Street has been pumping millions of gallons of water from a flooded underground parking garage into that channel, which has prevented it from freezing and caused considerable increase in phosphorous levels in the lake. More phosphorous means more algae. The Park Board and the City have sued to stop the pumping. Good! Such negligence on the part of a developer is astonishing. Hmmm, what do you think might happen if you put a parking garage below the water table between two lakes? I’m no engineer, but I think I’d be a tad suspicious of anyone who told me, “Hey, no problem.” The next time you hear people complaining about too much government regulation, ask them if it’s cases like this that they have in mind? I hope the Park Board uses every weapon at their disposal in this case to protect our lakes.
The other lake connection issue is not so clear-cut, but may be more important. That is the issue of tunneling under or bridging over the Kenilworth Lagoon that connects Lake of the Isles and Cedar Lake in order to build the Southwest LRT.
The history of other interests, public and private, wanting to take a little park land here or there for this or that good idea is long and sordid. For decades the park board has had to fight those who wanted just an acre or a little easement across park property. If the Park Board had acquiesced, all we’d have left of a magnificent park system would be a couple triangle parks. The reasons for taking park land have often been legitimate. For instance, I’m strongly in favor of better mass transit in Minneapolis and the entire Twin Cities metro area, but only if it doesn’t harm parks — or even the notion of parks. Is a tunnel or a bridge over Kenilworth channel better for the LRT? That question and a hornets nest of others, isn’t the right place to start. The only place to start in my very prejudiced opinion is with “Will it harm park property?” If the Park Board determines that the answer to that question is “Yes,” it is obliged to oppose those plans with all its might — regardless of how small the “harm.” Because in historical terms, “harm” seems more than precedent, it is invitation.
I have more to write about the issue. Did you know that the Park Board once went to the United States Supreme Court to prevent the State of Minnesota from taking Minneapolis parkland? True story. Til then quite an interesting envelope. Thanks again gregfree.
David C. Smith minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com
© 2014 David C. Smith
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.
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.
David C. Smith minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com
© 2013 David C. Smith
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”.
Note that the lot on the southwest corner of the intersection (upper left) is still undeveloped in 1953.
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.
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.
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 photo below shows the approach to the north end of Lake Calhoun from about the same time period as the photo above.
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 minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com
One of my favorite photos of Lake Calhoun. The photo is undated, but I would estimate that it was taken in the late 1910s. The view indicates it was taken from the Minikahda Club on the west side of the lake looking northeast toward downtown. The photo was taken after the Lake Calhoun Bath House (center) was completed in 1912, but before a parkway was built on the west side of the lake, which occurred in the early 1920s.
Note how far into the lake the diving platforms were built.
One of things I like from this photo is a sense of the connection between Lake of the Isles and Lake Calhoun. There is some open land between them. This was taken a few years before construction began on the Calhoun Beach Club across Lake Street from the bath house.
Another remarkable feature of this photo is the prominence of the Basilica on the skyline west of downtown. The Basilica was dedicated in 1914.
This is the view that Theodore Wirth hoped could one day be incorporated into the park system if the Minikahda Club ever relocated. Wirth wrote in the 1906 Annual Report of the Board of Park Commissioners, his first, that this view was of “such scenic beauty that it is almost a crime to pass it unnoticed.”
David C. Smith minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com
© David C. Smith
A couple of months ago I posted photos of a toboggan slide at Lake Harriet in 1914. Now I’ve rediscovered a description I had saved long ago of a toboggan slide from an earlier time on a Minneapolis lake. The Makwa Club — makwa is the Ojibwe word for “bear” — built a toboggan slide at Lake Calhoun in 1888, according to the Minneapolis Tribune, January 22, 1888.
The Tribune reported that the Makwa Club was formed in 1885 and had its first toboggan slide on Lowry Hill near Thomas Lowry’s house. For the winter of 1888 the club built a much grander slide at Lake Calhoun. The Tribune reported, “The slide is much superior to any that has been built in Minneapolis before and is probably as fine as any that is in existence in the country.”
