This is the second post in a series on the history of neighborhood names in Edina. (See the first on Morningside here.) The City of Edina has formed a Neighborhood Identification Steering Committee to determine neighborhood names and borders. For more on that group, see the city's Name Your Neighborhood Blog.
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I've booked a hotel room on Lakefront Avenue and never glimpsed water. I've seen a Pleasant View Road without one. And, I've noticed, many flower-named streets don't have blooms lining the boulevards. Let's face it, many streets and neighborhoods don't live up to their names.
White Oaks neighborhood in Edina does. White Oaks actually has white oaks. The woods, marsh and hilly terrain in the area north and west of 49th and France give the neighborhood a character much different than its neighbors: Country Club District to the west and Morningside to the north.
I don't need to give you the borders of the neighborhood; you can easily guess them by looking at the Google aerial view (below). Surrounded by a grid of streets, White Oaks is distinct with its winding roads and woods.
When Samuel Thorpe purchased land to develop the Country Club District in 1922, he reportedly was not interested the wooded, hilly land to the east because it was much harder to develop than the level open fields of Browndale Farm on the banks of Minnehaha Creek.
This map depicts how Nancy Wallace Wild recalled the area when she was growing up on 50th Street before her neighborhood was developed.The "big hill for sliding" and the swampy area made great play areas for children, but not great residential lots.
By 1936, construction equipment had advanced enough that J. Frank Ecklund, a Sears Roebuck executive who dabbled in real estate, purchased the land for development. He made a key decision: instead of leveling the hills and clear-cutting the trees, he created a plan designed to "preserv(e) the area's rugged topography, mature trees and natural feel," according to History of the White Oaks Neighborhood.
In 1940, Ecklund and his wife Catherine (Kay) took further steps to ensure that the open meadow and lowlands remain natural. First, the Ecklunds encouraged the creation of a non-profit volunteer-based White Oaks Improvement Association (WOIA). They then deeded 3.5 acres circled by Meadow Road and 48th Street to WOIA for a park and also deeded 1.5 acre marsh near the Sunnyside Road entrance to the Village of Edina with the stipulation that it remain undeveloped.
In 1986, when an empty lot adjacent to the marsh was slated for development, the neighborhood rallied with a "Save the Marsh" campaign. They raised $20,000 to purchase the property from the developer, and the City of Edina contributed another $20,000 to preserve the land.
At the neighborhood association's 50th anniversary in 1990, Kay Ecklund was honored for her "preservation and foresight in the development of one of the earliest and most beautiful plattings utilizing natural rugged topography and trees." The White Oaks Improvement Association continues to plant trees.
Photos of the neighborhood from our collection show the rolling terrain and trees. Look behind the children in the photograph below and you'll see the mature trees in the new neighborhood. This photo was taken in 1941 (about five years after White Oaks was platted) of residents Mary MacPhail, Richard E. Larson, Margaret Schimer and Phillip Larson. As you can see, the trees provided plenty of leaves for play.
The Schimer family's first house in White Oaks was at 4704 Townes Road. Pictured here in 1939, the land has towering trees in the front yard.
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