See City Parks for more information on individual parks.
In the earliest days of the Village, parks were not seen as a high priority, simply because there was so much vacant land for kids to play in. Probably the first park was the current Jorvig Park, which was known through the years as Central, Bandstand, and Fireman’s Park. This was most likely the park donated by the Minneapolis and St. Louis Railway in exchange for the Village naming itself St. Louis Park.
Kids found or made their own sliding hills and skating rinks, but the need for more was evidenced in the minutes of the December 5, 1912, Village Council meeting, when a committee was instructed to find a place for a toboggan slide and skating rink.
The first section of what would become the Central building was built in 1914. In 1918 a portion of that property was purchased by the Village at $300/lot for use as a public park. Before Highway 7 was built, the front of the school was used for a skating rink and football field, on land that had been donated by T.B. Walker.
In 1919 Mr. C.A. Kilbourne represented the St. Louis Park Commercial Club in front of the Village Council, asking that funds be appropriated to improve Central (now Jorvig) Park.
The Village Park Board was created by the Village Council on March 19, 1937. The three members were Harry V. Shuster, R.B. Connery, and Harvey Kruse. “It will be the aim of the Board to interest itself in playgrounds and a park system for the Village.” Park Board members also issued permits to residents who wished to plant trees on their boulevards.
The first ice skating warming house was built at Browndale Park in December 1947. The St. Louis Park Women’s Club raised the funds, and the building was erected by volunteers. The Women’s Club, which had just formed eight months ago, made a formal presentation of the keys to the warming house to Mayor O.B. Erickson.
In 1947 Skating rinks were located at:
SW Corner of 29th and Idaho
Oak Hill School Ball Field (?)
29th and Webster
Excelsior and Yosemite
26th and Inglewood
39th and Alabama
Minikahda Vista Park (originally called Big Hills Park)
Lake at Lake Forest
Dorothea Undine Nelson became the Village’s Recreation Superintendent in 1948, a position she held until 1962. She was the first woman in the Twin Cities area to hold this position. She served at an important time, overseeing the establishment of neighborhood parks in a city where citizens had to fight to have parks established for the ever-growing population.
A June 9, 1986, article in the Sun reported that the first recreation office was in the basement of the Lincoln School building, with furniture “scrounged” by Nelson. She used crates for file cabinets and got an old desk from the Minneapolis Park Board. When the windows were open in the non-air conditioned building, box elder bugs and dust were everywhere, recalls Nelson’s secretary Pauline Cheleen.
Supervised play areas first came into being in the summer of 1948, opening June 7. Funds were provided by organizations, particularly the Women’s Club, the Community Fund, the park board, the school board, and the Village. Parents put in a great deal of work getting the parks in shape. The first full time playgrounds were established at Oak Hill, Fern Hill, and Lenox schools, Carpenter Park (now City Hall) and the Village athletic field (now the High School). Ten smaller parks for ages 5-10 were established as well, including at three churches in Brookside.
1949 was said to be the first organized, expanded summer recreation program in the City. The finale was a field day at Oak Hill park attended by 500 kids, 200 mothers, and a sprinkling of fathers. The fathers and sons softball game between Wooddale and Minikahda Vista vs. Monterey and Oak Hill was contested because “Red” Anderson of Wooddale was said to be a professional.
Donkey Softball came to the Park on June 19, 1949. This is a softball game where, instead of running the bases, you ride a mule (provided by the [Texas] Panhandle Donkey Baseball Co.) Fielders also ride these specially trained mules. This spectacle was apparently a hit in Minneapolis, and it had come to Hopkins as early as 1935, the Businessmen facing the Professional men on Friday night, and the winner of that game playing the Farmers on Saturday night. Here in the Park, one saw such hi-jinx as a team in blackface (this was 1949) and one Park player named Sewall tiring of riding his donkey and instead carrying it around the bases. 900 people showed up for the game, played at 33rd and Georgia. Must have been a hum-dinger. The event was sponsored by the senior softball league, with the $200 earned earmarked (can we say earmarked?) for night game lights. Players were picked from six teams of the senior softball league to play on two all-star teams. One hopes that Shorty Dale’s prediction that the event will become a “perennial institution” did not come to pass and that the SPCA stepped in shortly thereafter.
A 4-sided outdoor fireplace was built at Oak Hill Park on June 12, 1949. The Boy Scouts helped city maintenance man Youngblut build the structure. The bricks were donated by Cambridge Brick, and the Women’s Club paid for the mortar.
On November 16, 1950, the Annual Recreation Banquet was held in the Brookside Cafeteria. The program featured a GE film “A Chance to Play,” musical entertainment by the Ewald Brothers and Holsum Bread Quartets. Recreation Head Dorothea Nelson gave the annual report, Shorty Dale showed home movies taken at various Village parks, Congregational Church women’s groups served dinner, and guest speaker Carl Brahmeier urged a new tax levy earmarked for recreation.
