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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 Nicollet Park, 1955.

Source: Minnesota Historical Society


As a client, the Millers were a bit of deviation from Jones’s previous commissioners, who largely consisted of church communities, large downtown companies, and members of Minnesota’s wealthy elite. But as a project, Nicollet Park presented no deviation; Jones approached the project with his usual passion, detail and diligence. His design featured a combination of stylish yet approachable architectural styles, including Tudor motifs and cottage designs common in the homes of wealthy East Coast residents. The ballpark’s main entrance was modest yet refined, with beautiful pointed arches, steep roofs and buttresses not unlike those found on some of Jones' church designs. And just like at Lakewood’s chapel, the ballpark boasted a bold, red tile roof. Through Nicollet Park, Jones brought an architectural style previously reserved for the wealthy to the masses.

 

The new Nicollet Park offered a boost to the Millers. Newspapers applauded the “classy” new ballpark. The rowdy “Streetcar Doubleheaders,” in which the Minneapolis Millers and the St. Paul Saints played one game at each of the city’s stadiums on the same day, brought Minneapolis and St. Paul residents to the stadium by the thousands via the intercity streetcar line. (It was a good thing Jones had the foresight to bring seating capacity up from 4,000 to 15,000.)

 

During WWII, the stadium was home to the all-women’s team the Millerettes. Formed while many eligible male ball players were serving in the military, the team was a member of the league on which the movie “A League of Their Own” was based. Millers games at Nicollet Park were a popular destination until the park was demolished in 1955. The Millers had outgrown their beautiful but quaint stadium, and the team relocated to the new Metropolitan Stadium in 1956. Here they played for five more seasons before passing the hat to the state’s new Major League team, the Twins.

Then-mayor Hubert Humphrey throws the opening pitch of a 1948 Miller’s game at Nicollet Park in Minneapolis.

Source: Minnesota Historical Society

 

Nicollet Park was far from the only example of Harry Wild Jones using his design expertise to bring architectural beauty to the masses. In fact, the renowned architect seems to have been remarkably unpretentious with his project variety. Throughout his career, Jones brought his signature expertise, intense care and intricate finesse to many public park pavilions. (Jones was passionate about parks and recreation, and even served on Minneapolis’ Park Board for 12 years.) Unfortunately, many of Jones’ buildings were made of wood, and like many other wooden structures of the time, have been lost to fires.

 

 Harry Wild Jones portrait.

Source: Star Tribune

 

Harry Wild Jones memorial at Lakewood.

Source: Find A Grave

 

Through his designs, Harry Wild Jones demonstrated that beautiful architecture is for everyone: from the sanctity of the Lakewood Chapel, to public parks and the homes of America’s past time. Many his beautiful public spaces have been lost, but Lakewood is proud to carry on Jones’s legacy of making architectural beauty accessible to everyone. Lakewood’s chapel is open to the public — visit it at an upcoming event or call/stop in at the front office to see if it's available for viewing (the Chapel is often in use for events, including weddings!). Jones’ grave can be visited in Section 4 of Lakewood.

 

Selected sources:

  • Lakewood Chapel Self-Guided Tour

  • Anderson, Kristin M. & Christopher W. Kimball, “Twin Cities Baseball Parks: Designing the National Pastime,” Minnesota Historical Society

  • “Harry Wild Jones: An Inventory of His Papers at the Minnesota Historical Society”

 

Learn more about Minneapolis history
Watch Lakewood Greenhouses, Then and Now (video)

Founding Mothers of Minneapolis: Early Women Leaders