1320 29th Ave. NE
Minneapolis, MN 55418
Recreation Center: Audubon Recreation Center
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Name: The park was named in honor of John James Audubon, the American naturalist and ornithologist, at the time it was purchased in 1910.
Acquisition and Development
The first five acres for Audubon Park were purchased in 1910 for $5,400 and Pierce Street through the park was closed. The park was expanded slightly in 1912 with the addition of four-tenths of an acre at a cost of just over $1,000. In addition to the enlargement of the park, the park board drained a “small, shallow, stagnant pool” in the park, according to the 1912 annual report. In 1914, the park board closed Buchanan Street between the park and Thomas Lowry School as part of park superintendent Theodore Wirth’s plans, presented in 1915 and again in 1918 to create a playground from the school extending into the park. It was the flattest section of one of the city’s hilliest parks. In 1918, the park board also considered enlarging the park southward to 28th Avenue NE between Pierce and Buchanan, with the purchase of several adjoining lots. The plan was abandoned after neighborhood protests over the assessments on local property, during war time, that would have been needed to pay for it. Audubon was included among the parks that were provided with a skating rink in 1918, some playground apparatus was provided to the park in 1921, and a playground instructor was assigned to the park in 1926.
In 1927 Wirth again proposed cooperation with Thomas Lowry School to expand park facilities, noting that the neighborhood badly needed a playground and there was space for a “standard-sized” playground between the park and school. Wirth also noted in his report of that year that the park had lost 75 percent of its oak trees to an oak borer infestation.
In the last annual report he wrote before he retired, Theodore Wirth again presented a plan for the improvement of Audubon Park in 1935. He included Audubon in a list of “Some Well-patronized but Insufficiently-equipped Playgrounds,” noting especially the lack of proper shelter buildings and sanitary facilities. He also admitted that the only prospect for executing the plan he presented was with Works Progress Administration (WPA) funds. It did not happen.
For the next twenty years, park board annual reports made no mention of any plans for Audubon Park. Finally in 1955 and 1956 the board’s annual reports again cited plans for developing Audubon and in 1957 improvements in the park were begun by filling low areas with 20,000 cubic yards of fill excavated from the construction site of nearby Northeast Junior High School. In 1958 additional filling and grading were done at Audubon to provide more gradual grades in the park, including a resurfacing of topsoil obtained from the construction site of the new Shingle Creek playground in north Minneapolis.
In 1959, Audubon got new playground equipment, a wading pool and ball fields financed by city bonds amounting to $107,000 and property assessments for the same amount. Construction was also begun on a shelter building that was completed in 1960, resulting in “a new modern playground” where the “formerly hilly terrain made its value as a playground somewhat limited,” according to the 1960 annual report. When looking at the steep grades in the park today, it’s hard to imagine the park when those slopes were steeper. The terrain of the park makes it one of the most interesting neighborhood parks in the city—and provides a great sledding hill.
The park that had waited so long for a shelter building was upgraded near the end of the 1970s recreation-center building boom in Minneapolis parks. The current recreation center was dedicated in 1979.
New playground equipment was added to the park in 1997 in part through neighborhood commitment of Neighborhood Revitalization Program funds.
Native plants and shrubs were planted on the hillside in the park in 2011.
Park history compiled and written by David C. Smith.