La Crosse War Eagle mural may be sunk; building likely to be razed for car lot

The Collins Outdoor Advertising building at 525 S. Third St. has been sold and when it’s torn down, the iconic painting of the War Eagle steamboat will go down, too.

Peter Thomson, La Crosse Tribune

The War Eagle, a paddle wheel steamboat that famously burned and sank in the Black River in La Crosse on May 14, 1870, is going down again. This time, it’s a giant mural depicting the boat whose prospects are sunk.

The giant painting on the north side of the building at 520 S. Third St. has greeted motorists coming from La Crescent, Minn., for about 15 years. Collins Outdoor Advertising, which bought the building in 1966, had the mural painted on the building by a Chicago-based artist, R. Hegeman, according to Marjorie Collins. The painting got a facelift almost eight years ago from Mark Van Lin, a longtime artist with the company.

Collins Outdoor Advertising, run by founder Charles Collins until his death about 10 years ago, sold the building this week to Pischke Motors, which she said plans to tear down the building to create a parking lot for its nearby car sales and repair operation.

Scott Brouwer of the La Crosse Public Library’s Archives Department said it’s hard to pinpoint the exact age of the building, but based on a big jump in the value of the property on the city tax roll for 1865, it was probably built in 1864 or 1865.

The earliest use of the building is unknown, but it housed a meat market from 1867 to 1902, first run by Anton Schilling and then by Wenzel Schubert and his son, Henry. The La Crosse Bottling Works then took over the building and remained there until 1966, when Collins Outdoor Advertising bought the building.

Although Collins said the company has used the building for storage in recent years, before that it was rented to several different tenants, most notably Lackore Electric Co., which moved into the building in late 1969 or 1970.

Collins, who is 95, said it will be sad to no longer have the War Eagle mural around. “It was such a welcoming thing coming into the city,” she said. “I think it’ll be missed. I hope everybody appreciated it while it was there.”

Blake Winters, the general manager of Pischke’s downtown operation, said it’s likely the building will be torn down in the next month or two to make way for a landscaped parking area. “We’re not totally sure what the plans are just yet,” he said, adding that he’ll also miss the mural. “I love it. It’s kind of a cool painting.”

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Randy Erickson covers arts and entertainment and county government for the La Crosse Tribune. Contact him at 608-791-8219 or randy.erickson@lee.net.

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