The view from Prospect Park

Witch's Hat in 1935
The Prospect Park water tower, commonly known as the Witch's Hat, has been the neighborhood's most recognizable landmark for decades.
Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society

You know you're in or near Prospect Park when you see the Witch's Hat water tower, the most familiar neighborhood landmark and the highest point of land in Minneapolis.

When you ask the question here, "How big a deal is light rail on University Ave?" you often hear the answer, "Not as big a deal as 40 years ago, when road builders aimed Interstate 94 at the neighborhood."

Half and half house
This house was built on the dividing line between the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, with the tall pole in the front yard marking the border. 1908.
Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society

Neighborhood resident and activist Joe Ring leads a tour.

"We're next to the Frank Lloyd Wright home. That home would have been gone, the area we're parked in would have been gone. This would actually be an exit that would be going to University Ave. It would have cut right through Prospect Park," Ring said.

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We're near the sound wall next to Interstate 94, which is just steps away from a beautiful small, red brick house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

Prospect Park has always been smack dab in the way of anyone wanting to get from Minneapolis to St. Paul in a timely fashion.

That's been a geographical fact from 150 years ago, Joe Ring says, to the ox cart trail days of the 1850s even before there was a Prospect Park.

The KSTP-TV building is now located on the border between Minneapolis and St. Paul. The dividing line between the two cities bisects the front door of the building on University Ave.
MPR Photo/Bill Alkofer

"All of those ox cart trails literally came through Prospect Park," Ring said.

This neighborhood faced one the biggest threats to existence 40 years ago. Residents rallied to change the Interstate 94 route.

They helped convince engineers to alter the freeway plan and take 100 homes, instead of slashing through the center of the neighborhood and destroying many more.

That hasn't been the only challenge to Prospect Park's existence. The neighborhood has witnessed the coming and the going, Joe Ring says, of farm equipment manufacturing, heavy industry, and even the Twin Cities electric street car system.

"We had International Harvester...we had the trolley barns where all the trolleys were constructed," he said.

Close to I-94
The Malcolm Willey home was saved from destruction 40 years ago when I-94 was built through Prospect Park. Neighborhood residents succeeded in getting the freeway rerouted. The house is separated from the highway by a concrete wall.
MPR Photo/Bill Alkofer

Ring's view is the expansion of the University of Minnesota poses a bigger threat to the existence of Prospect Park's varied collection of homes and its small town atmosphere than the Central Corridor light rail line.

"It's moving a lot of its campus population off campus. It is developing -- like many people have heard -- its biotech corridor, which will be going right through us," Ring said.

Prospect Park's newest effort to ensure its survival is historic designation.

Residents are working with local, state and federal government to be labeled a historic district.

The designation means any plan that changes the character of the neighborhood has to pass through more hoops.