Little Skyscrapers in Riverside Park

Caroline C. Morris

Plan on heading to Riverside Park for a concert this summer?  Have a seat at the bandstand and admire the handiwork of local architect and visionary Otto Merman.  In 1930, the people of La Crosse acquired the thoroughly modern bandstand for the considerable sum of $30,000.  The band stand, initially known as the Wendell A. Anderson Memorial, was paid for by a large private donation from the late Mayor Anderson’s family, as well as money raised by local civic groups and schoolchildren.  “While simple in design, it is neat and very attractive,” declared the La Crosse Tribune and Leader Press on Jan. 1, 1931.

Otto Merman, bandstand.JPG

Otto Merman produced the gouache painting above as part of his bid for the project.  Local officials ultimately selected his plan, which featured the soaring vertical lines and prominent geometry of New York City skyscrapers.  In the 1920s, American business and optimism had reached new heights, which skyscrapers seemed to embody.  The same summer that workers built the bandstand in Riverside Park, a different team of workers was erecting the Empire State Building in New York, an architectural statement that electrified the country.  By designing the bandstand in a similar Art Deco style, with miniature “skyscrapers” at the rear of the stage, Merman was bringing a piece of the excitement to La Crosse.

This article was originally featured in the La Crosse Tribune.