A pair of projects to improve the Riverside Park bandstand took steps forward Thursday after votes by two city committees.
The La Crosse Board of Park Commissioners and Heritage Preservation Commission both gave their assent to the city’s designs to restore the Wendell Anderson Bandstand to its former glory, and the Heritage Preservation Commission gave its approval to a user group of the bandstand to move forward with putting a shell overtop.
Michael Swinghammer of River Architects, who is designing the bandstand for the city, said the goal of the project was to restore the original structure, tearing off the old and put in a new performance platform that complements the historic structure.
“Essentially what we’re doing is tearing off the 1986 addition that was put on that was a block of concrete that’s in really rough shape,” Swinghammer said.
The structure will be stripped down with paint cleaned off — not sandblasted, he said — to restore it. The city will add historic lighting and bring the electrical up to code, filling in the unused basement. The city also plans to add a ramp to make the performance platform accessible.
“I think we’re really lucky this is happening, because this could have been demolished,” commission member Chris Kahlow said, thanking everyone involved for their work.
“I think we’ll be really proud of this when it’s complete,” she added.
However, council member Jessica Olson, who is the chair of the Heritage Preservation Commission, asked the parks department whether it would be possible for the commission to weigh in on some of the materials, saying, “Those little details can make or break whether or not the historic feel of the structure feels correct or accurate.”
The Heritage Preservation Commission asked the parks department to coordinate with commissioner David Riel to ensure the materials reflect the bandstand’s history.
The city plans to get started by mid-September and finish it by the first of May to avoid infringing on the concert season.
“We’re excited. We’re hoping to get this thing going along,” Swinghammer said.
A consortium of users’ project to put a shell on top of the restored stand also moved forward, although designs will need to be approved by the city’s parks board before they can be finalized.
The group, which includes Rotary Lights, Moon Tunes, La Crosse Concert Band, Riverfest, La Crosse Jazz Orchestra and Explore La Crosse, hopes to raise private funds to add a roof to the bandstand, turning it into a true band shell, both to improve the acoustics and provide some shelter to those underneath.
The preliminary design, developed by architect Roald Gundersen, incorporates a round timber structure with arches mirroring the Cass Street bridge, ash tree columns and a copper fish-scale roof similar to the one on the Pettibone Park Shelter across the Mississippi River.
“I think creating ... clean lines between the new and the old will really help preserve that historic identity of that building,” Gundersen said.
The roof will be over the current bandstand, but not touching it, according to his proposal.
John Sartory of La Crosse, who has researched the Anderson family for years, spoke against the project, saying the shell detracts from the history of the memorial to Wendell Anderson.
“He’s the one who brought John Nolen here and did our parks and did all this, and this a memorial for him,” Sartory said.
While he wasn’t against a shell entirely, Sartory said it should be a temporary structure that could be taken down.
David Clements, who spoke on behalf of the consortium, said that the bandstand is used year-round and the design ties into La Crosse’s history of logging.
“We think we have a great design, a great idea. We’ve got half a million dollars already raised. … We’re trying to do something to the benefit of the community,” Clements said.
Kahlow loved the design, saying, “It brings that beautiful original historic structure to the forefront.”
She also liked the tie-ins to other aspects of the city’s history, including the logging industry.
Commission member Daniel Manke said he personally liked the design, but the commission should focus on the historic aspects.
“Keeping it different from the historic (structure) I think is very important to this body, because it’s not a historic piece. It’s not going to be. We’re not going to pretend it’s historic,” Manke said.
Riel added that while he would like to see more of the art deco style of the original bandstand incorporated in the design, he would support the shell because it protects the historic shelter.
If the design is changed while it goes through the permitting process, it will need to return to the commission for approval.
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These historical photos from the Coulee Region are a reminder about how our region used to look.