Category Archives: Minneapolis Park & Rec

MPRB records now at Central Library!

Not so long ago but in another journalistic era I spent many hours enjoying the rich resources and incredible staff of  Special Collections at Minneapolis Central Library.  My quest was to learn and share the stories of the parks and neighborhoods  of Northeast Minneapolis.  (See attached)

In those days my key leads to park records were the MPRB website (https://www.minneapolisparks.org/about_us/history/) , the library’s “vertical file,” crammed with clippings, posters, letters, newsletters, and other mementoes of park history,  the brief outline of MPRB posted on the Hennepin County Library website, the grand plan for the Grand Rounds (https://www.minneapolisparks.org/_asset/vkz2qm/grand_rounds_masterplan_1999.pdf)  and David C. Smith’s  essential guide to the park system: https://www.minneapolisparks.org/about_us/history/city_of_parks_book/

Both the Grand Rounds and my series of posts about the magnificent park system remain works in progress….

As I enjoy the sights and sounds of  the city’s parks these summer days I often vow to complete that series of posts – and  a recent note from Edward (Ted) Hathaway, head of Special Collections at Minneapolis Central Library, inspires  me to take long overdue action.  Clearly, the task of researching the histories has been greatly simplified for all of us who want to be more engaged – or who just want to better understand – the city’s magnificent park system.

The essence of the news is this: The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (MPRB) and Hennepin County Library (HCL) are excited to announce the successful transfer of a huge collection of MPRB proceedings, reports and other historic documents to Minneapolis Central Library.

Attached is the announcement  that explains the full import of the move and offers more information about access.  Because it seems relevant I’m also attaching a list of park/neighborhood related articles and posts from this blog.

~~~

Attachment #1 –  Announcement:

The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (MPRB) and Hennepin County Library (HCL) are excited to announce the successful transfer of a huge collection of MPRB proceedings, reports and other historic documents to Minneapolis Central Library.  (See full  notice attached.)

Thousands of documents providing a detailed, fascinating record of Minneapolis park history are now open to the public at the James K. Hosmer Special Collections located on the fourth floor of Central Library. This collection holds archival material that shows the growth, improvement and programming of the Minneapolis park system from the early 1880s through the 1960s. It includes:

  • Proposals and correspondences tracing the evolution of the Minneapolis park system as it grew to encompass 15% of the city’s land
  • Reports and petitions illuminating significant park issues across different eras
  • Official Board actions including agreements, policies and contracts

James K. Hosmer Special Collections is open to the public Monday-Thursday, 10 am-4:30 pm, as well as the first and third Saturdays of the month, 10 am-4:30 pm.

Discover the history of your neighborhood park or learn more about the development of iconic Minneapolis landmarks in the Minneapolis Parks Collection, now available at Central Library.

If you haven’t discovered the wonders of the Minneapolis Central Library’s James Hosmer Special Collections start here:  http://www.hclib.org/specialcollections#visitors-guide

Attachment #2  – Links to the park stories posted or published to date – more to follow!

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Northeast Minneapolis Celebrates Independence

NEWS RELEASE: April 1, 2016

By common agreement the residents of Northeast Minneapolis have officially seceded from the City of Minneapolis as of this date. The former Neighborhood has assumed independent status and adopted the less cumbersome name “Northeast”.

This decision is based on the fact that Northeast is 1) separated from Minneapolis by the Mighty Mississippi River, 2) renowned for its rich and diverse cultural heritage, and 3) politically and psychologically primed for independence.

Northeast residents have agreed to the following changes in policies, practices and priorities effective as of this date:

Purchase and rental agreements for Northeast newcomers shall include a requisite “What happens in Northeast stays in Northeast” clause.

Little Free Libraries in Northeast shall be complemented with Little Gluten Free Microbreweries to be allocated and sited in a competitive contest among qualifying residents.

The names of non-represented Presidents shall be applied to neighborhood alleys, beginning with the alley between Washington and Adams Street.

East-West streets (currently numbered) shall be renamed to recognize the non-native ethnic heritage of Northeast, moving West to East according to the year of the immigrant group’s arrival in the community.

The date of birth of each of the nation’s Presidents shall be celebrated (e.g. January 7shall be designated as Millard Fillmore Day. b. January 7, 1800). In the case that two or more Presidents share the same birthday (and thus same zodiac sign) the observance shall be held on the first Monday of the week.

