New name, new attitude

KENWOOD — The Farrars’ search for a new home ended on West 21st Street near Cedar Lake, where they found a cozy house nestled in the trees of a wooded lot.

Up until their move several years ago, the Farrars had been renting a house on Burnham Road, only about a half a mile away. When they decided to buy the new place, they shared the good news with
their landlord.

Mike Farrar recalled that the landlord reacted with concern:

“Our ex-landlord … said, ‘Oh, did the real estate agent tell you about Hidden Beach?’”

Notorious as a late-night party spot, the illicit beach on Cedar Lake — just a block from the Farrar’s new home — was more of a nuisance than an amenity for many neighbors. Noise, drug and alcohol use, and even occasional violence prompted numerous calls to police, especially during the swimming season.

This summer, several neighbors said, has been different.

Now an authorized city beach under a new name — East Cedar Lake Beach — the swimming spot was beginning to shed its bad reputation. The presence of a lifeguard three days a week and increased patrolling by the Minneapolis Park Police were, at least anecdotally, cutting down on crime and rowdy behavior.

“We used to see people regularly with a 12-pack or a case of beer openly parading down there,” Farrar said. “That doesn’t happen anymore.”

“There’s still a lot of people at the beach, but it just seems a little bit friendlier for all people,” he added.

Commissioner Tracy Nordstrom of the Park Board said the little feedback she received from constituents near the beach was positive.

“I’ve heard no complaints, and I think most people are pretty pleased with how it’s going,” Nordstrom said.

Police calls down

Park Police Sgt. Fred McCormick said in late June it was still too early to tell whether changes at the beach would have a significant effect on crime. More problems could crop up with hotter summer weather,
McCormick said.

“The call load isn’t as high right [as it has previously been] at this particular moment,” he said. “I could see that swinging the other way.”

McCormick said the majority of calls to the beach this year involved alcohol and marijuana use. There were several incidents of vandalism, but no reports of more serious, part-one crimes such as assault or robbery.

In 2006, there were 234 arrests and citations at the beach. The most common offense was being in the park after hours, followed by alcohol and narcotics violations.

In comparison, there were only 13 arrests or citations at all other Southwest lakes that same year.

Kenwood residents on the route between the beach and Uptown complained of litter, occasional vandalism and noise as people left the beach late at night.

“You’d come by [the house] after a weekend night, and the yard would have beer bottles all over the place,” Farrar said. “There’s been a lot less of that.”

Neighbors and police agreed it was a small number of beachgoers causing the majority of problems.

“A sizeable minority of people would come down there that felt like this was their place to do whatever the hell they wanted,” Farrar said.

Park officials planned to squeeze that element out by making the beach more family friendly. Picnic benches were added in hopes of getting families to linger.

“We’re starting to see more in terms of families coming down there now, and I think that’s the goal,” McCormick said.

Quieter streets

Nancy Susag recently had relatives visiting from the West Coast, and she encouraged them to walk down to East Cedar Lake Beach for a swim. Susag said she might not have done that last summer.

“Personally, when I was there before and went walking down there [at the beach] it made me nervous,” she said.

Susag and her husband, Craig, who live on South Thomas Avenue, said they were seeing more park police, and it seemed to make a difference.

A year ago at this time, the noise from people leaving the beach in the late night and early morning hours was enough to keep the couple up at night. Voices in the street, even quiet ones, tended to carry up to the Susags’ bedroom.

“It’s not like that anymore,” Nancy Susag said.

The once-raucous, late-night partying seemed to have quieted down, they said.

Interestingly, they both noticed larger crowds during the day. But beach users didn’t seem to be sticking around like they used to.

“By this time of night (about 6:30 p.m.), most people have cleared out,” Craig Susag said.

Reach Dylan Thomas at dthomas@mnpubs.com or 436-4391.