Virginia Small

Lake Park Bridge Work Group Announced

Will it be repaired, torn down or replaced? A public meeting will discuss on May 17.

By - May 11th, 2016 05:12 pm
Lake Park Arch Bridge over Ravine Road

Lake Park Arch Bridge over Ravine Road

There will be a public information meeting about the future of Lake Park’s Concrete Arch Footbridge that spans Ravine Road. It will be Tuesday evening, May 17, in Room 110 of the UW-Milwaukee School of Architecture and Urban Planning, 2131 E. Hartford Ave. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. and there will be a presentation from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Parking is available on nearby streets and in a pay lot west of the building, with access off Hartford Ave.

Milwaukee County Parks, UW-Milwaukee and GRAEF, an engineering firm, are hosting the meeting to present information about addressing the repair or replacement of the bridge. According to Milwaukee County staffer Karl Stave, a project manager in Milwaukee County’s Department of Administrative Services, it will include “description of the bridge’s history, condition, options, current activities and plans moving forward.” All are welcome to attend and comment.

A Lake Park Ravine Bridge Work Group has begun meeting to review bridge options. It is chaired by Stave. Other members include Department of Parks, Recreation & Culture staff members John Dargle, Jr., director, Kevin Haley, landscape architect, and Sue Forlenza, deputy regional manager. Additional members includes Sheldon Wasserman, District 3 County Supervisor; Al Lindner and Kevin Wood of GRAEF; Mac Malas of Malas Engineering; Matt Jarosz and Gil Snyder of UW-Milwaukee; John Vogel of Heritage Research, Carlen Hatala, City of Milwaukee historic preservation planner; Mame Croze McCully, Milwaukee County Historical Society executive director; Steven Duback and Phil Schultz of Lake Park Friends; Bill Lynch, Preserve Our Parks; Sandra McSweeney and Sally Peltz, Historic Water Tower Neighborhood; John Scripp, North Point Lighthouse Friends; and Chip Brown, Wisconsin Historical Society, government assistance and training specialist.

The 1905 neoclassical bridge was designed by renowned Milwaukee architect Alfred C. Clas, who also designed many other significant structures in Milwaukee and the state. Lake Park’s master plan was created by Frederick Law Olmsted while he was serving as the landscape architect for the 1893 Chicago’s World’s Fair. After Olmsted retired, his sons continued supervising Lake Park’s phased development through the Olmsted Brothers firm.

Olmsted envisioned Lake Park as a sequential experience of interwoven natural and formal elements, moods, recreational activities and opportunities for “passive” enjoyment. The park’s scenery is meant to be viewed from different vantage points, including from paths through its ravines. The arch footbridge, with elegant cutouts, is visible from Ravine Road and was featured in early-20th-century postcards. The bridge is part of a continuous paved pathway running about one mile from the northern edge of the park near Kenwood Avenue to the southern entrance near North Avenue.

Lake Park was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1993, the only such park in Milwaukee County. According to the Lake Park Friends website, it was recognized for two primary reasons: as a designed historic landscape by the master landscape architect Olmsted; and as the site of the Lake Park Mound, a prehistoric Indian mound presumed to have ceremonial significance. The website notes that National Register designation “offers protection from encroachments to contributing components and encourages park stewards to protect the planned park design, its natural features (meadows, ravines, bluffs, woods) and its built features (buildings, bridges, roadways, paths and trails).”

The footbridge spanning Ravine Rd. is one of five Lake Park bridges cited as contributing architectural elements in the Register listing. In a brief history, Steven Duback notes that the bridge “also has historic significance from an engineering standpoint.” It has been described in historical reports as “an advanced and innovative work of reinforced-concrete bridge engineering,” and as “one of the earliest extant reinforced concrete arches in Wisconsin.” It was designed as part of a cluster of Ferry & Clas structures designed to fit together stylistically and functionally, including the Lake Park Pavilion and the Grand Staircase.

Options for the bridge include restoration and replacement with a replica. GRAEF is also designing two other replacement bridge concepts as part of a $170,000 bid contract. Removal of the bridge without replacement would cost the least. Friends and neighborhood groups have issued statements opposing that approach since it would sever the northern and southern park areas.

Ravine Road has been closed since November 2014 due to concerns about chipping concrete. The bridge deck remains open for pedestrians and bicyclists.


7 thoughts on “Lake Park Bridge Work Group Announced”

  1. Tim says:

    Denise, that’s not correct… the bridges that were driven over are south of Lake Park Bistro, near the North Point Lighthouse.

  2. Thomas says:

    Has replacing the concrete bridge with a wood bridge been considered? Could construction and maintenance be cheaper with wood? Would not wood blend better aesthetically with the park?

  3. Jose says:

    Thomas, I like your idea but I’d be pleasantly surprised if that is one of the options.

    It’s free money so we have a duty to spend it. In the public “spending” world, we’ve already taxed the taxpayers so we must spend the budget. It was the same way in the military, if you didn’t use the money one year, you lost it for eternity.

  4. Thomas says:


    If a wooden replacement of the concrete bridge would not be sufficiently expensive, perhaps we could envision a more elaborate wooden bridge, say, a covered bridge. Those are increasingly hard to find. Future generations would not have to worry about falling concrete in or under a covered bridge.

  5. Virginia Small says:

    Jose & Thomas: A wooden bridge has not been presented as an option, though other types have been considered. There are modestly scaled rustic wooden bridges (and stairways) in Lake Park’s ravines. However, this concrete bridge must span a fairly wide expanse and meet other standards.

    No public money has been budgeted yet to restore or replace this bridge. Project managers say that grants and other funding sources will also be sought.

    As for aesthetics, a hallmark of Lake Park and other Olmsted-designed parks is the blending of formal elements, such as neoclassical structures, and more rustic design elements.

  6. Casie says:

    It has been over a year and I am wondering if the plans to go ahead and restore/rebuild this historic bridge have gone through. My Polish Grandfather proposed to my Native American Grandmother on this bridge and it would be nice to get a piece of the bridge as a keepsake souvenir.

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