In 1984, local developer Dick Barbour had a proposal to replace the former Mary E. Sawyer Auditorium with a high-rise building, which could contain a hotel and a 250-space parking ramp. There would be office space for La Crosse County and Western Tech. The city council agreed to sell the auditorium to Barbour for half-a-million dollars. The Sawyer eventually was torn down, and replaced by what is now the county health department and juvenile detention building.
There was also talk of a transportation center downtown, which would be built north of La Crosse City Hall. The proposed transit center could house a taxi service and a restaurant. La Crosse didn't actually get a transit center until the Grand River Station on 3rd Street opened in 2010.
"When Doves Cry" by Prince was the #1 song of 1984, according to Billboard magazine. Following that song atop the year-end charts were "What's Love Got To Do With It?" by Tina Turner...the Paul McCartney/Michael Jackson duet "Say Say Say"...and the theme to "Footloose." Thirty-three years ago, 1984, Yesterday in La Crosse.
It was no April Fool's joke on the 1st of April in 1975, when La Crosse voters ousted two-term mayor Peter Gilbertson in favor of city council president Patrick Zielke. The race was fairly close, with Zielke winning by nearly 600 votes. He had also been the top vote-getter in the primary. The Tribune considered Zielke 'less combative' than the younger Gilbertson, and Zielke called for more teamwork at City Hall. Taking Zielke's former aldermanic seat would be Helen Kelly, becoming only the second woman on the La Crosse Council.
Vernon County had a female judge, and voted her out in 1975. Olga Bennett had been on the bench for five years, but she was replaced by Walter Block, who had criticized her as being too lenient. Bennett was the first woman elected as a county judge in Wisconsin.
The Mel Brooks comedy 'Young Frankenstein' was playing at movie theaters early in 1975. A couple of TV specials based on Brooks characters were aired that April...a pilot for a proposed weekly version of 'Blazing Saddles,' and an animated cartoon about 'The 2,000-Year-Old Man.' That was 42 years ago, 1975, Yesterday in La Crosse.
On this day in 1985, a Wisconsin appeals court upheld the murder conviction of Terry Shaw of La Crosse. Shaw had been found guilty of the 1981 rape and killing 29-year-old Susan Erickson. La Crosse district attorney Michael Mulroy based a key part of his prosecution on a piece of fingernail found under the victim's body, which scientists showed was a match for Shaw's fingernail. When Shaw tried to appeal his conviction, the higher court agreed with the scientific evidence. Publicity from the trial, which was aired on local cable TV, was credited for helping Mulroy win his first election for circuit judge in 1983.
La Crosse got its first pro basketball franchise in the summer of '85, when the Catbirds of the CBA left Louisville after two years to come to Wisconsin. Businessmen D.B. Reinhart and Norm Gillette were among the owners who brought the Catbirds to the five-year-old La Crosse Center. The team played at the arena for nine seasons, and won a pair of league championships under future NBA coach Flip Saunders.
And the second-oldest building on the U-W-L campus was added to the National Register of Historic Places that April. It was Wittich Hall, which had been built as a physical education center 70 years earlier. Wittich gets the honor in 1985...32 years ago, Yesterday in La Crosse.
In April of 1967, the Elks Club of La Crosse hosted the 4th annual Cotton Ball, a fund-raiser for the Twin Cities Shrine Hospital for crippled children. It was sponsored by the La Crosse auxiliary of the Shrine hospital. The theme was "Polynesian Paradise," featuring hula dancers...fellows in long wigs and grass skirts...and Mrs. Robert (Bev) Henninger, described as "La Crosse's own Phyllis Diller."
The real Phyllis Diller was co-starring with comedian Jack E. Leonard in a secret agent comedy called "The Fat Spy." Also at the movies, Boris Karloff narrated an Italian documentary, "Mondo Balordo," about "intimate shocking scenes of love."
For more clean-cut entertainment, the Coulee Chordsmen were preparing a show of barbershop music called "Sweethearts of Harmony." And at the La Crosse State campus, students were performing the first hit comedy by hot new playwright Neil Simon..."Come Blow Your Horn." Fifty years ago, 1967, Yesterday in La Crosse.
