Rock Island is Lilac Way’s hidden gem.

This delightful rock garden is all that remains of the now-lost original Lilac Park on Minnetonka Boulevard. A recent MnDOT maintenance project has given it a new lease on life.

Owned by MnDOT, it has an oval pool, a 10′ footbridge to an island and handcrafted curved limestone bench. Locals used to call it Monkey Island.

The beehive fireplace in the south section was moved and restored in a new Lilac Park.

Here’s a map to this historic 1939 park, now safely hidden behind a sound wall.





Rock Island Updates

What else is MnDOT proposing for Rock Island?

As of 4.9.21, MnDOT’s Historic Roadside Property Program projects page proposes

  • modifications to path mowing.
  • supplemental shrub plantings may be added in the NE corner in the future.
  • repair of loose stone masonry in rock garden area for safety and to prevent ongoing deterioration.
  • adding walk to top of entry stairs for accessibility, stone bench.
  • interpretive signage.

Timeline: Stone repairs and accessibility work, fall 2021 or summer 2022.

Volunteer cleanup efforts are on hold.

MnDOT owns Rock Island. They’ve informed us that due to liability issues, no one may perform work such as digging, planting or removing vegetation, posting signs, or making any other changes.

Doing so without a permit is considered trespassing. And permits are out of reach.

If we find a partner for a MnDOT program, volunteer efforts could start back up.

MnDOT has a new Highway Sponsorship Program, allowing them to partner with private business and civic organizations to expand the beauty and environmental sustainability of state highways.

Rock Island is eligible for this program. We’re looking for an individual, business, non-profit or civic group to apply for MnDOT’s Highway Sponsorship Program. There is an active group of volunteers that hope to continue their efforts to preserve this historic 1939 Lilac Way park.

Without a partner to apply to MnDOT’s program, all volunteer clean up work in Rock Island is on hold.

Email Karen at Restore Lilac Way to discuss.

What is Rock Island?

Built in 1939 by the WPA, it is one of seven original Lilac Way parks. They are rare historical Lilac Way ‘parkitecture’.

We use ‘Rock Island’ to refer to the remaining section of the original Lilac Park to avoid confusion with the restored and renamed Lilac Park near Highway 7. 

Directions to Rock Island.

See Google map. ! It’s located behind a sound wall in the northeast corner Highway 100 and Minnetonka Boulevard in St. Louis Park, MN.

  • From Highway 100, go east on Minnetonka Boulevard
  • Turn left on Salem Avenue
  • Turn left on W 29th Street
  • Turn right on Toledo Avenue South
  • The park is on the west side of Toledo Avenue on the 2800 block, under the trees near the sound wall
You can’t see the park from the street, it is lower than street level.

Walk towards the clump of trees near sound wall. MnDOT mowed a path to the park in Spring 2019.

You will come up to a small set of stairs that leads you down into the park.

Rock Island, May 5, 2020. Entrance to park from Toledo Ave.

Learn about community efforts to maintain and preserve this Lilac Way park.

View photos of Rock Island's May 2019 cleanup event
View photos of Rock Island's May 2019 cleanup event

A dedicated group of volunteers wants to preserve Lilac Way’s 1939 Rock Island park.

If you’re on Facebook, follow Rock Island SLP for updates.

Meet Diane Steen-Hinderlie.

Diane, her husband John Olson and a few volunteers have worked diligently to save this park since 2009. Just like the Robbinsdale Lions Club at Graeser Park, they’ve been digging to reveal 1939 Lilac Way structures and flagstone paths under years of weeds.

A big coup—they convinced MnDOT to save sections of the original 62′ long, curved stone wall on the south end of the park, saving it from Highway 100 road construction. Thank you!

Diane Steen-Hinderlie talks about the Rock Island section of the original Lilac Park. Length: 19:36.

Many original 1939 Lilac Way structures remain in Rock Island, including an oval pool with a 20′ wide island, limestone paths, a wrap-around stone bench, stone walls and landscaping.

Why was Rock Island nicknamed ‘Monkey Island’?

Lilac Park’s north end is called Rock Island. Its pond, island, 10′ footbridge and bench are all that remains of the original park.

In the 1930s, the WPA built seven parks along Lilac Way, as well as ‘Monkey Island’ at the Como Park Zoo. Rock Island’s nickname comes from Como Park’s ‘Monkey Island,’ which was renamed ‘Seal Island’ in the 1980s.

