Previously I covered an overview of Highway 100, Lilac Way, including an overview of the roadside parks, Here’s a detailed look at all the parks, from north to south.
Located in the northeast corner of what is now Bottineau Blvd, this wasn’t part of the original Lilac Way landscaping. It was very large (10.75 acres) but never really developed since the beginning plans were to put in an interchange with Bottineau Blvd. When it was finally constructed in the 2000s reconstruction project all that was left were a boat launch and parking lot (which also serves a bicycle trail that threads it’s way along MN 100 and the lake.
Graeser Park, originally the Robbinsdale Roadside Parking Area and sometimes corrupted to “Glacier Park” by locals, is a large (4.9 acre) original WPA park completed in 1939. The unusual shape was to leave room for a never-built cloverleaf at what is now Bottineau Blvd. Besides the usual picnic tables, council ring, and retaining walls there was an extensive rock garden with two ponds, one with a fountain and one with a waterfall. Most of the picnic tables are gone, but the rock garden and retaining wall are still here in decayed form.
Graeser Park South
Graeser Park South, a medium sized original 2.2 acre WPA park, was completed a bit later in 1941 or 1942 and sometimes considered an annex to Graeser Park rather a distinct unit. Originally a small footpath along Highway 100 under the overpasses connected them. It had picnic tables, an oven, a sign, and a council ring but none of the elaborate rock gardens. It was completely obliterated in the 2000s reconstruction and is now the site of a stormwater pond.
Bassett’s Creek Park
This was a larger at 2.03 acres, but relatively undeveloped park east side where MN 100 crossed over Bassett Creek and was built later than the original 7 WPA era parks and contained little more than a parking area and trails. The original parking area has long been disconnected from Highway 100 and a and replaced with a frontage road and stormwater pond. But the rest of the area is still there as Briarwood Nature Area. There’s no official parking area but there’s on-street parking on neighboring streets.
Also known as Golden Valley Roadside Parking Area, this was a medium sized, 2.04 acre original WPA park just south of MN 55 and west of the highway. It had stone picnic tables, trash bin holder, monument sign, council ring, flagpole, and retaining walls.
In the timeline of aerial photos below you can see it as initially laid out. In the 1960s the full intersection at Woodstock Ave was removed and a frontage road routed underneath the railroad bridge, obliterating the southern part of the park. A new entrance was built from the frontage road to the south. For the time being northbound Woodstock Ave. maintained right-in right out access, but this was soon removed and the park became difficult to get to from Highway 100.
Although it was not needed for highway construction, the city of Golden Valley regarded it as a nuisance and wanted it razed. With only a few picnic tables in an overgrown area, it was an viewed as eyesore and seemed to invite misuse. There was already a local park for the neighborhood nearby, With the 2010s construction what was left of the stone features was dismantled and put in storage as a possible source of stone to restore elements of other parks.
Glenwood Ave Roadside Parking Area
This was an original WPA park with just a gravel parking lot, a couple of picnic tables, and two simple fireplaces. It was the first to be razed, around 1960 to build the Glenwood Ave interchange. Like some of the other minor units that have been obliterated there’s nothing left that would be recognizable in a photograph today, just the inside of a highway interchange.
St. Louis Park Roadside Parking Area (I)
At 0.2 acres with no historic elements, this small park never amounted to much. It likely existed until the late 1980s when I-394 was constructed and a new ramp and frontage road were built. The houses in the background were razed too. This photo, along with several others is from a 1964 inventory of waysides for the predecessor to the MnDOT Metro District, Minnesota Highway Department District 5. It’s actually located incorrectly on the index map. But I was able to find a likely location based on the correct location description and old aerial photographs, the northeast corner of the E Frontage Road and Douglas Ave.
