414 Third Avenue SE
Minneapolis, MN 55414
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Maintenance is increasing at all neighborhood parks, thanks to additional annual funding from the 20-Year Neighborhood Park Plan (NPP20). This initiative also funds ongoing rehabilitation and major project to restore neighborhood parks and help address racial and economic equity.
Name: The park is named for Holmes School which once adjoined the park to the east. A school still occupies that site but the new school is named Marcy Open School. Holmes School was named for poet Oliver Wendell Holmes.
Acquisition and Development
The first 1.7 acres of land for the park adjacent to Holmes School were purchased in 1953 for about $69,000. The land was acquired with a combination of city bonds, assessments on neighborhood property and proceeds from the sale of Elwell Field. Another acre of land was acquired for the site in 1953 and 1954 in a complex deal with Pioneer Engineering Works. Pioneer traded an acre of land to expand Holmes Park and five parcels of land it purchased for the park board to expand Dickman Park in exchange for ten acres of park board land at Northeast Athletic Field Park.
The park was purchased in part to provide a playground for the school and in part to replace Elwell Field which had been sold in 1952. Elwell Field at East Hennepin and 5th Avenue SE was purchased in 1939 from a manufacturing company but sold to another manufacturing company only twelve years later. At the time Elwell Field was sold, the park board promised to replace it with a park closer to Holmes School.
The neighborhood had been seeking a playground for decades. The history of the parks in the neighborhood is tangled by the names of two elementary schools that had once existed in the neighborhood: Holmes School and Marcy School.
Today’s Holmes Park was built to be the playground for Holmes School. However, Holmes School was torn down and replaced by a new school in 1992. The new school was named Marcy Open School. This was the third location for Marcy School in the neighborhood. To complicate matters, when the second Marcy School was closed, the park board acquired the site of that school for a park in 1979, which is named Marcy Park. So Holmes Park is adjacent to Marcy Open School, which used to be Holmes School, and Marcy Park is on the site of the former Marcy School. Perhaps all you need to know is that the neighborhood draws its name from both schools; it’s called the Marcy-Holmes Neighborhood. (See Marcy Park, too.) To confuse matters even more, the neighborhood has had two Elwell Fields as parks, too.
After the first Marcy School at 9th Avenue SE and 5th Street SE was closed in 1908 the park board initiated proceedings to acquire those grounds for a park. The park board’s 1910 annual report even included an etching of what a new park would look like on the “Marcy School Block.”
But that acquisition never was completed. The park board abandoned all proceedings for the acquisition in the summer of 1911 due to protests from landowners whose land was to be taken for the park (to make a larger park than just the former school grounds), and objections from other property owners in the neighborhood who were to be assessed the costs of acquiring and developing the park.
Again in 1924, efforts to secure a playground in the neighborhood led to preliminary plans being drawn up for a playground between University Avenue and 4th Street SE at 5th Avenue SE (a plan for the park was included in the park board’s 1924 annual report), but money for the park was once again not available. Area residents thought the park board would purchase the land with bond funds or general funds, but that wasn’t the park board’s policy on neighborhood parks. The policy at the time was that the park board would acquire and develop neighborhood parks only if property owners agreed to pay the cost through assessments on their property. In 1926 the park board deferred action on acquiring the land until property owners in the area expressed their willingness to be assessed for the cost of acquiring and developing the park. They never did.
But in 1937 the neighborhood did manage to get 1900 signatures on a petition to establish a park in the neighborhood. That prompted the park board to try once again to provide a park in what was then a densely populated neighborhood. At the time the nearest playgrounds were Van Cleve Park to the east and Beltrami (then Maple Hill) Park to the north, both across railroad tracks from the Marcy-Holmes neighborhood.
The debate over placing a park in the neighborhood led to a serious consideration of how the park board could and should pay for parks in older, densely populated sections of the city that were underserved by parks. Since 1911, the park board had used what was called the Elwell Law, passed by the Minnesota legislature, to pay for neighborhood parks. Ironically, as it turned out, the law was named for a prominent state legislator from southeast Minneapolis. Under that law, property owners in the vicinity of a park were assessed the cost of acquiring (and later developing) the park. If area landowners agreed to pay those assessments, the park was acquired and developed. If they didn’t, it wasn’t. As a consequence, neighborhoods that were newer and wealthier got parks and older, poorer neighborhoods did not.
