Archive for the ‘Theodore Wirth Park’ Tag

Ski Jump Update

So many people have commented on my article posted nearly two years ago about the history of ski jumping in Minneapolis that I thought I should provide an update. I was prompted by an exchange of emails this week with Greg Fangel who is the owner of woodenskis.com, where he buys and sells wooden cross-country skis and provides a great deal of ski information and links to other skiing sites. I’ve edited together some of Greg’s emailed comments below, with thanks.

I’ve been an avid cross-country skier since 1974 and currently live in White Bear Lake. I’ve been researching ski history for the past 5 years or so, mostly from a Mpls/St. Paul/Minnesota point of view. In my research, ski jumping comes into play, since it’s Nordic and one of the early forms of competition. I personally know Norm Oakvik, who is mentioned in your blog.  He organized many events and coached USSA teams in Minneapolis. Norm is a legend in the cross-country ski community in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area. I interviewed Norm in November of 1995 for a story in the Løype, a newsletter of the North Star Ski Touring Club.

Norm’s parents were from Norway and Norm started skiing in Minneapolis in the 1930-40s. He competed with the Minneapolis Ski Club in 1940-70s, specializing in Nordic combined in the early years. Nordic combined is ski jumping and cross-country skiing combined into one event. He was a driving force behind the National Nordic ski competition, which was held in Bloomington in 1976. Bill Koch came to ski that event.

In May of 2005 a few of the ‘movers and shakers’ in the Minneapolis ski community wanted to name a trail or system after Norm Oakvik at Theodore Wirth Park. We held a special meeting at Wirth with supporters and Norm present. Norm was so humble, that he didn’t want his name on the trails, even though he spent countless hours trail clearing, grooming, and coaching at Wirth. I don’t know how Norm is doing now, but he was recently in the hospital.

I’ve interviewed ski jumper Adrian Watt from Duluth who participated in the 1968 Winter Olympics and competed at the Glenwood jump in Minneapolis. He has some fascinating stories.

Minneapolis has a rich ski history and that should not be overlooked. We need to preserve that history for generations to come.

Greg Fangel

The ski jump at Glenwood (Wirth) Park in 1923 (Charles Hibbard, Minnesota Historical Society)

The ski jump at Glenwood (Wirth) Park in 1923. (Charles J. Hibbard, Minnesota Historical Society)

Greg mentioned that he’s interested in putting together an exhibit on local skiing history for a possible new project at Wirth Park.

Over the past couple years, several veterans of the Minneapolis skiing scene have commented on my original post on Minneapolis ski history. If you haven’t looked at those comments in a while, check them out. Add your own stories either here or on the original post. Thanks!

If you haven’t kept track of what’s going on with cross-country skiing in Minneapolis parks you might be surprised to find out about current trails, especially at Wirth Park. Get more skiing info at minneapolisparks.org.

David C. Smith   minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com

Brownie Lake Long Ago

As we look forward to improvements at Brownie Lake later this year and in 2013 I find it informative to look at photos of the area long ago. Of course the construction of the Prudential Building (now housing Target offices) next to the lake in 1954 changed the lake environs considerably. (See a photo of the building under construction here.) But the lake is also hemmed in by a freeway that keeps expanding on the north and a railroad/trail corridor that keeps shrinking on the south.

An undated photo labelled “Brownie Lake with Cedar Lake in the distance.” (C. J. Hibbard & Co., MPRB)

This photo puzzles me, however. If it is Brownie Lake what is the trestle on the near side of the lake in the photo?  I’ve never seen that before. Can anyone enlighten me?

Charles J. Hibbard, 1916 (Minnesota Historical Society)

The back of the photo bears the stamp of C. J. Hibbard & Co. Charles Hibbard was an active photographer in Minnesota from about 1899 until his death in 1924. Those dates establish the range of years in which the Brownie Lake  picture above could have been taken.

Hibbard wasn’t directly associated with parks, although many of his photos were taken in parks, but he deserves an entry of his own here some day. Based on the photos I’ve seen he was the preeminent photographer of the city. He chronicled many places and events in Minneapolis and the state. The detail and composition of his photos are remarkable.

