1382 Willow St.
Minneapolis, MN 55403
Ice rinks are closed for the season.
Recreation Center: Loring Community Arts Center
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Berger Fountain is located between Yale Place and West Grant Street.
Connected to the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden via Hixon Whitney Footbridge.
Fishing Pier is located at south side of lake.
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
Bandstand Reservations: Call 612-230-6400
Name: The first name for the park was Central Park when it was purchased in 1883. For a little less than a month in 1885, the park was renamed Spring Grove Park, but park commissioners changed their minds and the name reverted to Central Park. In 1890, at the suggestion of William Folwell, the park was renamed in honor of the first president of the park board, Charles Loring. Loring objected, asking instead that the park be named Hennepin Park. The park board voted in favor of Folwell’s suggestion.
Charles M. Loring
Charles Loring has been known since the 1880s as the “Father of Minneapolis Parks.” He was appointed as a park commissioner in the legislation in February 1883 that created the park board and was elected by the other appointed commissioners to be the president of the new board. Loring was already well-known for his work planting trees and supporting various efforts to create parks. Since the early 1860s he had promoted park efforts and is credited with planting the first trees in Minneapolis west of the Mississippi River, which at the time was mostly prairie.
Loring had been a successful merchant running a dry goods store with his partner, Loren Fletcher. Fletcher became the speaker of the Minnesota House of Representatives that passed the act that created the Board of Park Commissioners for Minneapolis. By the time the park board was created, Loring and Fletcher had sold their store and bought flour mills, and invested in railroads and other burgeoning businesses that were springing up in the city. Loring was also an investor in real estate in the city.
As a city council member in the early 1870s he had promoted planting trees, especially at the city’s only park at the time, Murphy Square. When the daughters of Franklin Steele, one of the first settlers in the area, donated land for Franklin Steele Square to the city in 1882, a condition of their donation was that Loring supervise planting and improvements in the park, a condition to which he readily agreed.
Loring devoted considerable time to park matters during his presidency of the board from 1883 to 1890. He personally supervised the development of Central Park to Horace Cleveland’s plans and the conversion of Hennepin Avenue into a parkway. The acquisition by the park board of Lake Harriet, Lake of the Isles and Lake Calhoun for parks was largely Loring’s doing. He convinced many landowners to donate their land around the lakes and persuaded other park commissioners to purchase the remaining parcels of land that weren’t donated. He was the moving force behind the creation of the lake parks. The other commissioners had such confidence in Loring’s leadership that when they met to elect officers after the first public election of park commissioners in 1884, they once again voted him president. When they realized they couldn’t elect him president because he wasn’t in town and hadn’t yet taken the oath of office (he had been out of town during the election too and hadn’t campaigned for the post), the board postponed the election of officers until he returned a few weeks later. Then they elected him president.
Loring was an early proponent of establishing playgrounds for children in parks. He was the first to make the case, in 1893, that playgrounds were needed for children in the city. His passion for playgrounds likely played a role in his hiring Theodore Wirth as the new superintendent of parks in 1905, when Loring was once again a park commissioner. Loring chaired the special committee to hire a replacement for the retiring superintendent, William Berry, and he went to Hartford, Connecticut to interview Wirth. Loring likely hired Wirth, in part, because he shared Loring’s commitment to establishing playgrounds.
Loring made several significant donations to the park board after his time as a park commissioner. In 1906 he donated the shelter and warming house beside the pond in Loring Park, which still stands. In 1916 he contributed the funds to build an artificial waterfall into what is now Wirth Lake in Wirth Park (then Glenwood Park). Finally, he contributed $50,000 for a permanent trust to plant and maintain the trees along Victory Memorial Drive that honored American soldiers killed in battle. Loring died in 1922, nearly 89 years old, and was interred at Lakewood Cemetery, a cemetery he helped create. His monument reads “Father of the Parks.”
Acquisition and Development
Central Park was the first land purchased by the park board when it was created in April 1883. In the 1883 annual report, Loring described the appeal of the land for a park. “It embraces,” he wrote, “Johnson’s Lake, fed by unfailing springs of pure water, a surrounding area of level land, and on its north and east side an undulating declivity covered with a fine growth of native deciduous trees and carpeted with an emerald turf which have long designated it in the public estimation for a park.”
Many years earlier Loring said he had considered building his home across from Johnson’s Lake before it was a park, but decided that it was too far from the city. But by 1883 Loring noted that the park had become easily accessible by surrounding streets and could be reached by “horse cars and motor line.”