The other toboggan slides in the city that winter were maintained by the Flour City Toboggan and Snowshoe Club and the North Star Toboggan Club. (Newspapers of the time referred often to the toboggan “craze,” much like the bicycle craze that would soon follow, and the canoe craze that came after that. Today, I suppose, we text or tweet.) The Flour City slide was a 1,000-foot slide near Ridgewood Avenue that ended near Franklin and Lyndale. The North Star slide was west of the city in what is now Theodore Wirth Park.
The Makwa slide was 220-feet long, running onto Lake Calhoun from the bluff on the east side of the lake where the Lyndale Hotel once stood. The slide had three chutes that had a drop of 55 feet and crossed both the street railway track — 15 feet above the track — and Calhoun Parkway — 24 feet above the road. (Yes, the Makwas did get the permission of the park board to build its slide over the parkway.) The slide met the lake ice about 50 feet out from the shore and the level runway continued 1,500 feet onto the lake. After a run of about 1/3 mile, toboggans hit roughed up lake ice that prevented them from running onto Lake Calhoun’s horse trotting track.
The grandest feature of the slide, however, “had never before been tried in any slide,” according to the Tribune: a wooden warming house and starting platform at the top of the slide, 10 feet off the ground. The front of the warming room was made almost entirely of glass and looked straight down the slide,. The slide was illuminated by five electric lights.
The Makwas even had an arrangement with the motor (trolley) company by which the 7:40 train out from town every evening stopped at the foot of the slide to drop off club members and the 9:57 train made a special stop at the same place to pick them up for a return to the city after an evening of mirth. The slide was for the use of club members only.
The Makwa uniform was breeches and blouse of heavy gray French wool and stockings, toque and sash of cardinal. The membership of the club was limited to 200 and included many of the best-known young men of Minneapolis. The president of the club in 1888 was English journalist Harry P. Robinson, who was featured in an earlier article about his close friend John S. Bradstreet. Bradstreet was a Makwa, as was park commissioner Eugene Wilson.
The problem with the Makwa’s grand slide was that no one was willing to pay for it. In 1891, the Tribune reported that a lawsuit had been filed — in what it called the “Makwa mess” — by the man who built the slide in an attempt to recover his costs from the officers of the defunct club. Makwa Club members had been assessed $10 each to pay for the slide in 1888, but most didn’t pay. Some claimed that the officers of the club did not have the authority to spend the money on the slide. (I wonder if these claimants used the slide!) Of the $800 charged to build the slide, only about $300 had been paid. The Makwa directors, including Robinson, then sued individual members who hadn’t paid up. The Tribune reported on only two of those cases: one was not contested and the other lost on a technicality.
One of the “chief forms of pleasure that the belles and bloods of the city indulged in” that winter through “the most select of all the clubs” ended up being a free toboggan ride for most of them. (Tribune, March 20, October 18, December 22, 1891.)
By the fall of 1891, however, Makwa president Robinson had married the daughter of one of the wealthier men in Minneapolis, Thomas Lowry, so he may have found the means to pay the builder of the toboggan slide that was “much superior” to any other in Minneapolis.
If you’ve ever seen a picture of the Makwa Club’s Lake Calhoun toboggan slide, please let us know. We’d love to see it.
David C. Smith minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com
© David C. Smith
It’s not a common sight. I’d never seen it myself until I saw this picture from Fairchild Aerial Surveys taken in 1955. St. Anthony Falls is completely dry.
Water levels were down everywhere at the time. Meteorological charts list 1955 as the 13th driest year on record in Minneapolis, but a look at longer-term data reveal that rainfall had been below normal for most of the previous 40 years. Downstream from St. Anthony Falls, the river was also very low, revealing the former structure of the locks at the Meeker Island Dam.
That dry spell had a significant impact on park property. Many park board facilities, from beach houses to boat houses and docks, were permanent structures that required proximity to the water’s edge. Parks were also landscaped and mowed to the water line and, since the depression, at least, many lakes had WPA-built shore walls that looked goofy a few feet up on dry land.
