From 1926 to 1939, Johnson’s Family Garden was located on the southeast corner of Excelsior Boulevard and Natchez Avenue. The brainchild of Robert Johnson, it was a family fun spot and featured a rock garden and canaries.
Johnson, quite the entrepreneur in the early days of St. Louis Park, started his career as a limousine driver. Ahead of the crowd, he went on to own 30 Gold Star gas stations along Franklin and Lake, selling gas for 9.9 cents per gallon.
In 1913, he started building houses in Minneapolis and St. Louis Park, particularly in the Minikahda Vista neighborhood, south of Excelsior Boulevard. His homes were known for their high-quality and can often be distinguished by their flagstone trim. He owned two houses, and his granddaughter remembers that he seemed to alternate between them.
Combining his talents for building and running gas stations, Johnson owned or leased several sites along Excelsior Blvd. in the 1920s and ’30s:
- In 1929 Johnson built a gas station at 3900 Excelsior, the present site of Minikahda Mobil.
- In 1931–37 Johnson owned a gas station at 4300 Excelsior. The site eventually became Clark Subs and is now part of the Opitz campus.
- Next to the garden was a large restaurant/store. In 1939, the building became the Swan Tavern and beer garden, the meeting place for Park Baptist Church, and a farm supply store. A new building, now the site of Jennings Liquors, was built in 1966.
- Before 1932, Johnson ran a root beer stand at 4700 Excelsior. The site became a series of restaurants/bars—Park Terrace, George’s in the Park, Duffs, Infinity, and the Classic Motor Company—before being redeveloped as part of Excelsior and Grand.
- In 1925 Johnson built a gas station at 4701 Excelsior. For years it was Gordy’s Standard and is now Steve’s BP.
Given Excelsior Boulevard’s reputation as a raucous strip of bars that sprang up after Prohibition ended, it’s nice to know that one could find family entertainment—and canaries—thanks to Robert Johnson.
Jeanne Andersen is a trustee on the board of the St. Louis Park Historical Society.
Visit slphistory.org for more information about the history of St. Louis Park.