Rock Island is Lilac Way’s hidden gem.

This delightful rock garden is all that remains of the original Lilac Park on Minnetonka Boulevard.

Also known as Monkey Island or Hidden Park, it has an oval pool, a 10′ footbridge to an island and amazing L-shaped stone bench.

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

We would like the City of St. Louis Park to ask MnDOT to transfer ownership, so it can be preserved.

Now hidden behind a sound wall, there’s growing interest to restore this historical Lilac Way ‘parkitecture’. What would Nichols do?

LilacWay_PhotoAlbumSec-RockIsl2004

VIEW THE PHOTO ALBUMS

JOIN US! ‘Rock Island’ cleanup event, Sat. May 4th, 9-noon! Details

Learn about community interest to restore this park.

Facebook_f_white

What is ‘Rock Island’?

This amazing rock garden, AKA Monkey Island, was built in 1939 by the WPA. It has an oval pool, a 10′-long footbridge to an island and a stunning hand-built L-shaped stone bench. They are rare historical Lilac Way ‘parkitecture’.

To avoid confusion with the new Lilac park, we are using ‘Rock Island’ to refer to the remaining section of the original Lilac Park.

Watch the videos for a virtual tour.

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 and volunteers, they’ve been digging to reveal 1939 Lilac Way structures and flagstone paths under years of weeds.

A big coup—they were even able to save some sections of the original 62′ long, curved low stone wall that was north of the beehive on the South end of the park, before they were destroyed for Highway 100 road construction.

Thanks, Diane!

Watch a ParkTV interview with Diane Steen-Hinderlie, talking about the historic Lilac Way ‘Rock Island’ section of the original Lilac Park on Minnetonka Boulevard and Highway 100.

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.

Directions to Rock Island.

It’s even on Google maps! It’s located behind a sound wall near 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 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. There may be a slightly worn path through the grass.

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

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 restore Rock Island.

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

See the original 1939 Lilac Way features that remain today, waiting for restoration.

Monkey Island’s large wraparound bench was handbuilt 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
  • Hand-built 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?

Hidden Park/Monkey Island, May 2018. 10′-long footbridge.
Limestone walkway at the original Lilac Park on Highway 100 and Minnetonka Boulevard
Lilac Park (original), Mtka. Blvd., 2007. Pool, curved paths, 10'-long footbridge. AKA Monkey Island.
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 restoration
Hidden Park/Monkey 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 restoration
Hidden Park/Monkey Island, May 2018. 1 of 2 sets of stone steps.
Hidden Park/Monkey 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 restoration
Hidden Park/Monkey 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 restoration

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.