Was Highway 100 an old Indian path or
oxcart route? Did the pioneers carve it out of the
wilderness in the 1850s? Although the answer may not
be as romantic, the history of Highway 100 is just as
In fact, Highway 100 (i.e., the section
north of Excelsior Blvd.) was wrested from the earth
by unemployed men of the Depression in the 1930s, as a part
of joint project of the Minnesota Highway Department and the
Works Progress Administration. Its purpose was as much
to provide work for desperately poor men as it was to
provide a roadway that would circle or create a "belt line"
around Minneapolis and St. Paul.
In addition, it was designed as a destination in and of
itself, dotted with roadside parks where families could pull
off the road and have picnics. See
Highway 100's Roadside Parks for that part of the story.
VIDEO ON THE CREATION OF "LILAC WAY"
HIGHWAY 100 TIMELINE
THE BELT LINE
The idea of the Belt Line was said to belong to Orville E.
Johnson, secretary of the Hennepin County Good Roads
Association. Mr. Johnson felt that congestion on city
streets could be relieved if the highways entering from the
west could be tied together with a bypass road.
The New Deal brought Federal money for state highways, and
St. Louis Park was the beneficiary of two large projects,
Highways 100 and 7. Park's portion of present-day Highway
100 was built as the western link in the Belt Line.
Some of the information in the following three paragraphs come from an Environmental
Impact Study (EIS) done by Mn/DOT.
During the 1930s and 1940s, Highway 100 was planned to
circle around the Twin Cities. Some of the links were
to be constructed, and other existing roadways were renamed. Between 1934 and 1941, the western leg of 100 was completed
between Highway 5 (78th Street) in Edina and Highway 52 (now Highway
81) in Robbinsdale, a distance of 12.5 miles. This segment
is all that remains of the "belt line" as planned in the
The first part of the now-highway existed at least as far
back as 1907, and may have gone back even further.
This stretch was between Excelsior Blvd. and 50th Street in
Edina. We see mention of it in Village Council minutes
of 1909, when the council approves the Browndale plat (on
the east side) contingent on the road being 30 ft. wide
instead of 20 ft. Brookside, on the west side, had
been platted in 1907, and there are still some houses there
that go back to 1908. Its first official name was
Aurora Ave. In 1933 it became Vernon Ave. In
1927, that stretch of road was paved by the State Highway
Dept., and named Highway 169.
From Excelsior northward,
the road cut through
several (mostly truck) farms, effectively putting
them out of business. At 36th Street the road
edged eastward, where it intersected with the
newly-constructed Highway 7 at one of the
The route went through two gravel pits (Kline) in St. Louis
Park, north through the Held farm. The Golden Valley
stretch roughly followed part of old Turners Crossroad.
By 1947, the west side of the
belt line had been extended four miles northeast of Robbinsdale, through Brooklyn Center, to the Mississippi
River (including the northern-most segment of Highway 100
project north of Highway 81). At this time, roadwork had
also begun on the east-west section north of the Twin
Cities. By 1950, the northern link of 100 had been extended
six miles east of the Mississippi River to US 10, where it
incorporated Highway 96 to complete the belt line. In 1950,
Highway 100 combined new highway and existing roads to form
a 66-mile radial route around Minneapolis and St. Paul. The
road was especially rough in South St. Paul, where it was
comprised mostly of industrial roads. The concept of the
Belt Line was lost with the construction of 494/694.
From Wikipedia, a description of the route of the old
Starting from the current southern terminus [at 494],
Highway 100 overlapped eastward with a pre-494 Highway 5
past the Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport to its
intersection with Highway 55. Highway 100 then continued
east concurrent with Highway 55 over the Mendota Bridge,
then along current Highway 110 through Mendota Heights, then
following current I-494 across the Mississippi River and
turning north onto Century Avenue in Woodbury, which feeds
into current Highway 120 north of Interstate 94. Old Highway
100 then turned west upon County Road F and north along
White Bear Avenue to meet up with and overlapped westward
with Highway 96 (the section of which is now turned over to
county maintenance). Old Highway 100 then turned south
briefly along U.S. Highway 8 (now a town-maintained street),
then carried on westward along the current routing of I-694
to meet back at its current northern terminus. Due to
traffic pattern changes over the years, it is no longer
possible to 100 percent directly follow the path of old 100.
Small detours are necessary which involve the use of Exits
40 and 60 of the present I-494/694 beltway.
The individual primarily responsible for the building of Highway
100 was Chief Engineer Carl Frederick Graeser (1875-1944).
Acknowledged as the "Father of the Belt Line" in his
newspaper obituary, he promoted the idea for such a road
patterned after the German autobahns. Described as a
"one-legged German engineer," Graeser came to the U.S. to
avoid serving in WWI. He was quite a sight with his wooden
leg, German accent, and the black German Shepherd dog that
was his constant companion (first named Blitz, then Jet, who
accompanied his master to important meetings). A mysterious
relationship with a woman in Edina emerged when his will was
read. He reportedly died of a heart attack while driving in
Central to Graeser's design were grade separations at major
intersections and railroad crossings, cloverleaf
connections, and the opportunity to provide numerous entries
into Minneapolis via various urban arteries. Graeser had
originally planned for a wider median but was ordered to cut
The land was swampy, and during the Depression people were
known to cut peat to burn for fuel. The area was so deserted
that the first travelers worried about breaking down because
there was virtually nothing by the side of the road and very
few other cars. In the late 1930s and early '40s, traffic
was so light that it could be shut down entirely for annual
parades held in Golden Valley around Decoration Day. The
Golden Valley Historical Society has copies of home movies
of these parades, taken by local residents, including Mr.