Wealthier landowners, or those in newer neighborhoods, who anticipated an appreciation in land values with the addition of a park, more often volunteered to pay assessments for a park. Landowners in poorer neighborhoods often couldn’t afford assessments, and property owners in older, more developed sections of the city knew that the addition of a park would not necessarily lead to appreciation in property values.
The petitions for a park near Marcy School (the second Marcy School) prompted an eloquent consideration of the fairness of the Elwell Law in the park board’s 1937 annual report. The report, written by park superintendent Christian Bossen, concluded that “where congestion is great and the need is great, then consideration must be given to a different method of financing than that of the Elwell Law.” One reason the board cited for there being a great need in the neighborhood was that property in the area had been converted to apartment houses, which didn’t have yards with play spaces for children.
At the time the board estimated that the cost of a new playground in the area would be more than $200,000, but that only $20,000-$25,000 could be raised through assessments on property. Bossen and park board president Francis Gross proposed a study of the neighborhood’s needs, even beyond recreation, to determine a proper course for the park board. It was one of the park board’s first explicit statements recognizing its role in city life beyond merely providing recreation spaces and equipment. The 1937 report, on the heels of the Great Depression, came at a time of great introspection by the park board as to its role in society.
One result of that discussion was the purchase in 1939 of a playground in the neighborhood, Elwell Field at East Hennepin Avenue and 5th Avenue SE, which was not financed with property assessments. It was the beginning of the end for the Elwell Law. Although the law continued to be used for park improvements for nearly thirty years, from that time more park projects were paid for with general park funds or city bonds, although few parks were acquired at all from the 1930s to the 1960s. The park board and the city council officially ended the practice of assessments for parks in 1968.
The Elwell Law had been initiated when Theodore Wirth was park superintendent. It was viewed by Wirth and his successors as a faster way to acquire and develop neighborhood parks than to wait for city bonds to be approved or for the park board to devote often-scarce general funds to developing what were considered “local” parks. Wirth was succeeded by three superintendents who had begun their service to Minneapolis parks under Wirth, and had grown up professionally with the Elwell Law as an accepted means of developing parks and, in fact, exported the concept to other cities. A Reader’s Digest article in the early 1960s even trumpeted the success of the model.
But beginning in 1937, and confirmed by the report of an outside expert hired in 1944 to review the park system, it was becoming obvious that the Elwell Law had led to gaps in park service in the older, poorer central neighborhoods of the city. It wasn’t until the succession of “Wirth Men” as park superintendents ended with the hiring of an outsider, Robert Ruhe, in 1966, that the Elwell method of financing parks was discontinued.
Elwell Field—purchased in 1939 without using Elwell funds—was nearly four acres and cost only $5,000 payable without interest over ten years. That park was sold, however, to a manufacturing company in 1951, with a promise to replace the park with one nearer Holmes School (today’s Marcy Open School). Over the next three years the park board did acquire the block adjacent to Holmes School.
In addition to acquiring land for Holmes Park in 1952, the next year the park board also acquired a one-acre parcel of land for a second Elwell Field at 9th Avenue SE and 4th Street SE. It was the site of the old Trudeau School. The park board acquired the site from the school board by trading the 1.25 acres of land it owned adjacent to Sheridan School in northeast Minneapolis, which had always functioned as little more than a playground for that school. (Adding to the long story of difficulties in providing parks in the neighborhood, however, the second Elwell Field was taken by the state department of transportation in 1966 for the construction of I-35E. After a long battle with the state, the park board agreed to accept $125,000 for that land.)
As soon as the first land for Holmes Park was acquired in 1952, the park board removed homes from the land and proceeded to grade the block for playing fields, erect a small shelter in the park to serve primarily as a warming house for skating, and install blacktopping and hard-surface play areas. Perhaps the park board overdid the blacktopping, because in 1959 the Holmes School PTA requested that the blacktop be replaced with grass and a softball field. A softball field, complete with hooded backstop to keep balls from flying into houses across the street, was completed in 1959.
In 1983 the park board acquired an additional two acres of land for the park, bringing the total to about 4½ acres. The land was purchased from the school board for just under $200,000. Another $250,000 was spent to improve the expanded area.
The final boundaries of the park were established in 1991 when the school board and park board rearranged their ownership of the two blocks to accommodate the construction of Marcy Open School. At that time the last privately owned lot on the parcel of land was purchased by the school board and turned over to the park board as part of the deal.
In 2014 the basketball court was resurfaced.
History through 2008 written by David C. Smith, with updates from 2009 to present written by MPRB.