First known as Territorial Road #3, this road was variously known as County Road #3, Excelsior Road, Excelsior Street, Excelsior Avenue, and finally Excelsior Blvd. Between Minnetonka Blvd. and the Edina line, Excelsior Blvd. serves as the center of commerce, entertainment, and transportation. (It was also the gas station capital of the Midwest – see Gasoline Alley.) An important artery into Minneapolis, it connects with the equally important Lake Street. The history of the road may not be pretty, but has some interesting twists.
Lake Street in Minneapolis began as a path used by soldiers from Fort Snelling to get from hunting grounds to drinking grounds at Lake Calhoun (then called Lake of the Loons). Earlier in the century, a missionary named Lawrence Tolliver established the experimental village of Eatonville on the eastern shore of Lake Calhoun with local Dakota Chief Cloud Man. There, the Indians settled down and learned to farm, read and write. At its peak it had a population of 300 people, white and Indian, but the troubles of the 1850’s made it impossible to continue, and Cloud Man moved on to the Minnesota River.
March 1: The Minnesota Territorial Legislature passed an act declaring all roads already constructed, being constructed, or to be constructed in the future by the government to be territorial roads. It also provided for compensation to landowners and a penalty for obstructing passage over road lines.
In May the Legislature authorized a Territorial road “from Minneapolis to Glencoe via Lake Calhoun, near Bass Lake, to John P. Miller’s, and then by the way of Excelsior to Glencoe, to be known as the Glencoe Road.” Expenses were to be paid by the counties through which the road passed. A biography of Hiram Van Nest says that he cleared the road from Lake Calhoun to Minnehaha Creek near the Goodrich Farm (which was huge), but no date is given.
Governor Ramsey declared the establishment of three main “wagon roads” for the territory. One of these was the Minneapolis and Glencoe Territorial Road No. 3, aka the “Glenco Road.” An 1860 map shows the road marked “to Glencoe.” Pioneers traveled via oxcart on Territorial Road No. 3 to settle Carver and McLeod Counties.
The Northern Manitoba Railway established its right of way near the road.
Lake Street was a country road, a dividing line between farm sections. Lake Street had no businesses and only a few scattered houses. Lake and Nicollet Avenue was the only corner that showed any promise for development.
The following comes from the history of Mizpah Church in Hopkins:
In the first year of the first term of Grover Cleveland’s administration in 1885, there was a sandy road extending westward from Lake Calhoun into the country. It skirted the Hanke farm just west of the lake, and the Martin Pratt place. Across from the farmhouse facing North, there was a church at the corner of the road to Edina Mills. This was Union Church of St. Louis Park, where Rev. George Hood was Pastor and where Charles Hanke was Superintendent of the Sunday School. From Union Church, the road, known as the Excelsior Road, passed westward by land then owned by Cal Goodrich of the Minneapolis Street Railway Company (now the Meadowbrook Golf Course) across Minnehaha Creek and along the mill pond of the Globe Flour Mill. The road continued across the Boyce Farm (now Interlachen Park), then ran along fields belonging to Harley Hopkins, crossing the Minneapolis and St. Louis Railway and made its way among the fields of the Burnes, Bassetts, Olsons, Dows, Soubas and John Miller’s farms. From Perkins Corners (later known as Hofflin’s Corner) the road branched north and south. The north branch ran by the Bates place toward the flourishing flour milling city of Minnetonka Mills. The South branch (Shady Oak Road) ran by the Empanger and Smetana farms into the hills where scores of Bohemians lived.
The St. Louis Park Village Council instructed Minneapolis to open Excelsior Blvd. from Lake Calhoun to the City limits. That connection was Lake Street. At this time Excelsior Blvd. was no doubt a dirt road used by truck farmers.
A map advertising West Minneapolis (Hopkins) shows Excelsior Blvd. (unnamed) in essentially the same configuration that it is today.
When the bicycle was at its height of popularity, the Lake Street cinder path was the preferred route of cycling fans, and was the launching point for trips to Minnehaha falls and Fort Snelling. Bicyclists were so numerous that pedestrians had to stand on the sidewalk for 15 to 20 minutes before they could cross the street.
In a page of an undated memoir, an unattributed author remembers “Excelsior Ave. was graded across a swamp and bog full of springs. A cow couldn’t go thru – it would sink – all quick sand. These springs helped to keep up the water level of Lake Calhoun. Joseph Hamilton was road boss – called path master at that time and he and his crew built Excelsior Ave. They filled in and thought at night they had the road built up and the next morning it had settled out of sight. Filled not less than 10 feet of dirt before road held above water.” Joseph Hamilton died in 1901, so this would have had to be before the road was graded (see 1903 below). The description of the springs is consistent with the report that Bass Lake was fed by nine springs and was quite large until it was drained by a ditch to Lake Calhoun.
Development on Lake Street began in earnest when the 4th Avenue streetcar line was built out to Lake Street where there was a turntable. This streetcar line was also the first to be electrified.
The Council voted to ask the County for $500 so they could improve Excelsior Ave.
