Archive for the ‘Logan Park’ Tag

Logan Park Field House Centennial: Public Input, Public Outrage

With dazzling talk of new parks along the river in northeast and downtown Minneapolis in 2013, an important anniversary slipped my attention. You probably missed it too: the Centennial of the first Logan Park Field House. The Logan Park Field House was arguably the most important building the Minneapolis park board has ever constructed. It opened in February 1913 amid a national movement to open “social centers” for burgeoning urban populations.

The population of Minneapolis in 2013 was about the same as it was in 1920: 380,000.
In 1940, the population exceeded 492,000; it peaked at about 550,000 in the mid-1950s.

The remarkable story of the Logan Park Field House includes the first extensive citizen input on the design of a park building — the first Citizen’s Advisory Committee (CAC), if you will — and the first park building targeted by neighborhood groups protesting “immoral” behavior. The objects of this indignation were the turkey trot, bear hug, and other dances that involved “hugging” or “wiggling.” The protestors might have collapsed dead on the spot if they had seen “grinding” or “twerking”, the cause of high school dance controversy these days.

Kids bursting out of the Logan Park field house for the annual Easter egg hunt. (Minneaosta Historical Society)

Kids bursting out of the Logan Park Field House for the annual Easter egg hunt. (Minnesota Historical Society)

The importance of the Logan Park Field House is obviously my opinion. (I’d like to hear yours!) You could make a case for the club houses at Wirth and Columbia golf courses, which were not really recreation buildings, but were used year round for community gatherings. I consider the pavilion/bandstand at Lake Harriet and the bath houses at Webber Pool, Lake Calhoun or Lake Nokomis in a different category because they were seasonal structures, with open walls or roofs. The Webber community center did include a branch library, but it was not designed to be a multipurpose recreation facility.

Community sing at the Logan Park Field House (City of Parks, Minneapolis Park and Recreaton Board).)

A community sing at  Logan Park. The band performed from the partially covered veranda of the field house. (City of Parks, Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board.)

The field house at Logan Park was the first multi-purpose, all-season recreation center in a Minneapolis park. There had been other recreation buildings in parks — and more would soon follow — but most were little more than glorified warming houses for ice skaters until the 1960s and 1970s. A good example is the one built at North Commons in 1910, which consisted of a furnace room, toilets, an office and one large room. One of the only exceptions to this standard was the shelter in Loring Park, Charles Loring’s gift to the city when he retired from the park board (for the last time) in 1906, which featured two “kindergarten” rooms on a second floor.

Lebert H. Weir was very familiar with Minneapolis parks. He first conducted a survey of Minneapolis parks in 1914 and again in 1944, when he was the National Field Secretary of the National Playground Association. He also served in 1917 as the recreation director for officer training at Fort Snelling during mobilization ahead of U. S. entry into World War I.

Lebert H. Weir knew Minneapolis parks well. He first conducted a survey of Minneapolis parks beginning in 1914 and repeated the process in greater depth in 1944, when he was the National Field Secretary of the National Playground Association. He also served in 1917 as the recreation director for officer training at Fort Snelling during mobilization prior to U. S. entry into World War I.

Lebert Weir, a leading figure in the national playground movement, wrote in 1944 that the recreation buildings in Minneapolis parks (other than the one at Logan) were “too large for merely shelter houses and too small for use as a general recreation building. When the central room is used as a warming room for skaters, no other, or little, use can be made of the building for recreational activities.” (Recreation Survey, 1944.) In another study of recreational needs in Minneapolis, conducted by F. S. Staley in 1915 for the Civic and Commerce Association, Staley reported that the recreation shelters in parks, other than Logan and Webber, were little more than “comfort stations”, the polite term in the day for toilets. Although Weir did not lump the Logan Park Field House with other recreation shelters in his 1944 report, he had no praise for it either, recommending that it needed to be razed or remodeled. It wasn’t replaced for another 27 years, in 1971, at a time when nearly every recreation center in the city was replaced. Weir also recommended a new center for Loring Park in 1944, supporting suggestions to preserve the original shelter, too, and make it into a clubhouse for “older men.”

