Archive for the ‘Theodore Wirth’ Tag

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

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

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

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

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

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

Victory Memorial Drive or Memorial Parkway

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Impact on Recreation Programs

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

David C. Smith

 

 

 

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Sheepish: What’s Old is New in Park Maintenance

Minneapolis is now in its second year of testing goats to control invasive plants, especially buckthorn, in parks. The concept may be novel, but it’s not new.

Long ago in park history, attention focused on sheep rather than goats, but you say ovine, I say hircine.  I don’t see much difference between sheep and goats to control plants; whether you ride a Toro or a Deere, the grass gets cut.

800px-Goats_on_an_Argan_(Argania_spinosa)_tree_in_Morocco

Goats eating big weeds in Wirth Park. Not really. These are tree-climbing goats in Morocco, not Minneapolis. Photo: Marco Arcangeli.

The idea of sheep in Minneapolis parks was first proposed in 1906 by recently hired park superintendent Theodore Wirth. He proposed putting sheep in what was then Glenwood Park (the park was renamed for Wirth in 1938). He wrote in the annual report that year,

“There is nothing prettier in landscape effect than a flock of sheep grazing on the meadow and hill-sides.”

Of course Theodore Wirth grew up in Switzerland, so the sight of flocks on a hillside probably stirred warm memories of childhood for him. But he also had the park example of sheep in New York’s Central Park. The huge open space today called the Sheep Meadow in Manhattan was once actually a meadow filled with sheep. Wirth was a great admirer of Frederick Law Olmsted who designed Central Park, so what was good enough for the master was good with him too.

(Keep reading, there’s lots of links to restored blog posts at the end of this goat story.) Continue reading

Minneapolis Park Planning: Theodore Wirth as Landscape Architect. Catalog of Minneapolis Park Plans, Volume I, 1906-1915

In Theodore Wirth’s 30 years as Minneapolis’s superintendent of parks (1906-1935), he produced annual reports that contained 328 maps, plans or designs for parks and park structures. Most of the plans were accompanied by some explanatory text, which provides a rich record of park board activity and Theodore Wirth’s priorities.

Theodore Wirth, Superintendent of Parks, 1906-1935 (Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board)

The annual reports include plans for recreation shelters, bridges, parkways, parks, playgrounds, gardens, golf courses, and more. Nearly every Minneapolis park is represented in some form, from if-cost-were-no-object conceptual designs for new parks to the “rearrangement” of existing parks. Many of the plans were never implemented due to cost or other objections; others were considerably modified after input from commissioners and the public.

In many cases over the years, Wirth referred in his written narratives to plans published in prior years that he hoped the board would implement. Sometimes it did, often it didn’t. One of the drawbacks to implementing Wirth’s plans was the method of financing park acquisitions and improvements during much of his tenure as superintendent. The costs of both were often assessed on “benefitted” property, along with real estate tax bills. In other words, the people who lived near a park and received the “benefit” of it — both in enjoyment and increased property values — had to pay the cost, usually through assessments spread over ten years. To be able to assess those costs, however, a majority of property owners had to agree to the assessment, and in many neighborhoods property owners refused to agree until plans were modified considerably to reduce costs.

Phelps Wyman’s plan for what is now Thomas Lowry Park from the 1922 annual report is one of the only colored plans and one of the only plans that wasn’t produced by the park board staff.

Many of the annual report drawings contain a “Designed by” tag, but many do not have any attribution. For those that don’t, it is sometimes unclear who the actual designer was. In many cases it would have been Wirth, but in some cases — the golf courses are notable examples — others would have been responsible for the layouts even though they weren’t credited. William Clark, for instance, is known to have designed the first Minneapolis golf courses, Wirth said so, but only Wirth’s name appears on these plans, not Clark’s.

Also, because these plans were created while Wirth was superintendent does not mean that the idea for each project originated with Wirth. Some of the demands for the parks featured here pre-dated Wirth’s arrival in Minneapolis by decades. Other plans were largely his creation. In most cases, however, Wirth was responsible for implementing those plans.

The majority of the drawings were reproduced on a thin, tissue-like paper that could be folded small enough to be glued into the annual reports. The intent was to publish plans large enough to be readable, but not too bulky.  The paper is fragile and easily torn when unfolding; I doubt that many of the plans survive. Even where efforts have been made to preserve and digitize the annual reports, such as by Hathitrust and Google Books, the plans on the translucent sheets are not reproduced. In many cases it would require a large-format scanner to digitize them from the annual reports. Originals do not exist for most of these plans, because they were not working plans.

