Leif Erikson Park (aka Lakeshore Park)
Leif Erickson Park (aka Lakeshore Park)
As the city of Duluth entered the twentieth century, a small triangle of land at the junction of East Superior Street and London Road became the spark that ignited a community effort to create a new park on the shore of Lake Superior. But the triangular sliver, between Ninth and Tenth avenues, had already been divided into sixteen fifty-foot wide lots, several of which were occupied by houses. Despite this obstacle, in April 1905 John Millen, vice president of the Alger, Smith & Co. and managing director of the Alger-Sullivan Lumber Company, offered to donate to the city one undeveloped lot in the middle of the triangular plot. Millen asked only that the remainder of the tract be acquired by the city and dedicated as a park.
The Duluth News Tribune reported that the proposition met with “instant and popular approval.” The newspaper promised to donate $1,000 toward purchase of the additional lots and recommended the project to the Board of Park Commissioners “in the hope that this greatly desired feature of Duluth’s landscape shall be quickly added.”
Park Board Vice President Bernard Silberstein responded by saying, “The site would certainly make a handsome park. It was intended originally for such a purpose, but through accident houses were built there.” Board President Luther Mendenhall agreed, but he called on the citizens of Duluth to find the money. “The park board has no funds to make a purchase of this land at present, but I would think that it ought to be easy to raise the required amount among the neighboring property owners.”
However, the triangle of land was soon forgotten after real estate investor Louis Loeb suggested that the project be enlarged to include the lake shore below London Road. (In November, 1905, an even smaller triangular plot just west of the property became the first home of the Stone Memorial Fountain built by Mrs. T. L. Blood to honor her father, Duluth pioneer George C. Stone. The fountain moved to what is now Duluth’s Rose Garden in the 1980s as part of the I-35 expansion.)
The Northern Pacific Railroad, owner of the lakeshore property Loeb suggested the city purchase for the park, offered to sell the land from Eighth Avenue East to Thirteenth Avenue East to the city for $20,000, half of its market value. The Park Board agreed to provide half the purchase price if Duluth citizens would come up with the rest.
Duluth’s newly elected mayor, Dr. Marcus. B. Cullum, announced his support with the comment that, “Any movement toward the extension of the park system is good. It is to be regretted that the park fund is so small…The project would have to be carried out by public subscription since the park fund is not sufficient to keep the present parks in the proper order. It is a great pity that more of the lake shore property was not reserved when it was not so expensive.”
Surprisingly, other than contributing $10,000, the Park Board did very little to help the city acquire the land. Instead, Mayor Cullum took the lead. In May 1905 he called together property owners and interested citizens to discuss ways to raise money for the project, which at that point was referred to by a variety of names including East End Park, Lakeside Park, Lake Front Park, and Lake Shore Park.
Money came in slowly despite frequent pleas in the newspapers. One editorial published in The Duluth News Tribune on May 21, 1905, came from local businessman Charles Schiller, who wrote, “The funds at the disposal of the board are insufficient to do much in the way of acquiring new properties and it is therefore up to the public spirited citizens to come to the front and show their loyalty to their city by loosening their purse strings.”
A year later nearly $5,000 had been collected, but the city still needed another $5,000. Mayor Cullum continued to lead the fundraising drive. “In response to repeated admonitions from numerous residents of the East End…and from his own deep conviction of the desirability of the park, he is now trying to bring the matter to a successful conclusion,” The Duluth News Tribune reported.
By August of 1906 time was running out on the city’s option to buy the land, and the mayor made a final strong push by sending out urgent appeals to many of the prominent property owners in the East End. The Duluth News Tribune editorial staff also continued to encourage the public, with words such as, “Duluth has not today a foot of lake front park. …It will be exceedingly short-sighted and false economy if this park is not secured, and if this opportunity passes, the day will come when every citizen of Duluth will bitterly regret it.”
The mayor’s efforts finally succeeded. On September 30 he announced that Watson S. Moore, First Ward Alderman and part owner of the Spencer Moore grain company, “has assured the people of Duluth that the ten acres…have been practically secured by the city and will be converted into a park….”
In June 1907 the city took ownership of the land below London Road from Eighth Avenue East to Thirteenth Avenue East. Although the Park Board never officially named the new park, it became known as Cullum Park in recognition of the mayor’s key role in acquiring the land. The name would soon change to Lake Shore Park, however, as local entrepreneurs hatched an even bigger plan.
Click on “2″ for the rest of the story….