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Angels and the Outfield: How Minneapolis Architect Harry Wild Jones Brought Beauty to the Masses

 

In the early 1900s, Lakewood Cemetery was a destination. It boasted a grand streetcar entrance facing Bde Maka Ska (formerly Lake Calhoun) so beautiful that it was featured on postcards of the time. In 1906, the Lakewood trustees decided it was time for another awe-inspiring structure. They wanted a new chapel, one that reflected and amplified the cemetery’s beauty.

 

Lakewood requested proposals from architects across the country. Of the nine designs submitted, one stood out. It was the work of a local architect that called Minneapolis his home for over two decades, after having been born in Michigan and educated at Brown and MIT. His name was Harry Wild Jones.

 

Jones’ proposed chapel plan was featured in the Minneapolis Journal in 1906. Source: Library of Congress

 

Jones had made a name for himself designing the homes and workplaces of the elite. His clients included famous Minnesotans (also laid to rest at Lakewood): lumber baron T. B. Walker; Cream of Wheat co-founder Emery Mapes; and Marion Savage, the owner of prized racehorse and Minnesota State Fair icon Dan Patch. 

 H.E. Ladd Residence, designed by Jones.

Source: Hennepin County Library
 

Jones was also behind some of early Minneapolis’s most esteemed buildings, including the imposing brick Butler Brothers Warehouse (now Butler Square) and sacred spaces like uptown’s Scottish Rite Temple. 

Butler Brother’s Warehouse, designed by Jones.

Source: Minnesota Historical Society

 

Scottish Rite Temple, designed by Jones.

Source: Minnesota Historical Society

 

Lakewood's Memorial Chapel, opened in 1910, is one of Jones’s most spectacular designs. Built from blocks of St. Cloud red granite and modeled after a 537 C.E. Christian church in present-day Istanbul, the outside of the building is bold and beautiful. The architectural sketches, which were published in local newspapers, didn’t begin to do justice to the awesome edifice, the grandness of the doors, the striking appeal of the roof’s red tiles. Inside, 10 million tiny pieces of marble, colored stone and glass were fused with gold and silver to depict angels and changing seasons, representing the cycles of life. With a 40-foot mosaic dome and walls, it was the U.S.’s largest mosaic interior at the time of its opening. And in the lower level, at the request of the Lakewood trustees, was one of the state’s earliest crematories. (Watch this video to see the Chapel's interior.)

 

The Lakewood Memorial Chapel exterior today.

 

The Chapel's mosaic interior as seen at a Music in the Chapel concert in 2019. Photographer: Bre McGee


Lakewood’s chapel opened to a chorus of praise, sending Jones on national lecture tours about church design. Architectural historians have said that it would be impossible to recreate this building today — no present-day team of craftspeople have the skills or knowledge of those who brought Jones’ design to life over 100 years ago. 

 

After such an achievement, what would this celebrated architect do next? Among Jones’ next creations is a project that might surprise you: Jones designed a different kind of “sacred space.” It is one of local baseball’s forgotten crowning jewels: Nicollet Park, home of the minor league team the Minneapolis Millers.

 

A bit of background on bygone local baseball: before the Twins there was the Minneapolis Millers. And from the team’s infancy in the 1880s, the Millers weren’t necessarily stars on the national baseball scene. Minneapolis wasn’t known then as a “baseball town,” and after economic busts, abandonment by national leagues, and forced relocation from the city center, the Millers finally started showing some promise in the early 1900s. Perhaps it was the increased popularity of baseball on the national stage. Perhaps it was the growing, spirited rivalry with neighboring St. Paul Saints, which allowed people to broadcast their hometown pride. Or maybe it had to do with the field’s proximity to two streetcar lines. Whatever the reason, the Millers’ popularity kept growing. 

 

By 1910, the Millers were ready to stop squeezing fans into their stadium at Lake and Nicollet. So in 1911, the Millers announced they would be completely redesigning Nicollet Park. At this time, many baseball teams across the country were redesigning their stadiums to appeal to wealthier residents, who weren’t represented in huge numbers in baseball’s bleachers. And it’s likely that the Millers were motivated, in part, by a desire to heighten their esteem among the middle and upper classes. So the Millers hired the renowned Harry Wild Jones.

 

A crowd heads in for a game at