MnDOT’s historic preservation and restoration project in Graeser Park is beyond our expectations.

This 1940, WPA-built Lilac Way park in Robbinsdale, MN has been completely transformed. The community is thrilled and grateful. Dang, it sure was worth the wait!

Scroll down to see photos and video details of all three phases of the project.

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!

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In 2021, MnDot’s Historic Roadside Property Program launched a major three-phase project to preserve and restore Graeser Park.

About MnDOT’s Historic Roadside Property Program

As Program Manager and Professional Landscape Architect, Andrea Salo Weber manages the historic properties on Minnesota’s Trunk Highways.

Andrea Salo Weber, PLA. Manager of MnDOT Historic Roadside Properties and Waysides Program.
Andrea Salo Weber, PLA. Manager of MnDOT Historic Roadside Properties and Waysides Program.

She leads restoration and rehabilitation of the sites, most of which are eligible or listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Like Graeser Park, many are WPA-era.

She led a series of small projects at Graeser Park totaling just under $500,000.

MnDOT team members included
  • Steve Wyczawski, Senior Landscape Architect, HRP Construction Manager, Site Development Unit
  • Garrett Tews, Senior Landscape Architect, Site Development Unit

MnDOT’s partners included

MacDonald & Mack Architects
  • Todd Grover, FAIA, Historic Architect and lead designer
Damon Farber Landscape Architects
  • Jean Garbarini, Principal, PLA
  • Matthew Rentsch, ASLA, PLA-lead landscape architect
  • Tom Whitlock, Principal, ASLA
EAI Historic Restoration
  • Ray Stenglein, Project Manager, Sr. Estimator
  • Bill Kack
  • Luke Rice
  • Corey Depoppe

Restored to National Park Service Standards

Graeser Park was restored using the Secretary of Interior Standards for Treatment of Historic Properties. These standards provide qualifications for historians who evaluated the park, and historic architects who designed the rehabilitation projects.

It also provides construction standard guidance to protect the historic assets and make repairs without harming them.

You really have to see this historic treasure in person, preferably with a cool drink, a simple meal or a book.

Plan a picnic soon with friends or family.

Phase One: Tree removal, first rebuilt picnic table

Graeser Park, March 31, 2021. Looking over rock garden area's two ponds and cone fountain. Photo: Kent Brun.
Graeser Park, March 31, 2021. Looking over rock garden area's two ponds and cone fountain. Photo: Kent Brun.

Tree removal:

  • Four “volunteer” trees growing in the rock garden were removed
  • Two of these trees were growing in paths and two were growing close to a bench built in the embankment
  • Work was completed in March 2021
Graeser Park, July 20, 2021. First restored picnic table, built with original Depression-era stone from Lilac Way parks.
Graeser Park, July 20, 2021. First restored picnic table, built with original Depression-era stone from Lilac Way parks.

Stone picnic table restoration

Northern Bedrock Historic Preservation Corps members worked with a technical expert from Advanced Masonry Restoration.

  • Repointed two picnic table pads
  • Cleaned off another pad
  • Rebuilt one picnic table from salvaged stone in the rock garden
  • Work was completed in July 2021

Phase Two: Beehive fireplace, picnic tables

Graeser Park, July 18, 2022. Preserved beehive fireplace with metal grate.
Graeser Park, July 18, 2022. Preserved beehive fireplace with metal grate.

Beehive fireplace

EAI Historic Restoration, Stonemason

  • Repaired and repointed the rare beehive fireplace
  • A flagstone base around the beehive was discovered and repointed
  • The top of the beehive fireplace was covered with a metal cap
  • Woven wire covers were added to the firebox openings to protect the beehive from future damage

October 7, 2021. EAI Historic Restoration group removed 80+ years of dirt from this historic Depression-era beehive fireplace. Love the dramatic before/after.

October 20, 2021. Take a virtual walk around the Graeser Park beehive fireplace during preservation. Andrea, MnDOT: “The beehive openings will have a wire grate on them to block off the firebox opening (the SLP Beehive has a metal and glass closure). Much of the damage to the structures was likely due to excessively sized fires, as you can see from the broken stones at the top of the firebox arches which then weakened the structure.”

May 18, 2022. Andrea, MnDOT: “This is Luke (on right) and Bill, they are the best! Keep in mind that they shaped this arch piece out of a square stone block. They had to arch both top and bottom, angle the ends, and arch the front face of this stone due to the round shape of the beehive. They do this by hand with chisels. That was the hardest part. They did this for every new stone in each arch. All of the arch stones had to be replaced due to breakage or because they were missing.”

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.

Picnic tables

EAI Historic Restoration, Stonemason

  • Rebuilt 10 picnic tables for picnic area
  • Repointed nine picnic table pads

October 7, 2021. MnDOT’s Historic Roadside Property and Waysides Program brought in EAI Historic Restoration group for Graeser Park’s important preservation project. We were lucky to get the A-Team for this project. EAI rebuilt the picnic table platforms.

