Biffs spiffed

The 110-year-old historic restrooms at Lake Harriet will reopen Sunday July 14 amid red balloons, a barbershop quartet, lemonade and cookies and general fanfare — the labor of love of a group calling itself the "Spiff the Biffs" project.

The 1892 Harry Wild Jones-designed restrooms closed in 1991. The citizen’s "Biffs" campaign — formally known as Lake Harriet Historic Restroom Renovation Project — began in 1995.

The restrooms are the oldest buildings in the Minneapolis park system, along with the superintendent’s building in Loring Park, according to the Spiff the Biffs


Reopening events begin at 4 p.m. with the planting of Victorian-era shrubs and flowers. (The public is invited to bring spades and trowels to help.) Park Board President Bob Fine and Lee Jones, Harry Wild Jones’ grandson, will speak at 4:30 p.m. A ribbon-cutting ceremony will follow.

Guides in period costumes will give tours until 5:30 p.m., when the Minneapolis Pops Orchestra begins its concert at the band shell.

"Painted in the authentic colors of dark red-brown with green trim, the renovated women’s facility features a restored octagonal entrance and vestibule with benches and a fireplace, seven toilets and two accessible family restrooms," a Biffs committee news release said.

"The men’s restroom, with its restored exterior, is now used for park maintenance storage. Surrounding the buildings, plantings of hydrangea, mock orange shrubs, hosta, iris and viburnum represent the horticultural choices of the 1890s."

Spiff the Biffs is a grass-roots committee of Minneapolis citizens and local preservationists organized under the umbrella of the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota. The Minneapolis Heritage Preservation Commission placed the buildings on its historic register in 1980. The biffs provided inspiration and context for the current Lake Harriet Bandstand (1986) and refectory (1990) designed by Milo Thompson.

The Spiff the Biffs Committee has applied to get the restrooms on the National Historic Register.

The restoration project, including the historic displays and landscaping, cost $225,000.

The Park Board contributed more than $100,000. The Linden Hills neighborhood gave $20,000 from its Neighborhood Revitalization Program money. The Fulton, Tangletown, East Harriet Farmstead and Lynnhurst neighborhoods gave $5,000 each from their NRP money.

Other major support came from the city of Minneapolis, Miller Dunwidde Architects, the General Mills Foundation, the Marshall S. Kaner family, MacPherson Towne Masonry Restoration, the Elizabeth C. Quinlan Foundation and the Susan P. Willins Fund.