Learn about the growing community effort to preserve Rock Island.

Postcard of Monkey Island at Como Park Zoo in St. Paul, MN. Pinterest, The WOODSHED Revisited.

Rock Island’s large wraparound bench was handcrafted by unemployed stonemasons in 1939 from limestone quarried from the Minnesota River by the Mendota Bridge.

Rock Island’s key dates
  • In 1968 the original Lilac Park was split in two by a highway on-ramp, and Lilac Park activities were reduced
    • the park could no longer be accessed from the highway
    • the grade from Toledo Ave. was steep and difficult to walk down
    • the rock garden that was north of the beehive fireplace and picnic area was cut off from the rest of the park
  • In 2008, the 1939 beehive fireplace and picnic tables were saved, and moved to a restored Lilac Way park on Highways 100 and 7, which was renamed Lilac Park
  • In July 2009, a crew mistakenly cut down all the trees that hid this park, making it visible to traffic on Highway 100
  • In 2017, Rock Island was again hidden, when a new sound wall was installed along Highway 100
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 Minnesota’s largest federal relief projects, 1934-1941
  • Handcrafted by unemployed men during Great Depression
  • Significant in the state’s history of transportation
  • Determined ineligible for National Register status

What did the WPA build in this Rock Island section of the original Lilac Park on Minnetonka Boulevard in 1939?

Rock Island, June 2019. Footbridge to island with steps and bench. Only this north end of 1939 original Lilac Park remains.
Limestone walkway at the original Lilac Park on Highway 100 and Minnetonka Boulevard
Rock Island in Lilac Park (original), Mtka. Blvd., 2007. Pool, curved paths, 10'-long footbridge.
Oval pool, island and path, Rock Island
  • Near north end of site
  • Elaborate rock garden is hidden by sound wall
  • Built of tan, mortared limestone rubble
  • Oval-shaped pool lined with stones and encircled by a flagstone path
  • In the center is an island (about 18-20′ in diameter) ringed with tan limestone rubble
  • A willow tree grew out of island
  • A 10′-long footbridge, comprised of two slabs of limestone on limestone piers, leads to island from east side
  • South end of pool had a waterfall made of mortared rocks
  • Curving limestone steps climbing the back of the waterfall
  • Curving paths are paved with flagstone
  • Lower path encircling pool is edged with low, stone retaining walls
  • Another path, which runs at a higher elevation along the eastern side of the island, is lined with stones that are set so the triangular ends point upward
  • Was separated from the rest of the park circa 1968 by the exit ramp from northbound Highway 100 to Minnetonka Boulevard which cuts through the park near north end
  • Remains today, needs preservation
Rock Island, May 2018. L-shaped stone bench.
Bench, Rock Island (also known as Hidden Park or Monkey Island)
  • Small niche east of waterfall contains an L-shaped stone bench with a 2′-tall backrest
  • Remains today, needs preservation
Rock Island, 1 of 2 sets of stone steps.
Rock Island, May 2018. 1 of 2 sets of stone steps.
Steps, Rock Island (also known as Hidden Park or Monkey Island)
  • Two sets of 5-6 stone steps lead down into Rock Island from southeast and southwest corners
  • Side railings of small mortared rocks
  • Remains today, needs preservation
Rock Island, May 2018. Low stone wall, 18" thick.
Limestone wall at the original Lilac Park on Highway 100 and Minnetonka Boulevard
Lilac Park (original), Mtka. Blvd., 2007. 162'-ft long curved wall, N of park.
Low stone wall, sections
  • Not part of original Rock Island area
  • Was formerly located in south picnic area, near point where 29th Street meets Toledo Avenue
  • Thanks to Diane Steen-Hinderlie, MnDOT saved some sections from destruction and moved to the north Rock Island area after south picnic area of park was removed for Highway 100 road construction project
  • 18″ thick
  • Built of tan, random ashlar, rock-faced limestone
  • Saved sections need preservation

Read MnDOT’s 1964 Wayside Rest Area Inventory (JPG) for the original Lilac Park on Minnetonka Boulevard.

Read MnDOT’s 1997 Historic Roadside Development Structures Inventories (PDF) for the original Lilac Park on Minnetonka Boulevard.