A surcharge shall be charged for beer purchased by non-Northeasters. The surcharge shall be waived for potables brewed in Northeast.

Art-a-Whirl shall be expanded to a year-long event. Seasonal focus will be on snow sculpture with an annual Ice Brewery competition in January.

Volunteers shall construct a natural wall to complement the Mississippi as a dividing line between the cities. The wall shall be erected on the Minneapolis side of the Mississippi to ensure that residents of Northeast shall have full view and access from the East.  The wall shall be of sufficient height to shield Northeast residents from view of the unsightly US Bank stadium. Cost of the wall shall be borne by the Minnesota Vikings.

The Northeaster shall be officially recognized as the Newspaper of Record for all things Northeasterly.

The Edison High School Alumni Marching Band shall be the official musical organization of Northeast. The official motto of the magnificent marching musicians will be “We (heart) the EHSAMB”.

Eat My Words shall be the officially recognized hangout for Northeast bibliophiles.

Dziedzic Drive shall be upgraded and added to the National Highway System.

Northeasters shall celebrate Black Friday with a bike-a-thon to the former site of Apache Plaza with a pit stop at the architectural remnants of Walmart.

Snow days shall be declared only on the occasion that there is more than 18” of snow or the temperature drops below -60 degrees.  There shall be a half day of school declared the instant the temperature at 11:59 AM exceeds +70 degrees.

The Stinson Boulevard property maintained by the Stinson Conservancy shall be duly recognized and maintained as the gem of the Ground Rounds Scenic Byway System.

The official recreational sport shall be bocce ball.

The kolachky (spelling negotiable) shall be the official food of Northeasters.

The motto of Northeast shall be “If you love life, life will love you back.” (Arthur Rubinstein)

The nexus of Central Avenue and Hennepin shall be known in perpetuity as “Where Banks Used to Be (UTB)” and 519-523 Central Avenue Northeast will be permanently recognized as “Where Totinos UTB)”.

Pedal Pubs shall replace environmentally toxic bus transit on Central Avenue. Passengers will cover cost of transit with pedal power.

Northeast shall extend Sister City status to adjoining communities including St. Anthony Village, Columbia Heights and Minneapolis.

Northeast shall invite  the Polish government to share BFF status. A Polish consulate shall be established on the site of Nye’s Polonaise where a polka-and-piano themed monument shall be erected to designate the BFF relationship.

Viva Northeast!

 

Native prairie plantings thrive in Northeast Minneapolis

Decades ago Lady Bird Johnson transformed the highways of the nation with her intrepid support of wildflowers, the perky blooms that continue to beautify the terrain and eliminate costly grooming of the land.  The spirit of Lady Bird lives on in Northeast Minneapolis.

Wednesday, June 26, marked a major event in development of the Blooming Prairie on Central, installation of a prairie landscaping project on the Central Avenue medium.  City Council member Kevin Reich who has spearheaded the project was on hand, along with representatives of the partners including the City, Parks and Rec, neighborhood greenthumbers, the Green Council at Edison High School and Prairie Restoration, Inc., source of the prairie plantings.    Though this busy stretch of Minnesota Highway 65 may be an unexpected site for prairie plantings, the collaboration and the possibilities hold great promise for the community.

The original planted islands were installed in 2004 as part of the Central Avenue reconstruction project.  These first plantings weren’t prepared to stand up to the harsh environment of the street and failed to prosper.  Funds were allocated in 2011 to replace the plantings with a more durable landscape design.

During the fall of 2011 a steering committee from surrounding neighborhoods met to weigh options and select a prairie style landscape for the replacement.  Prairie Restoration began installing the new landscaping in the arid summer of 2012.

Rob Brown of Prairie Restorations is quick to remind the novice that prairie-style plantings need to be established in stages for an optimal final result.   Still, the result is a sturdy landscape that requires minimal care and tending on an ongoing basis.  The 15,000 native plantings of Indian Grass, Golden Alexander and Yellow Coneflower being planted this summer are hyper local plants grown within 200 miles of their new home, becoming what Brown refers to enthusiastically as “remnant prairie.”  Preservation of the urban prairie will involve some controlled burning during the months to come.

Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board has also planted trees along stretches of Central as part of the overall landscaping upgrade.

John James Audubon Would Enjoy a Stroll in His Namesake Park

Residents of the Audubon Park Neighborhood have lots going for them, including one of the city’s hilliest parks and one of the city’s best known neighborhood namesakes.  John James Audubon for whom the park and the neighborhood are named is a legend.

The roots of Audubon Park itself go back to 1910 when the Park Board arranged to close Pierce Street and purchased five acres of land for $5400 for the beginnings of today’s multi-purpose recreation area.  Within a few years the Park Board drained a shallow pool, closed Buchanan Street between the park and the Thomas Lowry School, and began to create a playground site.  The rest is history – some of the steepest hills were leveled a bit a shelter was built, and, by the end of the 1970’s, the current recreation center was dedicated.

The park is a fitting tribute to John James Audubon, 1785-1851, whose name is synonymous with ornithology and with his famed paintings of nature, more specifically, of his color-plate book entitled The Birds of America, 1827-1829.  It is said that Audubon actually identified as many as 25 species of birds in North America.

Born in Saint Dominique (Haiti) Audubon grew up in France, his father’s homeland. His early interest in wildlife, birds in generally, seems to have been spurred by his French stepmother.  In part to avoid the draft and in part as a result of his father’s prodding  Audubon explored many options before  left France to settle in Pennsylvania.  Always a nature lover, he began his study and depiction of American birds in the region where he lived.  A skilled taxidermist, Audubon conducted the first known bird-banding experiment in North America and created his own nature museum which some say was inspired by the museum of natural history created by Charles Willson Peale in Philadelphia.  Audubon also married Lucy Bakewell with whom he had two sons, both of whom continued in the family “business.”

When his businesses came on hard times, Audubon and his family moved to the Midwest, first to Genevieve, Missouri, the first European settlement west of the Mississippi, where he was in the shopping business.

Next he moved to Kentucky where he found that fishing and hunting helped to feed his family when the shipping business was slow.  It was there that he met and became friends with the Osage and Shawnee Indians.  Audubon was much impressed with the Native Americans about whom he wrote “Whenever I meet Indians, I feel the greatness of our Creator in all tis splendor, for there I see the man naked from His hand the yet free from acquired sorry.”

For some time Audubon and his family moved from place to place as President Jefferson’s embargo of British trade put a damper on the shopping business.  At one time Audubon worked as a naturalist and taxidermist in the Cincinnati museum, a position that must have fueled his passion or nature.

Times were so hard that at one time that in 1819 Audubon was actually jailed for bankruptcy.  Giving up on the business life Audubon moved on to explore his true love, the effort to depict America’s birds.  He traveled and lived off the land while Lucy supported the family as a tutor.

Everything changed in 1826 when Audubon’s influential friends convinced him to take his portfolio and sail to England to have his drawings engraved.  Though he was never well received in this country, Audubon was welcomed by the Brits with open arms.  He arrived in Liverpool in 1826 with his portfolio of 300 drawings in hand.  The money raised in England and Scotland was enough for him to begin publishing is Birds of America – 435 hand-colored, life-size prints of nearly 500 bird species, made from engraved copper plates, printed on sheets measuring 39×20 inches.  His dramatic bird portraits and descriptions of the American wilderness captured the spirit of the European Romantic Era.

His European success as a published artist allowed Audubon to settle with his family in New York City.  He continued to depict the birds of America and in 1838 traveled to the Western U.S. where he captured the completed his final work of mammals, a work that was largely coplted b his sons.

Audubon died at age 65, suffering by this time with senility that thwarted his wish to return to the U.S. West to capture more images.  He is buried in the Trinity Cemetery at 155th Street and Broadway in NYC.

There are numerous accounts of the life of Audubon.  After hise return to America in 1828 he was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Science in 1830.  He published Ornithological Biographies, a sequel to Birds of America.  He traveled widely, from Key West to Labrador and Newfoundland.  Many of his works depict what he saw and captured on these trips.   Unfortunately, poor health prevented his travels to the West Coast of the U.S. where he had hoped to record more Western species.

Minnesota lovers of books and birds are aware that the Athenaeum is the proud owner of an Audubon original, hand-colored edition of Birds of America.  The treasure is now housed at Minneapolis Central Library Special Collections where it is given the TLC becoming its heritage.   Because the engraving and the paper itself is so fragile, the volume is not available for viewing by the public.