Social Center Movement

The importance of the Logan Park Field House rested in the explicit recognition by the park board that it had a role in addressing social issues beyond recreation, whether passive or active. The national social center movement saw facilities such as field houses in parks as essential to weaving the fabric of community. They had much in common with settlement houses. They provided gathering places, places for self-improvement, even places where hygiene could be taught or improved. They became places for assimilation and Americanization, especially in the crowded urban cores. The social centers were truly the melting pots. They were also seen as providing an alternative social venue to saloons in a society that had been struggling for decades with what many believed was excessive liquor consumption.

The new social centers were ultimately places where an Alice Dietz could emerge as Director of Community Centers for Minneapolis parks and be seen as a friend not only to neighborhood children, but to their mothers. Dietz’s office in the 1920s, of course, was at the Logan Park Field House. In Minneapolis, as elsewhere, the construction of recreation centers was the beginning of neighborhoods being identified with — and often named for — the neighborhood park.

Park superintendent Theodore Wirth credited Chicago’s South Park District as the model for his first plans for a building at Logan Park. In his 1908 annual report he wrote:

I have been so much impressed with the immense amount of benefit derived by the entire population of good-sized districts in Chicago through some of their play parks that I could not deny myself the pleasure of working out on paper and in thought, what could be done along similar lines with our Logan Park.

Wirth’s choice of Logan Park for a new center is not surprising. It was one of the first four parks acquired by the Minneapolis park board when it was created in 1883 and it was still one of the few parks in the city that offered no distinguishing landscape features, neither lakes, streams, nor hills. That was likely the reason that the Minneapolis park board’s first landscape architect, H.W.S. Cleveland, proposed the fountain that stood at the middle of the park.

Logan had also been one of the first two Minneapolis parks to have playground equipment installed in 1906, when the park board took its first timid steps into the park and recreation era. (Riverside Park was the other.)

In his 1908 report,Wirth provided two photos of the field house at Sherman Park in Chicago to accompany his “Suggestive Plan for the Transformation of Logan Park into a General Recreation Ground”. The most prominent feature of his plan for Logan Park was a “General Recreation Building” along 13th Avenue NE. He proposed a building far, far grander than was eventually built. His proposal included an indoor swimming pool, gymnasium and lunch counter, as well as an assembly room, office and multiple club rooms. He even provided a sample of a budget for improvements at Armour Park in Chicago, which was similar in size, he said, to Logan Park. There the building, improvements and equipment had cost $170,000. As was often the case in Wirth’s proposals for Minneapolis parks, he significantly overshot what the park board would spend or neighborhoods would agree to pay in property assessments. The eventual cost of the Logan Park Field House was $40,000, with $8,000 of that chipped in by the Library Board in exchange for space to operate a branch library in the building.

While it would take another four years before the Logan Park field house was built on a reduced scale, the park board in 1908 had begun to appreciate and anticipate the larger social role it would play throughout the city. At the same time, the park board recognized its increasing role in city life, it also demonstrated that it valued the increasing role that citizens would play in the board’s decision-making.

Incidentally, it’s not likely that Wirth was among those who saw the new park field house as a weapon in the war against alcohol. When Wirth helped design a house for himself  at Lyndale Farmstead later that year he would build in a hidden liquor cabinet and he would be censured later by the park board for serving alcohol to visiting dignitaries at the Lake Harriet Pavilion, where liquor was forbidden.

The new field houe shortly after it opened in 1913. (Charles J. Hibbard, Minnesota Historical Society)

The new field house shortly after it opened in 1913. (Charles J. Hibbard, Minnesota Historical Society)

Citizens Advisory

The Logan Park Field House provided another first in Minneapolis park history; the park board solicited the views of the neighborhood on the architectural plans for the field house. A jury examined designs from twelve architects who submitted plans for the field house and selected those of Minneapolis architect Cecil Bayless Chapman. Designs by Downs and Eads and A. R. Van Dyke placed second and third. Based on input from a committee of the Logan Park Improvement Association on the style of building, materials, and interior arrangements,  the park board’s improvement committee modified Chapman’s plan “considerably”, according to the Morning Tribune.