This plan for the original Longfellow Field in 1912 was typical of the plans in the annual reports,

Catalog of Minneapolis Park Plans

I’ve been threatening for some time to do something that probably only the planners at the Minneapolis park board and a few others will appreciate. I’m publishing a complete list of the park plans that appeared in the annual reports of the park board. I’m periodically asked when a certain park was discussed, acquired or planned and I search my list of annual report plans quickly to provide some direction. I hope that by publishing this catalog of park plans I can save other researchers a great deal of time.

Unfortunately I do not have copies or scans of the plans themselves. Neither does the park board. You’ll have to go to the Central Library in downtown Minneapolis to view the original annual reports and see these plans. The Gale Library at the Minnesota Historical Society also has copies of the park board’s annual reports for many years.

I’ve started this catalog with the 1906 annual report, the first year that Theodore Wirth was responsible for producing the report, his first year as superintendent of Minneapolis parks. (Several of H.W.S. Cleveland’s original park designs were reproduced in earlier annual reports. I’ll provide a list of those in the very near future. You may still view the very large originals of many of Cleveland’s plans, by appointment, at the Hennepin History Museum. It’s worth a visit!)

The annual reports of the park board were divided into several parts: a report by the president of the park board, reports by the superintendent and attorney, financial reports, and an inventory of park properties. Most of the plans described here were a part of the superintendent’s report. For that reason, I’ve cited the date on Wirth’s reports rather than the date of the president’s report, which at times differed.

I will post the catalog of plans, maps and drawings in three “volumes” due to the size of the file — more than 9,000 words in total. Go to the Catalog of Minneapolis Park Plans 1906-1915

Pioneering Minneapolis Landscape Architects: Wyman, Morell and Nichols, but not Wirth?

I’ve been surprised at the interest generated by posts here about landscape architects who worked on Minneapolis parks, so I’ll add the latest info I have on a few landscape architects.

I once compiled a list of all the park designs and plans published in the annual reports of the Minneapolis Board of Park Commissioners for the first 60 years of its existence, 1883-1943. For the most part, that means the plans of Horace W. S. Cleveland, who designed the first Minneapolis parks, and Theodore Wirth, who was superintendent of parks 1906-1935.

From the time Cleveland stopped working, about 1893, until Wirth was hired in 1906, the Minneapolis park board did not have a landscape architect — nor the money to pay one following a severe economic downturn — except for hiring Warren H. Manning for various projects from 1899 to 1905. No Manning plans for Minneapolis parks have survived, although his in-depth written recommendations for Minneapolis parks were published in the 1899 Annual Report of the Minneapolis park board. More on Manning in a later post.

While Wirth was superintendent, he prepared nearly all park plans himself, although I believe he identified himself more as a gardener and engineer than a landscape architect. He listed himself as “Sup’t.” on most of his park plans until 1926 when he added “Eng’r.” He was an early and active member of the American Institute of Park Executives, but did not, to my knowledge, join the American Society of Landscape Architects. Wirth was not included in Pioneers of American Landscape Design, a compilation by Charles Birnbaum and Robin Karson of Americans who influenced the nation’s landscape. I think that is an oversight.

While Wirth gets too much credit from some in Minneapolis for creating the city’s park system, his omission from a list of more than 160 prominent landscape designers in the United States probably gives him too little credit for shaping one of the nation’s premier urban park systems.

Wirth’s omission from the “pioneers” list is more striking because three landscape architects who practiced in Minneapolis while Wirth was parks chief were profiled as pioneers: Anthony Urbanski Morell, Arthur Richardson Nichols and Phelps Wyman. I don’t believe it could be argued that any of the three had nearly as great an impact on the landscape of Minneapolis — and perhaps urban parks in general — as Wirth did, although they all worked in other locations as well.

I have already written about Wyman, but would like to add notes on Morell and Nichols’s  involvement with Minneapolis parks and update info on Wyman.