Park board annual reports provide time-lapse updates.
1948: Minnehaha Creek dry most of the year, lakes down 1.5 feet.
1949: Chain of Lakes 2 feet below normal, rainfall 2.5 inches below normal, water in Minnehaha for limited time during year
1950: Lake levels at record lows, lake channels dredged 4.5 feet deeper to allow continued use, water in Minnehaha Creek for only brief period in spring
1951: Record snowfall and heavy rains raised lake levels o.44 feet above normal in April; flooding problems along Minnehaha Creek golf courses required dikes to make courses playable; attendance at Minnehaha Park high all year due to impressive water flow over falls.
1952: Wet early in year, dry late; lake levels stable except those that depend on groundwater runoff, such as Loring Pond and Powderhorn Lake, which were down considerably at end of year
1953: Lake levels fluctuated 1.5 feet from early summer to very dry fall; flow in Minnehaha Creek stopped in November; U.S. Geological Survey began testing water flow in Bassett’s Creek for possible diversion
1954: Again, water level fluctuations; near normal in early summer, low in fall; Minnehaha Creek again dry in November.
1955: Fall Chain of Lakes elevation lowest since 1932, but Lake Harriet near historical normal; Minnehaha dry most of year
1956: Lakes 4 feet below normal, weed control required, boat rentals incurred $10,000 loss
1957: City water — purchased at a discount! — pumped into lakes raised lake levels 1.5 feet; park board began construction of $210,000 pipeline from Bassett’s Creek, which, unlike Minnehaha Creek, had never been completely dry, to Brownie Lake.
1958: Second driest year on record; Minnehaha Creek dry second half of year; pumps activated on pipeline from Bassett’s Creek, raised water level in lakes 4.2 inches by pumping 84,000,000 gallons of water.
1959: Dry weather continued; Park board suggested reduction in water table may be result of development; Park board won a lawsuit against Minikahda Club for pumping water from Lake Calhoun to water golf course. When Minikahda donated lake shore to park board for West Calhoun Parkway in 1908 it retained water rights, but a judge ruled the club couldn’t exercise those rights unless lake level was at a certain height — higher than the lake was at that time — except in emergencies when it could water the greens only. Lakes were treated with sodium arsenite to prevent weed growth in shallower water; low water permitted park crews to clean exposed shorelines of debris.
1960: Lake levels up 4 feet due to pumping and rain fall; channels between lakes opened for first time in two years; hydrologist Adolph Meyer hired to devise a permanent solution to low water levels.
That’s more than a decade’s worth of weather reports. The recommendation of hydrologist Adolph Meyer was very creative: collect and recycle water from the air-conditioners in downtown office buildings and stores, and pump it to the lakes. That seemed like a good idea until the people who ran all those air-conditioners downtown thought about it and realized they could recycle all that water themselves through their own air-conditioners and save a lot of money on water bills. End of good idea. Instead the park board extended its Chain of Lakes pumping pipeline from Bassett’s Creek all the way to the Mississippi River. But that’s a story for another time.
If you’ve followed the extensive shoreline construction at Lake of the Isles over the last many years, you know that water levels in city lakes remains an important, and costly, issue — and it probably always will be. It’s the price we pay for our city’s water-based beauty.
David C. Smith minneapolisparkhistory.com
Afterthought: The lowest I ever remember seeing the river was following the collapse of the I-35W bridge. The river was lowered above the Ford Dam to facilitate recovery of wreckage from that tragedy. Following a suggestion from Friends of the Mississippi River, my Dad and I took a few heavy-duty trash bags down to the river bank near the site of the Meeker Island Dam to pick up trash exposed by the lower water levels. Even then the water level wasn’t as low as in the Fairchild photos.