“This is the first time we have invited the people of any neighborhood to help us choose plans for a park building,” said President [Wilbur] Decker, “but this is the first time the park board has ever contemplated erecting a building in a park to serve neighborhood recreation purposes.” (Minneapolis Morning Tribune, Dec. 28, 1911)

The Tribune’s coverage of park board deliberations on the issue concluded with the claim that the building would have “a large assembly room that can be used for neighborhood gatherings, including dances or similar entertainments.” That would prove to be somewhat sticky.

Dance Fever

Logan Park’s field house was the focus of great controversy shortly after it officially opened February 1, 1913.

The Minneapolis Tribune wrote the next morning, “The formal exercises marked an era in Minneapolis, the beginning of the movement to open social centers in all parts of the city.” The objective, the paper wrote, was “social development and civic betterment furnished by recreational environment.”

It took barely three months for some neighborhood residents to challenge the “development” and “betterment” because of one aspect of the environment. A rumor rippled through neighborhood churches that on Saturday night, May 3, a “dance” had been held at the field house. It mattered little to the pastors of the eight churches within a block of the park that the dance had been part of a private wedding anniversary celebration. The ministers claimed that they had opposed construction of the field house the previous year until they had been assured that the facility would not be used for dances.

Park superintendent Wirth contested that such an assurance had ever been made and added that he had been assured that the only dancing at the event would be a few “old folks” dances.

At the time, dancing was a hot-button issue. In a poll of 10,000 families the week before the field house opened, the Tribune found a close correlation between  those who opposed social centers and those who opposed dancing. About 21% of those polled opposed dancing and about 24% opposed social centers.

Efforts to outlaw dances, even school dances and charity balls, had passed the city council the previous year, but was vetoed by Mayor Haynes. At the time of the controversy, a bill was being introduced in the Minnesota legislature that would dramatically curtail public dance halls through licensing and prohibition of serving alcohol in them. The bill also banned “immodest” dancing and required bright lighting in rooms where dances were held. The bill eventually passed the House, but not the Senate.

The debate over dancing, like that over alcohol, was not restricted to Minnesota. In the spring of 1913, Chicago was considering an ordinance that would have mandated that dancers maintain a distance between them of no less than six inches.

The protest to the park board over dances at Logan Park didn’t get far. When a committee hearing was held on the issue, all but one park commissioner expressed himself, in the words of the Tribune, “heartily in favor of public dances, properly supervised, in the parks.” Commissioner David Jones, chair of the committee, was particularly outspoken in his defense of dancing at the parks, claiming that park dances offered a positive alternative to young people frequenting public dance halls where mixed crowds gathered without supervision. When a trustee of Emanuel Swedish Lutheran Church accused the park board of building the field house at Logan Park to “set up a worship of dancing,” Commissioner Jones demanded and received a retraction. Jones reportedly said that dancing was not a religious or even an ethical issue, but one only of “decent comportment” and he refused to allow those who opposed dancing to impose their standards on the rest of the city. The park board did concede, however, that “rag” dancing shouldn’t be permitted at dances on park property.

That was not the end of the issue. A year later, representatives of five churches returned to the park board with a new resolution to restrict dancing, and this time they had the support of the park commissioner who represented that part of the city, Portius Deming. Dancing had become too popular. The opponents claimed that the field house was booked six to eight weeks in advance for dances. They asked that dances be limited to three a week and only from October 1 to April 1. Deming’s support for the measure and his former legislative skill was evident in the wording of the resolution: it applied only to park field houses that also housed a branch library. As Logan Park had the only facility to fit that description, the restrictions wouldn’t apply in any other city park.

The neighborhood was not, however, unanimous in its opposition to dances. E. J. Comstock presented a petition from those who lived in houses that faced the park. Thirty-one of thirty-seven park neighbors favored the use of the field house for dancing.

Ultimately, the park board agreed to prohibit dances at Logan Park for the summer of 1914 while a new ordinance was written that would set stricter conditions for dances at all parks. In exchange for that compromise, Deming withdrew his resolution that applied only to Logan Park. After a summer of study, the park board passed a new dance ordinance in October that restricted dances to Tuesday and Saturday nights from 9 to 11:45 pm. Girls younger than 18 could not to be admitted and only residents of the neighborhood could attend. The question of smoking at dances was to be “tactfully handled” by park employees, whatever that meant. Curiously, while the Minneapolis Tribune reported the new policy on dancing at Logan Park on October 7, 1914, those restrictions were never part of the officially published “Proceedings” of the park board.

