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History and Humor Inseparable at Lake Harriet Historic Restroom Re-Opening Celebration

Mayor RT Rybak, 11th Ward Council Member Scott Benson and
NRP Director Bob Miller performed a couple of numbers as
part of the Spiff the Biffs re-opening celebration on July 14.

People attending the festivities helped plant flowers and plants
that were common horticultural choices during the 1890s.

When residents from the Linden Hills neighborhood began their NRP planning efforts in 1995, one of their top priorities was to honor and celebrate the richness of the neighborhood's history and heritage.

While revitalizing the public restrooms at Lake Harriet might not be what some people have in mind when thinking about historic preservation, a restroom restoration project, more widely known as Spiff the Biffs, was significant enough to enlist the support of five neighborhood groups, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, the City of Minneapolis, the Minneapolis Heritage Preservation Commission and a grassroots committee of local residents and area preservationists.

Designed by Minneapolis architect and Park Board member Harry Wild Jones in 1892, the two Lake Harriet restroom buildings, one for men and the other for women, were re-opened with much fanfare and several bad restroom jokes at a celebration on Sunday, July 14, 2002.

The $215,000 project, which required an intensive and far-reaching fundraising campaign, resulted in the complete restoration of the exterior of the women's building to its original colors of dark reddish-brown with green trim. Tours of the building's interior also revealed a late-Victorian tile floor, seven new bathroom stalls and two separate unisex bathrooms for family use. Benches and a refurbished fireplace inside the foyer of the women's facility provide a historical glimpse of how the building also served as a vital amenity to women seeking a comfortable refuge from extreme temperatures. The exterior of the men's building was also restored as part of the project although the inside is now being used for park maintenance storage.

The two buildings, closed since 1990, represent the oldest buildings in the Minneapolis park system along with the Jones-designed superintendent's building in Loring Park. Jones designed several other buildings near Lake Harriet, including a picnic shelter on Lake Harriet's west shore that is still in use today.

While much of the hoopla surrounding the re-opened restrooms was historical in nature, the importance of adding nine new facilities for women to an often-crowded area surrounding the Lake Harriet bandstand can't be overlooked. For years, women attending concerts and picnics at Lake Harriet had only two restrooms available to them.

The Linden Hills Neighborhood Council, the East Harriet Farmstead Neighborhood Association, the Fulton Neighborhood Association, the Lynnhurst Neighborhood Association and the Tangletown Neighborhood Association all invested NRP funds in the project.

If the Lake Harriet Historic Restroom Restoration Project has piqued your curiosity about the area's rich history, you may be interested in purchasing a copy of a book recently published by the Linden Hills History Study Group. The book, titled "Down at the Lake: A Historical Portrait of Linden Hills and the Lake Harriet District," takes a look back at the early recreational, residential, and commercial development of the land that lies between Lakes Calhoun and Harriet. Illustrated with dozens of vintage photographs, the book chronicles the people and the dreams that transformed the prairie into one of Minneapolis' favorite neighborhoods. For more information about purchasing a copy of the book, please contact Madalyn Cioci of the Linden Hills Neighborhood Council at 612-926-2906. NRP funds helped make the history book possible.



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