The Lake District of Minneapolis

Geography of the Twin Cities
The Lake District of Minneapolis
Slide Show
David Lanegran
Macalester College
Geography Department
The Lake District of Minneapolis has an interesting history. Its development is described more fully in the book
The Lake District of Minneapolis: A History of the Calhoun-Isles Community, by David Lanegran and Ernest
Sandeen, published by the Living Historical Museum (1979). This book is no longer in print.
This is one of the signature communities of Minneapolis,
extending from the area of Loring Park, west of Lyndale
to the city limits, and as far south as Lake Harriet. From the
very beginning of the city, it has been a popular residential
zone. Most recently it has undergone extensive commercial
redevelopment. In the two decades since the book was
published, the Lake District has been transformed from a
place with a grand past to a place with a vibrant future. It
has continued to be a center of human activity through all
the changes in popular culture.
Farmers and speculators purchased all the land in the Lake District during the years before the Civil War.
Developers opened the northern and eastern sections of the district for middle class residents during the late
1860s, but as the this map indicates, more of the land in the area was divided into large parcels owned by
farmers and speculators. Many of the city's most famous early settlers engaged in land speculation in the
district. John Green farmed land near the hill formerly called the Devil's Backbone. The large place to the west
of Green's was owned by J.C. Goodrich, who was apparently a speculator. Thomas Lowery, founder of the Twin
Cities' Streetcar system, owned land directly on the Devil's Backbone - later to be called Lowry Hill - along with his
father-in-law C.G. Goodrich. The land fronting on Hennepin Avenue was divided into small parcels, but the large
block fronting on the east side of Lake of Isles was owned by C.G. Goodrich in partnership with another. The
southeastern shore of Lake of the Isles was owned by R.P. Russell, a New Englander who came west to seek his
fortune in 1839. An active merchant and politician, Russell dabbled in many financial matters including lumber,
milling, land developing and farming. The primary path of development in
the city during the period was in the vicinity of the Washburns' estates
south of Franklin and west of Portland Avenue. This growth pattern
influenced other developers to plat "out lots" or suburban tracts beyond
the city limits. Most of the area on Lyndale between Franklin and Lake
was divided into lots at this time, and developments were established
between Hennepin and Lyndale just north of the lake. However, this
subdivision was well beyond the zone of active residential building. Most
of the land in the district was owned by Colonel William S. King. His
Lyndale Farm was the largest solely owned property in the history of
Minneapolis. The west side of Lake Calhoun was owned by Louis
Menage, so it is easy to see why he was willing to buy up King's debt and
foreclose on the farm. We can also see the Cedar Lake station on the
railroad, which brought tourists to the resort hotels on the lake. The
Lakewood Cemetery is also indicated on the map, but was not yet
established. Actually, planning had just begun on the cemetery when this
map was published.
Part I: Development of the Lake District
Slide 1: This topographic map from the turn of the century
provides an excellent view of the development of the lake
district. We can see the hills and marshes that
characterized the area as well as the expanding grid of
streets and avenues coming from the city center toward
these beautiful neighborhoods. It is also apparent that the
natural landscape required a great deal of modification if it
was going to support a dense population. The variation in
topography created conditions that would promote the
development of several separate and distinctive
Slide 2: While the area around the lakes was being eyed by developers, the city of Minneapolis was
just beginning to boom. Here we see the low rise core of 19th Century Minneapolis.
Slide 3: The story of the lake district is a tale of greed, glory and unbridled ambition. The men who
created these neighborhoods were speculators in real estate, one of the oldest American professions.
They worked from offices like this and promoted a wide variety of dreams and schemes. Experience
further East convinced all businessmen than Minneapolis was going to be a great city, and there was
money to be made in real estate.
Slide 4: The lakes at the western edge of the city were shallow with marshy shores. People in the 19th
Century generally avoided such areas because they feared fevers and vapors. The lakes had potential
but they were not an immediate attraction.
