Archive for the ‘Tower Hill Park’ Tag

Did You Know? Tower Hill is not named for the “Witch’s Hat” tower.

The park was named “Tower Hill” in 1909 four years before the water tower with the tall roof was built.

After purchasing the land for the park in 1906, the park board named the park “St. Anthony Heights.” Residents of the area petitioned the board to change the name to “Tower Hill,” which it did finally in 1909. The name was based on a long-gone observation tower built on the hill by an entrepreneur: for a dime anyone could climb the tower.

In the annual report for 1908 park superintendent Theodore Wirth presented his plan for  improving the park, which included a suggestion to build an observation tower on what he called the “small plateau” at the center of the park. He continued: “This tower should be built of stone or steel and ought to be from 50 to 60 ft. high.” The park board never built that tower, but gave permission to the Minneapolis water department to build a water tower in the park in 1913 — the Witch’s Hat tower that still stands.

The Witch’s Hat photographed beautifully from Stadium Village by April M. King, aka Marumari. Pratt School is in the foreground.

The expansive viewing area at the top of the tower certainly fulfilled Wirth’s desire for an observation tower, although park board records do not indicate that it was a condition for granting permission to build the water tower in a park. In 1914 the city council asked the park board to provide a caretaker for the park, so people could climb the tower. The park board complied, providing a caretaker who opened the tower to the public five days a week.

As with so many park programs over the years it is easier to pinpoint when a service or program began than when it ended. There is no indication in park board records of when it stopped providing a caretaker to open the tower to the public.

David C. Smith

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Lost Minneapolis Parks: A Fifth Prospect Park Triangle

A fifth Prospect Park triangle was added to Minneapolis parks inventory in 1919 when the City Council turned over a 0.03-acre triangle at the intersection of Bedford Street and University Avenue S.E. The Minneapolis Board of Park Commissioners (BPC) instructed the superintendent to plant shrubbery on the triangle and to maintain it.  It was named Midway Triangle. The City Council must have forgotten that it gave the land to the BPC—or ignored the fact—because in November 1944 the BPC adopted a resolution that “inasmuch as the intersection of University Avenue and Bedford Street, including what was formerly Midway Triangle, has been paved,” it was turning  over the land to the City Council. There is still a remnant of the triangle at the intersection, just enough curbed space to hold a traffic signal, a light post and some signs.

The entire neighborhood might have looked quite different if the Minneapolis park board had acted on John Pillsbury’s proposal in 1887. Pillsbury was the former Governor of Minnesota and former Minneapolis park commissioner and still the president of the University of Minnesota’s Board of Regents at the time, who had just donated a $150,000 building to the University. He proposed that University Avenue be made a parkway from Central Ave. to the county line (the boundary with St Paul) and that from Oak Street east the parkway be 120 feet wide, or more than 50% wider than it is now.

That might have been spectacular, but it is also possible that a parkway on University Avenue would have suffered the same fate as early parkways on Hennepin Avenue from Loring Park to Lakewood Cemetery and Lyndale Avenue North from Loring Park to Farview Park. They were eventually abandoned by the BPC as parkways and returned to the control of the City of Minneapolis, because they carried too much traffic to be true parkways. I suspect the same would have happened to a parkway on University Avenue; it was a major thoroughfare. But it’s fun to speculate and try to picture a beautiful wide boulevard approaching the University of Minnesota from the east—in the shadow of Tower Hill.

David C. Smith

The Award for Prettiest Triangles Goes to….Prospect Park!

The prettiest little parks in Minneapolis are in Prospect Park.

I visited that neighborhood recently — it’s not a place you pass through conveniently on your way to anywhere else — to see what kind of damage the Emerald Ash Borer had done to Tower Hill Park.

The view from Tower Hill. One of three “overlook” views of the city from parks that you should check out. The others are Deming Heights Park and Theodore Wirth Park. (All photos: Talia Smith)

Last year nearly 80 diseased ash trees were removed from the park in which the green beetle had staked its first claim in Minneapolis. I anticipated seeing the Witch’s Hat on a bald head. Not so. Other species, especially the old oaks, make the absence of ashes barely noticeable. Several new trees had been planted, but the vegetation around the hill and tower is very dense. Given the weather of the last few months, the park, as well as the rest of the neighborhood, had the feel of a rain forest. The gentle mist at the time exaggerated the effect.

While in the neighborhood I wanted a closer look at the street triangles that are owned as parks by the MPRB. My recollection from visiting them a few years ago was that they were among the smallest “parks” in the city and the MPRB inventory lists Orlin Triangle (SE Orlin at SE Melbourne) as one of six triangles that measure 0.01 acres. The other one-hundredth-acre parks are Elmwood, Laurel, Oak Crest, Rollins and Sibley, all triangles; however, all but Elmwood appear to the naked eye to be  considerably larger than Orlin.

Orlin Triangle measures roughly 30 feet per side. What’s remarkable about the triangle though is that it is a little garden. The unifying element of the little triangle gardens in Prospect Park is that each has one, two or three boulders.

Orlin Triangle, the littlest and one of the prettiest parks.

The first record I can find of requests to have the park board take over Prospect Park street triangles was in 1908. In response to a petition from the Prospect Park Improvement Association, the park board agreed on September 7, 1908 to plant flowers and shrubbery on the triangles and care for them if the neighborhood would curb them and fill them with “good black soil,” and “obtain the consent of the City Council to the establishment of such triangles.” The triangles were apparently at that time just wide and probably muddy spots in the roads.

The association reported in November of that year that the triangles were ready for planting. There is no indication in park records of how many triangles were involved or exactly where they were. Nor is there any  record of whether the park board planted the flowers and shrubs as promised, or cared for them.

The next time I can find those properties mentioned in park board proceedings is 1915 when the City Council officially asked the Board of Park Commissioners to take control of four triangles in Prospect Park, which the park board agreed to do in October, 1915. In November the board named the four after the streets on which they were located: Barton, Bedford, Clarence and Orlin. Bedford was at some point paved over and no longer exists.

The mystery triangle at Clarence and Seymour. Love the maple tree. That’s Tower Hill Park in the background.

As for Clarence Triangle, its official address is listed in the middle of a block of houses and there is no traffic triangle at the corner of Bedford and Clarence where it is supposed to be. There is a triangle, however, at Clarence and Seymour, which is considerably smaller than the 0.02 acre that Clarence Triangle is listed at. If this were a park triangle it would easily be the smallest in the park system, measuring only 20 feet per side.

Somebody must mow the  grass around the little maple tree. Did MPRB plant the maple tree or did someone else? Was it the same someone elses who maintain the other triangles in Prospect Park?

The other impressive non-park triangle in Prospect Park is at Orlin and Arthur. This is a three-boulder triangle blooming with gorgeous flowers. I’m sure the rest of the park system would be honored if this, too, were an official triangle park.

These little gems of gardens are what the park founders had in mind for the park system. They didn’t imagine giant sports complexes or ball fields in parks. They imagined parks to be little places of beauty — civilizing natural beauty — which is why they agreed to make parks of small odd lots at street intersections anyway. When you see the triangle parks of Prospect Park, you will understand better the intentions of the founders of Minneapolis parks.

Somebody deserves an award for maintaining those beautiful triangles, I just don’t know who to give it to. If you do, let me know.

The runner-up for prettiest triangle is Laurel Triangle at the intersection of Laurel Ave. and Cedar Lake Road in Bryn Mawr. Whoever planted and tends that garden deserves praise too.

David C. Smith