Both of the photos below were taken at the intersection of Theodore Wirth Parkway and Highway 12 (I-394). In the first photo, a bridge is being built to carry Wirth Parkway traffic over the new four-lane highway. This photo shows the early stages of the construction of a wider highway. Notice how narrow Highway 12 was. Trees and telephone poles hug the edge of the road.

Highway 12 and Glenwood (Wirth) Parkway, 1949 (MPRB)

The second photo, also labelled as being shot in 1949, shows the progression in road building. Today’s I-394 is, of course, much wider than the four lane highway shown here. The wetland at the north end of Brownie Lake has also been filled in.

Highway 12 expands and eats into Wirth Park, 1949 (Minneapolis Star Journal, Minnesota Historical Society)

Expansion of Highway 12 into I-394 eventually took more of the parks. On the other side of the ledger, however, the wide swath of railroads in the upper third of the photo have been converted partly into bicycle trails.

David C. Smith   minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com

Lost Minneapolis Parks: The Complete List, Part I

I’ve written about several parks in Minneapolis that are no more. Since then I’ve been asked if there is a list of those “lost” parks. The short answer is, “Not until now.” Here’s the first part of an alphabetical list I’ve compiled from park board proceedings and annual reports.

19th Avenue South and South 1st Street. 1.0 acre. The park board’s 1948 annual report noted that the site near Seven Corners had been graded and frames had been installed for swings, teeter-totters and slides for small children. The plan was to complete the playground in 1949. This parcel was leased specifically for use as a playground. I don’t know the terms of the lease, but it was still included in park inventory as leased land in the 1964 annual report. The U of M’s West Bank softball fields are now near the site. 19th Avenue South at that point is the approach to the 10th Avenue Bridge over the Mississippi River.

Bassett Triangle. 7th Avenue North and 7th Street North, 0.03 acre. Acquired from the city council December 3, 1924. Returned to the city council in 1968, after the board hired appraisers in 1967 to try to sell the property. The site is now occupied by a Wells Fargo Bank. The property was named for Joel Bean Bassett, who owned much of the land in the vicinity in the 1800s. Bassett’s Creek, underground not far away, is also named for him.

Bedford Triangle. Orlin Avenue SE and Bedford Avenue SE, 0.01 acre. This little triangle in Prospect Park was still carried on the park board’s inventory the last time I checked, but it was listed as “paved.” There is no visual evidence of the triangle. Read more about this and other triangles in the meandering streets below Tower Hill.

Brownie Lake (partial). Theodore Wirth Park west of Brownie Lake and south of Highway 12, 32 acres. The land was sold in 1952 to the Prudential Insurance Company for $200,000 and some additional land.

The southern end of Theodore Wirth Park west of Brownie Lake got a makeover when the Prudential Insurance Company purchased the land for its regional headquarters in 1952.  It was the largest section of park land the Minneapolis park board has ever sold. Construction is underway in this 1954 photo. (Minneapolis Star Journal Tribune, Minnesota Historical Society)

The park board bowed to intense public pressure to sell the land beside the lake. Prudential had made it clear that the site adjacent to the lake was the only site it would consider for its offices in the city. Ultimately the park board was convinced that the benefit to the Minneapolis economy was a greater good than keeping the land as a park. The board justified its action in part by asserting that with the growth of traffic on Highway 12 (now I-394) and the widening of that road, the land west of Brownie Lake had already been isolated from the rest of Wirth Park anyway.

Cedar Avenue Triangle. Cedar Avenue and 7th Street South, 0.02 acre. The triangle was offered to the park board by Edmund Eichorn on April 15, 1891. After delaying a decision for a couple of months, the board agreed to pay Eichhorn $2,394 over ten years without interest. The triangle, adjacent to what is now the Cedar Avenue exit ramp from I-94 westbound, was sold to the state highway department in 1965 for $1,000. In April of that year the board approved a resolution to sell the property for $1,000 plus “other valuable considerations.” Later that year the board approved dropping the “other valuable considerations” clause.