Slide 5: The first uses of the lakes were for recreation. They were located away from the center of the
population so to visit Cedar Lake (shown here) required most of a day. However, this pleasant landscape
soon became known to all and developed as a popular location for a wide variety of outdoor activities.
Slide 6: The first great change in the location of the lakes came with the building of the motor line. This
street railroad ran from the center to recreational destinations on the shores of the lakes. It was built with
the intention of bringing people to the new hotels being developed and as a way to get households to
buy the new suburban residential areas being platted.
Slide 7: Here we seen the motor line with the Lyndale hotel in the background. Located on the high
ground on the Eastern shore of Lake Calhoun, the Lyndale was popular with tourists from all across
the Midwest. The hotel flourished during the 1880s.
Slide 8: The Lyndale Hotel opened with a huge gala. Trains brought fancy and famous people from
Chicago and Kansas City to join the big event. Hotels such as these were where innovations like inner
spring mattresses, gas lights, and flush toilets were tested and made feasible. This resort hotel was an
extremely important feature in the development of Minneapolis because hotels drew the elite to the
lakes and established a landscape taste that would eventually come to dominate the Minnesota aesthetic.
Slide 9: The Oak Grove Hotel on the shores of Cedar
Lake was reputed to be the best resort hotel in
Minnesota. People took the train to a nearby stop and
were brought to the hotel in carriages. The fancy couple
on horseback depicted in the ad tells us who the
proprietors wished to attract to their establishment.
Slide 10: This post card from the 1880's shows
sailboats, a boat rental facility, and a simple
hotel on the northeast shore of Lake Calhoun.
These areas still functions as a marina for the
popular sail boats. Lake Calhoun attracted a
variety of land uses to its northern shore, which
was accessible by the street railroad and later
by the tracks of the Soo Line.
Slide 11: Ice harvesting was one of the principal economic uses of Lake Calhoun in the early years. The Boston
Ice Company and others located on the northern shore. Ice cut in the winter was stored in sawdust-packed
warehouses for delivery to home iceboxes all year round.
Slide 12: This close-up view of ice harvesting shows the thickness of the ice and the basic tools used to get
the ice from the lake to the storage facilities. It was not a job for the faint of heart.
Slide 13: Thomas Lowry was a major real estate
developer and founded the street car company that
eventually became the Twin City Rapid Transit Company.
He came to Minneapolis in 1987 determined to make a
fortune. He married Beatrice, daughter of C. G. Goodrich,
a man already established in property development.
Slide 14: Beatrice Lowry, one of the leading property owners
in Minneapolis and constant supporter of her husband's
efforts to promote the settlement of the lake district. The
couple built a lavish mansion on Lowry Hill, near where the
Guthrie Theater now stands.
Slide 15: This is an example of the horse cars that were first used by the street railroad. They were
effective but expensive. While the motor line brought people to the resort hotels on the lakeshores,
the horse cars gradually spread the middle class housing into the northern portion of the lake district.
Slide 16: In 1878 Lowry Hill (formerly called the Devil's Backbone) was dominated by the house of the
Lowry's. The windmill and carriage house are also visible. The Lowry mansion established Lowry Hill
and Kenwood as one of the city's more fashionable neighborhoods, despite its distance from the center core.
Slide 17: This view looks across the modern sculpture garden. The digging of the road through the ridge
that we know as Lowry Hill provided fill for the low land west of Loring Lake. That area become a public
open space known as the parade or parade grounds. The early grain elevators dominate the skyline of
Slide 18: The Kenwood railroad station made the neighborhood accessible to the new business elite
that was emerging in Minneapolis. The station brought people to the high land along the road known
as Kenwood Parkway.
Slide 19: This advertisement depicts the elite
neighborhood of Kenwood. The area had tremendous
appeal because of its amenities and the train connection
into the city center. Notice that the lot sizes are rather
small which reflects the desire of the developers to
maximize their return on the sale of real estate. The
equestrian figure provides an icon of the very gentile
lifestyle the developers were promoting to their up-scale
Slide 20: Kenwood Parkway. We see that the infrastructure was in place before the large homes were built
by individual contractors.
