Band History: Week 6, The Bandshell

During our July 15th concert, Dr. Dan Barr shared the interesting story of our Lake Park Bandshell. Special thanks go to Shawn Kennedy-Lee for researching and writing the script, which is shared below:

Week 6, July 15, 2015
Written by Shawn Kennedy Lee, Read (with introduction by) Dan Barr

A ninety-year-old patient came into my office and said, “I see you are playing in the Municipal Band. As a young man I worked on the construction of the band shell. Do you want to know why we faced it like we did?” I sure would, I said. I sit in the back row and we look directly into the sun for over 2 hours. “Well,” he said “I’m from the east end of town and we like polkas and accordion music, so we faced it to the west o those Sousa marches and classical music would be heard in the west end!” We both had a good laugh.

In tonight’s historic segment, we’re going to take you back to the early days of the band. The town was so excited to have a newly formed municipal band that they soon decided they needed a bandstand for performances.

The first plans for a bandstand didn’t go so well. You’ll see in your program a 1915 sketch of a combination boathouse and bandstand that was to be built at the end of Main Street in Lake Park. Planning went along for two years, and they had already sunk the pilings when the city discovered they didn’t own enough land to build on at that location. The bandstand was cancelled. In 1917, the band was also having funding problems. It’s no wonder Director George Colburn chose to seek his fortune elsewhere.

The park board decided to re-engineer the lake drainage system in order to facilitate improvements, including building a band shell. By the summer of 1922, the new drainage system was found to be adequate. So construction began in the park. Frederick S. Bell donated the money for the band shell and work was begun.

The plan for the shell put it inside an elliptical paved walkway with parking space for 400 to 500 cars and bench seating for 1000 to 1500 people. Elm trees were planted throughout the seating area and they were trimmed high to provide shade for the audience and the people on stage. Unfortunately, the trees have been lost to Dutch elm disease.

The band shell is made of brick and concrete, the roof of tin, supported by wooden rafters. It has a 42 foot wide, stilted half-dome set on a platform on top of 30-foot pilings. When Dick Lindner inquired whether the structure could hold the weight of cement risers, the city engineer stated, “Dick, those pilings go all the way down to bedrock. You could fill that thing up with cement and it wouldn’t move!”

Band members always wonder why they have to face the brutal sun during rehearsals. It was explained in the Winona Republican Herald that the shell “will face a little to the south of west. This will bring a considerable section of the lake directly in front of the band, and will, on quiet evenings, invite many to the use of boats during the concert.”

The band shell was dedicated on June 15, 1924. By all accounts, Frederick S. Bell was very generous with his vision, time and money, but he preferred not to receive any acknowledgement for his contributions. The dedication ceremony was attended by several thousand people, believed to be the largest number ever assembled at an outdoor musical program in Winona up to that time. The program featured the Winona Municipal Band playing Sousa’s U.S. Field Artillery March to show off the acoustic superiority of the shell.

Commissioner Edward Lees of the Minnesota Supreme Court delivered the dedicatory address. He stated, “Here it is, a magnificent palace from whence the strains of music may be enjoyed by the assembled citizens for years to come. It is my personal wish, and I am sure it is yours, that the memory of the donor, Frederick Somers Bell, be transmitted to posterity.”

During the golden age of municipal bands, 75 to 100 years ago, most small towns had an outdoor band performance space, a shell or a pavilion. A brief Google image search will tell you that there are not many of these band shells around anymore. The closest one in style to the Winona band shell is the Naumburg band shell in Central Park, New York City, built in 1923. Most historic shells have been torn down in the interest of “progress”. Contemporary shells, of course, sound and look beautiful, but they don’t have the same nostalgic character that Winona’s Lake Park band shell has.

The Winona Park Maintenance Department generously refurbished the shell this past spring in anticipation of this summer’s festivities. There is only one company left in the U.S. with the skill set to maintain this type of structure and they were hired to do the work. Winona’s commitment to this legacy is a testament to the value the community places on its history.

During his dedication speech, Commissioner Lees stated “Winona is fortunate in having in its midst men (and women) who, besides being prominent in business affairs, are men of vision, men who care for the future, men who interest themselves in public as well as their own private affairs.

Levi Lundak and the members of the Winona Municipal Band would like to thank the Park Maintenance Department, Maynard Johnson, and the city of Winona for being dedicated stewards of our treasured Lake Park Band Shell. We look forward to the next 100 years of concerts by the lake.