Minneapolis’ Prospect Park unique historical urban enclave

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A neighborhood sign for Prospect Park
Photo by JD Duggan.

The Prospect Park neighborhood is a distinct and eclectic mix of housing and industry in the Southeast part of Minneapolis. Among the public housing complex, wide expanse of commercial land, and the unique historic residential part of the Tower Hill Park area sits the neighborhood’s keystone landmark known as the “Witch’s Hat” Tower.

Similar to Rondo neighborhood in St. Paul, the construction of Interstate 94 threatened the very livelihood of Prospect Park. Arguments about the freeway contended convenience against social impact in the mid-1940s. When the freeway was actually constructed, the neighborhood lobbied strongly enough to alter the path. This caused the thoroughfare to only replace 100 houses, rather than cut a divide through the center of the neighborhood.

In comparison, the total devastation of Rondo, a largely African American community, illustrates some deeper disparities in the Twin Cities region in the middle of the century. Today, Prospect Park has strong connections to the broader community because of the freeway and multiple Light Rail train stations, while retaining a clear distinction from surrounding areas.

Witch’s Hat and the historic district

The Witch's Hat Tower shrouded in trees
The “Witch’s Hat” Tower is a Prospect Park landmark, drawing many people to the neighborhood. Photo by JD Duggan.

The Prospect Park Water Tower, or Witch’s Hat, is arguably one of the most iconic structures in the city. Built in 1913 with a holding capacity of 150,000 gallons, the landmark resides on the highest natural land area in Minneapolis. In 1955, local citizen groups protected the tower from demolition following a lightning strike.

The Witch’s Hat is rumored to be inspiration for the Bob Dylan song “All Along the Watchtower,” because he could view the tower from his Dinkytown apartment.

Although the tower was originally built to serve as a bandstand, only one concert was played in the observation deck. According to the Prospect Park Association website, the band found it difficult to carry their equipment up the spiral staircase. Today, the tower is opened one day of the year during the Pratt Ice Cream Social, allowing the public to visit the observation deck.

Recently, the neighborhood engaged in heated debates with developers and the city government to preserve views to and from the monument.

Although the viewshed (geographical radius of visibility) of the tower is currently unprotected by legislation, the residential area surrounding Tower Hill Park is protected from developers as a historic district.

Glendale

A yard sign that says "Built in 1912"
The residential portion of Prospect Park is shrouded in trees, a practical canopy over the homes and streets. Yard signs throughout the neighborhood showcase the age of the homes. Photo by JD Duggan.

The Glendale area of Prospect Park holds a public housing development built in the early 1950s intended to house World War 2 veterans. In recent years, this enclave within Prospect Park catered to families and immigrant refugees.

Mutual support between the broader Prospect Park neighborhood and Glendale runs deep through the history of the postwar housing project, according to an article by the Twin Cities Daily Planet. Following tension and shootings in the 1970s, cultural exchanges were organized, including a Hmong cultural celebration.

Today, Glendale houses predominantly East-African immigrants, some of whom have been highly involved in neighborhood activism. Recent concerns of privatization and poor living conditions have plagued the area. A 2016 article by City Pages discusses concerns of rodent infestations and the rising value to the area due to the train station.

Stadium Village and Prospect Park North

Grain elevators frame the Minneapolis skyline on an unused plot of industrial land.
Prospect Park North, a part of the Towerside Innovation District, is an overgrown region littered with disused industrial buildings. Photo by JD Duggan.

Through Prospect Park runs University and Washington Avenues, hubs and thoroughfares along the University of Minnesota campus and beyond. Along Washington Avenue sits Stadium Village, a mid-sized commercial district that is frequented by students and locals alike.

Stadium Village is rife with bars and restaurants. With much of the ownership throughout the area credited to the University of Minnesota Foundation, ambitious plans are set in place for the future of the region.

A “gateway” to the neighborhood was recently presented, a draft concept for what the neighborhood could look like in the next decade. The plans revolve around creating a “cool” and unique pedestrian experience. The team in charge of this re-development compared the plans to Over the Rhine in Cincinatti and other campus-area neighborhoods. They hope to build a hip destination spot for students and tourists.

The Prospect Park North district of the neighborhood highly contrasts Stadium Village. Mostly wide expanses of overgrown land, the spotty ownership throughout the area makes development difficult. Since the recent construction of Surly Destination Brewing and newly-released plans for Malcolm Yards’ apartment and food hall construction, attention to the area is building.

Currently, the region is divided by exempt railroads and littered with abandoned industrial buildings. Roads and infrastructure are sparse as the neighborhood presses the city and developers to utilize this land as an innovation district, a part of the city where makers’ spaces and interesting commercial projects can thrive.

A picture of a road that is covered by the shade of the many trees in the area
The winding canopied streets of Prospect Park’s Historic District create a neighborhood feel, distinct from the surrounding urban landscape. Photo by JD Duggan.

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