In April of 2001, the national media kept track of severe flooding on the Mississippi. For a couple of days, the focus was on La Crosse, as TV networks covered briefings by La Crosse public works director Pat Caffrey. The river crested in La Crosse on April 18th at 4 feet above flood stage, and after the crest, the media moved on downriver to Prairie du Chien. One live TV story from NBC featured a reporter and a camera person in a boat on waterlogged Main Street in Prairie...which may have given viewers a false impression of the flooding. Prairie du Chien's Main Street runs parallel to the river, and is on the westernmost fringe of downtown. The busiest street in downtown PDC, Blackhawk Avenue, was mostly dry.
The Brewers had just opened their new park, Miller Park, that April. The team still finished 25 games out of first place in its division that season.
Movies making money during the early part of 2001 included "Spy Kids," "Bridget Jones's Diary," and the original "Shrek"...16 years ago, yesterday in La Crosse.
In 1965, La Crosse became one of 13 communities to win the title of 'All-America City' for that year. Three towns in Alaska were included on the list, for their efforts to recover from a massive earthquake the year before.
The 1965 flood of the Mississippi, which would be a record-breaker, caused some concern for the Wisconsin Republican Party, which was planning to have its annual convention that May in La Crosse. Party leaders considered whether to move the meeting to another city. Even though the main convention sessions would be held on high ground at the Sawyer Auditorium, other events were planned on water-logged Barron Island, site of the Holiday Inn. The Mississippi crested at 17.7 feet in La Crosse on April 20th...almost 6 feet over the flood stage. Almost all of Riverside Park was underwater, except for the Big Indian statue. The flooding did lead to cancellation of one La Crosse concert, a show by country singer Marty Robbins.
Musicals dominated the Oscars that April. The movie version of 'My Fair Lady' beat 'Mary Poppins' and 'Dr. Strangelove' for Best Picture, and won the Best Actor award for Rex Harrison as Professor Henry Higgins. Julie Andrews, as Mary Poppins, took the Best Actress honor over Anne Bancroft, Sophia Loren, and Debbie Reynolds. 52 years ago, 1965, yesterday in La Crosse.
Galesville sculptor Elmer Petersen was the subject of a magazine article in the spring of 2007. The Danish Immigrant Museum of Elk Horn, Iowa highlighted "The World's Largest Buffalo," a 26-foot high sculpture located in Jamestown, North Dakota. Petersen's work was being displayed in a museum art exhibit honoring Danish-American artists. He's well known in the Coulee Region for the sculpture of native Americans playing the game of lacrosse, and for the bronze eagle at the west end of State Street in downtown La Crosse.
New barriers were being installed along the Mississippi in Riverside Park. That was part of the work being done to prevent future downtown drownings. City committees had done months of study, following the 2004 drowning death of local college student Jared Dion.
La Crosse musician Rob Gonzalez was performing at the La Crosse Center that April, and U-W-L hosted a concert by a 17-year-old country singer who's a major music star a decade later. Her name is Taylor Swift, and she performed at Cartwright Center 10 years ago today, 2007, Yesterday in La Crosse.
In April of 1955, WKTY Radio news anchor Milo Knutson was sworn in as mayor of La Crosse. In his inaugural address, Knutson said the foremost matter before him was reorganizing city government. Knutson had won twice as many votes as incumbent mayor Henry Ahrens, who was unseated after six years. On election night, Knutson was on the air, broadcasting the vote totals from the city clerk's office. He presided over a 21-member city council, and served as mayor for the next 10 years.
Boyer's Furniture on Main Street advertised Bigelow Carpets, which were the 'dream carpet' of Mr. and Mrs. Desi Arnaz...the stars of 'I Love Lucy.' Mrs. Arnaz was better known as Lucille Ball.