Audubon’s work has been honored in countless ways – in books, with a U.S. postal stamp in the Great Americans series, and best known perhaps by the 1905 establishment of the National Audubon Society, named in his honor “to conserve and restore natural ecosystems, focusing on birds.”

 

Still, for residents of Northeast Minneapolis who slide on the steep hills in winter, cool off under the shade tress in summer and enjoy the birds year found, John James Audubon is best known for the beautiful park that honors his name.

Northeasters Love Their Neighborhood – and Their Presidents

In Minneapolis it is a sad fact that most of the street names are logical, but boring.  Still, there are exceptions.  Streets in Southwest Minneapolis, for example, still bear the names of prominent citizens who built the city.  Some neighborhood street names are just plain quirky, often the remnants of the original landowners.  Northeast stands out as the most patriotic of all neighborhoods.  The Presidents’ Streets are legendary, an inspiration to most and a conundrum to those who aren’t up to speed on American history.

Writing in The Northeaster in 1988 Penny Jacobson describes in detail the story of how “many early settlers’ names disappeared from streets for the sake of uniformity.”  It’s a great story of how Northeast streets got their historic names.

Though street names have changed more than once over time, the “permanent” names of today’s Northeast neighborhood streets reflect a burst of Americanism surrounding World War I and welcoming the wave of immigrants coming to the community.  One way to learn the Presidents’ names was to walk the neighborhood itself.

Jacobson reminds residents that Tyler Street Northeast was once known as Clayton; Polk Street was Wilkin; Taylor Street used to be Cummings; Fillmore was known as Eastwood; Pierce was Brott; Buchanan was Wells; Lincoln was Maryland and Johnson was East.  The previous names, with the exception of Maryland and East, were those of property owners in the early era of Northeast development.

And so the street names of Northeast continue, Ulysses (as in Grant)  through McKinley,  until  it comes to Stinson Parkway.   James Stinson donated the land for Stinson Boulevard in 1885; naming rights for the Parkway are the responsibility of Minneapolis Parks and Recreation.

Sometime in the late 1930’s or early 1940’s the city fathers continued the re-naming of Northeast streets.  The Committee on Roads and Bridges recommended and the City Council approved, changing the name of “L” Street to Harding, “M” street to Coolidge, “O” Street to Hoover Street, and “P” Street to Delano.  Delano slipped in because there was already a Roosevelt Street and a Franklin Avenue.  (Delano, by the way, is just North of Hennepin and in proper historic sequence.)

All this comes to mind as Northeasters prepare for the fifth annual We Love Our President’s Walk scheduled for Saturday, February 16.   It’s a tradition!

Participants, walkers, bikers, even pets will gather at 10:00 a.m. at Edison High School (between Washington and Monroe).  The Northeast Urban 4-H Club will lead walkers up Central;  along the way they will stop at designated points to share trivia about the presidents.

After a stop for hoc chocolate at the Eastside Food Coop walkers will head East on 29th for a hot lunch and program featuring a trivia contest, drawing, prizes and a brief presentation.

What’s new this year at the President’s Walk will be some intrepid bikers and a focus on presidential pets.  There will also be presentation of the coveted 2013 Northeast Presidential Seal to the group with the most participants.  A shuttle bus will transport talkers back to the start of the Walk.

For more information or to volunteer to help with the Walk, contact David Warnest with Minneapolis Public Schools Community Education.  Reach him at 612 668 1515 or David.warnest@mpls.k12.mn.us.

WPA’s Legacy Shapes the Landscape of Minnesota and of Northeast Minneapolis

There’s talk these days that what this nation/state/city needs is a 21st Century Work Progress Administration (WPA).  It’s short-hand for what is, in fact, an incredibly complex story of a Depression era program of immense import to the participants and their families, to the economy, and to every American today.

Instinctively, mention of WPA conjures images of bridges, roads, buildings and other concrete (literally) memorials to the work of thousands of men and women who improved the physical infrastructure of the nation.  In part this is because those physical structures remain and the “WPA” stamp is an enduring reminder of who did the work.

One remarkable aspect of the WPA initiative is the less visible but equally lasting impact on the lives of people who were struggling through treacherous economic times.  The goal was to provide one paid job for all families where the breadwinner suffered long-term unemployment.  As one recorder of WPA activities wrote in 1942, “The Work Projects Administration helped to solve the problems of the family and the city.”