Brown of Brown Photo.
There are a couple of stories about Graeser that may or may
not be true. One is that he got into an argument with
a representative from Edina, and as a result, Edina got no
roadside parks. Another is that he requested free
water from St. Louis Park during construction, but was
refused, resulting in the elimination of a Highway
100/Excelsior Blvd. separation. That had to wait 30
Also see a memoir of Graeser
written by the son of one of his engineers, Bernard Thomas
department did not, as a rule, plant flowers or shrubs along
highways, preferring to reserve or restore native trees or
shrubbery. The idea was taken up by the Minneapolis Journal,
which was credited for coining the term "Lilac Way," and
pushed hard for the plan, likening the rows of lilacs to the
cherry blossoms of Washington, DC. (and noting that lilacs
bloom for 30 days as opposed to 10 days for cherry and apple
trees). An exception was made because "we do not have a
rural highway," but open land.
The fledgling Golden Valley Garden Club promoted the concept
of Lilac Way by selling lilac plants door-to-door for the GV
stretch of Highway 100. The project was first only intended
to range from Glenwood Avenue and Golden Valley Road. The
Garden Club sold French lilac bushes (15 cents) and peony
roots to pay for those plantings. (Golden Valley Garden Club
hint: pound lilac stems with a hammer to make them stay
fresher longer in water.) The lilac was adopted as the
official flower of Golden Valley.
Arthur R. Nichols was the Landscape Architect who designed
the roadway and supervised its execution. Lilac bushes were
laid out irregularly, separated by open space and set out
against a backdrop of evergreens, elms, other trees and
grassy slopes to fit the planting to the natural topography.
The completed work included more than 7,000 bushes of 12
varieties of lilacs and thousands of other shrubs, vines,
and trees. Along the entire route, trees as large as eight
inches in diameter were moved as far as two miles and
replanted by the roadside.
In 1938, state highway engineer N. W. Elsberg asserted that
the new section of highway was not only safer than earlier
roads in the state, but nothing less than "one of the most
beautiful in the world" (Minneapolis Journal, 1/30/38). The
roadway design, which included four traffic lanes, adjacent
parking lanes and service roads, and state-of-the-art
cloverleaf grade separations, epitomized the latest
standards for safe and efficient movement of vehicles around
The segment of Highway 100 north of Highway 81 has
significantly different landscape features, representing the
post-World War II construction campaign that completed the
Belt Line. Although this northern section retains original
plantings, they are primarily evergreens and shade trees
instead of lilacs. Any lilacs originally planted in this
area were largely removed for highway improvements at
Brooklyn Boulevard and construction of Brookdale Shopping
Mall. In 2001, 200 lilac bushes were moved from the
Robbinsdale stretch of road, which was being widened, three
miles north to Brooklyn Center. Mn/DOT and the City of
Brooklyn Center share responsibility for moving and
maintaining the new site.
The project also included a series of roadside parks or
picnic areas. St. Louis Park had three of these parks, at
Excelsior Blvd., Minnetonka Blvd., and Highway 7. The
parks featured picnic tables, two "beehive" barbeques, rock gardens,
and reflecting pools made of limestone quarried near the
Mendota Bridge and built by unemployed masons. See
Highway 100’s Roadside Parks.
The Belt Line has undergone dramatic changes in recent
decades. Rapid post-war expansion led to traffic congestion.
As driving speeds increased, safety precautions prompted
officials to install guardrails and ban left turns in some
locations. Elsewhere around the Belt Line, numerous
construction projects were implemented that have continued
to the present. By the mid-1960s, the radial Highway 100
Belt Line had been substantially replaced in function by
Interstate Highways 94, 694, and 494, while several segments
became Trunk Highways 110 and 120. In the Lilac Way corridor
itself, new lanes, bridges, and center medians were added in
the 1960s and 1970s. Ironically, these changes were
facilitated by Graeser's original design.
HIGHWAY 100 TIMELINE
The plat of Brookside (west side of 100) was recorded,
and owner Suburban Homes advertised in the Minneapolis paper
that it was a "creekside garden spot." It may have
been at this time that the name Aurora was attached to the
The plat of Browndale Park (east side of the road) was
approved by the Village Council with the proviso that Aurora
be 30 ft. wide instead of 20.
In May the streets of Browndale were approved to be “turnpiked,”
on condition that Aurora Ave. be turnpiked a distance of
about 500 ft. or to the hill. Not sure what this
What was Highway 100 north of Excelsior before the Belt
Line was built?
1914 and 1926 atlases tell the tale. It appears that it
was farmland, with
only two stretches that had a road. One was between
approximately 34th Street and Minnetonka Blvd. - that street
was called Vera Cruz. (In 1893 August Johnson owned
the land along Minnetonka Blvd. between Toledo and Vernon,
south to 32nd Street.) Then, between 26th and 28th
Streets, the road was called Birchwood. There were
different subdivisions, sections, and even meridians on
either side of the would-be Highway 100 line, so the areas
on either side were developed independent of each other and
have very different histories. By 1926 one could drive
north from Excelsior by a circuitous route as far as Cedar
Street [26th Street], but there was no need to go any
farther, since your objective was probably east to downtown
Minneapolis via Excelsior Blvd. or Minnetonka Blvd./Lake
The 1914 map shows a Virginia Lake where the 100/394
interchange is today.
The Tingdale Bros. platted Browndale, named after H.F.
