The Loring Park area was settled in 1850 before the City of Minneapolis was founded, and its residents were active leaders in the early development of the city. Originally called Central Park when it was developed in 1883, it became a focus for civic activity. It was a prosperous time for Minneapolis, which became a railroad hub as the lumber and milling industries boomed. Real estate became another source of wealth for the area’s early settlers. The first streetcar system was built during this time. From 1860 to 1900, the city’s population grew from 6,000 to 200,000, and many longtime residents left the dense urban area to move farther out.
Central Park was renamed Loring Park on December 20, 1890, after the city’s first Park Board president, Charles Loring. The Park Board had been formed in 1883. One of its first actions was to hire Horace Cleveland, a well-known Chicago landscape architect, to design the city’s park system. The Loring area became popular again after the park was created, and numerous business and professional leaders took up residence. A distinct urban identity replaced the formerly rural feeling in the Loring Park neighborhood as prosperity fostered new civic interests and a sense of social responsibility among residents.
At the start of the 20th Century, the Loring neighborhood transitioned into a culture of middle-class apartment dwellers. The downtown business district, especially the new automobile industry, grew south into the area. Apartment construction boomed in the 1920’s, including the Naulhaka Flats at 114-126 West Grant Street and the 510 Groveland building. The Woman’s Club was also built during this time. Simultaneously, many of the stately original homes failed to sell and were demolished.
The year after Theodore Wirth became Commissioner of Parks in 1905, Charles Loring donated funds to build a permanent shelter in Loring Park, while the Park Board built the first recreational areas for basketball, shuffleboard and horseshoes. The Loring Commercial Club formed in 1922 and worked for improvements to the park and neighborhood, as well as hosted community celebrations. What is now the Walker Art Center was established in 1927.
The depression and war years put a halt to neighborhood development and to investment in the inner-city. The Loring Park area became home to everyone from the wealthy to the destitute. The neighborhood came under criticism for its social disorganization, although it remained popular among those who wanted to live in a cosmopolitan area near downtown. In the 1940’s, the Loring Park Community Council was established as one of many city groups. It was composed mostly of business owners and sponsored projects and activities out of concern about suburban flight. Still, many people left the neighborhood in the post-war years, and in the 1950’s the area began to attract a new population of young people, students and artists.
A period of general decline followed in the 1960’s and 1970’s. The I-94 freeway construction eliminated housing near the park, and there was a steady drop in neighborhood residents. Those who remained became active in preserving and enhancing the area, ushering in a new era of civic engagement as the city debated development plans. Among the buildings demolished during the period was the Central Park Terrace, also known as “The Castle”, which sat on the site now occupied by Loring Way and the Greenway Gables. The Guthrie Theater in 1963 and the Walker Art Center’s new building in 1971 brought new vitality to the area. Extensive redevelopment plans that included the Greenway and Loring Way were approved by the City in 1973. By 1980, the new residential properties were built along with the greenway, creating a new condominium and townhouse living community.