The WPA was authorized in 1935 under the leadership of President Franklin D. Roosevelt with the inspiration and guidance of his adviser Harry Hopkins.  Framed as an outgrowth of the Federal Emergency Relief Administration WPA focused on economic recovery and on the absolute commitment to the value of a real job.  Though critics charged that WPA was a government handout, the truth is that WPA workers improved the health and welfare of millions of Americans who learned new skills, tried out ideas, and left a positive imprint of solid construction and implementation of essential community services.

During WPA’s  eight years Americans invested $13.4 billion dollars. In Minneapolis 70,000 men and women found gainful work, education and creative opportunities through WPA. When WPA was dissolved in 1943 it was not failure of the program but a more robust economy buoyed by the harsh reality that American men and women had found defense-related employment.

One hallmark of WPA was that it was largely operated by state and local governments.  Local agencies which provided 10-30% of costs worked closely with and nonprofits and community organization that played a major role in developing and delivering services.

Begun as an economic development/employment project WPA shifted with the tides of time.  As American workers found jobs in industry, labor unions worried less about their members losing jobs to WPA workers; this opened the way for WPA to venture into vocational training.  As visionaries worried about the loss of creative talent and feared that writers, artists, musicians were given unskilled labor jobs, programs in the arts emerged.  Later, as War overwhelmed the nation, existing programs were repositioned in terms of defense preparedness.

The diversity, complexity and shifting direction of WPA programs is hard to categorize. Though they are variously grouped, the WPA programs fall generally into the categories of Construction and Community Service.

Construction

Minneapolitans live in a city built with the labor of WPA workers, working for no more than $8/hour and grateful to have a job to go to in the Depression era.  A shining example of their work is the Minneapolis Armory, built in 1935, probably the most important building constructed in the Twin Cities during the Depression.

The Armory is known as the nation’s shining example of Moderne style.  Its very existence depends to some extent on the fact that it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  Armory construction brought $300,000 into the local market while it employed over 400 tradesmen.  All of the materials for the building were produced locally, in keeping with principles of WPA projects – steelwork by Minneapolis Moline and Gillette-Herzog, brick from Twin City Brick, granite from St Cloud and limestone from Mankato.

The Armory is just one stunning example of the physical impact of WPA . Some basic statistics describe the scope:  WPA workers built eleven new city garages and reconditioned five new parks, 68 playgrounds and eight high school athletic fields enlarged and improved 14 branch and main libraries, built or repaired sewers, alleys, curbs and gutters repaired, repaved thirty miles of street and built ten new bridges.  They also installed nearly 65,000 street and traffic signs.  You get the idea.

Other construction highlights include these:

  • Columbia Golf Course, which dates from the early 1900’s,  is one WPA project with which most Northeasters are familiar.  Golfers enjoy the upgraded grass greens created by WPA workers.  The improved greens actually helped Columbia to continue to operate, though at a loss, during hard times.
  • Another local hallmark of WPA is John P. Murzyn Hall in Columbia Heights which began as a WPA project at a cost of $649,407.  Originally known as Columbia Heights Field House, the hall served da community center for the people of Columbia Heights.  The first official event at Murzyn was the January 28 Birthday Ball to celebrate Washington’s Birthday in 1939. Murzyn Hall continues to serve the community as the site of countless dances and other activities and a popular locus for weddings and other important family and community celebrations.
  • Wold-Chamberlain, then one of the largest in the country, enjoyed a major rehab subsidized with $2 million federal funds and the labors of hundreds of WPA workers.  The construction include 30,000 feet of new runway, new hangers, grading for a new naval base and more.
  • Liberal grants of federal funds and WPA labor benefitted the Minneapolis Municipal River Terminal
  • The Minnesota Soldiers Home got a new power plant along with extensive landscaping and sidewalk construction.
  • The Longfellow House was rehabbed and converted into a public library, now a charming museum and reminder of an earlier Minneapolis
  • The “belt line highway” remains a major thoroughfare that still bears the mark of the WPA workers who provided a sixty-foot main highway 66 miles long, “flanked on each side by walks and service drives.”  The goal was to “enable motorists from the west to enter the heart of Minneapolis at the most advantageous point, with minimum confusion and maximum safety.”