The Council spent $1,000 for the gravelling and surfacing of Excelsior Ave.
In April the Village Council allocated up to $2,000 to have Excelsior Blvd. surveyed for grade and specifications, beginning at the Minneapolis city limits and as far west as they can go. And in fact, the St. Louis Park Historical Society has in its possession a long roll of paper representing the length of Excelsior Blvd. with a line for the current grade and another line for the proposed grade. The document is called “Profile of Excelsior Road from City Limits to Glencoe Road, April 1903, J.E. Egan, C.E.” Perhaps this is our clue to when the road was first graded and made passable. Very quickly after the survey was done, William Falvey got the contract to grade Excelsior Blvd. at 22 cents per cubic yard.
Dr. John Watson petitioned the Village Council to furnish 60 ft. of tiling to lay in front of his property on Excelsior Ave.
The Selby-Lake interurban line was completed. This line ran from 1st Avenue to 12th Street, from Nicollet to 31st Street, then over to Lakes Calhoun and Harriet. This motor line marked the beginning of Lake Street development.
The railroad was abandoned when streetcars were used to bring travelers to Lake Minnetonka. On Lake Street, the streetcars ran on rails laid on the dirt road.
Lake Street was the southern boundary of Minneapolis and was populated with numerous stables and harness shops, including that of Emil Schatzlein who opened his saddle shop at 609 West Lake Street in 1907. The shop was moved to its current location at 413 West Lake in 1936 and is still in business.
Apparently the grading done on Excelsior Ave. in 1903 was not a permanent solution; in March 1909, a motion was made to the Village Council to make the road passable.
Lake Street in Minneapolis was paved. Before pavement, lower Lake Street near the Mississippi River was impassable in the spring. Wagons would get stuck in the mud (and piles of manure) and left there until the street dried up.
Lake Street in Minneapolis was tarred for the first time. Businesses on the street were faced with a heavy assessment, and that expense helped to put the Wonderland Amusement Park out of business.
Oldtimers remember unhitching a gate to get from Excelsior Blvd. to Brookside Ave., perhaps around this time.
Henry Woerner and a Mr. Wade requested that the Village install a cement sidewalk on Excelsior Blvd. between Brookside and Brunswick.
The State highway department right-of-way map for the section of the future Highway 100 from Excelsior Blvd. south into Edina shows Excelsior Blvd. labeled as Highway 12.
On October 15, 1930, it was noted at the Village Council meeting that in the last five days, there had been five automobile accidents at Highways 5 [to be 100] and 12 [Excelsior Blvd.]. This portends the long history of heavy traffic and danger at this most heavily travelled intersection in the State.
The stretch from Highway 100 to France Avenue was designated as 169/212; west of 100 it was still County Road 3. It is still also designated as County Road #3. A 1931 map shows it as Excelsior Ave.
Before Highway 7 captured its own identity, it was referred to as the “new” Excelsior Road, and the county road was relegated to the “old” Excelsior Blvd. Sections of Old Excelsior Blvd. still exist today as you travel west to Excelsior.
The speed limit between Highway 100 and France was 40 mph.
Bus service began from Minneapolis. Excelsior Blvd. never had a streetcar line, perhaps because it was between the Minnetonka Blvd. and 44th Street lines.
On December 30, Ordinance 160 was passed, establishing house numbers on Excelsior Blvd.
Excelsior Blvd. went from a State road to a county road.
The Village Council proposed joining with Hopkins to petition Hennepin County to widen Excelsior Blvd. from Highway 100 to the Hopkins line.
In July 1947 it was reported that the Village was studying the need for a stoplight at Excelsior Blvd. and Brookside Avenue, but it was determined that it was up to the county. One was finally installed in 1949 (July 1952). The contractor was Sterling Electric. This was said to be the first stoplight in the Park – the fourth from Lake Street to Hopkins.
Evergreen Avenue between France and Excelsior (by the Pure Oil station) was vacated, since it had not been used in 40 years.
The speed limit on Excelsior Blvd. between Highway 100 and France was changed from 40 mph. to 30.
Residents of the Brooklawns neighborhood (north of Excelsior, west of 100) complained to the Village Council that excessive speeding on Excelsior was making it very difficult to get out of their driveways and streets.
Sewer construction jammed up the street so badly that the Village hired “watchmen” to direct traffic.
In June, the Village Engineer was instructed to check with the State Highway Department regarding relief from the perennial traffic jam at Highway 100 and Excelsior Blvd.
In August, the Mayor was authorized to sign an agreement with the State for installing full activated traffic signals at 100 and Excelsior Blvd.
The Village unsuccessfully tried to get the State to take over responsibility for maintenance of the Blvd. The Village’s resolution stated that the road carried 12,000 vehicles per day, half of which were heavy trucks. In December, the Village ordered the widening of Excelsior between France and Highway 100, with the State paying 75 percent.
Mrs. Martin Grady of 3400 Huntington requested that the Village erect a stoplight at Excelsior and France, but the Council determined that the State should bear the cost.
