American Public Works Association
2013 Public Works Project of the Year
Award category:
Small Cities/Rural Communities
Historical Restoration/Preservation

Back to the future
Project: Grandad Bluff Scenic Overlook
Managing agency: City of La Crosse, Wis.
Primary consultant: River Architects
Primary contractor: Fowler & Hammer Inc.
Cost: $1.4 million

Since 1912 Grandad Bluff Park has provided a scenic overlook of the Mississippi River Valley for sightseers, hikers, picnickers, family gatherings, wedding parties, and fireworks displays.

In 1938 the Work Progress Administration (WPA) built a shelter at the park’s southern overlook for $11,500. The 22-by-29-foot structure was made from limestone quarried from the bluff. Roof timbers were harvested from the surrounding woods. In the 1950s, the shelter was enclosed, wired for electricity, and plumbed for restrooms.

In 2007, Parks, Recreation and Forestry closed the overlook due to rockslides and erosion. In addition to repairing the damage and making the site more accessible to people with disabilities, the department decided to restore the historic structure to its original design.

WPA drawings and photos guided designers in converting the enclosed structure back to an open, pavilion-type design. The custom cedar shake roof matches the style of the 1930s. Even the mortar was analyzed so it could be duplicated as closely as possible.

Since reopening in April 2012, visitors from all over the country continue to enjoy the park’s natural wonders.

Next page: Rebuilding after an EF-5 tornado