‘City Checks Storm Toll: 4 Killed, 20 Hurt, Damage Put at $500,000” screamed the headline of the July 9, 1925, Minneapolis Daily Star. Photos showed the wreckage of what was once the Lake Harriet Pavilion. A windstorm the day before destroyed the pavilion, killing two people, a mother and her 3-year-old daughter, and injuring dozens more who sought refuge inside.
It was yet another tragic chapter in the storied existence of the Lake Harriet Pavilion. But let’s rewind.
The first public pavilion near the lake was built on the property of real estate magnate Thomas Lowry in 1888. At the time, Minneapolis Street Railway Co. was also in the entertainment business and owned the Grand Pavilion, where it would hold frequent concerts. But the pavilion never found its groove, in part because it was closer to the railway than the lake. So when it was destroyed by fire in 1891, the location was abandoned for one closer to the lake.
Within a year, a two-story pagoda-style pavilion, designed by Minneapolis architect Harry Wild Jones, was open for business as a joint venture between the railway and the Minneapolis Park Board. The new pavilion proved to be popular, perhaps because of the additional seating (it held more than 3,000 people), the lower-level dining area or the stylish restrooms, which are still in use today. This time the railway upped the ante by adding attractions like floating bandstands and a Shetland pony track. But in 1903, that pavilion burned down, too. That was the end of the pagoda, and also of the railway’s involvement with Lake Harriet’s pavilions.
Now in full control, the park board once again tapped Jones, who was also a park board member, to design its replacement. In 1904, a Classic Revival-style pavilion opened, featuring two wings, a cafe, a refreshment stand and upper-level seating for concerts with room for 2,000 people. (The rooftop was later deemed unsafe, and the entertainment venue moved to ground level.)
Then came the windstorm of 1925, which destroyed Lake Harriet’s pavilion once again.
After much discussion about cost and location, a modest “temporary” band shell was built in its place in 1927. That temporary band shell wasn’t so temporary. For nearly 60 years it was a summer gathering spot for concerts, picnics and lakeside activities. Its run was longer than the other three pavilions combined.
The park board knew the building was underwhelming (superintendent Theodore Wirth called it a “distinct disappointment”), and over the years plans for a bigger, better venue came and went. In 1984 it became a priority once again. Finally, in 1985, the Lake Harriet Band Shell we know today emerged.