Brown's 77-acre farm, on June 9, 1915. This was on the east
side of Aurora. For the most part, these 40 ft. lots
were not built upon until after WWII, and would be removed
in the 1960s for highway expansion.
The 1926 map shows some interesting obstacles to
building the new road to the north of Excelsior. For one, there was a race track
between Minnetonka Blvd. and 31st Street. Further
north, between Cedar Lake Road and 16th Street at the
northeast corner of the village, was a 9.65-acre plot owned by
the E.J. DuPont de Nemowrs Powder Co. So far we have
seen no other reference to this company, so we are free to
speculate that it might have been a gunpowder factory?
There was no directory until 1933, so we don't know where to
look it up.
Trunk Highway 5/Aurora Avenue/Highway 169 [later Vernon/Highway 100] was paved
by the State in the fall of 1927. The road extended from Excelsior Blvd. 1.77 miles south into
Edina. The initial cement road was three lanes - two lanes
each way and a "suicide" lane in the middle.
From Excelsior to 50th it mirrored the future Highway 100,
but then veered southwest along what is now Vernon Ave.
The paving ended at about 53rd Street; today that spot is
where the road narrows to one lane each way going southwest. An old name was the Mankato Highway, as it continued southwest to Mankato and
beyond. The bridge that took the highway over 44th
Street (then the streetcar line and Motor Street) was built
in 1927. You couldn't exit to go to 44th, but a
pedestrian could walk down some steps, which had become
quite crumbling by the early 1970s when it was replaced.
Bill Clark was three years old at the time, living in a
house that is still on Highway 100 just south of Excelsior.
Decades later he still remembered that his mother had to
tether him to the house because he wanted to wander off and
play with the big trucks.
Another family that had lived on Aurora since the 1920s was
the Motzkos. The photo below is of Josephine Nalewaya,
sister of Tom Motzko's wife Rose. She's standing on
the dirt road just before the paving of what at the time was
referred to as Aurora Ave. and Highway 169. The big
house in the background was 4137 Aurora and belonged to
George Brooks, who owned a gas station at 4400 Excelsior
Blvd. The house had to be moved back from the new
highway in 1927, and was demolished in 1967.
Courtesy Frank Motzko
On April 5, Carl Graeser appeared before the St. Louis
Park Village Council to obtain consent to the plans and
specs for Highway 5 .
On October 15, 1930, it was noted at the Village Council
meeting that in the last five days, there had been five
automobile accidents at Highways 5 (to be 100) and 12. (A
1926 map shows that Excelsior Blvd. was known as Highway 12
for a time.) This portends the long history of heavy
traffic and danger at this most heavily travelled
intersection in the State.
One of the earliest articles published about the highway
appeared in the Minneapolis Journal on July 23, 1931.
It announced that state and county officials had agreed on
plans to construct the "so-called belt line road along its
western limits, which was authorized at the last session of
the legislature." Approved was an 11-mile stretch from
Robbinsdale to Highway 52. (The route
of the original Highway 100 eventually spanned 12.5 miles to
78th Street in Edina.) One of the most important
benefits cited was that livestock shipments from the west
and north could proceed directly to South St. Paul without
passing through either of the Twin Cities.
On August 3 the Hennepin County Board authorized county
highway engineer W.E. Duckett to survey the 100-ft. right of
way for the "new belt highway." The width of the road had
been extended from 90 to 100 ft., except in Crystal, Edina,
Joint construction of the Belt Line by the county and state
was authorized by the State Legislature. The County was to
build the sections south of 50th and north of Wayzata Blvd.,
with the State responsible for the middle, including the
stretch through St. Louis Park. The project was expected to
take three years. An official statement promised:
The belt line road would connect every county and
town road entering Minneapolis from the west. It will be
possible for anyone wishing to enter Minneapolis to
follow this road outside of the city until he reaches
that part of Minneapolis which he wishes to enter, or he
may avoid the city entirely if he wishes to do so. This
will relieve those entering Minneapolis from driving
On April 18, the Hennepin County board appointed
appraisers in connection with the proposed acquisition of
land for the highway. The appraisers named were S.W. Batson,
Max Hoppenrath, C.G. Wentworth, J.A. Bellmur, John Degnan,
and E.J. Goodal.
Carl Graeser presented the Highway Department's plans for
Highways 7 and 100 on July 20. At the time, Highway 7 was
being referred to as Highway 12, and Highway 100 was being
referred to as Highway 5.
A 140-ft. right of way for 1.8 miles between 50th and 63rd Streets in Edina,
was acquired, graded and graveled. The October 1932
edition of the Country Club Crier described the area
under construction as "that portion where it joins Highway
No. 5 at the intersection with West 50th Street, south to
about West 63rd Street. The route largely follows the
Willson Road both as to location and grade except for about
a quarter of a mile south of the No. 5 intersection, where
the course has been moved west to line up, north and south,
with the State highway." The acquisition of land
was done by the County without condemnations. The
article describes the project's southern terminus as the
A survey of the route was done in 1933 using two crews, one
truck, and equipment left over from World War I.
In January, Lake Street businessmen went to court to
protest the highway project, fearing that instead of taking
Excelsior Blvd. to Minneapolis via Lake Street, they would
bypass the Boulevard and take Wayzata Blvd. They were right.
Aurora Avenue, south of Excelsior Blvd., was renamed Vernon
Avenue in conjunction with a general street renaming effort
within the Village. A map shows plans to reconfigure
the intersection of Vernon, Excelsior, and Wooddale, since
they did not exactly meet up. The map suggests that parts
of lots on the east side of Vernon just south of Excelsior
were taken even before the highway was built.
