This 1935 ‘Highway Department Approves ‘Lilac Way’ West of City’ article >>> .

Browse or search the story in easy-to-read, online-friendly text. Transcribed in June, 2021 by Restore Lilac Way with original punctuation and structure.

Minneapolis Journal  |  July 28, 1935

Highway Department Approves ‘Lilac Way’ West of City

Journal’s Plan for Beautifying Belt Line OK’D

Ready to Start Work if Public Wants It, says N.W. Elsberg, Commissioner of Highways

Flowers Planned to Line Six-Lane Route

Landscaping First of Kind, Rivaling Washington’s Cherry Drive

By Rudolph Lee

Twelve miles of lilacs, fringing the magnificent six lane Belt Line highway being constructed just west of the city limits from Robbinsdale to the Fort Snelling-Shakopee road.

A beautifully landscaped lilac hedge on both sides of the great highway that will give Minneapolis a drive that will rival the cherry blossoms of Washington, the apple blossom drive of Spokane and Wenatchee.

Accepting the suggestion of the Journal, the state highway department Saturday approved the proposal, conditioned only on public interest in the plan.

For weeks, the Journal has been studying the feasibility of the project, the adaptability of the lilacs for the purpose, and (illegible) of maintaining the lilac drive after once installed.

The state highway department was in hearty approval of the plan and will be carried out if Minneapolis citizens endorse the plan and they want it.

Six Lanes Wide

The Belt Line, which is to be a magnificent scenic highway in itself, six lanes wide with space on each side (?) feet wide, being (?) ideally, experts say to the beautification plan. The landscapers will take advantage of the high slopes and broad curves of the road with a background of trees and (illegible) lilacs in clusters and groups will fall in to complete the picture.

It is hoped that planting can begin this fall. Within two years, it is predicted Minneapolis will have a drive so beautiful as well as so unusual that will wall attract thousands of visitors who will come to the city to enjoy the delightful experience of a ride through fragrant splendor.

Rivals Washington State

Minneapolis’ Lilac Way as planned has promise of rivaling the famous cherry blossom drive in Washington, known the world over for its beauty and charm. In some years, more than a hundred thousand visitors come to Washington to enjoy the sight of the Japanese cherry trees in bloom. So great is the attractiveness of the cherry tree drive that (?) blossom in the national capital although only 14 days in bloom has come to be almost a city holiday.

Winchester in Virginia and Wenatchee and Spokane in Washington state have ‘apple blossom ways’ known the country over to travelers and when the apple trees bloom the event becomes vacation time for many thousands, some of who journey long distances to enjoy the sight.

First in America

But nowhere in America is there a Lilac Way. So that Minneapolis’ new boulevard parkway – and that is what it will be although it likes beyond the city – will offer not only its own citizens but the millions of others who admire and enjoy the simple beauty of these flowers, the never-to-be-forgotten opportunity of driving through miles of the colored and sweet scented blossoms.

The Belt Line also lends itself to the purpose of the plan because it is destined to carry the heaviest traffic of any road entering the City. When constructed it will change the route of travel into Minneapolis form the northwest, west and southeast. The road itself is a gigantic undertaking, involving a highway of extreme width, under or overhead passes to promote speed with safety, introduction of “clover leaf” circles to eliminate left hand turns and construction of so permanent character as to make it the outstanding project of its kind in the country. As a highway, it will cost upwards of $1,000,000. It is being built as a federal works relief undertaking.

Nichols to Make Plans

Plans for the lilac way will be under the direction of A.R. Nichols, consulting landscape architect for the highway department. Mr. Nichols is president of the Mississippi Valley chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects and has been landscape consultant at the University of Minnesota for 15 years. His supervision of the lilac way insures an artistic arrangement as well as a design that will make permanent the beauty of the project. In discussing the proposal as well as his ideas regarding it he said:

“Considering the suburban character of the belt line, a landscaping development in which lilacs form the keynote has possibilities of great beauty and attractiveness. This is not the normal type of landscaping for highways but this particular situation invites a departure from our generally followed practice.

“If the project is undertaken by the highway department, we will endeavor to keep the general landscaping scheme as naturalistic as possible and yet have lilacs form the predominating theme during their blooming season. We would not permit the shrubs in rows of hedge formations, but rather would place them in irregular masses against background of elms, evergreens and other trees. It would be our purpose to fit the plantings to the natural topography along the highway.”

Easy to Grow

Lilacs are particularly adapted for this kind of landscaping because they are hardy and easy to grow. They bloom for 30 days or so while cherry trees and apple trees bloom for no more than 10 days. When not in bloom the lilacs have attractive foliage throughout the season. The blossoms are of varied colors, making possible very beautiful mass effects as well as changes in combinations for the different distances.

The plan of Mr. Nichols not to make the lilac way a lilac hedge will contribute to the general beauty of the landscape by preserving the effect of the trees and the grassy slopes. The lilacs will be made to fit into a general plan so that the drive will present a panorama of sustained beauty to the visitor.

Commissioner Elsberg, who is enthusiastic over the possibilities the Lilac Way, believe that within a few years the road will attract wide attention, and become a drawing card for nature lovers throughout the entire country.

