3435 36th Ave. S
Minneapolis, MN 55406
10 am - 9 pm daily
Labor Day through Labor Day*
*Wading pools located on or adjacent school sites will open after the last day of school and close the day before school begins. These dates are determined by Minneapolis Public Schools and change each year.
Ice rinks are closed for the season.
Recreation Center: Longfellow Recreation Center
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Basketball Courts are half-courts
Tennis practice wall available
See what's currently in the works for this park. Some projects may be under the name of the regional park or service area it lives within. View Current Projects
This park will be affected by a completed park or service area master plan. View Master Plans
Major investments at Central Gym Park in 2018 were made possible with funding from the 20-Year Neighborhood Park Plan. This historic agreement between MPRB and the City of Minneapolis helps address racial and economic equity across 160 neighborhood parks and provides $11 million annually to maintain, repair and replace facilities.
Size: 8.13 acres
Service Area: South
Master Plan: After two years of extensive community engagement, the Longfellow Park Master Plan was approved in 2016 as part of the South Service Area Master Plan. The Longfellow Park Master Plan will guide outdoor park improvements at Longfellow Park for the next 20-30 years. Click the link below to view the master plan.
Name: The park is unofficially named for Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, an American poet who wrote The Song of Hiawatha in 1854. The poem made Minnehaha Falls famous around the world, although Longfellow had never visited the falls. The current Longfellow Field was never officially named after it was acquired in 1918. The park has been called Longfellow Field since it was acquired because it replaced an earlier park by that name located about a mile closer to downtown on Minnehaha Avenue between East 26th and East 28th streets. The first Longfellow Field was sold by the park board in 1917.
Acquisition and Development
The park board has owned two different parks called Longfellow Field. The first was purchased for $7,000 in 1911. It was a little more than four acres. At the time, that land had already been used as a playing field and was considered to be ideally situated to accommodate a great many people. The board at the time considered the purchase terms to be very favorable. The park was adjacent to an elementary school, Longfellow School. At a cost of about $8,000 football and baseball fields, and tennis, volleyball and basketball courts were installed, as well as playground apparatus. In 1912 park superintendent Theodore Wirth wrote that it was one of the most active playfields in the city. Along with North Commons it was the site of many citywide football and baseball games, because the fields at The Parade were out of commission for two years as they were regraded and seeded.
Despite the park’s popularity, and its accessibility by street car, it was sold in 1917. The Minneapolis Steel and Machinery Company, which was located east of the park, asked the park board in late 1917 to name its price for the land. A week later the park board said it wanted $35,000 for the land and within a month the deal was done. The park board explained that it made the deal because the area was no longer suitable for a park because of the growth of manufacturing businesses in the area. The board also cited the fact that the school board had closed Longfellow School next to the park. Moreover, the board said the park was going to require expenditures for improvements anyway. (That explanation may not have held weight if the park board had proceeded with plans to build a shelter and toilets at the park in 1916. Bids for the construction of the shelter, which an architect had been hired to design, came in at more than $10,000, twice what the park board had allocated. Consequently, all bids were rejected and the shelter wasn’t built.)
As part of the resolution to sell the park, the board included its intention to find a “more suitable area” for a park and playground nearby in south Minneapolis. Less than two weeks after the sale of the first Longfellow Field was completed, the board designated land for a second Longfellow Field, the three blocks from 35th to 38th Avenues South between East 34th and East 35th Streets. The new park was in a thinly settled section of the city. Due to its location farther from downtown, and farther from streetcar lines, the new park would never replace the old Longfellow Field as a city-wide sports destination.
Appraisers were immediately appointed to determine the value of the new site for purchase by condemnation. When the appraisers made their report on February 6, 1918, park commissioners had second thoughts. The two blocks from 36th to 38th avenues had no buildings on them and were appraised at just over $16,000. The block to the west, however, between 35th and 36th, included three new houses. The appraisal for that block alone was more than $17,000. And there were appeals to the appraisals from property owners on both blocks.
Ultimately, the board chose to defer purchase of the westerly block, and reached agreement with the single owner of the two blocks where the park now stands to pay him $16,000 plus $758 he owed in back taxes and assessments on the land. The deal was approved by the board on May 1, 1918.
The 1918 annual report of the board includes park superintendent Theodore Wirth’s initial plan for the park, which proposed a field house that formed the back of a grandstand overlooking a combined football and baseball field and track. The board appropriated $12,500 for grading the field that year, but Wirth noted that grading had begun too late in the year to provide a skating rink that winter. The next year Wirth reported that the grading was completed and that playground apparatus would be installed in the spring of 1920. He also noted that when the “district is more settled,” the park board could build a modern field house there.
In December 1920 Wirth submitted a revised plan for a small wood-frame shelter in the park, which he admitted was not much more than a toilet building. He said it would serve the needs “for now” of what he called one of the most active playgrounds in the city. He thought the shelter would stimulate demand in the neighborhood for “more adequate accommodations” in the near future. The shelter, which was built in 1921, was designed and constructed so it could easily be moved to another park when a larger field house was built at Longfellow.
In 1929, Wirth submitted a new plan for the park. Gone were his visions of a field house. Instead he recommended a “standard” shelter to replace the wood building, which he called “entirely inadequate.” Although Wirth’s plan was revised in 1930, after input from the neighborhood, to include croquet and basketball courts and eliminate the running track, neither of the plans were ever implemented. The Great Depression put an end to those plans and the temporary shelter built in 1921 was not replaced until the 1960s.
Although the wood shelter at Longfellow was quite modest, it was one of few improvements in neighborhood parks in that era that wasn’t paid for through property assessments. Because of the profit on the sale of the original Longfellow Field in 1917, the board bought the new land and paid for all improvements with those funds. The neighborhood around Longfellow Field is one of the only ones in the city that did not pay for its neighborhood park through property assessments.
That changed in 1961 when the park board approved spending $125,000 in bond funds and a $125,000 assessment on area property to renovate the field and replace the old wood shelter. By 1963 the whole park was rebuilt, with new playground equipment, new tennis courts, enlarged athletic areas, and a “modern” brick building.
The modern brick building at Longfellow was one of the first new recreation centers built in the 1960s, and was the showcase recreation building in the city before the building boom in recreation and community centers in parks in the 1970s. Even Longfellow Field participated in the citywide upgrade of recreation buildings when construction on a new community center with a gym was begun in 1975. Longfellow was one of eight parks in the city that got a larger community center with a gym designed to serve more than just the surrounding neighborhood.
Several playground renovations were carried out in 1990. The Community Center has undergone several improvements in recent years including new HVAC systems and a redesigned entry way in 2007 and a remodeled community center and updated kitchen in 2008.
Park history compiled and written by David C. Smith.