Morell and Nichols

Morell and Nichols became partners in 1909 and relocated to Minneapolis to take advantage of connections they had made in Minnesota while working for a New York landscape architect on projects in Duluth — the Congdon Mansion and the Morgan Park neighborhood — according to Pioneers of American Landscape Design. Their names first appeared in Minneapolis park board documents in the park board’s annual report of 1910. They are cited as the creators of a design for Farwell Park in North Minneapolis for the David C. Bell Investment Company, one of the city’s most prominent real estate developers. The 1.2-acre park was platted in the Oak Park (not Oak Lake) Supplement in 1889, but it wasn’t until 1910 that the developer asked the park board to take control of the land and improve it as a park using a plan the developer provided. The plan itself was not unusual, but it was the first landscape plan to appear in an annual report that had not been commissioned by the park board. That Wirth chose to publish the plan in the annual report suggests his regard for Morell and Nichols. Wirth encouraged park commissioners to approve the plan, which they did. Wirth wrote in the 1910 annual report:

The proposed arrangement of lawns, plantings and walks, is very pleasing and appropriate to the surroundings and the present topography of the grounds, and the execution of the plan will not involve a very large expenditure.

Improvements to the park were begun in 1911 and completed in 1912. The Bell company originally paid for the work, but was reimbursed by the park board.

Regional Parks

The other references to Morell and Nichols in park board annual reports were in the 1930 and 1935 reports in connection with their work for Hennepin County, which includes Minneapolis, when they prepared a preliminary study for a county-wide park system in 1922 . Theodore Wirth referred to their plan in the 1930 annual report in his yearly words of encouragement for the Minneapolis park board to lead the effort to create a regional park authority. Wirth advocated including Minnehaha Creek, Bassett’s Creek and Shingle Creek, from their sources in Hennepin County lakes to the Mississippi River in Minneapolis, in a regional park system. In the 1930 report, Wirth included a map of the territory embracing the sources of Shingle Creek and Bassett’s Creek and highlighted park areas recommended by Morell and Nichols in their earlier report. Among the areas they had suggested for parks in northwest Hennepin County were portions of the shores of Medicine Lake, Bass Lake, Eagle Lake, Lime Lake, and all of Sweeney Lake adjacent to Glenwood Park. The map legend indicated that Robbinsdale planned to preserve the entire shorelines of Twin Lakes and Crystal Lake as parkland as well. Too bad that didn’t happen.

Five years later, in the 1935 annual report, Wirth’s last as park superintendent, he published his own “Tentative Study Plan” for a park district for the west metropolitan region. Wirth had been directed by the park board in February 1935 to undertake the study in hopes that the board could apply for federal work relief funds to begin to implement a metropolitan park plan. Although funds were not forthcoming for that project, the idea of a county park system eventually led to the creation of what is today the Three Rivers Park District.

Wirth submitted his report to the board in November 1935 and it was published in its entirety in that year’s annual report. Wirth noted that his plan had been created in collaboration with Arthur Nichols, who was then the consulting landscape architect to the Minnesota Highway Department. Wirth wrote that he and Nichols had spent one afternoon a week for two months touring possible park and parkway sites in suburban and rural Hennepin County and had completed their research with aerial reconnaissance of prospective parks.

These two events in which Morell and Nichols worked with Wirth on park design don’t tell us much about their practice, except that they seemed to have an effective working relationship with Wirth and were well-known to him and other decision makers, from developers to county commissioners. Phelps Wyman also knew Morell and Nichols. Morell was a consultant to the Minneapolis Planning Commission on which Wyman sat as the representative of the park board in the early 1920s. Wyman and Nichols had worked together for the US Housing Corporation in Washington, D.C. during the Great War. Moreover Nichols had been the first graduate in 1902 of MIT’s landscape architecture program, which Wyman completed a few years later. Having attended the same educational institution at a time when few academic programs in landscape architecture existed would have likely created some bond between them.

Phelps Wyman and Victory Memorial Drive

Of the three “pioneers” in landscape design, Wyman had by far the most input on park landscape architecture in Minneapolis due to his service as an elected park commissioner 1917-1924. In an earlier post I noted Wyman’s design of what is now Thomas Lowry Park, his proposed plan for Washburn Fair Oaks, and his suggestion of a traffic circle to relieve congestion at the Hennepin and Lyndale Avenue bottleneck. What I overlooked in that post was perhaps Wyman’s most creative park design, which Wirth included in the park board’s annual report of 1929 even though the plan had been created eight years earlier. (Phelps resigned from the park board and moved to Milwaukee in 1924, one reason I didn’t consider looking for Wyman’s influence on park designs in documents from the late 1920s.)

