Man-Lay Garden: The Miracle on Main Street

Posted by Scott on November 19, 2019

(written by Anita Doering, Archives staff)

German immigrant George Linker and two of his brothers joined forces to purchase lots at 324-328 Main Street, the burned-out ruins of the former Pomeroy (later MacMillan) Opera House between 1898-1900.  They constructed a retail and office center there and by about 1909 had also purchased the 330 Main address property and razed the structure to incorporate into their large building at the southwest corner of Main and Fourth streets.

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The Linker Block or Linker Building ca. 1915 on the SW corner of Main and Fourth streets

 

The Linker Realty Company, as the brothers’ holding company was named, moved their successful barber shop complete with Turkish baths here and by 1915 advertised “The Linker Building: The Business Center of La Crosse.” The Woolworth Company occupied prime retail space at the southwest corner of 4th and Main streets. 

Unfortunately, this entire structure burned in October 1961 and the remains were condemned.  The building was razed and a large fenced hole surrounded the property for many years.  Ben Marcus of Milwaukee purchased the property.

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The Linker Building was razed in 1962 and remained a large hole until 1966

 

Spearheaded by the Chamber of Commerce’s new member Richard Morse, the “La Crosse Beautiful Committee” took on “The Hole at 4th and Main” to beautify the spot.  Architects Carl Schubert and Jack Wagner of the American Tree Service were asked for ideas which were presented to the committee on April 13, 1966.  The design was that of a Japanese sunken garden, complete with lighted fountain.

That summer, the “Miracle on Main Street” began to happen.  Leased from the Milwaukee-based property owner, Ben Marcus, for $1 a year, most of the labor was donated by unions and the city of La Crosse agreed to spend up to $4000 on the project.

Work began August 6.  William Beisanz of the Winona Stone Company agreed to donate material for planters and steps.  William Kammel of Kammel Excavating cleaned up the debris; Boy Scout Troop 31 and the Bricklayers Local 1 union also had a hand in the beginning of the project.  Gregory Adams of the Adams-Hagman Construction Company, Burton Nelson of the Nelson Construction Company, and John Poellinger’s Plastering Service all made valuable contributions.  Many more companies and individuals from La Crosse and the Coulee Region donated countless hours of time and talent to the project.

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Dedication of Man-Lay Garden took place September 23, 1966

 

In only seven weeks, the sunken garden was complete and a dedication was held.  Because of the donations of community support, labor and supplies, the cost to the Chamber of Commerce was $27.50.  Carl Schubert, who oversaw the construction of the garden, said the entire cost of the project would have been $32,000. 

The Chamber held a naming contest and Philip Dyer won the honor.  His name "May-Lay" was selected to honor the contributions of management and labor coming together in the community to create a public space.

The garden became a source of pride in the community and likely helped win the city the “All-America City” award in 1966.  It was the site of the annual community Christmas tree lighting ceremony organized by the Chamber of Commerce.

Because the city did not own the property, everyone knew the property might someday be developed.  That someday came in 1975 when Richard Lommen purchased the property and constructed a McDonald’s restaurant on the west side of the site with a bridge extending over the garden from the 4th Street side for access to the restaurant.  The restaurant also had Main Street access.

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A letter dated April 18, 1975, from Richard Lommen to Eugene Fry outlines Lommen’s plans for the site

 

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An architectural rendering that accompanied the April 18, 1975, letter from Lommen to the City of La Crosse shows the walkways that extended out over the garden to the 4th Street sidewalk

 

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From a March 1981 Saturday Evening Post article about McDonald's franchisee Ray Kroc


McDonald’s closed in 1995 and the remodeled building became Bruegger’s Bagels.  In 2004, Howes Jewelers purchased the site and the sunken garden area was filled. 

The La Crosse Public Library Archives has many newspaper clipping files on this project, along with records of the Parks Department, some of which are shown in this blog, and a few photographs.  However, the Archives would love to add your photos of the garden or other downtown La Crosse scenes to their collection. Contact us if you're interested in either donating or allowing us to scan your historical La Crosse photographs.