Crystal Lake Triangle. West Broadway and 30th Avenue North, 0.05 acre. The triangle was supposedly purchased July 21, 1910 and sold to the state in 1962 for $2,700. It once sat at the edge of what is now the hideous intersection of Theodore Wirth Parkway, West Broadway (County Highway 81) and Lowry Avenue. Imagine if Phelps Wyman’s 1921 plan for that complex intersection had been used. What a difference it would have made in that part of Minneapolis. It would’ve been gorgeous.

Dell Place. Dell Place between Summit and Groveland avenues, 0.04 acre. Transferred from the city council April 27, 1883 when the park board was created. Citizens near the tiny lot petitioned the park board in 1907 to plant and maintain the grounds, which the park board agreed to do — if residents of the area would first pay to have the parcel curbed and filled to street grade. The street triangle was sold to the Minnesota highway department for I-94 interchanges in 1964 for $1,350. The park board had rejected the state’s first offer of $450. The park board’s appraisers valued the land at $2,250, but the park board accepted an internmediate figure instead of proceding to court with litigation.

Elwell Field I. East Hennepin and 5th Avenue SE, 3.7 acres. Purchased in 1939 from the Minneapolis Furniture Company for $5,000. Sold to Butler Manufacturing in 1952 for $55,000. The somewhat isolated field, surrounded by industrial buildings, was sold with the promise to the neighborhood to acquire another playground nearer Holmes School. Eventually the land adjacent to the school was purchased as a playground. The school on the former Holmes site, built in 1992, is now named Marcy Open School.

The first Elwell Field, 1952. Across the field is a building of the Butler Manufacturing company, which purchased the field the year the picture was taken. (Norton and Peel, Minnesota Historical Society)

Elwell Field II. 9th Avenue SE between SE 4th Street and SE 5th Street, 1 acre. The former site of Trudeau School was acquired February 4, 1953 in a trade with the school board. The park board gave up Sheridan Field next to Sheridan School at Broadway and University Avenue NE for the Trudeau property. The second Elwell Field was condemned by the state highway department for I-35W in 1962. The park board accepted a negotiated payment of $125,000 for the park in 1966.

Franklin Triangle. Franklin Terrace and 30th Avenue South, 0.05 acre. Transferred to the park board from the city council August 13, 1915 and accepted and named by the park board September 6, 1916. Taken by the state highway department for I-94 in 1962 in exchange for $1 and “other valuable considerations” again.

The beautiful cover of the park board’s 1915 annual report depicted the fountain at The Gateway. (Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board)

The Gateway. Hennepin and Nicollet avenues, 1.22 acres. There is still a Gateway park property at Hennepin and 1st Street South, but it’s not in the same location, so I consider this original Gateway a lost park. I have already provided the outline of the story for the original Gateway on the history pages of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board’s website at minneapolisparks.org.

Groveland Triangle. Groveland and Forest avenues, 0.21 acre. The triangle was purchased in November 1910 for $8,979. It was sold to the state highway department for the construction of I-94 in 1964 for $8,900.

That’s all for Part I of Lost Minneapolis Parks. Part II — H-R — will be out soon.

For historical profiles of all existing Minneapolis parks click here to access the website of the Minneapolis park board, then click on “Parks, Lakes, Trails…” You’ll access a pdf file that provides histories of nearly all Minneapolis park properties. (The site is in process of being reformatted for easier access.)

If you remember anything about any of the lost parks mentioned here, please send me a note so we can preserve something of those parks — especially the property beside Brownie Lake. Any memories before Prudential moved in?

David C. Smith   minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com

© David C. Smith

Crime Wave

With the sports section of the StarTribune filled with hunting stories these days I was reminded of my favorite police report from the annual reports of the Minneapolis park board.

This moose was shot nowhere near Minneapolis to my knowledge. It's one of many hunting photos from the Minnesota Historical Society collection from the time period.

C. S. Barnard, Sergeant in Command, included these comments in the annual report of 1913:

“The football and hunting season necessitates the special service of five officers most of the time, namely two at Glenwood Park and one at Lake Nokomis to watch hunters, one officer during football season at North Commons and one at Longfellow Field…We have 30 guns in storage which have been taken from hunters shooting on park property and have returned as many more to the owners.”

