1328 W 58th St.
Minneapolis, MN 55419
Ice rinks are closed for the season.
Recreation Center: Kenny Neighborhood Center
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Basketball Court is half-court.
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Name: The park was named for Sister Elizabeth Kenny, renowned polio fighter and founder of the Sister Kenny Institute in Minneapolis. Polio was a dreaded disease in the late 1940s when the park was named and Kenny was a revered fighter of the devastating effects of the disease. In 1946 and 1949 polio scares practically emptied Minneapolis playgrounds of children; parents were afraid that their children would contract the disease if they played on public grounds or swam in city lakes.
Acquisition and Development
The land for Kenny Park was acquired in 1948. Half of it was purchased for $11,642 and the other half was acquired free from the state, which had acquired it for failure of the previous owners to pay taxes. (At around the same time the park board acquired Bossen Field and Perkins Hill parks and parts of McRae and Hi-View parks from the state’s list of tax-forfeited property, a practice that had begun in 1941with partial acquisitions of Northeast Park and Peavey Park from the state.)
Kenny Park lies between Kenny Elementary School and Susan B. Anthony Middle School. Kenny School was developed about the same time as the park, but the middle school was built ten years after the park was acquired.
The first attempts to acquire the land for a park came in 1928, a year after Minneapolis annexed about a mile of northern Richfield from Fort Snelling to Edina. Shortly after the annexation, faced with the challenge of providing parks and schools for the newest parts of Minneapolis, the park board and school board worked together on planning shared facilities.
One of three sites the park board and the school board considered was the planned site of the Carl Schurz school, which was to be built at Girard and 57th. (It never was.) The other two sites were east of Mother Lake on land that is now part of the airport, near what is now Bossen Field, and Nicollet and 58th, a few blocks west of Diamond Lake, near today’s Windom School and Windom South Park.
Kenny Park was the one site among those that came nearest to being acquired. In 1929, park superintendent Theodore Wirth submitted plans for those sites and in 1931 the park board requested $75,000 in bond funds from the city to acquire five park sites in the former Richfield areas. The board at that time designated for acquisition the block between Emerson and Dupont and 57th and 58th streets, a block east of the present Kenny School. The park board abandoned that plan and the site in 1932 when property owners in the area objected to being assessed for the acquisition. The board acquiesced to neighborhood wishes, which were understandable given the economic hardships and uncertainty of the early years of the Great Depression.
The Carl Schurz School site was singled out again in a 1938 park board study of which neighborhoods in the city needed parks. It was put not in the category of neighborhoods that faced an acute need, but as an area that should get a playground in the future.
With the economic recovery and population growth following World War II, the board again looked to add parks in the southernmost city neighborhoods in conjunction with the school board. In 1948 the board acquired Kenny Park with plans to make it a children’s playground that would serve Kenny School and a possible junior high school that the school board was considering building on the other end of the park. (Park commissioner Maude Armatage, for whom Armatage park and school were named, had been the driving force behind cooperation between the park board and the school board since the 1920s. For more on Armatage see “Armatage Park.”)
When residents in the area petitioned to have the park developed in 1951, the park board prepared initial plans and estimates of cost to better judge the neighborhood’s commitment to the improvements. Until the late 1960s, almost all neighborhood park improvements were made only if property owners in the neighborhood agreed to be assessed the cost of those improvements. That’s one reason that newer and more affluent neighborhoods often had nicer parks. Property owners in the neighborhood agreed to the assessments in 1952, and in 1953 a start was made in grading the land for the park. Fill was hauled in to level the fields; some of it was excess material from Armatage Park several blocks to the west.
By 1955 the construction was largely completed, with playing fields, playground equipment and a park shelter. Only two tennis courts and a hard-surfaced play area remained to be done. In October, 1955 the new park was dedicated and named for Sister Kenny. Final grading of the site and sodding were completed in 1958 after Susan B. Anthony Junior High School was built west of the park.
It wasn’t long, however, before plans were being made to enlarge the shelter and improve the play facilities. Due to funding problems, renovation plans were dropped in 1964, but picked up again in 1967, when the shelter was enlarged and general repairs were made.
The shelter was remodeled again in 1982. Extensive rehabilitation of the playing fields and playground took place in 1997.
The park board experimented with 18-inch high pond hockey boards on the Kenny Park skating rink in 2007. In 2009, the tennis courts in the park were resurfaced with funds from grants and the neighborhood. In 2012 the neighborhood raised funds to help pay for three new shade structures installed near the playground and pool.
History through 2008 written by David C. Smith, with updates from 2009 to present written by MPRB.