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Prospect Park Association Records

Identifier: M/A 0311

Description of Contents

The collection consists of materials from Prospect Park Association (formerly the Prospect Park and East River Road Improvement Association), including organizational records, subject files, financial records, and media. Due to a house fire in the 1970s, many of the early records were lost. The bulk of the material dates from the 1960s to the early 2000s. The Newsletters and Agendas, Minutes, Etc. series are good entries to the collection.


  • Creation: 1929 - 2012



The collection is available for use in Special Collections at Minneapolis Central Library during the department's open hours.


The Prospect Park Association (PPA), known as the Prospect Park East River Road Improvement Association (PPERRIA) until 2015, was the first neighborhood association in Minneapolis. Started in 1901 as the Prospect Park Improvement Association (PPIA) in response to poor streets, sidewalks, signage, lights, gas, and police protection, the association has grown over the decades into the organization it is today with a volunteer board of directors and strong neighborhood participation. PPA is concerned with the health, safety and general welfare of the neighborhood and promotes the maintenance and improvement of the aesthetic, residential, and physical qualities of the area. PPA discusses concerns regarding block club organizing, zoning, land use changes, schools, taxes, traffic changes, parks, arts, recreation, housing rehabilitation, historic preservation, and the environment.

PPA presides over the Prospect Park neighborhood, located in southeast Minneapolis. The neighborhood is bound by railroad tracks and industrial land to the north, the city boundary between Minneapolis and St. Paul to the east, the Mississippi River to the south, and the University of Minnesota to the west. Some of the earliest residents began settling in the neighborhood in the last half of the 19th century.

At the heart of the neighborhood is Tower Hill Park, the highest land area in Minneapolis, home to the iconic Witch’s Hat tower. In 1901, Tower Hill was in danger of being leveled, rallying the neighborhood, under the guidance of PPIA and Wilbur J. Hartzell, to save it. The group also prevented the gravel mining of Tower Hill in 1906, at which point it was designated a park.

Water pressure was poor in Prospect Park and PPIA advocated for a water tower to benefit the residents. In 1913, a 150,000 gallon water tower designed by Frederick William Cappelen was built and used for 40 years, until it was decommissioned in 1952. The caretaker of the tower was dubbed “The Wizard” by local residents and children. In 1955, the tower was struck by lightning and saved from demolition by PPA. In 1986, the Witch’s Hat was renovated. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1997.

From the 1960s to the early 2000s, PPA lobbied government officials to address issues affecting Prospect Park neighborhood. Positioned between an industrial area, the University of Minnesota, highways and railroads, the neighborhood dealt frequently with pollution and encroachment. Additionally, concerns surrounding Light Rail Transit began being raised in the 1980s and continued for decades. In 1992, PPA successfully opposed a proposal from Carl Bolander and Sons Company to build a cement crusher, citing potential noise, air and water pollution. The longest, most arduous fight against pollution involved Barber, Union, and Gopher Oil from 1906-2001. In 1910, the first protests were raised against Barber Oil due to pollution. The business dealt with kerosene, gasoline, and paint products, and there was fear that the materials created a fire hazard and put residents’ health in jeopardy. In 1927, PPIA claimed Barber depreciated surrounding property and had been building additions without permits. By 1971, Union Oil of California (UNOCAL) was the owner of Barber Oil. Gopher Oil purchased the site in 1980 but abandoned it by 1981. During this time, PPA continued to fight, citing a 1958 2-4D vapor leak that killed hundreds of trees and an incident in 1977 when 10,000 gallons of turpentine spilled into the environment. In 1984, there was an attempt to have microbes “eat” the pollution, which was unsuccessful. In 1992, UNOCAL repurchased the land from Gopher Oil for soil remediation, which was also unsuccessful. Finally, in 2001, UNOCAL sold the land to Brighton Development Corporation for $10, under the condition that Brighton would be responsible for residual environmental liability. In 2002, 96 years after Barber Oil first began polluting the site, 53,000 cubic yards of contaminated soil were trucked out to be replaced with residential housing.

In 1993, the PPA became involved with the Neighborhood Revitalization Program (NRP), a citywide investment program designed to improve Minneapolis neighborhoods. PPA laid out an action plan including initiatives for housing, the environment, transportation, education, safety, livability, business, and recreation. In an effort to increase safety and security in the neighborhood, PPA decided to petition property owners to financially support the implementation of ornamental street lights, with the NRP funding part of the project as well. Some residents vehemently opposed the street light initiative, citing a mishandling of the matter on the part of the NRP, PPA and the City of Minneapolis, as well as a lack of evidence that lighting has an effect on crime rates. Nevertheless, the street lighting was installed in 2000, but only after years of disagreement between PPA and the opposing residents. As a result of the street lighting issue, more than 100 Prospect Park property owners sued the City of Minneapolis, and some of the disgruntled residents formed another neighborhood group called the Prospect Park Neighborhood Association (PPNA).

PPA has addressed many other neighborhood concerns including the I-94 freeway project in 1964; State Highway 280 in 1972; the closing and saving of Pratt, Motley, and Marshall-University schools in 1982; and saving Minneapolis Public Library’s Southeast Library in 1983.


19.13 Linear Feet (42 boxes)

Language of Materials


Donor Information

This collection was donated by Prospect Park Association in February 2014 as accession 2015.03 and in March 2017 as accession 2019.09.

Prospect Park Association Records
Carissa Hansen, Cindy Coy, and Jenna Jacobs
February 2016, revised December 2020
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Hennepin County Library Special Collections Repository

Minneapolis Central Library
300 Nicollet Mall
Minneapolis MN 55401 U.S.A.