Demolition of the Lyndale Garden Center is well on its way. For many of us, it is bittersweet to see a place that holds so many memories be taken apart and hauled away, one truck at a time. Its departure marks another phase of Richfield’s evolving identity. As I research the roots of Richfield, I have learned that the name is quite literal. Richfield was, indeed, a rich field whose fertile soil grew the potatoes, carrots, lettuce and squash for Minneapolis families to eat starting around the early 1870’s.
By the 1920’s the Bachman’s family was running a well established family business at 61st and Lyndale. The Bachman’s created innovative techniques to grow food in greenhouses in order to extend the growing season. Around this time, the Busch’s had started their own gardening operation on the Christ Eisele farm at 64th Street and Lyndale. Their business added itself to the expansive landscape of greenhouses and market garden businesses so that by the early 1920s, the village of Richfield had “about 300,000 feet under glass. The period of Richfield providing the fruits, flowers, and food for Minneapolis came to an abrupt end after World War II. Throughout the United States new families started leaving the crowded cities to live in suburbs. Between 1940 and 1950, Richfield experienced a population increase of 363 percent. Developers built modest houses for young families that moved into the new city of Richfield. By 1970 all farm land in the community had been built on, but Bachman’s and Lyndale Garden Center remained, a slice of history in Richfield’s quickly changing landscape.
At the Farmer’s Market and the Richfield Free Concert Series, people have shared their memories with me of Lyndale Garden Center. Do any of you remember Peter the Pumpkin? Apparently, the Lyndale Garden Center staff would take the biggest pumpkin they could find that year, hollow it out, and put a speaker inside of it that was connected to a microphone with a chord long enough so a staff member could take it and hide. Any time a kid walked past, Peter the Pumpkin would say hi and terrify the child in wicked Halloween fun. Another person told me about the little Grandma who owned the business for many years who refused to retire. She would sit at the end of the checkout counters, watching her staff and interacting with her customers, raising a sweet little fuss over whatever people bought. A lot of people remember the wishing well. A lot of people tell me that the annual trip to Lyndale Garden Center meant the beginning of another growing season. Folks went with their parents as they were growing up then got their own house with their own gardens and brought their own kids, continuing the tradition. Maybe people loved the building, but I would venture to say that more people loved what the building represented—the act of growing and the tools folks needed to create beautiful gardens.
As I solicit people’s memories of Lyndale Garden Center, one of the most common questions I get asked is “Did the greenhouses have to go?” The simple answer is yes, there was asbestos in the glazing around the glass and the old building was full of inefficiencies that would have taken a ridiculous amount of money to solve and repair. But a part of me can’t help but take a wider view and ask, did all of the greenhouses have to go?
What we are building on the Lyndale Gardens site will be a new Lyndale town center, downtown, community meet-up place…all of these words are being thought about inside the Cornerstone Group’s office to see which one feels the most accurate. It will feature some of the most exciting trends in development with amenities that are designed to foster community and catalyze connections between neighbors. As I learn about Richfield’s past, I see that the plans for the site also holds within them an essential piece of Richfield’s history that dates back even farther than the Lyndale Garden Center building. There will be gardens that grow potatoes, carrots, lettuce and squash for Richfield residents with a farmer on site. There will be classes that will teach people how to grow and prepare fresh food with recipes that reflect the evolving identities of Richfield residents. Lakewinds Coop will sell produce grown on farms in Minnesota just outside the city limits. So while a piece of Richfield’s architectural history is being demolished, another piece of its history is being revived.
Richfield has always been a place where things grow. This time, agriculture will be intertwined with art and the food grown in the fertile soil of Richfield will be another way for people to connect with the land, their neighbors, and their health. The demolition inspires my imagination of what is yet to be. Let’s honor the memories as we say good-bye and plant the seeds together of Richfield’s future.
Molly Van Avery is at the Richfield Lyndale Gardens Farmers Market most Wednesdays to collect your memories. She will be doing ongoing arts-based events, conversations, and planning throughout the next year. If you are a Richfield artist or lover of the arts, come talk to her about your dreams for a vibrant Richfield arts scene. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 612-558-7179