Art Spotlight

Gateway treasure uncrated in Southwest. An icon of downtown's Skid Row will again see the light of day for a Hennepin History Museum exhibit

Hidden in a dark, dank corner of the Nicollet Island Pavilion is a forgotten part of Minneapolis history: the old Gateway drinking fountain, an icon of downtown's Skid Row, disassembled and lying in its various parts.

Next to it lay four crates containing marble statues donated to the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board in 1955, artwork intended for the Lyndale Rose Garden or another park -- a gift that has not seen the light of day in nearly 50 years.

The fountain will go on display Oct. 12 at the Hennepin History Museum, 2303 3rd Ave. S., said Curator Jack Kabrud. It will be part of a photo exhibit called "Down and Out: The life and death of Minneapolis Skid Row," based on a newly released book by the same title. It features the late Southwest Minneapolis photographer Edwin Hirschoff's photos and commentary by Joseph Hart, a former City Pages reporter.

The Gateway District, a 25-block area centering on Hennepin, Washington and Nicollet avenues, had dozens of bars, flophouses, pawnshops and office buildings, according to University of Minnesota Press, which is publishing Hart's book.

The city tore the Gateway District down between 1959 and 1963 as part of the first federally funded urban renewal project, the press said. Hirschoff's photos document its final days.

The fountain is one of the few remaining pieces of the Gateway. The only remnant still standing downtown is a towering flagpole at Hennepin and Washington avenues. The most notable piece is a fountain with spouting turtles, now in the Lake Harriet Rose Garden.

The Park Board is giving the artwork on permanent loan to the Hennepin History Museum. It includes a large piece of tablet with relief. "I haven't seen it yet," Kabrud said in mid-September. "I am pretty sure they are from the introduction panel to the Gateway monument."

The four sculptures -- two Pan figures and two female satyrs -- will go on display next year as part of an exhibit on the history of city parks, Kabrud said.

The Park Board ruled out displaying the sculptures outdoors, as originally intended, said Mary Barrick, special projects coordinator. The Minneapolis Arts Commission advised against it because of the risk of environmental damage. "They are history, along with being pieces of art," she said.

Russell M. Bennett of Bennett Lumber commissioned the garden sculptures for his Wayzata home in 1915, according to a report presented to the Park Board. Designers sent plaster casts to Florence, Italy, to have the works carved of Carrara marble (the same marble used to carve David, Barrick said).

They were slow making their way back to Minnesota because of World War I shipping restrictions, arriving in 1919, the report said. The Bennett family estate eventually donated the work to the Park Board.

The Park Board recently offered the sculptures to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, which declined, the report said. Michael Conforti, the MIA's sculpture curator, said the works could go in a park setting, but would need special crates for winter storage.