In the 1929 annual report Wirth included Wyman’s “Preliminary Sketch of Victory Memorial Drive” from 1921 to illustrate the need for grade separations between parkways and city streets in some locations. In Wyman’s sketch, Broadway Avenue West tunneled under a large plaza at the intersection of Victory Memorial Drive and Lowry Avenue North. Wirth provided no explanation of why Wyman created his “decorative scheme” for the parkway, but it is a fascinating design.

Phelps Wyman’s design for Victory Memorial Drive, 1921 (1929 Annual Report, Minneapolis Board of Park Commissioners)

Among Wyman’s more interesting ideas — in addition to putting  Broadway underneath an extensive plaza:

  • Three plazas would have anchored the drive: one at Camden (Webber) Park was labelled “America Mobilized,” the monument plaza and flag pole at the northwest corner of the drive was titled “Humanity,” and the Lowry Avenue Plaza was called “America at Peace.”
  • Another plaza, “Freedom of Seas”, would have connected Victory Memorial Drive to Crystal Lake between 39th and 40th avenues north. The only connection I can imagine between a stretch of land along a Robbinsdale lake and a “Freedom of Seas” park is the sinking of the Lusitania, an important factor in the U.S. entry into WWI and the resulting dead young men and women who were honored along Victory Memorial Drive.
  • The west side of Victory Memorial Drive from Lowry Avenue to 45th would have been reserved for “Public Institutions.”

David C. Smith

© David C. Smith

Minneapolis Parks 100 Years Ago

The Minneapolis park board and other park activists in town have a full plate this year: a new park superintendent, reorganization and significant staff turnover, Minneapolis Riverfront Design Competition and Initiative, development of Boom Island and B. F. Nelson parks, proposed green finger of parks running into downtown from the river through Gateway Park past the library, potential power plant—Crown Hydro—on park property, and a budget inadequate to do much else. Those are only a handful of the bigger challenges.

But, hah!, Wilbur Decker and Theodore Wirth, park board president and superintendent respectively in 1911, would smirk at this puny agenda. It’s nothing compared to what the park board did 100 years ago. Here’s a summary of what the park board accomplished in 1911. Continue reading

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 Memory: Meetings with Grandpa

I feel so fortunate having our parks in Minneapolis. My late husband, Bob, used to tell how his mother saved her coins until she could buy a toboggan for the family to use in Minnehaha Park. I have used the tennis courts at Nokomis.

My family has a personal interest in the park system, as my grandfather, William Lohff, was on the park board with Francis Gross and others. I remember Theodore Wirth and Gross meeting with Grandpa at his home in south Minneapolis. They had a hard time convincing people that the parks and lakes should be for all the people and not allow park land to be sold. We have all benefitted from those decisions.

Mary Thompson

Public-private collaborations that work: Sea Salt, Tin Fish and…Bread and Pickle?

The mention of Sea Salt restaurant in Alice Streed’s Minneapolis Park Memory: Treasure (below) is noteworthy. A relatively new development in our parks is mentioned in the same sentences as long-celebrated spaces and activities. The popular restaurant in the Minnehaha Park refectory — run as a private, for-profit business — is a marvelous example of the best of public-private collaboration. It proves that private enterprise can do some things, such as serving delicious sea food, better than a public agency. I believe it also demonstrates the silliness of claims that the sky is falling whenever an agency like the park board considers change.

Lest private enterprise advocates get carried away here, however, let me state quite emphatically that there would be no park system in which to place these wonderful little restaurants if we would have relied on private interests to create parks. Our parks prove that public agencies can do some things, such as creating a park system, that private enterprise will not do.

The debate over allowing businesses to operate in Minneapolis parks is old — and sometimes entertaining. The park board began granting concessions for boat rentals, then food sales, to private businesses at Lake Calhoun and Lake Harriet very early in the history of Minneapolis parks. The park board assumed control of the boat rentals at Lake Harriet in the late 1880s when Charles Loring noted that the business could be easily managed by the park board. On other issues, however, the presence of private enterprise on park property was vigorously opposed.

Permit me to quote myself — and Horace Cleveland — from City of Parks:

(Cleveland) had also written (to William Folwell) of his disgust that the park board was considering permitting a structure next to Minnehaha Falls where people could have their photos taken beside the cataract. “If erected,” Cleveland complained, “it will be simply pandering to the tastes of the army of boobies who think to boost themselves into notoriety by connecting their own stupid features with the representation of one of the most beautiful of God’s works.”