The 1933-34 St. Louis Park directory, the first ever, showed
that Fred Dean lived at 1800 Quentin Ave., which had been
Quincy before the streets were renamed. Dean's
granddaughter reports that his house had to be moved in
preparation for the building of the highway. The house
was moved to 1836 Princeton (not an address today) in about
The Public Works Administration (PWA) was formed in June
operated until July 1939. Its goal was to provide work to
private construction firms, which would in turn hire skilled
workers. Unskilled workers were required to be local. To the
extent feasible, men, horses, and hand tools would be used
instead of heavy machinery, to give the men expanded
opportunity to work.
On November 8, Minnesota received $900,000 in PWA funds
in accordance with the National Industrial Recovery Act of
June 16, 1933 (the precursor to the NRA). Funds were
available to finance up to 30 per cent of the cost of
construction equipment and materials.
Funds were provided by the Federal Emergency Relief
Administration (FERA), which had been created in 1933.
Projects funded by FERA were referred to as ERA projects, as
noted below. In January, the National Recovery Work Relief
Program encompassed projects funded under PWA, FERA, WPA,
and/or state money, as Highway 100 was.
On April 26 the Hennepin County Review reported that the
State lacked funds to finish the Belt Line between Highway
10 and 12 (Excelsior Blvd.). County Engineer W.E. Duckett
predicted a year’s delay due to lack of funds.
The County started grading
the first section of the new highway, which ran from
Excelsior Blvd. south to 50th Street/Vernon Ave. in Edina.
The State later took over construction.
The second phase of the highway was begun between
Excelsior Blvd. and Wayzata Blvd.
ERA gave way to the Works Progress Administration (WPA)
in January 1935, taking over unfinished projects of the FERA,
which ended in June 1935. The WPA provided immediate
employment to thousands of construction and landscaping
laborers. The Country Club Crier of August 1935
reported that machinery replaced hand picks used in 1934 and
the number of Minneapolis applicants was not reduced.
Construction was speeded up from 20,000 yards per month to
120,000 yards per month.
4,500 Men's Bureau clients were given physical examinations,
and approximately 3,000 qualified.
By 1937, approximately 1,500 men were working on the project
every day. As the largest Federal work relief
project in the state, the building of the belt line
provided an immediate boost to the economy. The WPA operated
until July 1939, when it was replaced by the Works Projects
Administration (also the WPA) until June 1943. Its biggest
year was 1938. In Minnesota, 600,000 people had been
employed by the WPA.
Things apparently got off to a rocky start, as the March 2,
meeting minutes of the Village Council included the
A letter was received from the Workers Protective
Association, relative to the dissatisfaction and
friction among the WPA men, and their foreman Mr.
Kelley. It is the contention of the Association that
this condition was retarding the progress of work.
Trustee Jorvig made a motion which was seconded by Mr.
Perkins that the Recorder write to Mr. Kristgau for his
assistance in handling this matter, and that Mr. Perkins
as a committee of one work on this problem. Upon being
put to a vote the motion was carried.
An article in the Minneapolis Journal dated May 2
cited relief authorities, who felt that the project is a
"refutation of many of the current criticisms of ERA
(emergency relief administration)..." Crews averaging 700
men were at work. FERA had created a Transient Division in
July 1933, in an effort to help men who were often turned
away by municipalities that only helped their own.
Soon after the relief load became heavy, the Gateway
District of Minneapolis developed
into one of the sorest of the sore spots. The City's Skid
Row, the district was 25 blocks of bars, flophouses,
pawnshops, missions, social service agencies, warehouses,
and old office buildings. Hundreds of
homeless men were housed and fed in the district, first in
hotels, and later, as the load grew, in converted warehouses
and factories. Hordes of men roamed streets of the section.
Agitators, always sure of audiences there, made the Gateway
the starting point of demonstrations. The picture at
right is of men passing time at the Gateway, 1937.
Photo by John Vachon, from the Library of Congress.
Outbursts of criticism
against the standard of relief provided grew louder and more
violent, until last fall the public welfare board and the
relief department hit on the plan of setting up an ERA
project especially for homeless men.
The Belt Line and three smaller projects furnished work for
3,500 homeless men, each working six hours a day for six
days [once or twice] per month. [40 hours per month] They earned 55 cents
an hour or $19.80 in cash in lieu of the $10.80 they had
received in meal and lodging tickets. Frank W. Hooton was the ERA liaison
officer. A picture dated July 9, 1935 shows the men boarding a
long line of buses after a day of work. Previously they had
been transported in open dump trucks.
In July 1935, plans were still in play for a cloverleaf at
Excelsior Blvd.; a drawing even showed the proposed motoring
marvel, with the intersection looking mighty rural. The Excelsior
Blvd. cloverleaf did not come to pass. An article mentioned
[Wayzata] Blvd. and Excelsior Blvd., but also stated that
the new Highway 7 was carrying the heaviest traffic load in
the state, so the switch was logical. At the time, no
bridges had been built yet, pending final word on the
Federal government's national grade separation program. The
existing road at this point is still referred to as Highway
5, but so was the Fort Snelling-Shakopee Road.
In August 1935, C.M. Stafford of the Saddle and Bridle Club urged
that the state add a dirt or tanbark road for the purpose of
driving horses: "hackneys with snappy carts," then a popular
occupation. He stated that there were more than 2,500 people
who rode or drove horses in Minneapolis. It is
interesting to see that horses (or some kind of work
animals) were used in the construction of the highway.