Those five additional officers were significant in a day when the full-time park police force was only 17 men.

His comments on another aspect of his work is noteworthy given recent tribulations over “off-leash recreation areas” in Minneapolis parks.

“We have picked up and sent to the dog shelter 44 dogs which have been running at large in our most important parks.”

Barnard also categorizes all 309 arrests made during the year by park police. Approximately half were for either intoxication or driving commercial vehicles on parkways. Only three arrests were made for “hitching horses to shade trees.”

Two arrests were made of people “found in parks after 12 midnight.” Parks closed at midnight in those days. That caused a bit of a problem at Lake Harriet, as Barnard wrote:

“The red light on the boat house, installed this year, 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, 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.”

A final note on canoes: Eight canoes were stolen from park property in 1913, but Barnard notes with pride “all of which have been recovered except one.”

David C. Smith  minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com

Another Colorful Name Lost

The official record of the Minneapolis park board, the published “proceedings,” often don’t tell the whole story. Example: the proceedings of the park board meeting of June 6, 1910 record that the board voted that the “small lake in Glenwood Park between Western Avenue and Superior Avenue” be named “Birch Pond.” That’s been the name ever since.

What the official proceedings didn’t tell us I learned by accident while researching another issue. The June 7, 1910 Minneapolis Tribune noted the previous name of Birch Pond — the vastly more intriguing “Devil’s Glen.” I wonder how the little lake got that name.  Probably a good story. But I imagine it was more offensive to some people than a lake named for John C. Calhoun.

The pond was renamed as the parkway beside it was being built by a crew of forty railroad workers imported from Hungary. The previous year, scheduled construction at North Commons and East River Parkway was postponed due to a labor shortage in Minneapolis. The park board took no chance with its new parkway through what was then Glenwood Park, now Theodore Wirth Park, and imported the workers to build it.

David C. Smith   minneapolis parkhistory[at]q.com

Elusive Minneapolis Ski Jumps: Keegan’s Lake, Mount Pilgrim and Glenwood (Theodore Wirth) Park

The Norwegians of Minneapolis had greater success getting their music recognized in a Minneapolis park than they did their sport. A statue of violinist and composer Ole Bull was erected in Loring Park in 1897.

This statue of Norwegian violinist and composer Ole Bull was placed in Loring Park in 1897, shown here about 1900 (Minnesota Historical Society)

A ski jump was located in a Minneapolis park only when the park board expanded Glenwood (Theodore Wirth) Park in 1909 by buying the land on which a ski jump had already been built by a private skiing club. The photo and caption below are as they appear in the annual report of the Minneapolis Board of Park Commissioners for 1911.* While the park board included these photos in its annual report, they are a bit misleading. Park board records indicate that it didn’t really begin to support skiing in parks until 1920 — 35 years after the first ski clubs were created in the city.

Minneapolis, the American city with the largest population of Scandinavians, was not a leader in adopting  or promoting the ski running and ski jumping that originated in that part of the world. Skiing had been around for millenia, but it had been transformed into sport only in the mid-1800s, around the time Minneapolis was founded. Ski competitions then included only cross-country skiing, often called ski running, and ski jumping — the Nordic combined of today’s Winter Olympics. Alpine or downhill skiing didn’t become a sport until the 1900s. Even the first Winter Olympics at Chamonix, France in 1924 included only Nordic events and — duh! — Norway won 11 of 12 gold medals.

The first mention of skiing in Minneapolis I can find is a brief article in the Minneapolis Tribune of February 4, 1886 about a Minneapolis Ski Club, which, the paper claimed, had been organized by “Christian Ilstrup two years ago.” That article said the club “is still flourishing.” Eight days later the Tribune noted that the Scandinavian Turn and Ski Club was holding its final meeting of the year. The two clubs may have been the same.

Ilstrup was one of the organizers two years later of one of the first skiing competitions recorded in Minneapolis, which was described by the Tribune, January 29, 1888, in glowing and self-congratulatory terms.