I can find no indication that dancing in parks was an issue of policy debate after 1914, although I wouldn’t be surprised if the issue came up at individual parks. One reason it may not have been an issue after 1914 was that despite the enormous success of the Logan Park Field House, the park board never built another like it anywhere in the city for the next fifty years. I did find an article in the Tribune about a winter carnival at Logan Park in 1920 that mentioned there was dancing both indoors and outdoors for the ten thousand people who attended.  They must not have objected to dancing. Along the way, however, in 1917 the Minnesota Senate did pass a law that prohibited dancing to the Star Spangled Banner. That’s a bit surprising because the song isn’t exactly a toe-tapper — not to mention the fact that the song didn’t officially become the national anthem until a Congressional resolution passed in 1931.

The most significant lesson of the Logan Park Field House story is that, as always, the people of Minneapolis determined how parks would be used. At Logan Park, neighborhood residents first had input into how a building was designed and constructed and then, through considerable, often noisy, public debate, how it was used. One hundred years later, we still do things much the same way.

That’s worth celebrating a centennial. Here’s to the original Logan Park Field House.

David C. Smith

© 2014 David C. Smith

Hall’s Island and a Baseball Field?

Some of our readers must have played here — the baseball fields next to Scherer Brothers lumber yard in northeast Minneapolis between Marshall Avenue and the Mississippi River in the 1950s. I’ve never heard anything about those fields — which are now Graco parking lots — but they’re hard to miss in this photo. Who owned or maintained the fields — dugouts and all? Who played there? Do you have memories of these fields on Sibley Street?

Note the baseball field on the right side of this photo north of Scherer Brothers’ lumber yard. Hall’s Island and the Plymouth Avenue bridge are at the bottom of the photo, which was taken looking north or upriver. The Broadway Bridge is in the middle of the photo. (Fairchild Aerial Surveys, Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board)

I’ve never seen mention of the property in park board records, so I’m sure they didn’t belong to the park board. The nearest park board ball fields would have been almost a mile away at Logan Park. Diamonds at Bottineau Field were a bit farther away to the north. Dickman Park was the nearest park, but it had only recently been acquired and hadn’t been developed yet in 1955 — and wasn’t big enough for a full baseball field anyway.

The picture is one in a series of aerial photos of the Mississippi River in Minneapolis taken in 1955 by Fairchild Aerial Surveys. The photos were recently discovered in city archives and park planner Andrew Caddock shared them with me. I’ll be posting more information on them as time allows.

Halls’ Island appears in this photo probably much as it did in the mid-1960s when Scherer Brothers acquired it from the city and filled in the eastern channel to expand its yard. (I posted a history of Hall’s Island a few months ago.) The Minneapolis park board acquired much of the land from Scherer Brothers in early 2010.

Preliminary plans for the Scherer property, proposed by Tom Leader Studio/Kennedy & Violich Architecture, winners of the 2011 Minneapolis Riverfront Design Competition, would dredge again the eastern channel and make a beach and kayak cove there and build a swimming pool/skating rink on the recreated Hall’s Island. (Among other things — I hope. Swimming and ice-skating opportunities are not a particular novelty in Minneapolis, where swimming in the Mississippi was abandoned nearly 100 years ago at the same location and park board ice-skating rinks throughout the city are strikingly under-used. I look forward to seeing more imaginative final designs for our $1.5 million cost to date.)

Some people have questioned why the park board didn’t develop parks along the river in north and northeast Minneapolis sooner. Another Fairchild Aerial photo from the same series as the one above — of nearly the same location — provides an answer. Railroads dominated the riverscape.

The Plymouth Avenue Bridge crosses Hall’s Island in the middle of the photo. (The photo was taken looking upriver, northeast Minneapolis on the right, north Minneapolis on the left.) Boom Island, lower right, was a railroad yard, as was most of the property west (left) of the river. Not a landscape very conducive to park development. Note also that Boom Island was no longer an island. (Fairchild Aerial Surveys, Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board)

The history of park planning for the river upstream from St. Anthony Falls began more than 100 years ago. I’ll get to that story later this week.

David C. Smith

Has the Park Board Neglected Northeast Minneapolis?