In August 1935, Graeser said that the 3.65 mile section from
36th Ave. in Robbinsdale to Wayzata Blvd. would be completed
by the end of the month, but funds were still needed for
four major bridges. Graeser also warned that unless
the WPA immediately allocated $750,000, the project would
have to be postponed. He estimated that the $100,000
currently on hand would provide employment for 2,800 men
through September, according to a report in the Country
In October 1935 it was reported that the project was held up for
several weeks pending its transfer from ERA to WPA. 2,500
relief workers would be given jobs completing the road
grading. The highway was expected to be completed in 1936,
and the landscaping in 1937.
The first lilac plantings, over 3,500, were made along two
miles of highway between Glenwood Avenue and Medicine Lake
Road in December.
Farmers along the route lodged a complaint that they were
not allowed to hire out their trucks and that Drivers Union
No. 574 was preventing them from getting truck hauling jobs
through intimidation. Union President William S. Brown
denied the charge, and stated that the Farmers' trucks only
had "T" licenses and therefore could not be used for hire.
One photo of construction notes that service roads were
built along the side of the highway so that farmers would
not have to "drive from their farmyards directly into the
traffic of the high speed road."
The Soo Line overpass was constructed. Actually two bridges
spaced 10 ft. apart, they are described as "Vaguely Art Moderne in appearance, each pier has a raised vertical panel
with streamlined vertical moldings at the center."
These bridges were designed to accommodate two lanes
underneath on each
side. A notorious bottleneck, in 2006 the road was reconfigured to fit three each
until the bridges could be replaced.
For pictures of the construction of Highway 100 from the
Minnesota Historical Society, go to
http://collections.mnhs.org/visualresources/ and put in
Highway 100 as the search term.
On January 1, the State reported that 3.7 miles between
Wayzata Blvd. and Robbinsdale had been graded, representing
1.2 million cubic yards of excavation.
The opening of (one section of) the new Belt Line Highway
was celebrated with a picnic in July, sponsored by the
Golden Valley Commercial Club. Thousands gathered for sports
events, a kangaroo court, and fireworks. The event also
celebrated the renaming of Sixth Avenue North as Floyd B.
Olson Highway, in honor the Minnesota Governor who died in
office in 1936 at the age of 45. Golden Valley also saluted
August 1937: The highway was not complete. However, the Journal
reported that work was going to be accelerated so that it
could be open between Excelsior Blvd. and Robbinsdale before
winter. The State highway department said that the project
would definitely be completed by 1938. Two bridges had yet
to be built, although the cloverleaf at Wayzata Blvd. was
underway. The underpass below the railroad tracks was
finished in early August. Now only 400 men were at work on
As promised, the cloverleaf at Wayzata Blvd. was ready for
business on November 26, 1937 – construction had started on June
20. A December 16, 1937 article in the Hennepin County
Review reported that the cloverleaf at Highway 12
(Wayzata Blvd.) was the "Northwest's first cloverleaf
highway grade separation." Highway 12 was being built with WPA funds. By now the plans for the second
cloverleaf had changed from
Excelsior Blvd. to Highway 7. Below is a photo of a concrete
pouring phase of the Wayzata Blvd. cloverleaf project.
In December, the Highway Department reported that Highway
100 was 80 percent complete.
As of January, the bridges at Highway 7 and Minnetonka
Blvd. were the only things to stand in the way of the
opening of the new highway. It is now being referred to as
Highway 100. An article claimed that an eight-foot sidewalk
for pedestrians would border the highway, but that didn't
bridges had already been built, including an ornamental
concrete bridge over Minnehaha Creek in Edina, and the
bridge that went over 44th Street and the streetcar tracks.
As for Excelsior Blvd. ("old" Excelsior Blvd., still), "a
center aisle grade separation has been constructed to
provide one-way channels in all directions without a stop. A
neutral zone is created by a 30-ft. center lane for left
hand turns." Thus was created the most dangerous
intersection in the state.
Completion of the highway depended on WPA funding, and such
funding was approved in May and again in November.
A report of the Commissioner of Highways dated March 1, 1939
indicates that the Belt Line "is nearing completion."
The Highway 7 and Minnetonka Blvd. overpasses were
We don't know exactly when the cloverleaf at Highway 7 was
opened, although it can be seen under construction in aerial
photos taken in the summer of 1937. The daughter of plumber Clifford J. Browne,
President of the St. Louis Park Businessmen’s Association,
remembers that her father cut the ribbon for the opening of
the Highway 7 cloverleaf. She also remembers riding her bike
around the four circles of the cloverleaf that day. The
cloverleaf required 30 acres and cost $65,000.
On September 1, 1939 3M's Scotchlite product was used on
traffic control signage and installed at the cloverleaf.
Work on the original section of the Belt Line was completed
in 1941. With the onset of World War II, workers and
materials were diverted to the war effort.
The Village Clerk was instructed to write to the State
asking them to put in lights along 100.
The 1.5 mile portion of the highway between Highway 81
and Brooklyn Blvd. was completed in 1946-47. Mn/DOT
did not consider it part of the Lilac Way Historic District
because it was built later, it was not a part of Federal
relief construction during the Depression, and it was not
adorned with lilacs.
The Dispatch reported that school buses were dropping
kids off across the highway from Brookside School and
leaving them to their own devices to cross the street. This
situation was fixed, but the Village continued to ask the
State for a lower speed limit and a stop sign.
