What did the WPA build in Graeser Park in the 1930s?

Graeser Park in Robbinsdale, MN is one of seven Lilac Way parks. Two remain today, along with part of a third park.

From 2021-23, MnDOT restored and preserved its beehive fireplace, picnic area and stunning rock garden with four handcrafted stone benches.

All work by MnDOT was designed and constructed according to Secretary of Interior Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties.

The park’s 1939 beehive fireplace is one of only two in the U.S., and the only one in its original location.

January 2024: Graeser Park is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places!

After reviewing thorough and well-written documentation from MnDOT, on January 22, 2024 the MN State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) agreed that Graeser Park is eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP). Now that it is eligible, there is another step to get it officially listed on the Register.

Read the blog article or download MnDOT’s press release. Amazing news!

Graeser Park was constructed by and is still owned by MnDOT (and the people of Minnesota!) and managed under the Historic Roadside Property Program.

Designed to be 6-7 acres, it had space on the eastern side for a cloverleaf intersection that was never built.

According to MnDOT’s 1997 Inventory, original plans called for

  • a stone oven-type fireplace (Note: probably the beehive-shaped fireplace)
  • three stone fireplaces (Note: probably low grills)
  • 18 stone picnic tables
  • a rock garden with a water fountain
  • three stone refuse containers
  • stone concourse
  • a “Rustic Log Roadside Parking Sign” (Note: RLW has never seen photos of sign)
  • bituminous sidewalk
  • flagstone walk
  • 320′ of stone curbing
Graeser Park, 1940. Kids in rock garden with waterfall, ponds and cone-shaped fountain. Beehive, upper left. Photo: MN Historical Society.

Original Graeser Park structures

Graeser Park, June 19, 2022. Beehive fireplace, preservation by MnDOT Historic Roadside Property Program. New accessible walk.
Graeser Park, June 19, 2022. Beehive fireplace, preservation by MnDOT Historic Roadside Property Program. New accessible walk.
Graeser Park, July 18, 2022. Beehive fireplace, preservation by MnDOT Historic Roadside Property Program. New metal grate.
Graeser Park, July 18, 2022. Beehive fireplace, preservation by MnDOT Historic Roadside Property Program. New metal grate.
Beehive-shaped fireplace
  • Restored by MnDOT, 2021-23
  • Focal point of picnic area south of overlook wall
  • Built of tan, coursed ashlar, rock faced 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
  • One of only two remaining beehive fireplaces in the U.S., and the only one in its original location
Graeser Park, July 18, 2022. One of 11 picnic tables, rebuilt in original locations using stone salvaged from Lilac Way parks.
Graeser Park, July 18, 2022. One of 11 picnic tables, rebuilt in original locations using stone salvaged from Lilac Way parks.
Graeser Park, 1940. Rectangular limestone picnic table in rock garden. Photo: MN Historical Society.
  • In 2022, MnDOT rebuilt 11 stone picnic tables from materials salvaged from destroyed Lilac Way parks
  • There were two picnic table styles
    • Square tabletop supported by cruciform shape
      • Had four benches
      • The seat of each was supported by two stone block pedestals
    • Rectangular tabletop, with two stone benches that were each supported by three stone blocks
      • Tabletops and seats were simple slabs with rock faced edges
Graeser Park, 2018. Curved stone bandshell with flagstone terrace and overlook wall.
Graeser Park, 2018. Curved stone bandshell with flagstone terrace and overlook wall.
Graeser Park, 2018. Curved stone bandshell with flagstone terrace overlooking 1939 beehive fireplace, one of only two left in U.S.
Graeser Park, 2018. Curved stone bandshell with flagstone terrace overlooking 1939 beehive fireplace, one of only two left in U.S.
Stone overlook wall with bandshell, faces SE to beehive fireplace
  • The overlook wall along the parking area was cleaned, the top was repointed, and end piers were rebuilt by MnDOT’s Historic Roadside Properties Program from 2021-23; more repair needed
  • 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
  • Nicknamed the ‘Bandshell’ by locals, concerts were held there after park opened
Graeser Park, 1940. Kids in rock garden with waterfall, ponds and cone-shaped fountain. Photo: MN Historical Society.
Graeser Park, June 28, 2023. MnDOT's restoration complete, rock garden. Pond withe cone fountain.
Graeser Park, June 28, 2023. MnDOT's restoration complete, rock garden. Pond withe cone fountain.
Graeser Park, Aug. 12, 2020. Weeded path in rock garden.
Rock Garden – cone fountain and paths
  • In 2023, MnDOT repointed the rock garden pond walls, re-graded and seeded grass areas, and added 120 perennials plus shrubs
  • 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.
  • Has been maintained under the stewardship of the Robbinsdale Lions since 2008
Graeser Park, June 28, 2023. MnDOT's restoration complete, rock garden. Overflow wall between two ponds.
Graeser Park, June 28, 2023. MnDOT's restoration complete, rock garden. Overflow wall between two ponds.
Graeser Park, Sept. 2, 2020. Rock garden.
Graeser Park, June 2019. Waterfall wall, staircase and beehive fireplace.
Graeser Park, Nov. 17, 2018. Paths worn in stone from water streams in waterfall wall.
Graeser Park, 1940. Waterfall in Rock Garden area. Photo: MnDOT.
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, June 28, 2023. MnDOT's restoration complete, rock garden. Waterfall wall.
Graeser Park, June 28, 2023. MnDOT's restoration complete, rock garden. Waterfall wall.
Graeser Park, June 28, 2023. MnDOT's restoration complete, rock garden. Stairway.
Graeser Park, June 28, 2023. MnDOT's restoration complete, rock garden. Stairway.
Rock Garden – steps
  • In 2023, MnDOT repointed the first step, just below the new ADA cement path
  • 12 flagstone steps lead into garden, with side railings of small mortared rocks
  • Needs additional repairs
Graeser Park, June 28, 2023. MnDOT's restoration complete, rock garden. One of four benches.
Graeser Park, June 28, 2023. MnDOT's restoration complete, rock garden. One of four benches.
Graeser Park, June 14, 2020. One of four benches in rock garden.
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
Graeser Park, June 28, 2023. MnDOT's restoration complete, rock garden. One of four benches.
Graeser Park, June 28, 2023. MnDOT's restoration complete, rock garden. One of four benches.
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
  • Was either buried under turf grass during Highway 100 reconstruction, or was removed circa 1988 when Broadway Avenue was widened (TBD)
  • Small V-shaped retaining wall near the Broadway Avenue in slope (also buried)
  • Stone refuse container (hidden in the NE 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

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).

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

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VIEW GRAESER PARK PHOTO ALBUMS