  • The city’s proud heritage of beautiful parks owes a debt to WPA workers who established five new parks and reconditioned thirteen others. They built five new parks and added bath houses and landscaping to Lake Calhoun and Lake Hiawatha.  The beauty of Theodore Wirth and Minnehaha Park tells the WPA story writ large.
  • They remodeled the interior of the Minneapolis auditorium and rehabbed numerous court houses offices.
  • Workers reconditioned 22 municipal buildings including seven fire and four police stations.
  • General Hospital and the University hospital received assistance for a total of 155 WPA construction workers.
  • WPA workers worked in a quieter environment to conduct a geodetic survey of Minneapolis “to determine the precise locations of boundaries and geographic points so that the city’s future may be planned intelligently and precisely.”  The report of the survey is that the “geodetic maps are accurate within an inch and less. The project is closely allied to the U.S. coastal and geodetic survey.
  • Of particular interest to Northeasters are the five greens that WPA workers constructed at the Columbia Heights Golf Course.
  • The Minnesota State Fairgrounds are not exactly Minneapolis but as the home of the Great Minnesota Get Together the Fairgrounds belong to all of us – and to WPA we all owe a debt of gratitude to the WPA workers who built the swine and horse barns, the poultry building, the cattle barn ramp, the 4_H building, with improvements to the grandstand, parking areas and the grounds – all at a cost of $2 million federal funds.

Minneapolitans who walk, drive, fly, learn, play sports or just enjoy the beauty of a city park or other public space have a WPA worker and a progressive administration to thank for the vision that merged the economic vitality of the community with the needs of a family for a steady, if minimum, income and a worker who is proud of day’s work well done.

Community Services 

One chronicler of WPA notes that, “everyone can watch the construction of a new school or a bridge in his community, see the men at work, and recognize the value of this work to himself and his fellow man.  The value of this [community service] work aimed at the educational, recreational, and cultural needs of the people as well as at their physical health and well being, is more difficult to determine.”  Still, the reporter observes, it is essential to record “what this work means in time of peace and its increased possibilities in time of national emergency.”

A quick survey of the community service programs of WPA offers a superficial hint at the truth of this observation:

1) Education.   High on the list of programs is adult education, broadly defined.  Americanization classes were a key “defense activity.” Governor Stassen observed that “such classes are a distinct aid to national unity – they help to extend the friendly hand of a free people to those who desire to become one with us.”

Other adult education programs focused on literacy assistance geared to “making Minnesota the most literate state in the union.”  Assistance went to local school boards to establish “Junior Extension colleges.”

Vocational courses such as shorthand and typing, navigation and life boat practices, first aid and safety, dressmaking and dramatics also got WPA support.  Vocational courses included foreign languages, radio code, diesel engineering and just about anything related to national defense.

There were courses in practical skills such as public speaking and parliamentary law as well as special programs in handicrafts for “shut-ins” who learned skills to create products to sell.  Homebound teachers reached children with disabilities who had never been to school

Numerous other programs came under the broadly-defined education activities:

  • Nursery schools were another priority.  By 1941 over 1000 “under-privileged children ages 2-5 were enrolled in 29 nursery schools in 22 communities including several Indian reservations.
  • Children’s health was a major concern as WPA provided yearly examinations and other health measures including smallpox vaccinations, diphtheria inoculations and Mantoux tests for thousands of children.
  • The women’s WPA sewing project employed nearly 500 women in Minneapolis.  The efficient manufacturing organization was a model of efficiency, so efficient that it was threatened because the women had produced enough clothing to serve the relief department’s distribution needs for up to seven years.  At one point it was rumored that the clothing might go to England as part of the lease-lend program.
  • WPA played a significant role in the extension of public library service to a million unserved Minnesotans.  WPA opened 167 new book stations, served nearly 3000,000 Minnesotans without nearby libraries and registered 37, 117 new borrowers.
  • Under the supervision of Gratia Countryman and working at Trudeau School 183 WPA workers indexed the Minneapolis Star Journal from its beginning and microfilmed the Minneapolis Journal for the years 1878-1939.  The project also provided braille textbooks and texts in large print.
  • WPA workers were visible in school libraries.  Though many were placed as librarians in the schools, others restored thousands of damaged books and magazines – everything from repairing book bindings to erasing finger smudges from the margins.
