This is a national tragedy.

Graeser Park features one of only two 1939 WPA-built ‘beehive fireplaces’ in the U.S.

Located in Robbinsdale, MN, it’s the only beehive in its original location, and desperately needs to be saved.

We want to help drive a national effort to conserve and restore this rare Lilac Way park.

MnDOT and the National Park Service can document only two beehive-shaped fireplaces remaining in the U.S.—Graeser Park, and Lilac Park in St. Louis Park, MN.

Thankfully, Lilac Park was beautifully restored in 2009.

MnDOT has begun the title work process to transfer ownership of Graeser Park to the City of Robbinsdale. This process could take until summer of 2019, possibly longer. Robbinsdale cannot initiate any changes to Graeser Park until ownership is complete.

This once-stunning Lilac Way park is looking for heroes to save it.

Hand-built in 1939 with limestone quarried from the Minnesota River near the Mendota Bridge, this park had picnic tables, beehive fireplaces, benches, and water fountains.

Families grilled hot dogs, and played games. It was a popular community park for picnics.

A large waterfall in the Rock Garden area was integral to the entire water system. The ‘cone’ fountain was also a key feature.

Graeser Park, 1940. Beehive fireplace (upper left), rock garden. Photo: MN Hist. Soc.
Graeser Park, 1940. Stone stairway leading from Broadway Avenue down into Graeser Park. Photo: MN Historical Society.
Graeser Park, 1940. Beehive fireplace (left center), and 10-11 picnic tables. Photo: MN Historical Society.
Graeser Park, 1940. Rock garden. Photo: MnDOT
Graeser Park, 1940. Rock garden. Photo: MnDOT

This Lilac Way park needs to be restored soon.

Despite the incredible efforts of the Robbinsdale Lions Club and the Graeser Park Angels, this 1939 Lilac Way park is continuing to disintegrate a bit more every year. Time is of the essence—this park needs to be saved, before it is too late.

Graeser (Grā-zer) Park was named for German engineer Carl Graeser, the “Father of the Belt Line.” He developed the concept and supervised construction of Highway 100 and Lilac Way.

Some locals call it “Glacier Park”. But it’s really Graeser Park.

What’s special about Graeser Park?

Graeser Park’s original plan called for
  • three stone fireplaces (may have been beehive-shaped)
  • stone oven-type fireplace
  • 18 stone picnic tables
  • rock garden with a waterfall that integral to entire water system
  • three stone refuse containers
  • stone concourse
  • Rustic log roadside parking sign
  • bituminous sidewalk
  • flagstone walk
  • 320′ of stone curbing
Graeser Park SOUTH in MnDOT’s 1997 inventory was listed as park land across West Broadway Avenue. This park had
  • a council ring
  • six stone picnic tables
  • stone refuse container
  • stone Roadside Parking sign
  • stone fireplace
  • water well with pump
Graeser Park, 1964. Photo: MnDOT.

Graeser Park Facts

  • Also known as Robbinsdale Rock Garden Roadside Parking Area
  • Built in 1939 as part of 12.5-mile-long roadside development project for Highway 100
  • Built by Work Progress Administration (WPA) and Minnesota Highway Department
  • One of largest federal relief projects in Minnesota
  • One of only two remaining Lilac Way roadside parks
  • Of two remaining beehive fireplaces, is the only one in original location
  • Includes original beehive fireplace, curved overlook wall and rock garden
  • Stone for park was quarried along the Minnesota River near the Mendota Bridge
  • Originally designed to be a 7-acre park, with space along east side for a cloverleaf that was never built
  • Designed by Landscape Architect Arthur Nichols, who also landscaped Glensheen Mansion in Duluth, Minnesota
  • According to Rollie Heywood, long-time historian at Robbinsdale Historical Society, there was a path from the main Graeser Park that went under the W Broadway bridge (and possibly the railroad bridge) to Graeser Park South
  • Highway Engineer Carl Graeser supervised the building of Graeser Park while living at 4225 Unity Avenue North
Historical info
  • One of seven original Lilac Way parks
  • Designed by Arthur Nichols, Landscape Architect
  • Built by Works Progress Administration (WPA) as part of one of MN’s largest federal relief projects, 1934-1941
  • Hand-built by unemployed men during Great Depression
  • Significant in the state’s history of transportation
  • Determined ineligible for National Register status

Big thanks to the Robbinsdale Lions Club for maintaining Graeser Park while it waits for restoration.

What did the WPA build in Graeser Park in 1940-41?

