901 15th Ave. SE
Minneapolis, MN 55414
Wading pools are closed for the season.
Ice rinks are closed for the season.
Recreation Center: Van Cleve Recreation Center
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The towering wind chime sculpture, Accord by Norman Andersen, sings a low, throaty song whenever the wind blows and gives a sound performance automatically at 12 pm, 3 pm, 6 pm and 9pm. It is surrounded by an award-winning garden of native plants cared for by community volunteers. Benches overlooking the grasses and flowers create a restful spot in the SE Como neighborhood.
Name: The name was adopted on May 15, 1893 to honor Charlotte Ouisconsin Van Cleve and her husband, Major General Horatio P. Van Cleve. Charlotte Van Cleve was known as “Infant Pioneer” having resided with her parents at Camp Coldwater, the predecessor to Fort Snelling, in 1819. Before the name was officially adopted, the park was referred to as Second Ward Park.
Acquisition and Development
In response to repeated petitions from the residents of southeast Minneapolis, the park board selected nine acres in southeast Minneapolis to purchase for a park on March 1, 1890 at a cost of slightly more than $75,000. (Although the 1890 annual report of the park board lists Van Cleve at nine acres, all subsequent inventories of park property list it at 6.97 acres.) The land selected was one of three sites in the neighborhood the park board was considering.
Van Cleve Park was one of several important park acquisitions in 1890, which included Powderhorn Park, William Berry Park (then Interlachen), Lyndale Park and the expansion of Minnehaha Parkway, as well as the enlargement of Loring Park.
The first plan for the new park was created by Horace Cleveland in the spring of 1890. Cleveland’s design was remarkable in that it included land designated for a playground for children — a first for Minneapolis parks. The notion was sufficiently ahead of its time that the park board did not approve the creation of the playground, opting for a pond in its place.
The pond of about 1½ acres was created immediately in the southwest corner of the park and the material excavated from the pond was used to grade the remainder of the park. Brook Avenue, which ran through the park before it was purchased was vacated by the park board. The park was fenced, walks were laid and a double row of elm trees were planted around the park.
The following year the newly created lake was drained and it was lined with “puddled clay.” The 1891 annual report includes a drawing of the new park. With the creation of a lake in the park, it was promptly used for a skating rink in the winter of 1892.
Suffering the effects of the Panic of 1893, the park board made few improvements to Van Cleve, or any other park, in the ensuing years. With the return of better financial times, however, Van Cleve and other parks were once again improved. In 1904 the board approved a clay tennis court for Van Cleve and the next year authorized a warming house for skaters and two “toilet rooms.” (The toilets were moved from Van Cleve to Lake Calhoun in 1911 after a permanent warming house with toilets was built at Van Cleve in 1910.)
Following the successful introduction of playground equipment in 1906 at Riverside and Logan parks, Van Cleve was one of three more parks to get playground apparatus in 1907. After new park superintendent Theodore Wirth arrived in 1906, he recommended in his first annual report that Van Cleve should be a priority because it was on the trolley line between Minneapolis and St. Paul and the neighborhood was densely populated. Wirth called Van Cleve “half playground, half show park.” Wirth also recommended that the pond be given a sand bottom so it could serve as a wading pool. Van Cleve Park was added to the park concert schedule for the first time in 1907.
Although playground attendance at Van Cleve lagged behind attendance at other parks, Van Cleve was one of three parks, North Commons and Jackson Square were the others, to get a year-round field house in 1910. These were actually little more than upgraded warming houses for skaters. In 1911 Wirth submitted a plan for changes in the paths of Van Cleve. His plan shows that only a small section of the park was set aside for playground use and there was no provision for playing fields of any kind.
This was a time when parks were still intended primarily for passive use—where people could rest, relax and escape the city amid natural beauty—not for active exercise or sports. Wirth noted in his commentary on the plan that Van Cleve was “one of the neighborhood parks where playground activity and attractive park scenery can be maintained in close proximity without interfering with each other.” Despite Wirth’s expectations for Van Cleve as a well-patronized park, it had the lowest attendance at playground activities of any city park. The lack of playing fields may have contributed to that. Van Cleve was the only park playground that did not have a summer-ending playground festival in 1912.
Two tennis courts were built in the park in 1916 and in 1917 Wirth recommended that the small lake be given a concrete bed to make it more attractive and sanitary. In 1919 the park was improved (a plan is in the 1919 annual report), including, finally, a tar macadam bottom for the pond. The playgrounds were also rearranged and enlarged, and a ball field and volleyball court were added. Wirth noted that the improvements “greatly enhanced the appearance and usefulness of the park.” The same report indicated that Van Cleve was among the leading parks in the number of flowers planted, one of the last indications that there was still an effort being made to balance the benefits of a “playground” with what Wirth had called a “show park.”
Perhaps due to the addition of playing fields, by the early 1920s Van Cleve joined North Commons as the most heavily patronized of all city playgrounds. Of particular note, Van Cleve was one of a few playgrounds at which girls outnumbered boys in attendance at playground activities and games in the 1920s.
In 1935, in his last annual report before he retired, Theodore Wirth included plans for addressing a shortage of swimming facilities in the eastern part of the city. He proposed expanding Van Cleve Park to the west to include a swimming pool on the south edge of the park. (He also proposed expanding Jackson Square and adding a swimming pool there.) But in the middle of the Depression and a world war soon to follow, those plans were never implemented. Wirth’s 1935 plan for the addition of a swimming pool would have also eliminated the man-made pond.
Improvements at Van Cleve were included in the park board’s post-war progress plans in 1945 and those proposed improvements, scaled back considerably, were carried out in 1948-1949. The old wading pool was eliminated and a new concrete wading pool was built. Two concrete tennis courts and a paved play area were added and athletic fields for softball, baseball and football were installed. Floodlights were also installed for the playing fields. The total cost of improvements was about $60,000.
Other than updating field lighting in 1961, the next major improvements at Van Cleve were in 1970 when a new community center with a gymnasium was built and the other park facilities were also renovated. In preparation for the improvements, Van Cleve was expanded by nearly two acres to the southwest of the original park.
In 1999 the Van Cleve community center was closed for a major remodeling, which was completed in 2000.
In 2010-2011 the playing fields at the park were upgraded, especially the baseball field. An irrigation system was installed and the outfield was graded and seeded. New fencing was also installed.
The wading pool was rebuilt in 2015-16.
Park history compiled and written by David C. Smith.