Slide 21: Mr. and Mrs. Edmund G. Walton in front their house, "Gray Court," at 802 Mount Curve.
This couple is representative of the upper middle-class households attracted to Kenwood at the end
of the 19th Century.
Slide 22: The farmstead of the Lyndale Farm, built by William S. King in 1870, was located near the
intersection of 35th street and Bryant Avenue. This farm was the largest solely-owned property in the
history of Minneapolis. King hoped to live the life of a country squire on an estate that stretched from
34th Street, south to Lake Harriet, between Lyndale and Hennepen Avenue. He eventually owned 1400
acres. King was active in publishing, politics, and agriculture. He had various pure-bred animals and
was an early supporter of the Minnesota State Fair. His land was involved in complicated litigation, which
he won. As a token, he donated the shores of his lakes to the City of Minneapolis. The farm was
subdivided in the 1880's.
Slide 23: This map from Calvin Schmid's book, A Social Stage of
Two Cities, shows the movement of the wealthy population of
Minneapolis from the old core to the newly developed elite
suburbs of the Lake District.
Slide 24: Louis Menage came west to Minneapolis for his health. He worked in lumber milling for a while
and then began a spectacular career in real estate development. He is reputed to have platted more lots
than any other person in the history of the city. He owned the Lyndale Hotel and was involved in the
litigation over the King Farm, which he thought he purchased. He was on every civic and chartable
organization in the city during his time. He also built the city's major landmark, the Guarantee Loan
Company's building, which was later renamed the Metropolitan Building. Financial problems forced him to
leave the city quickly for Central America. He never returned to the city he helped create.
Slide 25: This shows the steamboat Hattie that carried excursionists and commuters from the dock of
the street car company on the eastern shore of Lake Calhoun to a series of passenger docks around
the shores of the lake.
Slide 26: This plat for the east shore of Calhoun illustrates how the railroad served the community.
The Forman mansion replaced the Lyndale hotel on the hill above the train station. The larger lots
toward the southernmost end of the development were for the villas that were to be built by high-class
households; however, the development of Lake Minnetonka further west drew all the very wealthy
households for whom the large lots on Calhoun were intended. With the coming of the street car, the
area was divided into smaller lots for middle-class households.
Slide 27: Modern topographic map of the lake district.
Slide 28: Menage had expected to divide his property on the western shore of Lake Calhoun into large
lots for suburban villas. His financial problems prevented this and the site was re-platted.
Slide 29: The second plan for the western shore of Lake
Calhoun called for many more small lots in recognition of
the change in status of the lake shore. This plan was
never developed and the site become the Minikahda
Golf Club.
Slide 30: The lakes were not immediately attractive to home developers, so the park district undertook
extensive landscaping and dredged the marshy shores to make the lakes better suit the style and taste
of the time.
Slide 31: Steam dredge on Lake of the Isles.
Part II: Life on the Lakes
Slide 33: Monk's Dock on the north shore of Lake Calhoun, the sign on the boat reads "Across the
Lake 5¢, Around the Lake 10¢" The commercial buildings and ice houses that lined the north shore
are visible in the background.
Slide 34: This photograph captures the climatic moment in the celebration of the linking of the lakes; the
"Maid of the Isles" sails through the opened gates in June, 1911. This celebration eventually was
transformed into the Aquatential, Minneapolis's annual civic celebration. The linking of the lakes was a
fulfillment of the early plans to develop the set of water bodies as an integrated recreation feature.
Slide 35: The lakes have long been a place for recreation. Here we see bathers enjoying a dip in Lake
Calhoun in 1906. Notice the large number of boats and boat houses along the shore. These were
gradually removed as the Park Board established more regulations for the public space.
Slide 36: This long line of men is waiting to get into the new Lake Calhoun bathhouse (changing facility) in 1912.
