Eden Prairie Parks Director Jay Lotthammer has been saddled with finding a home for the legendary Flying Red Horse, and, though it’s hard to believe, it is not the first “forever home” he’s had to find for a horse. It’s actually the third.
When he was Brooklyn Park’s director of parks and recreation, a resident donated two live draft horses to the city, and Lotthammer arranged to have them board at that city’s living-history farm.
There will be a lot less hay involved in situating the Flying Red Horse, the Mobil sign that for 70-plus years served as an Eden Prairie beacon atop the Wye Café and the Mobil gas station run by the Jesse and Irene Schwartz family.
For almost a decade, the city has been looking for a permanent home for the landmark, which was donated to the city in 2013 after the Mobil gas station was purchased and redeveloped by Holiday Stationstores. But, it has apparently found that home, at the corner of Flying Cloud Drive and Town Center Place, across the street from the Best Buy store.
On the northwest corner of that busy intersection, the under-construction Metro Green Line Extension light-rail transit tracks round a bend, leaving a small piece of property nearest the corner that will be conveyed to the city about next June and host a small plaza where the Flying Red Horse will be erected. Interpretive signage noting the landmark’s history, along with a bench, will also be part of the plaza, with final plans yet to come.
“It’s something that will bring a little bit of that, ‘What was old Eden Prairie like?” said Lotthammer, calling the sign “iconic.”
Long before Eden Prairie became a suburb, the Flying Red Horse atop the gas station let outstate Minnesotans visiting the Twin Cities know they were close to their destination – even at night, when the sign was lighted. It served as a similar cue to small-aircraft pilots headed to Flying Cloud Airport.
It’s fitting that the sign’s new home will be just a block from its old home. But, the route to that new home was anything but direct.
“People were all over the board as far as what their opinion was,” Lotthammer said. Placing the sign at the city-owned Riley-Jacques Farm at Lake Riley, at the high school baseball field near the Community Center, or inside the Eden Prairie Center mall – none of those options gained a hoof-hold.
There were also a lot of questions about the sign itself which, at 12 feet tall and 17 feet wide, is ungainly at best. Restore it to its original condition? Leave it as is? Fix it with new parts? Treat it as a protected historical artifact? Repair its lighting? Display it indoors or outdoors?
The unknowns have been reined in only in recent months, and the city’s Heritage Preservation Commission and Parks, Recreation, and Natural Resources Commission now seem aligned on the small-plaza idea, in part because of its high visibility to motorists and – in future years – LRT riders.
“This feels like it’s really close to where it used to be. And it will get lots and lots of views,” said Lotthammer.
Lotthammer noted that, until the necessary land conveyance is made in mid-2023, the city will work to clean up the sign and restore its neon lighting system. It will also need a stronger support base and the addition of a clear, protective layer to keep it looking good. City council approval will be sought once refurbishing costs are known, he added. Funding for the small plaza will come from the city’s capital-improvements program and its long-running sale of old street signs.
Given the right design, the display will look intentional and not haphazard, the parks director said.
Eden Prairie will have its horse back. No corrals or water troughs needed.
Mark Weber is executive director of the Eden Prairie Community Foundation. Lotthammer is the vice-chair of the organization.
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