Lilac Park (Original)
The original WPA Lilac Park was a large (4.96 acres) area in the northeast corner of Highway 100 and Minnetonka Blvd. The ramp from Minnetonka Blvd to northbound came off the frontage road a block north of Minnetonka and the park was enclosed within it and the frontage road. There were the usual picnic tables and a beehive fireplace on the south end of it. In the center was the circular parking drive, and at the north end was an area informally called “Rock Island” or “Monkey Island” (after a similar feature at the Como Zoo) with a rock pond with a waterfall and island with a bench and tree on it.
In 1968 a new loop ramp was built, obliterating the parking area, severing the picnic area from the Rock Island Area, and basically annexing the park to the freeway right of way and ending public use. The oven and the tables stayed, but were unusable and abandoned for the next 50 years. For many years the oven was visible as a landmark traveling on Highway 100
Then even bigger changes came with the 2010s reconstruction. A new ramp directly to Minnetonka Blvd and a new storm water pond completely obliterated what was left of the south half of the park. The Rock Island section remained, and was now physically separated from the highway a noise wall. As it is now outside the highway ramp it’s able to be visited by the public, but it’s still in a state of decay and is in no way marked. It’s not even visible from the frontage road sunken down and generally behind high grass, so you have to know where it is. To avoid confusion with the “New” Lilac Park that will be discussed later, the surviving section is generally referred to as Rock Island.
Right now there’s efforts by advocacy groups to restore it. The city of St. Louis Park seems ambivalent, realizing what they have but at the same time realizing the amount of work involved in restoration, that it’s in an out of the way locations, and that it would be a small part of what used to be.
St. Louis Park Roadside Parking Area (II) / Lilac Park (New)
This was originally a typical medium sized, 2.72 acre original unit, but today is unique in that it’s been beautifully restored. Although it can be reached by driving through an industrial park it seems it mostly functions as a rest area on the Cedar Lake Trail and as an employee break area for Nordic Ware. . Along with the original elements, a stone picnic table (to replace one that disappeared over the years), and the beehive oven was moved from the original Lilac Park to here. Right now it’s just decoration; plexiglas blocks the openings, (replaced by plywood when I took this photo.) There’s also interpretive signage, and to make up for a puzzling omission from the early parks, a seasonal portable toilet.
Excelsior Blvd Roadside Parking Area
This small, 1.1 acre original WPA park was at the northeast corner at Excelsior Blvd. The intersection with Excelsior Blvd was one of the most congested problematic for years. But due to funding and questions about when or if the “Southwest Diagonal” (A proposed freeway from downtown to the new town of Jonathan) was going to be built, an interchange didn’t finally get built here until 1969. As you can see the park was completely obliterated by the new mainline. But note how the two houses on the formerly curved frontage road are still at a skewed.
Today all traces of the historic highway have been replaced in the names of progress. But small portions of the parks remains. If you have a spare Saturday they’re well worth a visit, especially in the spring with the smell of lilacs in the air.
I love these highway histories, Monte!
Growing up in SLP this one is more personal.
Fascinating. Thanks for all the work put into this.
Did you get a sense of whether these parks were ever, or currently, well used by citizens? The idea of spending time in a park adjacent to a freeway is so odd to me considering the noise and air pollution.
Graaser Park and (New) Lilac Park are the only two original ones left that are still usable as parks They’re as not heavily used as in the old days where you see them full of people like in the old pictures, but if you stick around for a few minutes on a nice day you’ll generally see some other people. Graeser Park it seems to be neighbors going for a walk or people coming by car for a few minutes. New Lilac Park is located a long was from any housing, but has people coming by car, as well as quite a few bicyclists as it’s right off the Cedar Lake Trail, and employees on their break from Nordic Ware.
Unless you walk on the trail around the stormwater pond Graeser Park is pretty insulated from the freeway. New Lilac Park is a bit closer but has a lilac hedge that provides some separation.
Well written and researched article. I have a 12-year volunteer project called restorelilacway.com that documents the history and promotes restoration. You had some info I have not seen. Could we have a phone chat? Would like to ask a few questions to confirm some info. Thanks very much, Karen Laukkonen, Restore Lilac Way