A newspaper ad for Community Camera and TV, across the street from Boyer's, featured a cartoon with four kids asking their dad if he had bought a new television set yet. On Tuesday nights in 1955, La Crosse's only TV station, WKBT, featured the popular game shows 'Break the Bank' and 'Truth or Consequences,' along with the weekly inspirational program 'Life Is Worth Living,' hosted by New York Bishop Fulton J. Sheen. Sixty-two years ago, 1955, yesterday in La Crosse.
One Saturday in February of 1976, two groups picketed quietly on 4th Street, near the La Crosse Post Office. The group standing directly outside the Post Office wanted to preserve the decades-old building. Across the street was a second group, including union workers, who were ready to build a new post office on the block, after which the old one would be torn down. The new post office would open the following year.
After experimenting with early starts to Daylight Saving Time the previous two years, the U.S. went back to the usual date for turning clocks ahead...the last Sunday of April. There was still talk in Washington of adding a month or two to Daylight Savings, but those attempts failed. The dates for Daylight Saving would not change again until 1987, when the starting date was moved up to the first Sunday in April.
A new local theater group was being launched in La Crosse. Auditions were announced for a Party House production of the musical "The Apple Tree." It would be the first show for the Cabaret Dinner Theater, directed by Tim McNamara. The group would put on dinner theater shows for almost three years, eventually moving from the Party House off Highway 35 to downtown, at the Hotel Stoddard. Dinner and a show, 41 years ago, 1976...Yesterday in La Crosse.
On this date in 1865, President Abraham Lincoln was fatally shot while attending a play at Ford's Theater in Washington...less than a week after the end of the Civil War. Secretary of State William Seward was stabbed and wounded as part of the conspiracy, along with others in his home. The Wisconsin State Journal in Madison wrongly reported on the 15th that both Lincoln and Seward had died, saying 'Both are gone.' Seward lived for another seven years, and is remembered today for arranging the purchase of Alaska.
On this day in 1970, the Apollo 13 spacecraft was halfway to the moon when a fuel tank exploded, causing the three astronauts on board to abort their planned lunar landing and find a way back to Earth. NASA and the crew figured out a way to have the spacecraft loop around the moon and return to the earth a few days later. Sparta native Deke Slayton was the director of flight crew operations for NASA during the Apollo 13 mission. The story was told in a 1995 movie starring Tom Hanks as flight commander Jim Lovell.
The La Crosse Symphony Orchestra was started officially in 1938. The orchestra had a membership of 57, and was a continuation of the old Cathedral orchestra.
Some less high-brow music was featured at the Avalon Ballroom, with a show by Freddie Fisher's "Schnickelfritz Band," billed as "America's most unsophisticated band." A publicity photo showed some musicians with the band performing on the jug and the washboard.
In 1938, a newspaper headline said "J.R. leaves the hospital." J.R. was James Roosevelt, son of President Franklin Roosevelt, who was called "F.R." in some papers. James had gone to Mayo in Rochester for surgery on a gastric ulcer. He was accompanied at Mayo by nurse Romelle Schneider, a former student at La Crosse Teachers College.
The Bodega was a Lunch Club, not a pub, in 1938. For Sunday lunch, they offered a roast duck dinner with mashed potatoes, dressing, and applesauce for 39 cents. Seventy-nine years ago, Yesterday in La Crosse.
The UW-La Crosse campus was under pressure in 1987 to limit enrollment. Chancellor Noel Richards said the projected enrollment for fall would be close to 9700 students. But he warned that the number might eventually have to be reduced to 8800. Richards believed that UW-L had reached the point where there were too many students for the budget.
The White House was accused of lying and deceiving the public, about the role of U.S. troops in Central America. Members of a La Crosse Area Peace and Jobs Coalition were protesting Reagan administration decisions to send Wisconsin Army Reserve soldiers to Honduras. Group members were concerned that sending troops to the region might lead to an invasion of Nicaragua, to overthrow the Sandinista government there.
The Vietnam War drama "Platoon" with Charlie Sheen won Best Picture at the Oscars in April of 1987. Acting winners included Paul Newman for "The Color of Money," Marlee Matlin for "Children of a Lesser God," and Michael Caine as supporting actor in "Hannah and Her Sisters." Thirty years ago, yesterday in La Crosse.