The newspaper headline hinted of a sordid affair: “Long Line Waits Grimly in Courthouse Corridor.” Many were so young they should have been in school. Others had skipped work. They stood anxiously in the dim hallway, waiting. News accounts put their numbers at 500 when the clock struck 8:30 that April morning. Many had already been there for hours by then. They prayed they would be among the lucky ones to get permits to store their canoes at the most popular park board docks and on the lower levels of the lakeside canoe racks, so they wouldn’t have to hoist their dripping canoes overhead.
The year was 1912 and nearly 2,000 spaces were available on park board canoe racks and dock slips at Lake of the Isles, Lake Calhoun and Lake Harriet. Nearly all of them were needed, which represented a huge increase over the 200 permits issued only two years earlier. The city was canoe crazed.
By contrast, in 2011 the park board rented 485 spaces in canoe racks at all Minneapolis lakes, in addition to 368 sail boat buoys at Calhoun, Harriet and Nokomis.
Wirth’s plan (above), presented in the 1912 annual report, would have created a five-acre peninsula in Lake Harriet near Beard Plaisance to accommodate a boat house that would hold 864 canoes. The boat house would have been filled with racks for private canoes, as well as lockers for canoeists to store paddles and gear. The boat house, in Wirth’s words, “would protect the boat owners’ property, and would relieve the shores of the unsightly, vari-colored canoes.”
The board never seriously considered building the boat house and that summer the number of watercraft on Lake Harriet reached 800 canoes and 192 rowboats. Most of the rowboats and about 100 of the canoes were owned and rented out by the park board. Even more crowded conditions prevailed at smaller Lake of the Isles where the park board did not rent watercraft, but issued permits for 475 private canoes and 121 private rowboats.
The park board’s challenge with so many watercraft wasn’t just how to store them, but how to keep order on the lake. An effort to maintain decorum on city lakes began in April 1913 when another year of permits was issued. The park board announced before permits went on sale that because of “considerable agitation about objectionable names” on boats and canoes the year before, permits would not be issued to canoes that bore offensive names.
The previous summer newspapers reported that commissioners had condemned naughty names such as, “Thehelusa,” “Damfino,” “Ilgetu,” “Skwizmtyt,” “Ildaryoo,” “O-U-Q-T,” “What the?,” “Joy Tub,” “Cupid’s Nest,” and “I’d Like to Try It.” The commissioners decided then that such salacious names would not be permitted the next year, even though Theodore Wirth urged the board to take the offending canoes off the water immediately.
When the naming rules were announced the next spring, park board secretary J. A. Ridgway was given absolute power to decide whether a name was acceptable. To begin with he allowed only monograms or proper names, but used his discretion to ban names such as “Yum-Yum” even though that was the name of a character in Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Mikado.” Even proper names could be improper.
Despite the strict naming rules, all but 75 of the park board’s 1400 canoe rack spaces were sold by late April, and practically all remaining spaces were “uppers” scattered around the three lakes.
The crackdown on canoe-naming wasn’t the end of the park board protecting the morals of the city’s youth on the water however. Take a close look at the 1914 photo below by Charles Hibbard from the Minnesota Historical Society’s collection.
The photo shows canoeists listening to a summer concert at the Lake Harriet Pavilion. Notice the width of the typical canoe and how two people could sit cozily side-by-side in the middle of the canoe. Now imagine how easy it would be to drift into the dark, get tangled up with the person next to you and make the canoe a bit tippy. Clearly a safety issue.
The Morning Tribune announced June 28, 1913 that the park board would have no more of such behavior. “The park board decided yesterday afternoon, ” the paper reported, “that misconduct in canoes has become so grave and flagrant that it threatens to throw a shadow upon the lakes as recreation resorts and to bring shame upon the city.”
The solution? A new park ordinance required people of opposite sex over the age of 10 occupying the same section of a canoe to sit facing each other. No more of this side-by-side stuff, sometimes recumbent. According to the paper, park commissioners said the situation had become one of “serious peril to the morals of young people.” Park police were given motorized canoes and flashlights to seek and apprehend offenders.