Park made a request to the County for funds to buy
traffic lights, but County Engineer L.P. Zimmerman reported
that there were no funds available. One irate Village
Councilman deemed it a "brush off" by the county. The
Council planned to install three lights: Brookside and
Excelsior; Ottawa and Minnetonka; and Louisiana and
The Village Council asked the State to install traffic
signals at 100 and Excelsior Blvd.
A traffic light (the second in the Village) was installed
at the intersection of 41st Street and Highway 100 at
Brookside School. (Plans dated November 19, 1948)
In June, the Village Engineer was instructed to check
with the State Highway Department regarding relief from the
perennial traffic jam at Highway 100 and Excelsior Blvd.
In August, the Mayor was authorized to sign an agreement
with the State for installing a full activated traffic
signals at 100 and Excelsior Blvd. A Mn/Dot map
dated October 10, 1950 indicates a reconfiguration of the
intersection to accommodate the "Full Traffic Actuated
Traffic Signal System." At this point the road
south of Excelsior Blvd. is
labeled T.H. 100, 169, and 212.
In 1950, all 66 miles of the Beltline were considered
finished (see top of this page).
On one day in July, 20,313 vehicles were counted
traveling down Highway 100 north of Excelsior Blvd. At that
time the speed limit on 100 was 50 mph.
In November, Edina invited neighboring communities and
State Highway Department officials to a meeting about safety
issues on Highway 100. In response to requests from the
various Mayors, the Highway Department refused to lower
speed limits or provide more policemen. The State also
refused to provide center dividers, citing Federal steel
$515 in damage was done to a traffic signal at Highway
100 and Excelsior, also in November.
Highway 12 was rebuilt as a four lane divided roadway.
A gravel pit located at 2200 Louisiana, owned by the State,
was used by the Alexander Construction Co. to pave Highway
100 between Excelsior and Highway 52.
In April the State signed some kind of agreement with the
Village for the construction, reconstruction and improvement
of Highway 100 with the proviso that the Village allow no
gas pumps or billboards along the road and that any parking
was parallel only.
A June 26, 1952 article in the Dispatch outlined a
plan to eliminate the at-grade intersection of Cedar Lake
Road and Highway 100. The plan was to loop CLR under the
Great Northern railway bridge about 300 feet sough of the
intersection, which had been the source of several deadly
accidents. CLR traffic would also use the loop to cross the
highway. In the meantime, a two-foot, raised concrete island
was built to divide Highway 100 into two two-lane roadways
to prevent left-hand turns.
In the spring, the Highway Department began to notify
residents on the east side of Highway 100 that their houses
were in the path of the planned freeway. One man moved into
his new house in the fall of 1952, and was told by the State
that it was building a highway through it in the spring of
'53. It didn't get moved until 1967.
In response to the carnage that was being wreaked on the
highway, in August the County closed nine intersections to
left turns, including the one at Excelsior Blvd. Residents
feared that the highway was becoming a "slaughterhouse." The
State had wanted to shut down all streets crossing 100, but
the Village Council protested and the State backed down.
Some stretches of road that only had yellow line dividers
received concrete barriers to stop the frequent head-on
As another attempt to reduce accidents, the speed limit on
the Beltway was reduced from 50 mph to 40 in November. In a
letter to the Village Council Mr. C.R. Skanse of 4337 Mackey
decried the death traps on the belt line and urged no left
turns between 50th St. and Robbinsdale.
Cloverleafs were still puzzling to some drivers, and
accidents happened. The June 4, 1953 edition of the
Minneapolis Star provided explicit instructions on how to
negotiate the Highway 7 and Highway 12 cloverleafs.
(The Minnetonka Blvd. intersection was not a cloverleaf.)
Citing congestion, in April Hennepin County Engineer L.P.
Zimmerman proposed a "second belt line," starting with
County Road 18 to the west.
A bridge over (new) Cedar Lake Road and the Great Northern
Railroad tracks was underway in August. About one mile of
Cedar Lake Road was rerouted to the south, under Highway
100, as an "accident prevention measure." The intersection
at "old" Cedar Lake Road was closed.
Click here for a picture from 1954.
Plans for an 80-mile "Super Belt Line" were "revealed" by
Walter Schultz, the Highway Department, and Arthur Overby of
the Federal Bureau of Public Roads. The road that would
become 494/694 was part of President Eisenhower's proposed
interstate highway network. The first link was to be along
78th Street in Bloomington. Only six miles would coincide
with the present Belt Line (at the end of 100 going east).
Plans for I-35 and I-94 were announced at about the same
A picture of the newly-constructed
Ethel Baston Elementary
School shows that the speed limit on at least that stretch
of 100 was 40 mph.
In December, complaints were made that drivers were cutting
across the berm on the east side of 100 in front of
and Yngve. There were also complaints about dusty conditions
south of Excelsior Blvd.
Five more intersections with Highway 100 were closed
down, including W. 26th Street and W. 28th Street. Traffic
was to be rerouted to the railroad underpass at Cedar Lake
A three-phase traffic signal – allowing for controlled left
turns – was installed at Highway 100 and Excelsior Blvd.
This in an effort to curb the carnage at the State's most busy and
Locally, hearings were held on the proposed "Super Belt
Line and Twin City Freeway system," i.e., 494/694.
In 1958, City Councilman Torval Jorvig requested that a
committee be formed to give Highways 7 and 100 names,
presumably like Wayzata Blvd. The committee came up with
Centennial Drive (1958 being the centennial of Statehood),
and Lilac Way, which it had been called for some time. No
action was taken.