Graeser Park, 2016. Beehive fireplace.
Beehive-shaped fireplace
  • Focal point of picnic area south of overlook wall
  • Built of tan, coursed ashlar, rockfaced limestone
  • Dark red mortar joints contrast with the light-colored stone
  • 23′ perimeter, 10′ tall, rests on circular flagstone pad
  • Three rounded-arched fire openings with metal cooking grates and brick-lined fireboxes
  • Between the openings are small limestone ledges
  • Remains today, but In poor condition, missing a ledge, several stones, a few metal grates, flagstone pad is breaking up, and mortar repair is needed
Graeser Park, 1940. Rectangular limestone picnic table. Photo: MN Historical Society.
Stone picnic tables
  • There were 3 clusters of picnic tables
    • One east of overlook wall (two sets remained in 1997)
    • One set southeast of wall (7 sets remained in 1997)
    • One set very close to Highway 100 in large grassy area open at south edge of park (one set remained in 1997)
  • 10 sets of stone picnic tables remained in 1997
    • Each set sits on a rectangle of flagstone
  • Original plans had called for 18 stone picnic tables
  • Tables and benches were built of tan, roughly-cut limestone, most of which was coursed
  • Stones were carefully chosen and cut, some were pure triangles
  • There were two picnic table styles
    • Square table top supported by cruciform shape
      • Had four benches
      • The seat of each was supported by two stone block pedestals
    • Rectangular table top, with two stone benches that were each supported by three stone blocks
      • Table tops and seats were simple slabs with rockfaced edges
  • No picnic tables remain in the park today; some picnic tables were removed when Graeser Park was used to store construction equipment
Graeser Park, 2016. Overlook wall with flagstone terrace.
Stone overlook wall, faces SE
  • Largest feature in Graeser Park
  • Built of tan, random ashlar, roughly-cut limestone
  • 18″ thick, varies in height with terrain
  • Anchored at intervals by stone piers that have limestone slab caps (wall itself has no cap)
  • Symmetrical design with 14′-wide curving lookout bay at midpoint
  • Flagstone-paved bay creates a terrace
  • Three 6′-wide sets of limestone steps lead into picnic areas from wall
  • Inner side of wall is lined with a 6′-wide walkway
  • Tan limestone curbing runs along the length of the SE side of parking area in front of overlook wall
  • Remains today, but In poor condition with missing and cracked stones, and mortar work that needs repair
Graeser Park, 1940. Rock garden with cone-shaped fountain.
Rock Garden – fountains and paths
  • Near south end of site
  • Built of mortared tan limestone rubble
  • Curving flagstone-paved paths wind around naturalistic mounds of stone
  • Near center of garden are two oval-shaped ponds (about 3′ deep) with poured concrete bottoms
    • One pond has a stone cone-shaped fountain in center (not working)
    • Other had a waterfall along one side
  • Early photos show garden was lightly planted with trees and planted with many varieties of water plants, etc.
  • Remains today, but in poor condition
Graeser Park, 2018. Waterfall wall, beehive in background.
Graeser Park, 2018. Original 1939 piping for waterfall wall.
Rock Garden – waterfall
  • integral to the entire water system
  • Rock Garden area had two ponds – one has a stone cone-shaped fountain in the center, and the other has a waterfall along one side.
Graeser Park, year unknown. Waterfall in Rock Garden area. Screen capture from TPT's 2001 'Highway 100 - Lilac Way' documentary. Photo: Probably MnDOT.
Graeser Park, 2016. Steps and wall.
Rock Garden – steps
  • 12 flagstone steps lead into garden, with side railings of small mortared rocks
  • Remains today, but in poor condition
Graeser Park, 2016. Bench and path.
Rock Garden – benches
  • Each of four small 8′-wide niches along curving path shelters a small bench of striated limestone
    • Benches are 2′ wide, 8′ long, and 18″ tall with a 2′ tall backrest
  • Remains today, but in poor condition
Drinking fountain
  • Built by stonemason John J. Schulte of Minneapolis
  • This photo caption from this December 16th, 1941 Minneapolis Morning Tribune article said “This Robbinsdale piece shows veteran stone cutter’s art at best”
  • See the original newspaper article
  • Diane Jacobson McGee, Robbinsdale Historical Society and Lion John Zieba, remember this drinking fountain. Diane thinks there was only one, located near the pond. Noting the faucet above the second block from the bottom, she said a bronze drinking spigot was straight above that and just inside the basin.
Graeser Park, 1940. Stone stairway leading from Broadway Avenue down into Graeser Park. Photo: MN Historical Society.
Stone stairway from West Broadway Avenue, V-shaped retaining wall, stone refuse container
  • Stone stairway originally led from West Broadway Avenue into Graeser Park (it was buried under turf grass during Highway 100 reconstruction)
  • Staircase was apparently removed circa 1988 when Broadway Avenue was widened
  • Small V-shaped retaining wall near the Broadway Avenue inslope (also buried)
  • Stone refuse container (hidden in the northeastern spirea hedge)
  • They were discovered during subsequent fieldwork by Gemini Research to assess the potential effects of the reconstruction of Highway 100 on Graeser Park
  • No longer visible

More resources

June 16, 2016. Volunteers work to restore Robbinsdale park. Northwest Community TV. Length – 1:54

Nov. 8, 2013. Graffiti creates eyesore on historic Robbinsdale structure. Northwest Community TV. Length – 0:49

Graeser Park needs new signage

As part of restoration, we’d like to see new Graeser Park signage, similar to Lilac Park‘s signage by Laukkonen Design.

Graeser Park 1988 Thesis Proposal by Peter Dombrowsky

In his Senior Thesis Project in Landscape Architecture at the University of Minnesota, Peter W. Dombrowsky proposed building a Hennepin County Library – Robbinsdale Branch on the north end of Graeser Park, near the bandshell area. The beehive fireplace and Rock Garden area would remain behind the building.

Graeser Park (NORTH, with beehive fireplace)

Read MnDOT’s 1964 Wayside Rest Area Inventory (JPG) for the main Graeser Park (NORTH).

Read MnDOT’s 1997 Historic Roadside Development Structures Inventories (PDF) for the main Graeser Park (NORTH).

LOST: Graeser Park (SOUTH)

Read MnDOT’s 1964 Wayside Rest Area Inventory (JPG) for Graeser Park (SOUTH). This is the only photo of Graeser Park South that I have even found.

Read MnDOT’s 1997 Historic Roadside Development Structures Inventories (PDF) for Graeser Park (SOUTH).