1950 saw what was called the first annual Community-Wide Fourth of July Celebration since 1919. See Early Celebrations for an account of this huge festival.
The 1951 summer recreation program ran from June 25 to August 10 at 15 playgrounds. Kids were bused to Shady Oak Lake for swimming lessons.
The first Little League game was held on July 9, 1951, against Hopkins. Carl Hensel was the originator of the League.
There were 400 adult square dancers dancing in three school gyms, three Saturday nights a month.
The St. Louis Park Community Center opened in November 1953. See Community Center for detailed information.
The electorate for the first time voted to support the recreation department in a school board election. Thus in 1955, the Recreation Commission came into being. At this time, the Community Fund changed the recipient of its funds from the Recreation Department to the Community Center. In 1956 the Parks and Recreation Departments were combined and the Recreation Commission was dissolved.
There were 15 active parks, and 22 ice skating rinks. This would grow to almost 50 parks by 1987.
St. Louis Park boasted 129 acres of parks and playgrounds, but it was hard to keep up with the baby boom.
The Mayor appointed eight Park residents to a new Park and Recreation Advisory commission. This body replaced the Recreation Planning Commission, which had to be abolished because of a conflict with provisions of the City Charter. Around this time Robert G. Corwine, Landscape Architect was hired to help plan the City’s parks. His office was at 4029 Vernon Ave.
There were 140 acres of parks, not including school playgrounds.
Voters passed a very important $985,000 bond issue for acquisition of land and improvement of existing parks on November 4, 1958. The Park Improvement Fund was set up to account for the proceeds of bonds sold to acquire land and develop it into parks and recreation areas. With the 1958 funds, 200 acres of parks were acquired. Bonds were sold in 1959, 1960, and 1968. Acquisition was also accomplished with so-called “LAWCON” grants made by the Minnesota Department of Local and Urban Affairs.
Recreation Directory Dorothea Nelson introduced slow-pitch softball in 1958. Before that, the Park had only fast-pitch. Nelson met a lot of opposition, but fast-pitch was phased out by 1959.
The City had its first park bond sale to acquire land and improve parks and open space. Most of the initial improvements consisted of grading, seeding, drainage facilities, and basic playground equipment.
In May 1959 the Parks and Rec Advisory Commission recommended to the City Council that no carnivals be approved to be held in city parks for the rest of 1959 and all of 1960 except those that had been requested by April 13, 1959.
Picnic shelters and wading pools were authorized for Aquila, Fern Hill, Browndale, Birchwood, and Oak Hill Parks.
Bonds were sold to benefit park development.
In October 1962 Dorothea Nelson stepped down as Parks Superintendent. She was replaced by Kenneth R. Badertscher.
Shelters were built at Browndale, Birchwood, Fern Hill, Oak Hill and Aquila.
The lights at Aquila Park were dedicated on June 5, 1963. The program, featuring Miss St. Louis Park Terry Harkins, included an all-star softball game between the Wolfe Pack (City officials such as Mayor Ken Wolfe; Councilmen Bob Ehrenberg, Jim Heltzer, Frank Howard, and Len Thiel; City attorney Ace Burry; Police Chief Clyde Sorenson; and Fire Chief Pete Williams) and The Chamber Mades (Chamber of Commerce members John Billman, Jim Jennings, Richard Kindy, Art Owens, Bill Sandvig, and Gene Schadow). No record of the score can be found.
Discussions about a new recreation center began in earnest in 1963, just a few years after the Community Center on Lake Street was enlarged.
Playground equipment and backstops went of for bid for 17 parks, including Willow, Westdale, Oak Hill, Minikahda Vista, Nelson, Justad, Edgebrook, Carpenter, Browndale,
18 horseshoe pits were recommended by the City Council.
The St. Louis Park Forum listed 19 supervised playgrounds in its June 1966 edition.
Park and Rec Director Ken Badertscher resigned in August 1966. The position was vacant for several months.
Major funding for improvements topped $1 million.
Richard Wilson became Recreation Director in February 1967. He resigned that September.
Use of the old Community Center was discontinued.
The Rec Center opened on July 17, 1972.
Cedar Manor and Parkview Parks each got a warming house, and Dakota Park and Wolfe Park got picnic shelters. Work was done by Nystrom Contractors.
Parks were reconstructed at Bronx, Jackley, Oak Hill Wading Pool, Edgebrook, Blackstone, and Justad.
The City had 202 slow-pitch softball teams.
PARKS AND RECREATION DIRECTORS
1948 to October 1962
1962 to August 1966
Kenneth R. Badertscher
August 1966 to February 1967
February 1968 to 1974
1974 to 1981
1981 to 1988
May 2, 1988 to 1998
1998 to present