Hiawatha Golf Course One Step Closer to Listing in the National Register of Historic Places
On Tuesday, January 17, 2023, the Minneapolis Heritage Preservation Commission (HPC) voted eight to zero to support the nomination for listing the Hiawatha Golf Course in the National Register of Historic Places. With this vote, the historic eighteen-hole course, which has historic significance for African Americans in Minneapolis and is currently threatened with being redesigned to nine holes, moves one step closer to designation. The nomination now proceeds to the Minnesota State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO), which will decide on February 7 whether to approve the listing and send it on to the National Park Service (NPS) in Washington, D.C.
The proposed redesign from eighteen to nine holes led The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF) to enroll Hiawatha as a threatened cultural landscape in its Landslide program on March 1, 2022. The site’s steward, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (MPRB), has repeatedly claimed that problems with periodic flooding and other issues necessitate this fundamental redesign, outlined in a Master Plan adopted in September 2022. The plan calls for reducing the course to nine holes and re-purposing some of the National Register-eligible parkland for water storage and activities like fat tire bike trails, a dog patio, and kayaking. In the Landslide designation, TCLF called on the MPRB to “retain a consultant who meets the Secretary of the Interior’s (SOI) Standards for Historian/Architectural Historian to undertake a more in-depth assessment of the landscape’s integrity and significance.” Among other outcomes, this would result in a more informed period of significance for this individual resource and a better understanding of the adverse effects brought on by the proposed redesign. The MPRB declined to do so.
The Minneapolis-based Bronze Foundation took on the job of commissioning a National Register nomination, which was researched and written by the Minneapolis-based historical consultants Hess, Roise and Company. As the Landslide designation notes, several alterations to the course have been made. In addition, following floods in 1987 and 1991, course drainage was improved by elevating some of the fairways, tiling the greens, adding water hazards as water collection points, and installing new pumps. Additional severe flooding in 2014 meant the site could not fully reopen until Spring 2016. Nevertheless, the nomination states: “Hiawatha Golf Course and Clubhouse displays good overall integrity, particularly of location, setting, feeling, design, and association.”
Hess Roise, and Company were tasked with researching the history of the land known as the Hiawatha Golf Course, and not any periods before the course’s creation, and its African American associations. Consequently, by design, the nomination does not address other histories including those associated with Indigenous Peoples and pre-European settlement. As was noted in the January 17 HPC meeting and an MPRB meeting the next night, there are avenues for addressing those other histories. Should the Hiawatha Golf Course be listed in the National Register, the designation could be updated and amended; this is not unusual. Indeed, the MPRB and/or other organizations could commission National Register nominations that address other histories and this information could supplement the site’s designation. In fact, they could have already initiated this process, but to date, they have not done so.
However, on January 18 six of nine MPRB Commissioners did vote to approve sending a letter to the SHPO and NPS that, among other things, called out the nomination for not “including Indigenous histories extending back thousands of years” and for not addressing the complicated ecological and environmental management challenges detailed in the Master Plan. Again, the former was not within the scope of work and the latter is not necessarily germane. Another matter raised at the January 17 HPC meeting and January 18 MPRB meeting was whether National Register designation could result in Hiawatha’s redesign being subject to a Section 106 review, which would require the MPRB to avoid, minimize and mitigate any adverse effects. However, Assistant Superintendent Michael Schroeder stated during the MPRB meeting that the Master Plan already anticipated and, in fact, plans for a six-to-nine-month Section 106 review, and that it aligns with mitigation measures (there was no mention of avoidance and minimization).
All eyes are now on the February 7 Minnesota SHPO meeting. Should the nomination get approved, it would advance to the NPS, which would have 45 days from receipt to render its decision.