Before the weather gets chilly, let’s take a stroll around Loring Park. It’s a nice amble — and it’s also a history of the city written in miniature, full of details that bring back the names and changing fates of the city.
Who’s Bob? Start with Berger Fountain, known colloquially as the Dandelion. (It would be great if they poured bright yellow dye into the water each summer, no?) It’s really a memorial. To whom? Three guesses:
A) Australian World War II soldiers.
B) The Unknown Gentrifiers of the early ’70s.
C) The park department’s Fertilizer Procurement Division.
Jewitt Park: Now head toward the statue on the hill to the north and consider the lives of the early settlers.
They noticed a deep footpath beaten by Indians traveling up from a Minnesota River settlement to St. Anthony Falls, but the area had no permanent encampments. The first white guy to settle, urged by his brother-in-law to leave Maine and come to Minnesota, went by the exotic name of Joseph Smith Johnson. He found a fellow named Dan Fife squatting on the land and paid him $500 to scoot. (What Fife did with the cash, no one knows, but you suspect a bender of epic proportions.) Johnson now owned the park and all the land to Franklin Avenue. He installed his family, and named the swampy pond Jewitt Lake after his wife’s maiden name.
Johnson sold off the property over the years, and others moved into the park. There was a fellow named Harmon, for whom a street is named; streetcar magnate Tom Lowry built a big house on Groveland for his 16-year-old bride, and fabled moneybags J. Paul Getty grew up nearby in the early 1900s.
The virtuoso: By now you’re up on the hill by a statue of a man playing a violin. That’s Ole Bull. He didn’t live here. He didn’t attend the 1895 dedication, but his son did — along with 1,200 men of the Norsemen’s Singing Society who walked from Dania Hall on the West Bank for the ceremony. Ole Bull wasn’t just the rock star of his day — he was a symbol of Norwegian culture. Installing his image in the park was a way of asserting national pride — 10 years before Norway would achieve independence.
Needs a plaque: The corner of Harmon Place and Maple Street is a parking lot now, but once there was a mansion. The Gale House cost $100,000 to build and was designed by Leroy Buffington, the Father of the Skyscraper. He was an impoverished father, though; he patented the iron-frame skyscraper, but only one person paid royalties: Rufus Rand, who build the Rand Tower. His family settled in Loring in the late 19th century, and perhaps he had fond memories of playing around the Gale House.
The Northwest Life Insurance Building: This was designed by Edwin Hewitt, a busy local architect whose name is rarely mentioned these days. He also built the long-lamented Metropolitan Bank building, the Northwestern Bell building (now Qwest), as well as the Methodist Cathedral on Loring, of which he was a member.
Another name of note in the area: Keg-o-ma-go-shieg, an Indian who made an annual trip to Loring to camp. According to Steve Trimble’s history of Loring, “In the Shadow of the City,” one researcher suggests that the name actually meant “don’t have any sex with me.” Or, as one might say today, “don’t (bleep) with me.”
That’s about a tenth of the tales you can find here. Just don’t be tempted to take a shortcut across the pond. The green gunk looks thick enough to support your weight, but I wouldn’t try it.