That the land had been considered an ideal spot for a park was demonstrated by the park board’s fast action in acquiring the land. The park board met for the first time on April 17, 1883 and only eleven days later it designated the land it wanted for Loring Park. The initial acquisition comprised about thirty acres at a cost of about $150,000. The park was expanded several times over the next few years, including extending the park to Willow Street on the east in 1890 and purchasing the lot on the southwest corner of the park along Hennepin Avenue in 1902. The total cost of acquiring the land in several stages amounted to nearly $350,000.
Loring and fellow commissioner and friend George Brackett were assigned by the park board to contract for the excavation of Johnson’s Lake to remove the bog in the lake and fill the surrounding marsh. The park board also vacated streets that ran through the newly acquired land and decided from the beginning that the park would be for pedestrians only.
Landscape architect Horace Cleveland was hired to create the initial plan for the park. His layout of the park was intended for rapid development and fast growth of trees and shrubs that were transplanted mostly from nearby woods. The success of Cleveland’s design was noted in an influential magazine, Garden and Forest, in October 1888. “The rapidity with which the artist’s idea has grown into an interesting picture,” the magazine wrote in a feature article on Central Park, “is certainly unusual.”
The first winter after the lake was enlarged, 1884, the park board created a skating rink on the pond, the park board’s first provision for active recreation in parks. The ice was cleared and planed by horse-drawn implements. The following year, electric lights were installed to illuminate the rink.
The excavation of the lake and other construction in the area interrupted the flow of springs into the lake, so in 1887 the park board sank an artesian well next to the lake to provide an uninterrupted flow of fresh water.
Central Park was the center of park activity from the beginning with not only ice skating, but a bandstand built in 1886 and tennis courts in 1887. (By 1911 Loring had two tennis courts, and that year the park board built a pipe-and-wire backstop for one of them.)
In 1889 the board placed ten row boats on the lake which were available for rent, and also accepted a gift of a pelican for the lake. When the board first approached the state’s game and fish commission about stocking the lake with fish, the commission reported in 1890 that the lake was so full of bullheads, it might have to dynamite the lake to get rid of them. Although there is no record of whether the bullheads were dynamited, the lake’s environment for fishing must have changed over time, because in 1918 the Minneapolis Angling Club constructed a casting platform on the shores of the lake. Many years later, in 1943, the lake was stocked with pan fish to provide a dietary supplement to rationed food during World War II.
That Central Park was viewed as the hub of the park system was evident in the construction of parkways in the city. Initially, Hennepin Avenue was viewed as a parkway to connect Central Park to the parkway being built around Lake Harriet. Lyndale Avenue was selected as a parkway north to connect with Farview Park. With heavy traffic along Hennepin Avenue and the inability of the park board to purchase as wide a strip of land along Hennepin as it desired, an alternative route to the lakes was found in Kenwood Parkway. The parkway was built on land donated to the park board, creating a new more parkway-like connection to Lake of the Isles and then to Lake Calhoun and on to Lake Harriet. This connection of Central Park to the lakes via Kenwood Parkway, which was Loring’s idea, likely led to Loring’s commitment to securing, mostly by donation, the entire shore of Lake of the Isles—and shifted park board attention for many years to developing the “chain of lakes” as a park. When Minnehaha Park was acquired in 1889, the goal expanded to connecting Central Park with the new park surrounding Minnehaha Falls, which led to the acquisition of the land along Minnehaha Creek from Lake Harriet east toward the Falls.
Minneapolis came close to losing Loring Park in 1895 when the park board voted to give the park to the state for the site of a new state capitol building in hopes of luring state government from St. Paul. Instead, the state chose the present site for the capitol in St. Paul. The only building in the park at the time was a shed used by park superintendent William Berry as his office. Although as early as 1887, at Loring’s suggestion, the park board considered moving the original home of settler John Stevens, the first permanent house built in Minneapolis, to Loring Park. Ultimately the board decided to place the house in Riverside Park. The Stevens House was eventually moved to Minnehaha Park, where it still stands. Loring Park has always been coveted by others for civic buildings. In 1909, a group of citizens, including T. B. Walker, petitioned the park board to build a library in the park. In 1923, Loring Park was considered as the site of a new municipal auditorium.
Loring’s wish for playgrounds for children in parks was partially granted when the park board erected its first swings, teeter-totters and sand boxes in Loring Park in 1904. The first permanent recreation center in Minneapolis parks was erected in 1906, when Charles Loring donated a heated two-story building next to the lake to serve as a recreation center, kindergarten and warming house for skaters. Following Theodore Wirth’s arrival as park superintendent in 1906, Loring Park was one of five parks in which the park board installed more elaborate playground and gymnastic equipment.
In early years Loring Park was also the center of floral displays in parks. Even after Wirth arrived and created the Rose Garden at Lyndale Park, and the Armory Gardens were planted across Hennepin and Lyndale avenues from Loring Park, Loring Park continued to have more flowers planted each year than any other park. In 1919, for example, the park board’s horticulturist, Louis Boeglin, planted more than 19,000 flowers and bedding plants in the park.