The need for flashlights became evident after seeing the park police report in the park board’s 1913 annual report. Sergeant-in-Command C. S. Barnard, referring to the ordinance that parks close at midnight, noted a policing success for the year. To get canoeists off the lake by midnight, the police installed a red light on the Lake Harriet boat house that was turned on to alert lake lovers that it was near 11:30 pm, the time canoes had to leave the lake. Barnard reported that the red light “has been a great help in getting canoeists off the lake by 11:30 p.m., but owing to the large number who stay out past that time (emphasis added), I would suggest that the hour be changed to 11 o’clock in order to enable the parks to be cleared by 12 o’clock.”
Indignant protest against the side-by-side seating ban arose immediately. Arthur T. Conley, attorney for the Lake Harriet Canoe Club, suggested that the park board show a little initiative and arrest those whose conduct was immoral rather than cast a slur on “every woman or girl who enters a canoe.” If Conley believed the ordinance was a slur on men and boys as well he didn’t say so, but he did add, “We dislike to hear that we are engaged in a sport which is compared with an immoral occupation and that we are on the lake for immoral purposes.”
In the face of protests, the new ordinance was not vigorously enforced and was repealed before the start of the 1914 canoe season. The Tribune noted in announcing the repeal that “the public did not take kindly to the ordinance last year and boat receipts at Lake Harriet fell off considerably on account of it.”
Despite the repeal of the unpopular ordinance, boating fell off even more in 1914. In the annual report at the close of the year Wirth attributed the decline partly to a terrible storm that passed over Lake Harriet on June 23 resulting in the drowning of three canoeists. Newspapers reported dramatic rescues of several others. By 1915 the number of canoe permits had dropped under 1400 even though canoe racks had been added to Cedar Lake, Glenwood (Wirth) Lake and Camden Pond.
The popularity of canoeing continued to decline. Wirth noted in 1917 that there had been a very perceptible decrease again in the number of private boats and canoes on the lakes. While he attributed that decline partly to unfavorable weather, he also noted the “large number of young men drawn from civil life and occupations to military service” as the United States entered WWI.
There were only six sail boats on city lakes in 1917, and all six were kept on Lake Calhoun. The first year that the park board derived more revenue from renting buoys for sail boats than racks for canoes was not until 1940. From then until now sailing has generated more revenue for the park board than canoeing.
The number of canoe permits leveled off for a while in the 1920s at about 1000 per year, but the canoe craze on the lakes had passed, much as the bicycle craze of the 1890s. During the bicycle craze the park board had built a corral where people could check their bikes while at Lake Harriet. That corral held 800 bicycles. At the peak of the much shorter-lived canoe craze in the 1910s, the park board provided rack space at Lake Harriet for 800 canoes. Popular number. Fortunately, the park board did not build permanent facilities — or a peninsula into Lake Harriet — to accommodate a passing fad.
David C. Smith minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com
© David C. Smith
If you’re a long-time follower of Minneapolis politics, you might think this headline came from the 1988 fight to prevent a high-rise building from being constructed next to the Calhoun Beach Club facing Lake Calhoun. But you have to go back much farther in history to get to the first city ordinance to restrict construction on parkways encircling Minneapolis lakes.
I wrote a few weeks ago about Theodore Wirth’s description of the Calhoun Beach Club as a “disfigurement.” In that post I noted that Charles Loring was the first to warn the park board of the likelihood of commercial encroachment on the lake following the highly successful opening of the Lake Calhoun Bath House in July, 1912. Loring urged the park board to acquire the property across Lake Street from the bath house to prevent commercial development there. The fear, I’m sure, was the opening of saloons or dance halls. (Just two years earlier, in June 1910, the park board expanded Riverside Park when a dance hall was planned for land facing the park. The board preempted the dance hall plans by acquiring the land through condemnation.)
Since I wrote that post I’ve learned that by the time Loring made his suggestion in August 1912, the city had already passed an ordinance limiting construction on parkways around the lakes. And it had nothing to do with the Lake Calhoun Bath House. The purpose of the ordinance was essentially to facilitate the construction of this castle. Continue reading
Charles Loring was the first to sound the alarm about businesses across Lake Street from the Lake Calhoun Bath House, but no one put the criticism so bluntly as Theodore Wirth.