  • Over 900 WPA workers served recreation projects serving 200 communities in 76 Minnesota counties throughout the state.  Again, emphasis was on long-term recreation programming couched in terms of national defense.

2) Arts.  The most lasting of the WPA community service are programs in the arts – visual arts, music, writing and museums.  The impact of these programs is evident and powerful sixty years later.  The Federal Writers Project and the WPA Artists Project clearly have lives of their own.

Federal arts Project:  In Minneapolis the imprint of the Federal Arts Project is pronounced.  WPA-supported visual artists created paintings, sculpture and murals in public buildings as well as easel paintings and graphic arts for public agencies.  Artists worked in realistic styles and chose familiar subjects such as cityscapes, farm scenes, people at work and play to create a portrait of Minnesota life in the era.  The murals at the Minneapolis Armory are perhaps the most evident. The Armory houses two of the few remaining examples of Federal Arts Project murals, large frescoed murals by local artists Elsa Jemne and Lucia Wiley. In recent years both the Minnesota History Center and the Weismann Museum have mounted exhibits of Federal Art Project works.

The program also included free classes for all age groups and rotating exhibits of national and local art works.  At the Walker Art Center scores of workers conducted art classes and activities for hundreds of children and adults.

Federal Writers Project.  In Minnesota as in other states the emphasis in the Writers Project was to communicate the state’s history, folklore, stories, culture and more to the written page.  Writers collected manuscripts and plumbed the memories of pioneers.  They recorded and organized thousands of stories that live today in books, libraries and particularly in the American Memory Project sponsored by the Library of Congress.

Of particular interest to Northeasters is one of these books, The Bohemian Flats, first published through WPA in 1941.  It’s the story of a small, isolated community that lay on the west bank of the Mississippi, tucked underneath the Washington Avenue bridge  From the 1779’s to the 1940’s the village was a home to generations of immigrants  – Swedish, Norwegian, Czech, Irish, Polish and especially Slovaks.  The book continues to be published, expanded and read.

Another visible WPA project is publication of Minnesota: A State Guide, part of the American Guide Series and still in print.  A fascinating story about the Guidebook is the controversy it caused when right wingers charged that it and similar guidebooks from other states were actually community propaganda.

Hundreds of photographs taken by WPA workers are now digitized and online through the Minneapolis Central Library. Photographs of neighborhood churches, monuments, landscapes and more are an essential visual record of the city as it was in the late 1930’s.

Music project. Emphasis of the Minnesota Music Project was to bring the educational, cultural and entertainment values of living music to communities who could not otherwise had had these advantages.  The project included summer band concerts and music for community singing, band clinics for young musicians, and radio concerts broadcast over the University of Minnesota radio station.

250 musicians were employed oin twelve units throughout the state – one symphony orchestra, two concert bands, one “negro” chorus, a teacher’s project, a copyist project and six small bands.  In addition WPA supported an experimental project in music therapy at the University of Minnesota Hospital

3) Research and records.  Though the work sounds tedious, the impact of the research and records programs of WPA are used every day by Minnesotans.  The project included several elements focused on arranging, indexing or improving essential records;  neglected in boom times the records are of long-time importance for administrative and research purposes as well as to Minneapolis-born residents who want to find their own birth records or those of their forbearers.

One major records project was the Historical Records Survey designed for the use it gets today by public officials, attorneys, students of political scientists and researchers.  WPA workers surveyed public archives, the records and history of organizations, from churches and cemeteries to social organizations, objects and places, including monuments, historic sites, trails and Indian burials and mounds., manuscripts and more.  Today the Survey is a research staple.

Some 800 workers were employed at the state and county levels to refurbish, list, revise, extend, index and otherwise improve private records.  Workers also created a variety of maps for every incorporated village and city in the state, including maps of real property.  Today Minneapolitans can research their house history by referring to the WPA survey of Minneapolis homes and residents including the condition of the building and yard, the type of heating, whether the house had running water, sewer connections, mechanical refrigerator or ice box, the number of residents in the home, their ethnicity, nationality and occupation.

Minnesota’s Historical Records Survey identified and organized local public records such as the names of local officials, the function of each office and the records of historic buildings and sites.  WPA workers assisted in the development of research studies including surveys of the safest routes for school children, real estate activity surveys, income studies and the Minneapolis fire hazard survey which revealed and led to the correction of thousands of fire hazards.

