Archive for the ‘Minneapolis Landscape Architects’ Tag

Engineers in Minneapolis Park Plans

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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