The argument is sometimes made, particularly by “Nordeasters,” that northeast Minneapolis is park poor and that the Minneapolis park board has neglected that part of the city.  “Underserved” seems to be the popular word. The idea even flowed as an undercurrent through the recent Minneapolis Riverfront Design Competition. The thinking goes that ever since Minneapolis and St. Anthony merged in 1872, and took the name Minneapolis, power, money and prestige — not to mention amenities such as parks — have accumulated west and south of the river. (Read Lucille M. Kane, The Waterfall That Built a City, for a fascinating examination of why that might have happened.)

While writing recently about Alice Dietz and the marvelous programs she ran at the Logan Park field house I thought again about the perceived neglect of Northeast and whether it might be true. I concluded that it is not; northeast Minneapolis has been a victim of industry, topography and opportunity, but not discrimination or even indifference. What’s more, all those elements have now realigned, putting northeast Minneapolis in the position to get a far bigger slice of the park pie in the foreseeable future than any other section of the city.

Read more

Minneapolis Park Hero: Alice Dietz

Early in my research of Minneapolis park history for City of Parks, Alice Dietz caught my attention. She had a forty-year career in Minneapolis parks, 1916-1957. She rose to prominence in the park system quickly from her start as a recreation director. In January 1918, the park board received a letter from an appreciative mother asking that Dietz be reappointed as recreation director at Maple Hill (Beltrami) Park. She was not reappointed at Maple Hill; in the park board’s annual report for 1918 Dietz was singled out for praise for her work at bigger, busier Bryant Square Park. The next year Dietz moved again, this time to the most visible and important recreation job in the city as the director of the Logan Park field house, the only year-round facility the park board operated.

Dietz needed very little time to establish her reputation at Logan Park. In an article on the opening of the 1920 summer playground season, the Minneapolis Tribune (June 20) commented that Dietz had already “taught the Logan Park neighborhood what a field house was really meant to be.” Apparently in the seven years between its construction in 1912 and Dietz’s arrival the field house had been less successful.

By the end of that summer the Tribune (October 17) provided an unusual glimpse of park life “in a community where there are a dozen nationalities struggling with the intricacies of life in a new country.” In that environment, the paper reported, Mrs. Dietz was trusted by “children and mothers alike.” As a result, Dietz was able to “buoy the self-confidence of the women who are awed by the greater facility of their children in the new tongue and to make the children realize what they owe to their parents.”

Among her responsibilities were teaching drama, dance and arts and craft classes, directing all athletic activities for girls, and putting on plays and pageants. The previous year she had also managed boys athletic activities developing “proficiency in boxing and football that surprised even herself” the Tribune reported. The paper continued that “almost to her regret,” a man had then been brought in to look after the boys and young men. In between all this she “listens to all the troubles that everybody tells her…and never turns a hair through it all.” The Tribune also praised the “Logan Park spirit” she had instilled noting that “the children have come to feel that the place belongs to them and they look over a newcomer with stern eyes.  He has to measure up to what they think is proper Logan Park behavior.”

Dietz’s work with pageants and performances at Logan Park led to her being handed responsibility for the citywide playground pageants staged at Lyndale Park at the end of each summer.

The first playground pageant on the hill above the Rose Garden at Lyndale Park attracted a crowd estimated at 10,000. (1918 Annual Report, Minneapolis Board of Park Commissioners)

The first two pageants, “Mother Goose” in 1918 and “The Pied Piper” in 1919, were directed by Julia Beckman, a teacher at North High School, but from 1920 Dietz wrote and directed the playground pageants as they became one of the highlights of the summer playground program. Children from every Minneapolis park were involved in creating costumes and props for the program. Up to 1,500 children appeared in the pageants each year which were staged on the hill overlooking the Rose Garden in Lyndale Park. The two-night performances were attended by up to 40,000 people.  The popularity of the pageants caused the park board to consider more than once (first in 1930) the construction of an  amphitheater on the site. Except for a brief hiatus during the Depression, the pageants continued through 1941. The pageant was incorporated into the Aquatennial in 1940, the first year of that celebration. With the ascendancy of the Aquatennial, and with the nation at war, the pageant was discontinued a year later.