Tomorrow will witness the greatest ski contest that ever took place in this country. For several years our Norwegian cultivators of the noble ski-sport have worked assiduously to introduce their favorite sport in this country, but their efforts although crowned with success, did not experience a real boom until the Tribune interested itself in the matter and gave the boys a lift.

The Tribune mentioned the participation in the competition of the Norwegian Turn and Ski Club, “Vikings club” and “Der Norske Twin Forening.”  The Tribune estimated that 3,000 spectators watched the competition held on the back of Kenwood Hill facing the St. Louis Railroad yard. Every tree had a dozen or so men and boys clinging to the branches, while others found that perches on freight cars in the rail yard provided the best vantage point.

The caption for this photo from the Minnesota Historical Society Visual Resource Database claims the photo is from the winter of 1887, but was almost certainly taken at the ski tournament held on Kenwood Hill late that winter in February, 1888.

The competition consisted of skiers taking turns speeding downhill and soaring off a jump or “bump” made of snow on the hill. Points were awarded for distance and for style points from judges.

The winners of the competition were reported as M. Himmelsvedt, St. Croix Falls, whose best jump was 72 feet, and 14-year-old crowd favorite Oscar Arntson, Red Wing, who didn’t jump nearly as far, but jumped three times without falling. Red Wing was a hot bed of ski-jumping, along with Duluth and towns on the Iron Range. (The winner was perhaps Mikkjel Hemmestveit, who along with his brother, Torger, came from Norway to manufacture skis using highly desirable U.S. hickory. The Hemmestveit brothers are usually associated with Red Wing skiing, however, not St. Croix Falls.)

A Rocky Start

Despite the enthusiasm of the Tribune and the crowds, skiing then disappeared from the pages of the Tribune until 1891, when on March 2, the paper reported on a gathering of thirty members of the Minneapolis Ski Club at Prospect (Farview) Park. “This form of amusement is as distinctively Scandinavian as lutefisk, groet, kringles and shingle bread,” the Tribune reported. “With skis on his feet a man can skim swiftly over the soft snow in level places, and when a slope is convenient the sport resembles coasting in a wildly exhilarating and exciting form,” the report continued. The article also described the practice of building snow jumps on the hill, noting that “one or two of the contestants were skilful enough to retain their equilibrium on reaching terra firma again, and slid on to the end of the course, arousing the wildest enthusiasm.”

The enthusiasm didn’t last once again. The Tribune’s next coverage of skiing appeared nearly eight years later — but it came with an explanation:

During recent winters snow has been a rather scarce article. A few flakes, now and then, have made strenuous efforts to organize a storm, but generally the effort has proven a failure. The heavy snow of yesterday was so unusual that it is hardly to be wondered at that there arose in the breasts of local descendants of the Viking race a longing for the old national pastime, skiing…The sport of skiing was fostered to a considerable extent in the Northwest, and particularly in this city, a few years ago, but the snow famine of late winters put a damper on it.
— Minneapolis Tribune, November 11, 1898

The paper further reported that the “storm of yesterday had a revivifying effect upon the number of enthusiasts” and that the persistent Christian Ilstrup of the Minneapolis Ski Club was arranging a skiing outing on the hills near the “Washburn home” (presumably the orphanage at 50th and Nicollet). The paper also reported that while promoters of the club were Norwegian-Americans, “they do not propose to  be clannish in the matter.”

Within a week of that first friendly ski, Continue reading

Glenwood Toboggan Slide: 1887

It’s an old, wrinkled photo clipped from an unidentified newspaper, but it’s also the oldest photo I’ve seen of a toboggan slide in Minneapolis.

A privately run toboggan slide on "Glenwood" hill in 1887, years before the park board acquired land in the area.

The newspaper caption calls it the “North Star” chute and puts the date at 1887. That was two years before the first land (64 acres) was acquired for what was then Saratoga Park. The park was renamed Glenwood Park in 1890 and was renamed for Theodore Wirth in 1938. The majority of the land for the park we know today was acquired in 1909. I suspect that this hill was a part of that acquisition. Although I’m not certain, I think this slide was located near where the ski jumps were later built.

