Remembering a Champion of the Holly Tot Lot

Rose Peterson was a “voice crying in the wilderness” to save the playspace.

Our parks and the Dakota homeland on which they rest hold the stories of many people. The Tot Lot at 529 Holly Ave was saved twice by indefatigable resident Rose Peterson. First, in 1971, she and a group of residents convinced the Housing and Redevelopment Authority (HRA) to buy the lot as a playground after the plan to move a house there failed. Parks and Rec installed play equipment and began caring for the tot-sized park until 1977, when the City decided to sell the land. Rose was back on the phone, this time, with then Councilmember Bob Sylvester. “We fought six years ago for this playground. I couldn’t see letting them take it after we had it that long,” she said in the Pioneer Press Dispatch.

Councilmember Sylvester (later Deputy Mayor Kimberly) followed up and learned that the HRA had actually failed to transfer the land title to the City. “The HRA forgot about the tot lot when they put the land up for sale,” Sylvester said. “I called Mrs. Peterson back after wiping egg off my face. She is right; the people won that battle.”

“We got a tot lot, and nobody in the bureaucracy remembered,” said Gary Stout, then head of the HRA at that time. “All that publicity, and nobody remembered except Rose Peterson.”

The article in the newspaper ended by saying, “Mrs. Peterson said she will keep the news stories about the tot lot controversy for proof in the event City Hall fails to improve its record keeping.” Her son Michael uncovered the yellowed news articles last week following Rose’s death. The family hopes to dedicate one of the park benches to Rose and her fight and perhaps have the park named in her honor.

Thanks to the tender loving care of the Ramsey Hill Association gardeners, and Parks and Rec staff, the Holly Tot Lot has remained a beautiful little spot for kids to play for fifty-two years.