Four days after the official dedication of the new bath house — with changing rooms, lockers and showers, not to mention $10,000 worth of sand on the new beach — Loring appeared in person at the August 5, 1912 meeting of the Board of Park Commissioners, a board he had once presided over, to plead for the park board to acquire the land across Lake Street from the beach before it became filled with “refreshment stands.” He wasn’t proposing a massive acquisition: the park board already owned Dean Parkway to the west and much of the land between Calhoun and Lake of the Isles to the east. Loring only wanted the board to buy the strip between Lake Street and the railroad tracks sandwiched between existing park lands.
It didn’t. Which gave rise to one of the most novel criticisms ever of a Minneapolis landscape. From one of the most unusual locations.
Writing from a ship sailing from Capetown, South Africa to the Canary Islands in 1936, Theodore Wirth wrote this about Durban, a South African city on the Indian Ocean (see Letters from Theodore post):
Along the city side of the Durban Bay is the Marine Parade or Ocean Beach, flanked by a number of imposing modern buildings serving apartment and hotel purposes. The latter are called “flats” here and some of them are deserving of no better name, for they are anything but attractive. I am inclined to classify them as “monster rent barracks” — a still worse disfigurement of an otherwise attractive landscape than our Calhoun Beach Hotel at Dean Boulevard.
Theodore Wirth’s first opinion on the land across from the bath house was expressed in the 1912 annual report when he seconded the words of Loring and then board president Wilbur Decker encouraging the board to acquire the land to preserve it from commercial development.
Their fears may have been prompted by unpleasantness around Minnehaha Park in the early 1900s. Saloons and other commercial establishments near the falls had contributed to an objectionable environment in the park. In the 1905 annual report of the park board, president Fred Smith wrote that a new pavilion, changes in policing and support from the city administration had “done much to redeem Minnehaha from its unsavory reputation and make it a place where women and children can visit and enjoy their picnics without fear of molestation or insult.”
I can imagine that specter haunting Loring in particular, a man who had run for mayor of Minneapolis in 1882 on a strong anti-saloon platform. Loring also deserved most of the credit for the park board acquiring Minnehaha Falls, Lake Calhoun and Lake Harriet, the three jewels in the park crown at the time, and I’m sure he took a proprietary interest in their well-being, which would not have included “refreshment stands” nearby.
Despite their fears, the land across Lake Street from the immensely popular bath house — it was called the best beach between the oceans — was not filled with houses of debauchery. At least that’s the inference we can draw from another round of encouragement for the park board to acquire the land in 1917. Still it didn’t happen.
Another ten years passed before grand plans for the property took shape. It would become a residential building fitted with its own entertainment and recreation facilities. Curiously, the last mention of the development in park board proceedings is Wirth’s recommendation on April 20, 1927 that the board consent to a building permit for the facility as long as the building did not come within 15 feet of park property along Dean Parkway. The board agreed. Perhaps plans for the property were too far along for Wirth and the park board to fight, or they had no real alternative after taking no action themselves for 15 years
But perhaps Wirth’s objection in 1936 was not that the building was there, but that it was unfinished. Although construction began in 1927 the building remained unfinished and empty until 1946. In a bit of irony, the property Wirth worried would fall into private hands and the building which he said “disfigured” the lake was the site of a tribute dinner to him in 1946 before he moved from Minneapolis to San Diego for health reasons.
The Calhoun Beach Club was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2003 for its architecture and engineering. The building now adjacent to the commercial and residential “club” was the focus of a fight in 1988 to limit the height of buildings around Minneapolis lakes. That battle resulted in a city ordinance that limits the height of such buildings. When the Calhoun Beach Club was first designed in 1927, at ten stories, it was the tallest building in the city outside of downtown.