At different times the park board operated toboggan slides at Lake Harriet, Lake Calhoun, Glenwood (Wirth) Park, Columbia Park and Minnehaha Park. I don’t believe any of them were operated after the 1940s, but as always its difficult to discern from park board records when such services or programs were stopped.

The only toboggan slide I remember from growing up in the Twin Cities was the long slide erected on the approach to the State Capitol in St. Paul. I remember it being operated as a part of the St. Paul Winter Carnival. It was one of the highlights of winter life as a boy in St. Paul.

David C. Smith  minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com

Minneapolis Park Memory: A Friend of Loring Park

After arriving in Minneapolis in September 1941, the first city park I became familiar with was Loring. I had come to enter nurse’s training at Eitel Hospital, and the park was right across the street. The park provided a beautiful view from patients’ rooms. It was also an oasis for student nurses, a place to relax in the summer or go skating on the lagoon in winter. Every nurse who has graduated from Eitel would have special memories of Loring Park.

The park looked different back in the forties. Old, tall trees grew along the edge of the lagoon. Now they are gone and tall grasses grow at the edge of the water. Bright red cannas blossomed in flower beds on the west side of the park. Now, “Friends of Loring” have created a large round garden on the northwest side called “Garden of the Seasons.” A variety of trees and flowers are in the center with benches and a brick path around it. Bricks can be donated in honor or memory of someone. A brick on the east side reads: “Eitel Hospital Nursing School — Class of 1944,” given in tribute to classmates, many of whom had served in the Army Nurse Corps in World War II.

In later years, my family and I enjoyed picnics at Minnehaha Park and viewing the beautiful Falls. Performances by the Aqua Follies at Theodore Wirth Park, and pop concerts at Lake Harriet on Sunday afternoons were great fun. My son as a teenager spent many winter evenings skating and playing hockey at McRae Park. On July 4th, we watched fireworks at Powderhorn Park. The park system provided something special for every season. My husband often said, “Minneapolis is the prettiest city I’ve ever seen.”

Ardelle Lande

Looking west across Loring Park from Eitel Hospital, 1375 Willow Street, in 1939. (Norton and Peel, Minnesota Historical Society, NP129145)

Editor’s note: For more photos of Eitel Hospital visit the Photo Collection of the Minnesota Historical Society.

If you have a Minneapolis Park Memory, send it to minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com. If you have a digital photo to accompany your memory, we’d love to see it.

Minneapolis Golf Clubs Go To War

One more bit of information about the oldest golf courses in Minneapolis, then I’ll move on.

I found this item in The American Golfer, June 1917:

“Four private golf clubs in Minneapolis are going to utilize a portion of their grounds for raising foodstuffs this summer. At the University Club more than 25 acres will be plowed up. The Minneapolis Club has set aside 4 acres for potatoes, and Interlachen and Minikahda will devote all available spaces to small garden truck. One hunderd caddies of the Town and Country Club have organized a military company.”

The actions were in response to the United States entry into the “Great War” in April 1917.

The golf course at the University of Minnesota and the first public golf course in Minneapolis–at Glenwood Park, now Theodore Wirth Park–had only opened in 1916. Both courses were nine holes at that time.

When the Minneapolis Board of Park Commissioners opened the Glenwood golf course in June, 1916, The American Golfer noted that left only Oakland and Portland as western cities that did not have municipal golf courses.

David C. Smith, minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com

The Mother of All Minneapolis Golf Courses: Bryn Mawr II

When the golf and social activities of the Bryn Mawr Club shifted to the newly opened Minikahda Club at Lake Calhoun in July 1899, the Bryn Mawr golf course and club house didn’t stand empty for long. Two weeks after the Minikahda Club opened—and promptly became the hub of Minneapolis social life—golfers were already at work to get back on the Bryn Mawr links.

The Minneapolis Tribune on August 9, 1899 attributed the interest in reviving a golf club at Bryn Mawr to “young businessmen who find the Minikahda links at too great a distance from the city.” The paper speculated that the organizers of the new club also expected that the links could be used “at comparatively little expense.” A meeting of those interested in organizing the new club was announced at the West Hotel.

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