In 1906, Theodore Wirth became the superintendent of the Minneapolis Park System. During his 30-year tenure the park system grew to 144 properties covering 1,800 acres.
Beauty, leisure and equity were the hallmarks of Wirth’s design and acquisition policy. A park was to be within six blocks of every resident.
In response to calls from South Minneapolis residents for an 18-hole regulation-size golf course, Wirth completed the improvements to Hiawatha Lake and opened Hiawatha Golf Course in 1933.
Hiawatha Golf Course is a historic resource that African Americans have been part of the historic narrative in the 1930s when segregated private clubs denied them membership or access to the courses even during national golf tournaments.
The Bronze Tournament was created and drew dozens of nationally recognized golfers, including boxing champion Joe Lewis, to Minneapolis.
Local civic leaders and golf enthusiasts
Jimmy Slemmons, Solomon Hughes, Earl Bowman, William Berry, Eddie Manderville, Harry Davis, Sr. and Harry Davis, Jr., Charles Rogers, a young Tiger Woods, and many others followed in the footsteps of early Black players who could not be served in the clubhouse or receive a handicap because of the color of their skin.
The period of segregated public facilities in Minneapolis represents an important period in the development of the city and the parks.
The City of Minneapolis’ 2040 plan states that a function of heritage preservation is the ability to help residents see themselves and their cultural identity within the city through historic structures and resources that have been carefully identified through the preservation process with a complete narrative including economic, social, cultural and emotional aspects.
The newly elected park board does not have the guidance of a superintendent like Theodore Wirth. The current superintendent’s recommendation on this issue is unknown. They are considering spending $43 million without an advisory committee report or a Cultural Context Study of the historic Black community in the region.
The Black community watched in horror and disbelief when the Park Board allowed half of Nicollet Park on 41st Street to be used for a freeway for suburban commuters. They returned a few decades later trying to take more land for a dog biffy from the renamed Martin Luther King Park.
This historic quadrant deserves nomination for landmark designation today.
LaJune Lange is a retired judge and president of the International Leadership Institute.