You didn’t mess with Cleveland’s favorite natural landscapes — one of the things that made him one of the first great landscape architects. Fortunately, William Folwell, who was president of the park board at the time, agreed with his friend.

Another early private business on park property was a service to pump up deflated bicycle tires on the new bicycle paths created by the park board during the bicycle craze of the 1880s-1890s. The park board did exercise some control over the business, however, by stipulating that the business could not charge more than a penny for filling a tire.

The park board began to take over food service in park buildings after Theodore Wirth became park superintendent in 1906. Wirth, like many park executives of the day, believed that no private concessions should be operated in parks — although he seemed to make an exception for pony rides and probably would have for the polo fields and barns he proposed for Bryn Mawr Meadows. (And, of course, the sheep he brought in to graze at Glenwood Park in 1921 were not owned by the park board. Wirth wrote that he thought sheep grazing in a park was a cool visual effect and that the sheep would earn their keep by cutting grass, keeping weeds down, which reduced fire risk, and fertilizing. Unfortunately they didn’t mow evenly and ate other plants too, so the borrowed sheep were evicted in 1922. ) One of the few other historical examples of a private venture operating on park property was the Minneapolis Tennis Club, which operated first at The Parade and then moved to Nicollet (Martin Luther King) Park in the early 1950s when Parade Stadium was built.

Do you remember concession stands in parks? What about treats at the Calhoun, Nokomis or Wirth beach houses?  As good as fish tacos?

I have high hopes for Bread & Pickle, the new food service contracted for Lake Harriet next summer. I hope the Citizens Advisory Council that worked so hard on the recommendations wasn’t too conservative in forcing  a new service into old space.

David C. Smith

Minneapolis Park Memory: A Memorable Silence

I was the editor of the Minneapolis Municipal Hiking Club’s monthly newsletter for many years, up through the last month of the club’s existence in October 2010.

One hike I particularly remember took place on Wednesday, September 12, 2001. The Club had an evening hike scheduled for the neighborhood around Bossen Field in south central Minneapolis. Many planes fly over this area approaching the airport, but this was the day after 9/11 and all U.S. civilian planes were grounded by federal decree. It was quite a sensation walking in this area, expecting to hear planes fly over, but hearing none.

George Bridgman

Minnehikers was a popular club. Annual banquet, 1938. (Norton and Peel, Minnesota Historical Society, GV1.22 p87)

Editor’s note: The Minnehikers, as the club was known, was originally organized by the park board’s recreation staff in 1920. According to Theodore Wirth (Minneapolis Park System 1883-1944), the first hike took place on January 10, 1920. Minneapolis Mayor J. E. Meyers, Judge Edward Foote Waite and Wirth led 83 hikers 3 1/2 miles from Minnehaha Falls to Riverside Park.

Twenty-nine years later, the park board named a park for the juvenile court judge who participated that day: Waite Park in northeast Minneapolis.

Waite Park and Waite Park School, the first joint school/park development in Minneapolis in 1949, were named for Judge Edward F. Waite, pictured here with students and teachers at the school in about 1955, when he was 95. (Newburg Studio, Minnesota Historical Society, por 5807 p8)

The mayor’s name is on a park too, the J.E. Meyers Memorial Park in Mound on Lake Minnetonka. Internet sites list it as both a boy’s camp and a cemetery. A mystery to be solved. Of course, we know that Wirth has a park named for him, too.

I would tell more about the Minnehikers, but I hope former members of the group will do that themselves with first person accounts. The club sponsored its last hike in October. Changing times.

David C. Smith

Theodore Wirth Gets a New Home…and Office

I think I’ve finally got it: the last chapter in the saga of building a house for celebrated Minneapolis parks superintendent Theodore Wirth at Lyndale Farmstead. The ending is much more intriguing  than I had previously known. I discovered it just a little more than 100 years after the construction of the house! The story told in the Lyndale Farmstead pages at minneapolisparks.org is true—as far as it goes.

The comptroller of Minneapolis, Dan Brown, did refuse to countersign the contract between the Minneapolis Board of Park Commissioners and C. P. Johnson and Son to build a house for Theodore Wirth at Lyndale Farmstead, a Minneapolis park. I had previously assumed that because the house was built in 1910 anyway, that the park board had found a way around getting Mr. Brown’s John Hancock on a contract. That was my mistake. The park board finally did get Dan Brown to countersign the contract, but it took a bit of legal work—and a divided opinion by the Minnesota Supreme Court. Continue reading