Important to Traffic

“I believe the proposal for a lilac way along the belt line is practical and worthy of being tried,” he said Saturday in discussing the project. “If there appears to be sufficient public support and enthusiasm for it, the state highway department will undertake to carry it out wit relief labor as an experiment,” he said. Elaborating on the proposal he continued:

“The belt line is destined to become a highway of great importance, carrying a tremendous flow of traffic. Not only will the highway aid in providing a convenient means of entrance and exit to and from the city for the territory west, northeast and southwest, but it also will invite a large amount of local pleasure driving.”

With a large part of the highway now nearing completion, an unusual opportunity is presented for distinctive landscape treatment, Sufficient right of way is present, top soil has been saved during all the construction process, and relief labor is available for the work, paid for with federal funds.”

If the project is developed successfully and I see no reason why that is not possible, it should attract wide attention in a few years.

As a matter of general practice, we do not plant flowers or glowering shrubs along trunk highways. We believe it better, as a rule, to preserve or restore nature’s own growths of shade trees, evergreens, or other native trees. Some native shrubbery is planted on hillsides to prevent erosion.

“However, in the case of the belt line we do not have a rural highway and the lilac experiment can well be made. The work will fit in nicely as a relive labor project. “

The Minneapolis parkway system, built up under the direction of Theodore Wirth, is nationally known. Its tree-shaded boulevards, shrubbery-adorned drives and landscape views have become the delight of visitors and tourists and are a continued source of pleasure to home residents. Mr. Wirth sees in the Lilac Way along the belt line, as an opportunity to expand the parkway system and beautify one of the main entrances to the city.

Wirth Favors Project

“I was glad to learn that an attempt is being made to beautify the belt line now under construction by the highway department and I believe that featuring lilac planting as a salient part of such roadside beautification has many possibilities, providing the planting is properly done so as to blend into the landscape along with existing attractive features and nature’s planting in order to create a harmonious whole.

“The success of all planting,” he said, “depends largely upon the maintenance it receives and funds should be made available. Our own highway department is doing great work along these lines at the present time and if such beautification, as is in mind is undertaken, under the direction and advice of its able landscape architect, there is no question but that the results will be all that are to be desired.

“A highway such as the belt line, properly beautified, would be a very fine addition to the community’s parkway system and would be a driveway in which the citizens of Minneapolis could take much pride and pleasure.”

Two Years to Bloom

It will require two years or more after the completion of the plantings before the lilacs bloom in dependable profusion, but that is a short time in the development of a project of so permanent character. In the meantime the grass will be growing and the larger trees set out. The highway department announces that the grading of the highway from Robbinsdale south to the Wayzata boulevard will be complete by August 15 so that much preliminary work with the planting can be done this fall.

Very probably the entire project could be completed the length of the highway within another year. That would mean by 1938 or at the latest by 1939 Minneapolis in the month of May would have its most beautiful and attractive show piece ready for the enjoyment and delight of its citizens as well the many visitors who would flock to the only lilac lane in the land.

“Clover Leaf” Passes Planned

Plans for the highway include two “clover leaf” passes at its intersection with the Wayata and Excelsior Boulevards. While these are not designed as a part of the beatification of the highway, they are the answer of modern engineering to the demand for crossings that will speed traffic with safety.

Each of these tow passes will cover 30 acres. They will eliminate all left hand turns. A driver, for instance, who is coming down the Lilac Way from Robbinsdale and who desires to enter the city on Superior Boulevard will not make a left had turn to Superior but will continue to the right on the clover leaf pass and then swing onto Wayzata Boulevard. He will then drive straight ahead to Superior, having made right hand turns all the way.

There need be no slackening of speed, there will be no left turning of cards to interfere anywhere around the pass and there will be complete safety of travel. The clover leaf arrangement of the pass with its ample acreage and broad curves will be merely another of the features calculated to make this modern highway one of value as well of pleasure to the traveler.

Theodore Wirth, Superintendant, Minneapolis Parks

“A fine addition to the community’s parkway system and a driveway in which the citizens of Minneapolis can take much price and pleasure.”

N.W. Elsberg, Commissioner of Highways

“If the project is developed successfully, and I see no reason why that is not possible, it should attract wide attention within a few years.”

A. R. Nichols, Highway Landscape Architect

“Considering suburban character of the Belt Line, a landscaping development in which lilacs form the keynote has possibilities of great beauty.”

Map caption

The Belt Line highway under construction from Highway No, 5, the Fort Snelling – Shakopee road, to Robbinsdale. It parallels the city about a mile west of the west city limits. The map shows all intersecting highways running into Minneapolis. The top picture shows how the highway will appear when the proposed beautification project is completed. The 12 mile road would be banked on either side by hedges of lilacs, giving Minneapolis the only “Lilac Way” in the country.

The graphic was prepared by Harry Pongue, Journal staff photographer, but superimposing pictures of lilacs in Lyndale Park on a picture of the Belt Line under construction near Robbinsdale. (Below) The cloverleaf pass, two of which are included in the plans for the highway. One is to be built at the intersection of the highway and Excelsior boulevard and the others at the intersection of Wayzata Boulevard. The clover leaf pass eliminates all left hand turns.