Minneapolis to get Museum in the Streets on Lake Street


Think of a museum, and what comes to mind?  Placid marble hallways. An air of cultured beauty.  Now think of Lake Street.  Clamorous, perpetual motion.  Cacophony of sounds.  Grit.  A new project from Lake Street Council brings it all together with Museum in the Streets.

The project will be installed in three distinct segments along Lake Street: Longfellow, Midtown and West Lake.  In each segment a visitor will be greeted by one large panel that gives a historical introduction to the area and marks the location of the other panels.  There will be twenty smaller panels (20” x 20”) in each segment, each containing one or two photos and approximately 130 words of text, in two languages, describing some historic aspect of that particular site.

Benefit evening: Please join the Lake Street Council and the Host Committee for a fundraiser in support of the Museum in the Streets: Lake Street • Thursday, September 15th, 5:30 – 7:30 pm at the roof top Community Room at the Midtown Exchange, 2929 Chicago Ave S, Minneapolis (Suggested donation: $50, more if you can, less if you can’t) If you have questions about this event, please contact Joyce Wisdom at jwisdom@lakestreetcouncil, or Cara Letofsky at cara@millcity.org

“It’s a living, breathing museum,” said Ryan Knoke. You stand in front of the plaque and see what it was like in the past at the same time you experience what it is like now.  And twenty years from now, you will be experiencing it like it is then, “and it’s always changing.”

Lake Street Council Executive Director Joyce Wisdom, who discovered Museum in the Streets on a visit to Ridgefield, Connecticut in 2009, spearheaded the project and completed much of the initial research.  She has since been joined by a research team in each segment area who dig into the history of certain sites along Lake Street.

From Lake Street Council
The Museum in the Streets: Lake Street project will create 3 bilingual heritage-discovery walks for the benefit of Lake Street communities and visitors from far and wide. These free walking tours will foster a sense of historical identity, educate, encourage preservation of local historic sites and promote the knowledge of the stories, events and traditions of Lake Street. They will also affirm our urban renewal projects and be a structure for school outings. Each walkabout of 15-20 locations will include large maps highlighting that area’s locations and will clarify where the visitor is in relation to other area destinations.

This project will include a brochure that outlines the walking tours. The series of panels that makes up each tour will invite people to discover Lake Street’s unique story at their own pace, over the course of an afternoon or perhaps return visits.

2011:  Complete research, design and order panels.
Spring 2012: Installation begins for Phase 1, to include three segments.
Fundraising for Phase 1 and future phases is ongoing.

Three segments to be completed in Phase 1
Longfellow: 29th Ave S to Hiawatha
Midtown: Cedar to Park Avenue
West Lake: Hennepin to Lyndale Avenue

For more information:
Lake Street Council   612-822-0232

Cara Letofsky heads up the Longfellow group, and found a great body of work to start with, chronicled in community newspapers and compiled by neighborhood historians.  The Neighborhood by the Falls, by Eric Hart and the Longfellow History Project Committee, published by Longfellow Community Council in 2009, has been an invaluable resource.

In fact, the research group in each segment reported a wealth of local resources. “What’s so fascinating just in our own group,” said Shari Albers, lead researcher for the Midtown Group, “is that we’ve got these people who have really been doing [this type of research] for years, along with other people we’ve solicited who’ve never been a part of this kind of project before, and it’s just sparking all this excitement!”

Albers’ expertise is in the history of Powderhorn Park, which was originally planned to extend to Lake Street. She treasures a 1904 photograph that shows the lake in the shape of a powder horn (a container used to carry gun powder).  Another expert in the Midtown area is Ryan Knoke, “the Park Avenue historian of Minneapolis,” who leads annual home tours along the Avenue.

Local historian Kathy Kullberg leads the West Lake Street group. She was recruited by local resident Thatcher Imboden, co-author with Cedar Imboden Phillips of Images of America – Uptown Minneapolis (2004). Kullberg hails from Pennsylvania, “where history is longer,” she said.

Among Kullberg’s favorite finds:  ice horse racing on Lake of the Isles that endured until 1929, and the first airmail flight one hundred years ago from Lake Calhoun to New Orleans (which only made it as far as St Louis due to bad weather).

Three themes emerged from the research, according to Letofsky: transportation, immigrant businesses and urban growth amid the agricultural-related industry of the area.  Lake Street development was fueled by the extension of transit lines from downtown into these neighborhoods at the far edge of the city.  Horse-car service and the steam-powered Motor Line reached the Longfellow area in the mid 1880s, and transit vehicles became electrified in the 1890s.  The dismantling of the street car system in the 1950s has been cited as a reason for the demise of many businesses and entertainment venues.

Kullberg found it amazing that such a short stretch of Lake Street could have spawned so many major corporation,” including Minneapolis Moline (at the current Target store site), Toro Manufacturing Company (on the south side of Lake Street at Snelling Ave) and Burma Shave (2019 E Lake) of the famous advertising sign program of the 1920s (see photo).
[Courtesy of Lake Street Council] Burma Shave: 2019 East Lake Street: The company’s original product was a liniment made of ingredients described as coming “from the Malay Peninsula and Burma.” Demand was sparse, and the company sought to expand sales by introducing a product with wider appeal. The result was the famous Burma-Shave advertising sign program, begun in 1925. Sales took off. At its peak, Burma-Shave was the second-highest selling brushless shaving cream in the United States.

Entertainment venues were also plentiful in the Longfellow area, including Wonderland Amusement Park (Lake Street and 31st Ave), featuring a roller coaster, miniature train, boat ride and floating theater, and Minnehaha Driving Park, a harness race track on 60 acres with a hotel at Minnehaha and 36th Street.

Another theme expressed by several researchers was the telling of histories of ordinary people.  While Knoke can recite the history of the lumber and flour barren owners of Park Avenue mansions, he also tells the stories of the middle class home owners outside the mansion-district, as well as tales from the lives of the hired help.  Researching the Lakes area provided plenty of upper-echelon fodder for Kullberg, yet she delights in telling the “everyday stories” of the “common people” who made up the neighborhoods: the shop-keepers, the bakers, and the shoe-makers.

The guidelines of the project set “history” as something that happened at least 50 years ago, but Albers said more recent events at a few Midtown venues merit mention.  The Avalon Theater’s transformation from porn to puppetry (Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre), and the long-staying nature of an immigrant business such as Ingebretsen’s, serving the neighborhood continuously since 1921.

Museum in the Streets is a registered trademark and is the creation of Patrick Cardon, a history aficionado and museum consultant.  The first project was done in France in 2000, and several projects have been installed in New England.  The projects aim to benefit communities by “generating social activity, economic growth and civic inter-connections,” according to their website.

While the goal of the project is to create more positive activity and business on Lake Street and draw people to the area, Albers believes that “the most important people to educate are people who live here.”   She hopes the project will inform local residents as well as drawing tourists and others to the area.

Letofsky concurs that knowing the history helps people appreciate their community. “The more you know about the buildings and streets that you’ve been by numerous times, the more you appreciate the area.”