The superintendent’s house

As one of Park Board Superintendent Al Bangoura’s several hundred thousand landlords (see Steve Brandt’s article “Theodore Wirth House rent should rise with market” in the Jan. 23 issue), I am delighted that Bangoura lives in our house, the Theodore Wirth Superintendent’s House in Lyndale Farmstead Park. I believe Bangoura and his family should be allowed to live in the whole house rather than be restricted to the kitchen and second-floor bedrooms.

Can you imagine paying market price to live in a house where you aren’t allowed to control the first floor of the house, including your living and dining rooms? Imagine the lack of privacy — or the likelihood of intrusion — because there isn’t even a door to close between the first floor where people come in for tours and the second floor where you live! The Bangoura family can’t even place their own furniture or pictures or books or children’s artwork on the first floor, other than in the kitchen. It’s shameful that the Park Board charges Bangoura rent at all.

Why not truly honor the memory of Theodore Wirth and allow the superintendent to live in it as his home — as Wirth did for 25 years as superintendent and another 10 years after he retired? Did anyone try to restrict his use of the house? No, even though to get the city to release the money to build the house in 1910, the Park Board had to conduct the charade that it would be used as an administration building as well as Wirth’s home. It never was. He had an office in the basement, but he worked mostly out of Park Board offices in City Hall. Wirth was too shrewd a political animal to have closeted himself away in a basement office in a park far from the halls of power.

Six superintendents lived in the house, the whole house — rent free — from 1910 to the mid-1990s, when David Fisher moved out to live in his own suburban home. Because Wirth lived in the house so long after he retired, his successor, Christian Bossen, never lived there.

Fisher’s successors, Mary Merrill Anderson and Jon Gurban, already lived in the city when they were hired and remained in their own homes. The Park Board rented out the otherwise empty, dilapidating house as office space for a time and also used it for staff offices. Part of the house was used by the Minneapolis Parks Foundation when Jayne Miller was hired as superintendent in 2010. The idea of living in the historic house appealed to her and I am grateful that she restored the house to its original intent, even though she had to pay for living space that earlier superintendents did not while also sharing the heart of the house with public events.

If the Minneapolis Parks Legacy Society wants to establish a Theodore Wirth Museum, I would suggest the little-used great room at The Chalet in Theodore Wirth Park, where they have erected a bronze statue of Wirth. I think we should let Al Bangoura (whom I’ve never met) raise his family in peace in the house that was built as a home for Minneapolis park superintendents. 

A final quibble with Brandt’s article: Theodore Wirth did not “shape Minneapolis parks more than any other person.” Either Charles Loring or Horace William Shaler Cleveland deserves that honor without a second thought. Wirth, with a handful of others, would be in a second tier of important contributors.

David C. Smith
Linden Hills

Smith is the author of “City of Parks: The Story of Minneapolis Parks” and blogs on Minneapolis parks at minneapolisparkhistory.com.