The pageants were original scripts written by Dietz. While she created small roles in her pageants for park commissioners, she never allowed commissioners to have speaking parts. After her second pageant in 1921, “Weaver of Dreams,” Dietz asked the park board to allow her to retain copyright of the pageant scripts. The park board agreed that she could retain those copyrights as her personal property. (I have seen no indication that Dietz ever licensed those or subsequent scripts for performances by others.)

I recently found in a scrapbook kept by Victor Gallant evidence that Dietz had a background in theater as a performer before she worked for the park board. I had found an item in park board proceedings that Dietz requested a leave of absence for a week in the 1920s to attend a dance workshop in New York at her own expense, which was granted by the board. From that reference I knew Dietz had an interest in dance beyond the classes she taught at Logan Park and the dances she had incorporated into her pageant scripts. But the undated newspaper clip that appeared at the time of her 40th anniversary of employment with the park board (her last year), mentions her own theater performances as a girl.

Alice Dietz in 1957 near the time of her retirement and as a child actor, from an undated newspaper clip.

The article that accompanied the photos above attributed the 1906 photo to a touring company of “Buster  Brown,” the 1910 photo to a performance of J. M. Barrie’s play, “The Little Minister,” with the greatest Broadway actor of that era, Maude Adams, and the 1912 photo to an Orpheum Theater production of “School Days.” In addition to performing with Adams — who originated the role of Peter Pan on Broadway in 1905 and was by some accounts the highest paid actor of her time and the most famous woman in America — Dietz also performed with Eddie Cantor, although that was well before Cantor’s fame on radio.

As the Director of Community Centers in Minneapolis parks, Dietz played a central role in the redefinition of recreation in the park context. The range of activities and classes offered at Logan Park was unprecedented in Minneapolis. In addition to expanding the range of activities provided for both children and adults, Dietz oversaw the conversion in 1922 of the large social room at Logan Park into a gymnasium for sports. The other recreation centers in Minneapolis at that time were little more than warming houses for skaters. They were later criticized by a national park expert as too big for warming houses and too small for anything else. (Weir Report, 1944.) Despite the phenomenal popularity of Logan Park under Dietz’s direction, the park board did not build another similar facility until the 1960s. Perhaps park commissioners feared that while they could replicate the field house they could not replicate Dietz.

Dietz’s role in the development of park programming in the 1920s at Logan Park was significant, but her greatest achievement may have been in training the army of recreation supervisors who worked in parks across the city in the 1930s. With the onset of the Depression in 1930 and the slashing of recreation budgets, Dietz lost her three assistants at Logan. Summer recreation positions in parks across the city were slashed from seventy-five to zero in 1933. When the American Legion tried to fill the void in eleven parks by providing volunteer supervisors, they were sent to Dietz for training.

That was just a glimmer of what would follow. For the 1934 playground season the Works Progress Administration inaugurated a recreation program that at its peak would place more than 240 recreation supervisors in Minneapolis parks and playgrounds. The WPA recreation program continued until 1943. During those ten years, thanks to federal and state work-relief programs, Minneapolis parks offered the most comprehensive, year-round recreation programming in the city’s history. The entire program, including the training of hundreds of new personnel, was coordinated by Alice Dietz from her office at Logan Park.

That experience served her and the city well after WWII when the park board was able to expand recreation programming and offer year-round activities at a handful of parks. Dietz was once again responsible for training the first generation of full-time, year-round recreation supervisors employed by the park board.

These are the outlines of Alice Dietz’s remarkable career in the recreation department of Minneapolis parks. I know little about Alice Dietz beyond what I have related here other than the fact that she was president of the Minnesota Recreation and Park Association in 1947. If you can tell us more about Dietz — or you have another person to nominate as a Minneapolis Park Hero — please comment here or contact me at the e-mail address below.

David C. Smith

© David C. Smith

Minneapolis Park Memory: Logan Ice

My park was Logan. In winter, there were hockey rinks, a beautiful skating area and a pavilion that featured many programs. In summer, many musical programs took place on an outdoor veranda. My favorite winter sport was ice skating, so I visited Logan Park almost daily.

Charlotte Brisley

Community sing at the Logan Park Fieldhouse (City of Parks, Minneapolis Park and Recreaton Board).)