The future of Minneapolis’ Hiawatha Golf Club, the first course in the Upper Midwest to allow Black golfers to play (1938), has taken an important turn. Thanks to a generous donor, the Bronze Foundation has engaged the Minneapolis-based historical consulting firm Hess, Roise and Company to prepare a nomination for Hiawatha to be listed in the National Register of Historic Places. This is significant because of a controversial proposal to redesign the historic eighteen-hole site, which is prone to flooding, to nine holes. That threat resulted in The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF) designating the course a Landslide site on March 1, 2022.
A major flood in 2014 prompted the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (MPRB) and others to examine measures to address the flooding that affected the course and some houses in the surrounding neighborhood. A Master Plan was developed by a consortium of consultants led by Minneapolis-based Barr Engineering, which proposed to convert Hiawatha to nine holes, add a BMX trail, a dog patio, and other amenities. The report states that a rehabilitation of the site that addresses the flooding and retains eighteen holes would be “impracticable, if not impossible.”
The Master Plan came to a vote before the nine-member MPRB in the summer of 2021 and was not passed. Since then, seven of the nine members have been replaced; several of the new members made passage of the Master Plan a significant platform in their campaign. In an April 6, 2022, MRPB meeting, the plan again failed to move forward (on a procedural motion)
In the Landslide designation TCLF stated: “the MPRB should 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 proposals in the 2017 Master Plan.”
Sites can be listed in the National Register based on one or more of four criteria. The nomination for Hiawatha will focus principally on Criterion A, which concerns sites “associated with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of our history.” The course is located near the historically African American Southside neighborhood in Minneapolis. The honorary mayor of “Bronzeville,” Jimmy Slemmons, started the Minnesota Negro Open Golf Tournament in 1939. The course clubhouse remained segregated until 1952 when celebrated Black golfer Solomon Hughes, Sr. gained admission after several years of perseverance. In 2021 the clubhouse was named in his honor. In 1954, the tournament was renamed the Upper Midwest Bronze Amateur Open, known colloquially as “The Bronze,” to reflect its unrestricted entry policy. The Bronze Foundation, which commissioned the National Register nomination, manages the Bronze tournament.
The nomination will seek to contextualize Hiawatha nationally by examining golf courses associated with African Americans, such as Lions Municipal Golf Course (“Muny”) in Austin, TX, which is the first municipal golf course in the South among the old confederate states to desegregate (1950). Muny, once threatened and listed in the National Register of Historic Places, was featured in Landslide 2018: Grounds for Democracy; fortunately, the situation is improving. Along with contextualization, the nomination will no doubt raise broader questions about the representation of African American sites in Minnesota.
Another focus of the analysis concerns “integrity,” which could be evaluated through the lens of Criterion A as well as through physical changes to the site’s design. Determinations of “low,” “medium,” and “high” integrity would be essential and invaluable in determining how the existing site might be altered. The issue at Hiawatha is not one of preservation, it’s a matter of managing change.
Once the nomination is completed, it will be submitted to the Minnesota State Historic Preservation Office (MN SHPO), which will review the findings. The MN SHPO would then refer the nomination to the National Park Service, which is home to the National Register program, for a final determination.
NOTE: Bronze Foundation President Darwin Dean will be a featured speaker in the Race & Space Conversation on Thursday, June 16, 2022.