Loring Park was the site of an Arbor Day celebration in 1916, called Loring Day, at which time an elm tree was planted in Charles Loring’s honor. Many of the original elms planted in the park had been grown from seedlings by Loring at his Lake Minnetonka property.
Early in its history Loring Park also became the center for pitching horseshoes in the city and in 1921 the national horseshoe tournament was held there. Loring Park still has an active horseshoe league, the only one in the city. Shuffleboard was also once popular in the park. When four lighted shuffleboard courts were built in the park in 1939, they were so popular that reservations were necessary to use them in the evenings.
Loring Park has been the site of dramatic and musical performances since its earliest days. It was not only the site of the first bandstand in a park, but it was the site of theatrical performances since the early 1900s. When the city celebrated the linking of Lake of the Isles and Lake Calhoun in 1911, a historical play was offered at Loring Park that attracted an estimated 25,000 for each performance over three nights. In 1914, the park board approved a petition by a group of University of Minnesota students to perform Shakespeare in the park. Loring Park was also an important venue for the community singing competitions staged in various parks from 1919 to 1958. In fact, as the once hugely popular mass singing competitions dwindled in popularity, Loring was one of only three parks still participating at the end. Loring Park’s viability for continuing musical performances was enhanced in 1951 with the construction of a new bandstand. Loring is still a venue for public performances, from concerts to movies.
Among Loring’s many other notable firsts in park history, it was the first park to have a wading pool installed in 1940 to meet new state requirements that wading pools have continuously circulating water. In 1960, Loring Park was the first to provide programs specifically for senior citizens. The shelter donated by Charles Loring was renovated that year to provide space for the seniors programs. The initial success of those programs led to expanding the senior program to eight other parks in 1963.
Loring Park was also one of the first places where the park board experimented with leasing a private concession when in 1980 it leased space for Loring Picnic Place to sell sandwiches and refreshments. (The park board had at one time sold the concession for food service at the Lake Harriet Pavilion, but that practice was ended by Theodore Wirth who believed the park board should provide all services in parks.) The Loring Picnic Place was the precursor of leases to private concessionaires at Lake Calhoun and Minnehaha Park in the early 2000s.
Loring Park today is slightly smaller than it once was. The first encroachment on Loring Park occurred in 1891 when Hennepin Avenue was widened resulting in 23 trees being transplanted to what is now Windom Park in northeast Minneapolis. In 1939, Loring Park lost more land when 15th Street was widened. But the largest loss of land at the park took place when I-94 was built in the 1960s, which required the further widening of Hennepin and Lyndale avenues on the west side of the park near the I-94 Lowry Hill Tunnel.
The two most prominent landmarks within the park were added nearly eighty years apart. The statue of Ole Bull, a Norwegian composer, was erected in the park in 1897. The Berger “Dandelion” Fountain, a gift from park commissioner Ben Berger, was erected in 1975.
Loring Park has undergone important renovations in the last thirty years. In 1977, the northern arm of Loring Lake was dredged, the footbridge over the neck of the lake was repaired and the original shelter was renovated. In 1979 the park board reiterated its approval for a pedestrian and bicycle bridge from Loring Park to The Parade over the freeway that had first been approved about 1970. The concept finally took shape nine years later when, with the development of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden on park property at the Parade, the Irene Hixon Whitney Bridge was built to link the two parks. The bridge, a work of art in itself, was designed by Minneapolis designer Siah Armajani. The bridge was paid for by a gift from the family of Irene Hixon Whitney and state and federal funds.
Loring Park got a complete makeover beginning in 1998 through a combination of funds from the park board, the city’s Neighborhood Revitalization Program and the non-profit Friends of Loring Park. The lake bottom was lined to prevent water loss, the Loring Shelter was expanded dramatically into an art center and the Loring Garden of the Seasons was developed, among other improvements.
The north bay of Loring Pond was dredged in 2007 to remove sediment and the wading pool in the park was upgraded a year later to meet new safety guidelines.
One of the first Nice Ride bicycle rental kiosks was installed at the north side of the park in 2010.
The hard courts in the park were resurfaced in 2011 and a 1,000-square-foot rain garden was planted by Friends of Loring Park along with the north and west sides of the Loring Park Community Center in 2012.
In 2014 the park board embarked on a multiyear plan to reduce the number of invasive cattails blanketing Loring Pond and the annual Holidazzle festival shifted to Loring Park in 2015 due to construction on Nicollet Mall.
History through 2008 written by David C. Smith, with updates from 2009 to present written by MPRB.