David C. Smith minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com
Happy Belated Centennial! Yesterday was the hundredth birthday of the channel that links Lake of the Isles with Lake Calhoun. It was the first of the navigable lake connections that later extended to Cedar Lake and Brownie Lake. Some background on those lake connections was featured in an earlier post on Lake Calhoun and Lake Harriet.
The “Linking of the Lakes” was turned into a civic celebration that lasted nearly a week. The event was conceived and planned by the Minneapolis Publicity Club. The idea for a civic celebration was apparently hatched in November 1910 at the Minneapolis Harvest Dinner, a more modest one-evening event. While the central event of the civic celebration was the linking of the lakes, it appears to have been pretense for a party.
“It is argued by the business men that in no better way can the city merchant get in more personal touch with his country customers than through the Civic celebration when, under the spirit of merrymaking and jollity, they come together.”
Minneapolis Morning Tribune, July 2, 1911
The park board knew exactly what the intent was when it passed a resolution on December 5, 1910 that “irrespective of the benefits which may accrue to the city through such a celebration, the occasion is of such peculiar interest and significance to this board, that every effort should be made to do its full part…”
The construction of a channel between Lake Calhoun and Lake of the Isles was not a particularly challenging or imaginative endeavor. As noted in the earlier post, the project had been considered for many years and treated as a done deal as early as 1899 by landscape architect Warren Manning in his recommendations for the Minneapolis park system. In engineering terms it was simpler than the dredging that had been going on for years at Lake of the Isles, both in the 1880s and 1900s. The only construction needed for the project were bridges over the excavated channel, which were not more challenging to plan and build than bridges elsewhere in the city — although the park board’s 1909 annual report included the admission that bridge construction estimates were 50 to 100 percent over budget.
Even the design competition for bridges, with a top prize of $800, had been disappointing. Park Superintendent Theodore Wirth wrote in the 1909 annual report, “With a few exceptions the designs submitted were not of the high-class character which it was thought the competition would bring forth.” The third prize was not even awarded. To make matters worse, the bridge over the channel from Lake of the Isles to Cedar Lake had to be partially torn down and rebuilt because it began to settle as soon as it was built, which delayed the connection of Isles and Cedar.
The connection of Lake of the Isles to Cedar Lake was finally completed in 1913, and Cedar Lake was linked to Brownie Lake in 1917. That final connection made possible a new feat of municipal athletic endurance: the swimming of the Chain of Lakes. The Minneapolis Morning Tribune, August 8, 1918 reported the setting of a new record when Dan Bessessen, the new captain of the University of Minnesota swim team and a life guard at Lake Calhoun, swam from the north end of Brownie Lake (off Superior Avenue then) to Thomas Avenue on the southern shore of Lake Calhoun in one hour and thirty-eight minutes. The swim was supervised by Frank Berry, the park board’s recreation director, who accompanied Bessessen in a boat that also carried four time keepers.
Despite the $125,000 price tag to link Isles and Calhoun, the park board appeared not to be profligate with funds. When Wirth submitted plans and an estimate for a park board float for the water parade during the celebration, it was defeated by a vote of 10-1 even though the City of Minneapolis was spending $500 for a float. Another request from Wirth to spend $200 to buy evergreen trees to temporarily cover the “unsightly” railroad embankment adjacent to the lagoon during the celebration was defeated by a vote of 11-0.
I think it’s debatable if the “Linking of the Lakes” was even the park board’s biggest role in municipal or state history in the spring and summer of 1911. I’d give top billing to another event that the park board didn’t initiate, but went along with: the donation to the park board by Clinton Morrison of the land for an art museum. The result of that transaction was the eventual construction of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts in Dorilus Morrison Park.
I love the channels that connect the lakes, which Jesse Northrop said would make Minneapolis the “Venice of North America,” but I think the construction of what has become an excellent art museum, while it might not make Minneapolis the “Florence of North America,” is still of greater importance to our city today. Even without the channels between lakes Minneapolis was still blessed with exceptional natural attributes. The art museum filled an otherwise unmet need at the time, despite Thomas Barlow Walker’s incredible art collection.
David C. Smith minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com