E.J. McCubrey of the Highway Department appeared before
the City Council in January to obtain city approval of plans
to widen Highway 100 from Excelsior Blvd. to the Edina city
limits. City Councilmen expressed their preference to widen
and improve Excelsior Blvd. from France Ave. to Highway 100
instead. Although McCubrey reported this preference to the
the state's plan to widen Highway 100 from Excelsior Blvd.
to 50th Street in Edina prevailed.
On May 7, the Highway Department conducted a public hearing
to present its plan to upgrade Highway 100 from I 494 to
The State Highway Department proposed to reroute Highway
169, right through St. Louis Park. The plan called for the
highway to enter the Park from Edina at approx. midway
between Brook Lane and Yosemite, cross Brookside Ave. and
continue north and west. It would cross Highway 100 at its
junction with Wooddale Ave., then cross the Johnson [Wolfe]
and Bass Lake areas, and head northwest into Minneapolis.
The Highway Department identified Highway 100 and
Excelsior Blvd. as the busiest at-grade intersection in the
State. Later statistics show the number of accidents at 40
in 1958 (no fatalities), rising to over 100 in 1964. Bigger
cars and crowded roads led to record numbers of traffic
accidents that didn't abate until the gas shortage of the
mid '70s resulted in smaller cars and lower speed limits.
Houses started to move to prepare for the widening of
Highway 100 as early at 1960 – a picture of a
house being moved down Excelsior Blvd. was printed in the
February 2 issue of the Dispatch.
The City Council authorized an agreement with the State to
put up traffic signals at Hwy 100 and 36th Street. The City
decided to install a temporary signal, to be hand operated
by a City employee.
The intersection of 36th Street and Highway 100 was a busy
one, and the the City Council allotted $9,000 for a traffic
signal to be installed. A hand operated signal was to be
used until the permanent one could be installed. The light
was replaced by a bridge in 1985.
The Highway Department proposed "Southwest Diagonal." The
road, later abandoned under a flood of protest led by the
Chamber of Commerce, was originally intended to go from
downtown Minneapolis to the new town of Jonathan.
"The proposed route... would take Highway 169 on a winding
course from a point just north of Excelsior Blvd. on Highway
100, northeast through a major industrial zone [through the
site of the Rec Center], across Highway 7 and Lake St. near
Chowen Ave., then east of Cedar Lake to a junction with
Highway 12 near Penn Ave. Plans call for the rerouting of
Highway 7...[which] would mean a probably large but
presently undetermined number of homes in Minneapolis would
be condemned to make room for the highways."
In January 1962, the Star reported that Park refused to agree with
the plan, and the Highway Department held up work on
upgrading the deadly Excelsior Blvd/Highway 100
intersection. Mayor Wolfe appealed directly to the Governor
for relief. In the meantime, only a stoplight regulated
traffic at this busy intersection. One businessman suggested
erecting a sign at the site: "This congestion due to the
courtesy of the Minnesota Highway Department."
October 1962, the Highway Department relented and approved plans
for an upgraded interchange at Highway 100 and Excelsior
Blvd. The State approved a modified diamond-cloverleaf
interchange, where 60,000 cars traveled each day. City
Fathers were reportedly "jubilant" at the news.
A Minn/Dot construction plan for grading and concrete
surfacing Highway 100 showed the average daily traffic as
28,725-34,900. The estimated daily traffic for the
year 1980 was 72,212-87,713. The road was designed for
50 mph (although the speed limit was 40).
After more than five years of discussion and debate, in
February the City Council approved State Highway plans for
an improved interchange for Highway 100 and Excelsior Blvd.
The plans included a footbridge at 41st Street, to be built
in 1967 or 1968. Parents of children who attended
School and Most Holy Trinity petitioned the Highway
Department to construct the bridge immediately. The petition
effort was organized by Robert J. McFarlin of the Brookside
PTA, who stated that the intersection had the highest volume
of traffic of any school crossing in Minnesota.
Approximately 350 children navigated the crossing every day.
BrooksideSchool kids crossing Highway 100 in 1955
In February 1963, E.J. McCubrey, P.R. Staffeld, and Dean
Wenger of the State Highway Dept. presented plans to improve
the Hwy 100 and Excelsior Blvd. intersection. The City
Council approved the tentative plans.
The Highway Department began buying houses on Vernon
Avenue south of Excelsior Blvd. to make way for Highway 100 widening project.
July, the Edina Village Council approved plans to widen
Highway 100 between its northern limits and 494. This work
included the bridge at 44th Street, and eliminated access to
the Highway between Excelsior Blvd. and 50th Street. It also
provided long-awaited frontage roads, although it required
the removal of four or five houses in Edina.
In Edina, the Village Council approved a six-lane divided
highway between its northern border south to Highway 62, and
a four-lane divided highway to 494 (78th Street).
September, stop signs were erected at the cross streets
between Highway 100 and Wooddale in an attempt to control
Highway 100 was all that was left of the old Belt Line,
according to the 1965 State map. "Old 100" signs were put
up, and Hwy 100 markers on five highways were removed.
Highways 494 and 694 took the Belt Line's place.
There was still some discussion of the SW Diagonal - see
Left hand turns on Highway 100 were scary and dangerous.
In 1965 the City Council closed the streets on the east side
of the highway between 41st and 44th Street. Some were
later reopened to right hand turns only.
In April, the City Council was presented with the full plan
for the Southwest Diagonal, still alive after several years.
Mn/DOT came to the City Council with a proposal for a bypass
for Excelsior Blvd.
After fighting delays by the State Highway Department and
cutbacks in Federal funds, the city finally got a commitment
to begin work on the Highway 100/Excelsior Blvd. overpass.