Research was also a priority at public higher education institutions.  WPA supported technical undertakings, many related to national defense. The main and “farm” campuses of the University of Minnesota were at the forefront of WPA implementation.  Some 460 WPA workers worked on over one hundred project in the fields of science, history, medicine, technology and others.  Workers assisted in research several projects tied to national defense, including studies of sulfa’s use in treating wounds, burns and infections, elements of high explosives, the strength of aircraft materials.

Conclusion

Whether or not a WPA-type project is appropriate to meeting the economic and social challenges of today, the history of the initiative is a rich sources of ideas proposed, projects planned and implemented, concrete results that can be measured in terms of the degree to which they have met the test of time.

Note:  This article was written for and published in The Northeaster, the community newspaper of Northeast Minneapolis.  Much of the material in this article is based on reports by and to WPA officials.  Of particular value was the 1041 report to the Federal Works Agency, Works Projects Administration, published by the Work Projects Administraton of Minnesota.    Also important was a 1939 report by the State Administrator, Linus C. Glotzbach, prepared for Colonel F.C. Harrington, director of WPA.  A 1942 guide prepared for Social Studies Teachers, prepared with the assistance of the WPA, was also very useful 

These reports and countless others are available at Minneapolis Central Library Special Collections.

 

 

 

Stinson Park Conservancy Volunteers Beautify and Boost the Northeast Link of the Grand Rounds

The story of the Stinson Parkway Conservancy is one of beauty – elegant flowering trees, carefully tended gardens of azaleas, daffodils and roses, and committed neighbors.  The neighbors share not only the love of beauty but the vision to imagine a reborn Parkway, the artistic sense to plan just the right colors and layouts to fit the space, the persistence to persevere against all odds, and the strength to haul hundreds of gallons of water to the arid median whose access to the pipes that once carried water to the median strip have fallen to rust and ultimate cut-off.

The Stinson Parkway Conservancy is a charitable organization and has filed with the State of Minnesota and the IRS.  To date the annual receipts of the Conservancy do not meet the minimum threshold set to require 501(c) (3) nonprofit status.  Contributions are  tax deductible to the extent of the law.

The Stinson Parkway Conservancy has adopted by-laws and selected a board of community members headed by Lois Kelly, a long-time Windom Park resident and community activist.  It was Lois who took action when she and others saw a need to create a Stinson Parkway deserving of its prestigious standing as part of the National Scenic Byway of the City’s Grand Rounds system.  The political and financial history of Stinson Parkway is a story for another day; the fact is it has suffered from neglect over the years.

Stinson Parkway is that .7 mile part of the Grand Rounds that connects St. Anthony Parkway with a unfulfilled vision, a section  of the 50 mile Grand Rounds system that has yet to be.  The South end of Stinson Parkway, at the crossroads with New Brighton Boulevard, offers a gracious welcome to a quiet residential community that includes the Windom Park and Audubon Park neighborhoods.  That same gateway swings out of the neighborhood into the industrial strip of Stinson that once housed some of the City’s largest industrial giants, including Honeywell Aerospace in the more recent past.

Stinson Parkway, and all of the Grand Rounds system, is under the purview of Minneapolis Park and Recreation which has long planted and maintained the brilliantly colored flowering trees that line the Parkway.  Conservancy volunteers complement the trees with flowers and shrubs often contributed by local business and other organizations.  Just this month the last of the flowering beds, including renovation of the gateway garden, were completed.

The Stinson Parkway Conservancy welcomes visitors to the gardens and is happy to share information with to who may be interested in the project to maintain and enhance the Parkway and the Northeast neighborhood it serves.  Contact stinsonconserv@gmail.com, find the Conservancy on the web at http://www.parkwayconservancy.org or call 612 781 9936. Contributions to the Conservancy should be directed to Stinson Parkway Conservancy, c/o 2243 Roosevelt Street Northeast, Minneapolis, Minnesota  55418.

Most important, find time to explore Stinson Parkway and all of the magnificent parkways that shape and enhance Minneapolis as the renowned Grand Rounds, one of the nation’s premiere Scenic Byways.

Photos from the Conservancy:

Three volunteers planting trees on Stinson Parkway

 

A map:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stinson Parkway Photo by David Erickson: