LOCAL COLOR/Strike up the band shell
This past summer, two dozen businesses and more than 100 volunteers donated time and materials to restore the Lake Harriet Band Shell in Minneapolis in less than six weeks. The landmark restoration effort, led by a local businessman and supported by the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, relied on donated paint, windows, landscaping materials and skills to give a face lift to the band shell, which is the city’s most photographed icon.
Lake Harriet, one of five prominent lakes in the southwest corner of the city, has been inseparably linked to music since 1880, when a steam rail motor line began sponsoring concerts at the lake to encourage ridership. In 1887, the first bandstand at the lake was built to host concerts, but it was destroyed by fire, as was its replacement. The third incarnation was leveled by a windstorm, while a fourth and “temporary” pavilion lasted 58 years. In 1985 the temporary facility was razed and a new band shell erected. “The band shell has great resiliency,” says Jon Gurban, superintendent for the park and recreation board. “It’s such a loved icon of the Twin Cities.”
But by December 2003, the band shell had begun showing its age. The shakes on the side were saturated with water, and much of the stain was gone. The park board, which had managed the facility since 1903, had plans to restore the facility once it had enough money.
While in the area for a meeting, Mark McGowan, who owns a local specialty finish company, noticed the sad state of the band shell and proposed to the board “a good, old-fashioned Tom and Huck whitewashing.” He also offered to organize an all-volunteer, free restoration of the property.
“We get a lot of unusual requests to the park board,” Gurban says, “so initially there was a little skepticism when Mark came to us, because the project was so great.” However, McGowan convinced two dozen businesses to contribute resources and $400,000 worth of materials to the project, which demonstrated his ability to move the restoration forward. “It was the most remarkable assemblage of companies, and all of it was donated,” McGowan says. “Why would they do this? There is something in the human spirit that propels us to participate in great causes. It’s an extraordinary building and a flagship landmark.”
The board agreed to help make the restoration happen. It provided supplies and support from staff, including carpenters, painters and others who assisted wherever possible. The restoration began in July 2004 and involved repairing parts of the structure, painting and completely replacing the glass on one side of the band shell. A new sound system was installed, and the grounds were landscaped. In addition, volunteers repaired three other nearby buildings: a concession area with washrooms, a kiosk and a sailing club facility. All the work was done without having to shut down any concerts or other park activities. “What’s stunning is that all of the restoration was done at once,” Gurban says. “What was able to be accomplished was really historic.”
In September, to celebrate the band shell’s revitalization, McGowan organized a free, day-long musical event called, “Lake Harriet Live!” that featured local musicians. Even the Minnesota Orchestra participated in the outdoor festival, drawing an estimated 35,000 residents throughout the day. Everything was donated, with proceeds from the sale of concessions, music and memorabilia going to a fund for ongoing upkeep of the band shell. “There was such a great neighborhood vibe, it was palpable,” McGowan says.
Conni Kunzler is a freelance writer based in Arlington, Va.