October 26, 2021. One of 11 tables returning to Graeser Park for the first time in 20+ years. Six tables were installed in 2021.

Graeser Park, May 19, 2023. Overlook wall with new repointing.
Graeser Park, May 19, 2023. Overlook wall with new repointing.

Overlook wall

EAI Historic Restoration, Stonemason

  • The overlook wall along the parking area was cleaned, the top was repointed, and end piers were rebuilt
  • Work took place in October 2021 and May-June 2022

Phase Three: Focus on safety, accessibility

Graeser Park, June 28, 2023. One of four benches, repaired and repointed.
Graeser Park, June 28, 2023. One of four benches, repaired and repointed.
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.

Rock Garden

EAI Historic Restoration, Stonemason

  • Repointed the rock garden pond walls and benches
  • Applied a natural cleaning to stones to remove black stain

May 8, 2023. EAI Historic Restoration prepares one of Graeser Park’s four stone benches for repair and repointing.

June 19, 2023. EAI Historic Restoration applied a natural cleaner to the stone work, brightening it up to its original 1940 color.

Graeser Park, June 11, 2024. Restored rare beehive fireplace with tables in picnic area.
Graeser Park, June 11, 2024. Restored rare beehive fireplace with tables in picnic area.
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Accessible walk

EAI Historic Restoration, Stonemason

  • Added a new accessible walk along Broadway Avenue from the bridge to the parking area
  • Included a loop into the picnic area to a new accessible picnic table near the beehive
Graeser Park, June 11, 2024. One of four 1930s benches in the rock garden with Geranium sanguinium 'Max Frei', blooms in June.
Graeser Park, June 11, 2024. One of four 1930s benches in the rock garden with Geranium sanguinium 'Max Frei', blooms in June.
Graeser Park, July 6, 2023. Preservation Celebration. Rock garden. Photo: Mark Christman.
Graeser Park, July 6, 2023. Preservation Celebration. Rock garden. Photo: Mark Christman.

Plantings and shrubs

EAI Historic Restoration, Stonemason

  • Planted shrubs and 120 perennials between the new picnic table and bench in the rock garden
  • Re-graded and seeded grass areas in the rock garden
Graeser Park, June 28, 2023. MnDOT's restoration complete, rock garden. Sign in picnic area.
Graeser Park, June 28, 2023. MnDOT's restoration complete, rock garden. Sign in picnic area.

Interpretive sign

Andrea Weber, MnDOT, Direction and Writing
EAI Historic Restoration, Stonemason
Karen Laukkonen, Restore Lilac Way, Design
Kristi Gibson, Robbinsdale Historical Society, Writing

  • Installed a new interpretive sign near the parking bay
  • Work was complete May-June 2023

Complete!

June 19, 2023. Graeser Park’s restored picnic area, including a rare 1940 beehive fireplace and 10 stone picnic tables and benches rebuilt from salvaged materials from lost Lilac Way park.

Graeser Park was constructed by and is still owned by MnDOT (and the people of Minnesota) and managed under the Historic Roadside Property Program. MnDOT will convey the park to the City of Robbinsdale, date TBD.

Browse all the Graeser Park photos albums.

Robbinsdale Lions Club have been volunteer stewards of Graeser Park since 2008.

As proud volunteer stewards, Robbinsdale Lions Club volunteers have been working for years to clear paths and stone structures in the rock garden and take out invasive plants and shrubs. They’ve accomplished a lot since first starting in 2008.

Now their work is on hold, pending MnDOT’s plans to convey the easement to the City of Robbinsdale. Date TBD.

Graeser Park, Aug. 1, 2020. Lion Jeannine McDonald sweeps pathways from the 1930s.

Picnic tabletops and bases saved from MnDOT’s ‘Beehive Graveyard’ were used to rebuild picnic tables in Graeser Park.

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. Preserved beehive fireplace with picnic tables.

Graeser Park’s 11 stone tables were rebuilt from salvaged Lilac Way stone.

When MnDOT dismantled three Lilac Way parks for road construction, they saved the fragments, tabletops and bases in the Beehive Graveyard.

In 2008, the City of Robbinsdale had the foresight to collect that salvaged stonework and keep them in storage for safekeeping. Thirteen years later, they were used to rebuild 11 tables in Graeser Park. In 2021, MnDOT’s Historic Roadside Property Program used that stone to put picnic tables back in the park for the first time since 2000.

The 2023-2032 Robbinsdale Capital Improvement Plan shows $190,000 allocated for Graeser Park Improvements.

Robbinsdale Capital Improvement Plan, 2023-2032. Uploaded July 4, 2023.

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Follow Graeser Park Restoration & Preservation nonprofit group on Facebook.