Work was to begin in the fall. City fathers were jubilant –
they claimed there had been more than 100 accidents at the
Plans and specs for the Highway 100 expansion was approved,
calling for grading, surfacing, bridges, widening the
median, and guardrails.
On December 10, 1967, the St. Paul Pioneer Press published
a story called “Our Highways are Real Groovy.”
Modifications were made of the ramp and loop terminals at
Work was done on traffic signals and ramp reconstruction at
In May, construction began on medians on Highway 100 and the
widening of two bridges at Cedar Lake Road and a railroad
bridge between Highway 55 and Glenwood Ave. Both steel and
Jersey barriers were planned in an attempt to reduce head on
The SLP City Council approved the final plans for the
improvement of Highway 100 in August.
There was still some talk of the SW Diagonal at a City
Council meeting in 1968. The plans were holding up the
completion of the Highway 100/Excelsior Blvd. underpass.
Between 1968 and 1969, the houses on the east side of the
highway, from 41st to 44th Street, were moved or razed. Many
(mostly 1939-41) houses were bought for $1 by moving
companies and hauled off in the middle of the night, to the
excitement of spectators on the west side. Friends were lost
and a neighborhood was irrevocably split in half by a road
that had once had a stoplight at the corner but could be run
across with ease. The photo below was taken in 1968 from
4246 Vernon on the west side, showing two of the doomed
houses on the east side.
After being held up 6-7 years because of the debate about
the Southwest Diagonal, the Highway 100 underpass at
Excelsior Blvd. was finished in June 1969 (see picture in
Dispatch July 10, 1969). The ribbon cutting, attended by
State Senator Ken Wolfe, Maid Marian Joy Sheekanoff, and
Mayor Len Thiel, was held on August 6, 1969. The interchange
cost $2.27 million and took two years to complete. At the
time it carried 70,000 cars per day, which was projected to
climb to 112,500 per day in 1985.
After removing houses from the east side of the highway
south of Excelsior, the land remained empty for a couple of
Highway 100 was widened between
44th Street and Highway 7 from four lanes to six. The narrow
railroad bridges prevented further widening north of Highway
7. A service
road, which retained the name Vernon Ave., was built between
41st and 44th Street to serve homes on the west side of the
highway. On the east side, Vernon Avenue continued from part
of 41st Street to Excelsior Blvd.
The intersection of Highway 100 and 36th Street was
quickly becoming the most dangerous intersection in the
city, particularly when the Rec Center was open. City
officials were back to trying to get the State to act.
Finally a foot bridge was built, but not until about 1975.
Some remember a wooden vehicle bridge.
The Minnesota Highway Department became the Minnesota
Department of Transportation (Mn/DOT).
A bridge with half-diamond ramps was built at Benton Ave. in
Wooddale Ave. between 39th Street and Excelsior Blvd. was
renamed Park Center Blvd. This street had also been known as
Highway 100 So. and Vernon Ave. The buildings on the street
at the time, which had included a law office, post office,
and driving range, were demolished at about the time Lilac
Way saw its demise.
Ground was broken for the Highway 100/36th Street
interchange on July 9. The project had been delayed several
times because of funding problems. C.S. McCrossan was the
contractor. The City provided about $3 million of the
project’s $9.5 million price tag. The project helped drive
the final nail in the coffin of Lilac Way Shopping Center,
as people stayed away from the construction zone. The bridge
eliminated one of the last stoplights on Highway 100.
The pedestrian bridge was to be dismantled, divided, and
erected at two other locations in St. Louis Park. One was
over 36th St. west of Beltline Blvd., near the Rec Center.
Another section was to be placed over railroad tracks to
connect Dakota Park and Edgewood Ave., near Methodist
A $137 million Highway 100 project stretched from
Glenwood Ave. to Brooklyn Blvd. through Golden Valley,
Crystal, Robbinsdale, and Brooklyn Center. The project,
started in 2000, turned a two-lane road with stoplights into
a three-lane “free flowing highway” from 394 to 694. The
construction season-ending MnDOT news conference was held in
Graeser Park in Robbinsdale.
The remaining two-lane section of 100 between 36th Street
and 394 was creating a huge bottleneck, but money to widen
the highway wasn't available until 2014. A stopgap
solution was started in June, whereby the State relined
the road to make three lanes out of two. Extensive
work was also done to turn the Highway 7 cloverleaf
into a diamond.
Although he didn't make it to St. Louis Park, President
Barack Obama traversed Highway 100 on his way to speak at
the Honeywell Plant in Golden Valley on
June 1, 2012.
The long-delayed expansion of Highway 100 at Minnetonka
Blvd. and Highway 7 is currently scheduled to begin in late 2014
and finish in 2016.
The so-called "full build" project will replace the bridges
over Highway 100 at Minnetonka Blvd. and Highway 7, as well
as two railroad bridges. Pavement will be replaced,
and the new lanes will be 12 ft. wide. The concrete
median and a sewer line will be replaced, and contaminated
soil removed. See the story posted by the
St. Louis Park Patch and another in the Sun-Sailor
Once the Pratts and the
Hankes crossed the
Aurora/Excelsior intersection on foot via Pleasant Avenue.
150 years later, from the western dead end of Wooddale, one
can look across 14 lanes of pavement to see where the east
side of Wooddale picks up. In typical fashion, you can't get
there from here. St. Louis Park was advertised as the place
to be, "Out Where the Highways Meet" - but first you'd
better have a car and know where the bridges are!