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

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

Its 1939 beehive fireplace is one of only two in the U.S., and the only one in its original location.

It also features a stunning rock garden area with four handcrafted stone benches.

Graeser Park was designed to be 6-7 acres, leaving space on the eastern side for a cloverleaf that was never built.

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

  • three stone refuse containers
  • a stone oven-type fireplace (Note: RWL suspects this is a beehive-shaped fireplace)
  • three stone fireplaces
  • 18 stone picnic tables
  • a rock garden with a rock water fountain
  • 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. Beehive fireplace (upper left), rock garden. Photo: MN Hist. Soc.

Original Graeser Park structures

Graeser Park, 2018. Beehive fireplace.
Graeser Park, 2018. Beehive fireplace, one of only two in the U.S. Built in 1939.
Beehive-shaped fireplace
  • 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
  • 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
  • One of only two remaining beehive fireplaces in the U.S., and the only one in its original location
  • Wrapped in protective fencing in March of 2019 by the City of Robbinsdale to prevent further damage
Graeser Park, 1940. Rectangular limestone picnic table. Photo: MN Historical Society.
Stone picnic tables
  • There were three 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 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
  • No picnic tables remain in the park today; some picnic tables were removed when Graeser Park was used to store MnDOT’s road construction equipment
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.
Stone overlook wall with bandshell, faces SE to beehive fireplace
  • 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
  • Nicknamed the ‘Bandshell’ by locals, concerts were held there after park opened
Graeser Park, 1940. Rock garden with cone-shaped fountain.
Graeser Park, 2018. Cone fountain in rock garden.
Graeser Park, June 2019. Beautifully maintained pathways leading to one of four benches.
Rock Garden – cone fountain 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 under the stewardship of the Robbinsdale Lions and volunteers who are excavating buried paths and removing weeds
  • Maintained in hopes of eventual restoration
Graeser Park, July 30, 2019. Rock garden area with ponds, cone fountain, waterfall wall and four benches.
Graeser Park rock garden, May 2018
Graeser Park, Oct. 4, 2019. Waterfall wall, we hope to see it working again.
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, 1940. Waterfall in Rock Garden area. Photo: MnDOT.
Graeser Park, June 2019. Beehive fireplace and main staircase.
Rock Garden – steps
  • 12 flagstone steps lead into garden, with side railings of small mortared rocks
  • Remains today, but in poor condition
Graeser Park, Sept. 2018. One of four handcrafted limestone benches.
Graeser Park, Sept. 2018. One of four handcrafted limestone benches.
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 2019. One of four handcrafted limestone 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.
Graeser Park, July 2019. A newly- uncovered picnic table platform and path to buried staircase.
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 reconstructio, or was removed circa 1988 when Broadway Avenue was widened (TBD)
  • Small V-shaped retaining wall near the Broadway Avenue inslope (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). 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).