Have you ever wondered about the distinctive “Witch’s Hat” tower you can see piercing the skyline as you travel along I-94 between Minneapolis and St. Paul? It is the landmark of the unique and historic Minneapolis neighborhood of Prospect Park. Here are some things to know about it.
1. The “Witch’s Hat” tops a water tower built in 1913 on Tower Hill in the heart of Prospect Park, the highest point in Minneapolis.
Built to provide adequate water pressure for the neighborhood higher than the rest of the city, this unique water tower was no longer needed after improvements were made to the municipal water system in 1953. It was scheduled for demolition after it was damaged by lightning in 1955, but residents convinced the city to instead restore and preserve it since that solution didn’t cost any more than removing it. The “Witch’s Hat” gives the Prospect Park neighborhood a strong sense of place, and it has been rumored that the tower was Bob Dylan’s muse for “All Along the Watchtower”.
2. Prospect Park was geologically established during the Ice Age, and was once the site of one of the area’s biggest tourist attractions.
The hills of Prospect Park were formed by deposits of rocks and boulders left behind when the Keewatin Ice Sheet receded. When native American Indians roamed the land, it was a hilly area in the center of a treeless Prairie. At one time there was a brook that meandered through the neighborhood and fed Bridal Veil Falls, which was a tourist attraction second only to Minnehaha Falls prior to the advent of trolley cars and automobiles. The falls is now a mere trickle barely visible beneath the bridge to the University of Minnesota on the east bank of the Mississippi River after crossing the Franklin Avenue bridge.
3. Its meandering streets were named after the British surveyors who platted the land.
Prospect Park’s original settlers came in the 1880s. Minneapolis declared it an official settlement in 1884 and hired British surveyors to plat the land. They established streets that followed existing cow paths and the surveyors named the streets after themselves… Cecil, Arthur, Seymour, Malcolm, Melbourne, Bedford.
4. Public transportation began on University Avenue with streetcar service in 1896.
This unique and beautiful area was largely hidden until public transportation service began in 1890, and streetcar service began in 1896 along University Avenue with cars every 2 minutes during rush hour and every 5-10 minutes the rest of the day… the dark lines on the historic map from 1917 indicate streetcar lines. This streetcar service is what fed Prospect Park’s building boom, responsible for most of the homes still in the area now. More than 100 years later, in 2014, light rail transit service arrived along University Avenue with its very own Prospect Park station.
5. Prospect Park has had its own school since 1898.
Prospect Park residents have always been involved in community action, including convincing the Minneapolis Board of Education they needed their own school in 1898. Pratt Community School is the oldest and smallest school in the Minneapolis School District. Now a Pre-K through grade 5 school, it is supported by a strong international community and volunteers from the University of Minnesota community due in large part to its close proximity to UMN.
6. Generally speaking, Prospect Park doesn’t raze old structures, it rehabilitates them.
Prospect Park is fundamentally a quiet residential neighborhood with steep hills and curving tree-lined streets. It has a unique ‘urban-village’ community feel, self-contained like a village set apart within the context of the larger city. Many of the homes in the neighborhood are from the time of the original development 100+ years ago. But don’t be fooled… many of these ‘old’ homes have been renovated, such as the house below which my clients bought not long ago. The house had been in the seller’s family for more than 70 years with other family members also in the community… very common in this tight-knit community.
7. Prospect Park is the home of two famous modernist houses
When Interstate I-94 was built, it was routed to avoid two architecturally significant houses across the street from each other on Bedford Street SE. Built only 4 years apart by two significant architects, their styles are distinctly different.
On east side is The Willey House, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Built in 1934, Frank Lloyd Wright described it as a new conception of architecture as ‘space enclosed’. It influenced modernist architecture which followed.
“The building now became a creation of interior space in light. And as this sense of the interior space as the reality of the building began to work, walls as walls fell away.” – FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT
Right across the street, The Lippincott House (aka Faulkner House) was built only four years later, in 1938. It was the first of many houses designed by Elizabeth and Winston Close and the first house built in Minneapolis in the new ‘International’ style. The Closes led the way in bringing Midcentury Modernism to Minnesota, and became prolific designers of high style modernist homes after Wold War II.
8. Prospect Park is the home of Surly Brewing Company
This unique neighborhood built on the hills next to the University of Minnesota also has a more commercial/industrial use district on the north side of University Avenue. Within walking distance of the hilly, winding residential streets of Prospect Park is Surly Brewing, a 50,000 square foot destination brewery with food and drink, tours, even event space… also in Prospect Park!