Slide 37: Female swimmers in 1900 had to be strong or not go too far into the water because they
were completely covered in their bathing costumes.
Slide 38: These woman are wading and therefore have their street dresses on. Before it could be
published, the censor had to remove the girl's bare knees from this 1908 bathing scene on Lake Calhoun.
Slide 39: In 1898, women were taking up golf on the area's course and adding to the image of the
area as a place for the leisure class.
Slide 40: The Minikahda golf course in 1900. Notice the lack of trees and small bags carried by the caddies.
Slide 41: Horse racing on the Lake of the Isles was an exciting sport in the early years of the 20th Century.
Slide 42: Landscape design and taste has always been a key element in the Lake District. This article
calls attention to the major efforts to plant a forest on the former prairies around the lakes.
Slide 43: With effort, the Lake District was transformed to accommodate the automobile. This early
advertisement gives clues about the use of the first cars. The suburban landscape was ideally suited
to the recreational use of autos and additionally provided a relatively easy commute to the city center.
Slide 44: For a short time, ice-boating was a popular sport.
Sportsmen like this individual on Lake Calhoun in 1901
were able to reach high speeds on the smooth ice. The
frequency of crashing gradually diminished the sport's
popularity. It is interesting to note the modern sailboarders
seem to share a love of speed with the Lake District
residents of a century ago.
Slide 45: Before indoor arenas, skating on huge outdoor rinks (frozen lakes) was enormously popular. Here
we see the trotting course, skating, and hockey rinks that the park board created on the southeast corner of
Lake of the Isles.
Slide 46: Calhoun Park Plat; a later plan for real estate
development on the east side of the lake. This scheme,
developed after the inter-urban line was extended through
the neighborhood to the western suburbs, shows once again
how the developer shrunk lot size to appeal to a broader
Slide 47: Cadillac, fur coat, stylish woman and the lakes of Minneapolis. This photo captures the image
of the Lake District that was being honed by property developers and businessmen in the 1920's.
Slide 48: Northwest corner of Lake and Calhoun. Abdullah's candy store dominated this classy street car
corner business block. The large plate glass windows developed to allow commuters to window shop, but
since they also trapped the solar heat the in summer, canvas awnings were used to provide shade. This
corner continues to thrive with new uses.
Slide 49: The east side of Hennepin Ave in 1925. Here we see the basic commercial strip that emerged
to serve the prosperous middle class houses of the expanding communities.
Slide 50: Lake Street just west of Lyndale in 1920. The
large local market made possible the sale of a wide
range of goods and services in the neighborhood. Signs
in this scene advertise convenience goods as well as
financial and professional services.
Slide 51: The 1920's saw the flowering of movie theaters on the streetcar routes in neighborhoods of
all incomes. The Lake District soon had a dazzling set of structures; this is the Calhoun Theater/Lakeland
Academy with its elaborate exterior.
Slide 52: The popularity of Rudolf Valentino in the Sheik
sparked a very fanciful theater designed based loosely on
the Moorish architecture of Spain. This is the Granada, later
the Suburban World.
Slide 53: The Schlampp Building in 1927. The new fur coat required cold storage during Minnesota's
hot summers. This is of course another indication of the presence of high income shoppers in the
neighborhood. But Schlampps serviced a wider clientele who came to shop in the new autos.
Slide 54: Mansion on Hennepin Avenue. At first Hennepin was promoted as a boulevard for mansions
such as St. Paul's Summit Avenue. However, the Park Board refused to accept this, so the early mansions
like this one were replaced with apartments and commercial structures.
Slide 55: Early commercial building on Hennepin Avenue.
Slide 56: The Forman Mansion replaced the Lyndale Hotel on the height of land on the eastern shore
of Calhoun. Here is one of the main rooms; the wicker furniture gives the room a lightness that may
indicate some sort of conservatory or southern exposure.
Slide 57: The Greek Orthodox Church of St. Mary has replaced the Forman Mansion on the eastern
shore of Lake Calhoun.