$515 in damage was done to a traffic signal at Highway 100 and Excelsior in November.
In the November 6, 1951 issue of the Park High Echo, it was reported that Lydia Rogers had sent cards to 195 companies and residents on Excelsior Blvd. asking their opinion about changing the name of the street to something more suitable, such as Parkdale Blvd. The move was unsuccessful, but in years to come the city would have several streets with the word “Park” in them.
Miracle Mile opened at the then at-grade intersection of Highway 100, Excelsior Blvd., and Wooddale.
Herbert E. Rawson of 4235 Yosemite petitioned the Village Council for a traffic signal on Excelsior and Brookside. The matter was referred to Village Engineer Phillip W. Smith.
The Village contracted the Langford Electric Co. to erect a traffic signal at Excelsior Blvd. and Brookside Ave. in May 1952.
Traffic signals ordered for Excelsior and Joppa and Excelsior and France were postponed pending the widening of Excelsior Blvd.
In August 1953 the Dispatch reported with alarm that the Highway Department wanted to turn Excelsior Blvd. into a six-lane “speedway” that would ruin commercial business along the boulevard. As with many such proposals, it never got very far.
The Village Council requested that the State install a traffic light at the intersection of Wooddale and Excelsior. These were still the days in which Wooddale went through the at-grade intersection. The State shot back that “something should be done about the promiscuous use of the south side of Excelsior in front of Miracle Mile before they would consider signals at Wooddale and Excelsior.” Whatever that means.
Excelsior Blvd. was paved from Highway 100 to Hopkins, with four 60 ft. lanes and two parking lanes. Work included concrete paving, curbs, gutters, sidewalk, and storm sewers. Heretofore it had only been oiled. It was most likely included in the formerly county roads that were turned back to the communities for maintenance on January 1.
At that time, Excelsior Blvd. was designated as Highway 212.
On July 25, 1960, a traffic signal was requested at the intersection of Excelsior Blvd. and 38th Street/Quentin. The request was forwarded to the State.
Councilman Shank complained of a lack of curb and gutter on Excelsior between France and Hwy 100, and a confused parking situation.
The City Manager received plans from Mn/DOT for improving Excelsior from France to 100. At that point Excelsior was being called 169. Plans were approved October 1, 1962.
In February 1963, E.J. McCubrey, P.R. Staffeld, and Dean Wenger of the State Highway Dept. presented plans to improve the Hwy 100 and Excelsior Blvd. intersection. The City Council approved the tentative plans.
Mn/DOT had held a hearing on Excelsior Blvd. improvements at the American Hardware Mutual Building, 3300 Excelsior Blvd on April 7. Another hearing was held by Mn/DOT in December.
In December 1965 the City Council approved a much-needed upgrade of the Blvd. between Wooddale and France that included the widening of the street (25 feet on each side); paving, curbs and gutters; street lighting; traffic signals; and sidewalks. Some merchants were opposed to the center islands and limited left turns, but it was pointed out that most accidents on the Blvd. were the result of unrestricted left turns. The State was to perform the work, with funds loaned by the City and then repaid over the next 10 years.
On May 12, the Dispatch described the $300,000 “Excelsior Boulevard improvement program:” “The improvement project, which will cover an area on Excelsior Boulevard from Wooddale Avenue to France Avenue, will include widening and paving of the boulevard, curb and gutter, street lighting, a sidewalk installation and utility changes.” The plan was based on a 1961 study called “Anatomy of a Boulevard.”
On October 29, ribbon-cutting ceremonies were held to officially open the “new” Excelsior Blvd. Present at the event were Mayor Wolfe, State Rep. Ernie Jacobson, Miss St. Louis Park Marilyn Field, the State Highway Commissioner, Congressman Clark MacGregor, and Chamber President Hal Mathieu. The Highway Department had not planned to do the work for several years, pleading poverty. The city was able to loan money to the State to expedite work.
October 24-29 marked the grand opening of the newly upgraded Excelsior Blvd., complete with street decorations, a parade, a ribbon cutting, dignitaries, and sales by merchants. The $663,000 project began in May and was scheduled for completion on October 15. Work included grading and widening, new sidewalks, lighting, traffic signals, and a center island. Event Chairman Wallace Plantikow stated that it was “A Return to Downtown St. Louis Park.”
Louisiana Ave. was extended south to Excelsior Blvd. Methodist Hospital, Meadowbrook Manor, and Reilly Tar and Chemical (creosote plant) were against the move.
The Highway 100 underpass at Excelsior Blvd. was opened in early October. The interchange cost $2.27 million and took two years to complete. The bridge was rebuilt in 2005.
Realizing that Lilac Way was not the best use of the key intersection on the northwest corner of Excelsior and Highway 100, plans for the revitalization of the area began as early as 1977. Lilac Way itself was demolished in 1988 and the water tower demolished in November 1994. It would take many years and plans before the revitalization effort was completed. See Park Village.
Excelsior Blvd. between Highway 100 and Quentin Ave. received an overall upgrade, including new turn lanes.