Prospect Park to become state’s largest historic site

The 20-year project to add Prospect Park to the National Registry of Historic Places might be finalized in May.

Nick Wicker

As southeast Minneapolis continues its growth, with a recent string of new apartment buildings and a light rail line, one neighborhood is attempting to preserve its history.

Community leaders have long pushed to add Prospect Park to a national list of historic places, which would protect the neighborhood from losing its older houses. Last week, city officials voted to support the neighborhood’s plan to obtain that designation, which could be finalized in the coming months.

As some community members are more concerned with neighborhood preservation, one area bordering the Prospect Park Historic District wants to become the “Neighborhood of the Future,” centered on developing energy-efficient infrastructure.

Florence Littman, a 51-year resident of Prospect Park, said she worries that high-capacity apartments and other student housing will spread into the neighborhood and lessen its historic value.

“Most people want us to be part of an urban village, which we’re not,” Littman said.

While she said the national designation is a step in the right direction, a local one may have done more to help the neighborhood protect its historic aesthetic.

The Prospect Park East River Road Improvement Association started the process of making the neighborhood into a national historic site 20 years ago, said Joe Ring, chair of the association’s Historic Committee.

Prospect Park is home to over 15 unique architectural styles and landscaping features that were designed carefully as the area began developing in the late 1800s, Ring said.

He said Prospect Park’s residential district would be the largest historic site in the state if recognized, and it includes homes built by famous architects like Frank Lloyd Wright.

In 1997, the National Register of Historic Places accepted the neighborhood’s iconic Witch’s Hat Tower and Tower Hill Park onto the list.

Over the years, the neighborhood’s residents have come from diverse backgrounds and economic classes, Ring said, which added to Prospect Park’s unique appearance.

Ward 2 City Councilman Cam Gordon said the designation would be good for the area and preserve the long history of the neighborhood he represents.

Since 1995, the PPERRIA have worked to complete federal applications to qualify the historic residential district in the National Register.

Although the city’s Neighborhood Revitalization Program provided some funding for the application process, Ring said, the community has had to fundraise for years to match the program’s contributions as a test of popular support.

At the Heritage Preservation Commission meeting last week, the committee drafted a letter from the city to the National Register’s office, complete with public input and recommendations for how the neighborhood’s case should be handled.

“[The city is] sort of done,” said Minneapolis City Planner Haila Maze. “That’s the extent of our involvement at this stage.”

Denis Gardner, a National Register state historian, said he and his team will present Prospect Park’s nomination to the State Review Board on March 10, and the National Park Service would ultimately confirm its recognition. Gardner said the entire process should finish in May.