Slide 58: This advertisement for a house on Lowry Hill gives
us an insight into the lifestyle of the area's residents. The
occupants of this house were expected to live formal lives
with special spaces for entertainment. In addition, there are
areas for the private lives of the family. The large windows
and porches were designed to make extensive use of
natural light and circulate air.
Slide 59: The William L. Donaldson house, 25 Groveland Terrace, built in the 1890's in the Romanesque style.
Slide 60: The Dunwoody mansion in 1908 with extensive gardens. Dunwoody was one of the
pioneer flour millers of Minneapolis. He commissioned William Chaning Whitney to build this
Tudor Revival brick residence in 1905.
Slide 61: Panoramic view of the southern shore of Lake of the Isles, date unknown but after 1910.
Slide 62: The extravagant mansion "C. G. Gates" once stood on Lake of the Isles Boulevard, but was
razed in 1933. This house was reputed to be the largest and most expensive house in Minnesota. It was
designed by Chicago architects Marshall and Fox, built in 1913 for a reported coast of $1,000,000, the
mansion was not completed when its owner Charles G. Gates died. C.G. Gates was heir to the fortune of
John W. Gates known fondly as "Bet-a-Million" Gates. The house was never really occupied.
Slide 63: Home on west Lake of the Isles. The house really does not fit into the established styles, but
the special look gives it a Tudor Cottage flavor.
Slide 64: The Purcell house, 2328 Lake Place. This house of the architect William Purcell, built in 1913,
is a great example of the Prairie School tradition of architecture. It is now owned by the Minneapolis
Institute of Arts and open to the public for tours on designated days.
Slide 65: House of John G. Gluck at 2447 South Bryant, built in 1902 for $10,000. It was designed by
William Kenyon for a branch of the Gluck family, a name made familiar by its brewing company label.
It is a Colonial Revival house.
Slide 66: This house, at 2741 South Bryant, is an example
of the small houses built for middle class households
wishing to settle in the areas between Hennepin and
Slide 67: A 1910 streetscape of Colfax Avenue looking north at the corner of Twenty-Second Street.
Slide 68: 2701 Dupont, on the southeast corner, is the most elegant house on the block. It was built
in 1884 for $7500. This two and one-half story shingled Queen Anne style dwelling shows costly
touches on every façade. For example, the chimney is constructed of special brick and decorated with
a terra-cotta panel.
Slide 69: This is one of the earliest houses in the area south of Lake Calhoun. The Andreaus Ueland
houses was located on Richfield Road. Ueland was a Norwegian immigrant who developed a successful
law practice.
Slide 70: On the south side of Lake Calhoun is a small community named Cottage City which does
not resemble the rest of the Linden Hills district. It was laid out in small twenty-five foot lots with the
expectation that small and simple houses would be built. Few houses were built until long after the
area's developer Louis Menage had left the scene. We do not know if all the small houses were built
as summer homes, but some must have been. Building permits indicated some homes were built for
$350. This house is one of the better examples of the smaller homes built in the area.
Slide 71: The Walkers Gallery, when first contracted in 1927, resembled a Moorish-Venetian palace to fit the
styles of the time. Thomas B. Walker bought Lowry's house in 1915 and replaced it with this structure to house
his private art collection.
Slide 72: In 1944, the Walker Gallery was given a new façade, more in keeping with the art collection.
Slide 73: The complex was rebuilt and expanded in 1971.
Slide 74: The Guthrie Theater, as it appeared when constructed in 1963. The development of the Guthrie
Theater was a great step for the theatrical community in the Twin Cities. It was a statement that the Twin
Cities wanted to host national-level productions. The location of the theater in the Lake District was an easy
decision because they wanted it to take advantage of the accessibility of the Lowry Hill location and the
ambiance of the high quality housing. The Walker Art Gallery also provided a landmark to help established
the Guthrie's image Minnesota residents' mental maps.
Slide 75: The Guthrie Theater in the late 1970's, after the removal of the original façade.
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