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Park History - Olmsted Parks
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Seattles park system is a public resource that makes Seattle one of the nations most livable cities. Thanks to City leaders who had the foresight to hire the Olmsted Brothers firm, the Olmsted Plan for Seattles parks has been the basis of our modern day park system. To learn more about the Olmsted Legacy in Seattle, visit the Olmsted Interpretive Exhibit currently on display at the Volunteer Park Water Tower, located at the south entrance to Volunteer Park.
OLMSTED BROTHERS PLAN
In 1903, on the recommendation of the Board of Park Commissioners, Council contracted with the Olmsted Brothers of Brookline, Massachusetts to conduct a thorough survey of Seattle's park possibilities, and to submit a comprehensive plan that could be used to guide future work. This move was largely brought on by the public interest generated through the purchase of two large tracts, Woodland and Washington Parks, in 1900; and by the desire to prepare Seattle for the 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition.
The Olmsted Brothers had inherited the nation's first landscape architecture firm from their father, Frederick Law Olmsted, the designer of New York's Central Park and the campus of the University of California at Berkeley. John C. Olmsted, the stepson of Frederick Law and the senior partner in the firm, spent several weeks in the summer of 1903 studying the topography of Seattle and its parks. His report was accepted by Council on October 19th of that year.
Although J. C. Olmsted's primary goal was to locate a park or a playground within one half mile of every home in Seattle, the dominant feature of the plan was a 20-mile landscaped boulevard linking most of the existing and planned parks and greenbelts within the city limits. Furthermore, it emphasized the speed with which the plan should be realized; desirable sites would soon be developed privately, or priced beyond the means of the City.
The Olmsted Brothers plan included numerous playgrounds and playfields, a manifestation of the new concept of public recreation which had been introduced with success in the East. These sites included buildings devoted to recreation (field houses) and facilities like ball fields, tennis courts, and playground apparatus which had unique maintenance requirements relative to park facilities. Hence, from quite early on, the Parks Division and the Recreation Division of the Department each had their own maintenance personnel.
During the first ten years after its submission, most of the primary elements of the plan would, through purchase, gift, condemnation, or bonded indebtedness, be incorporated into the city's structure.
Seattle became a city with hundreds of vistas, turns in the path or the road that offer views in every direction, each slightly different from the one just before or just after-. and these were wonderfully exploited in the Olmsted boulevards and the new parks they connected. In a city that was little more than fifty years old one could claim to find something older cities could not match. (Seattle, Past to Present, Roger Sale [Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1976]. 85).
The Olmsted Brothers continued to work in Seattle, for both private and public clients, until 1936, when James Dawson of Olmsted Brothers made his last visit to the city to plan the Washington Park Arboretum. Over that 33-year period the firm would see more of its designs realized in the region: the campus of the University of Washington, the 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition (which would dictate the future of the U.W. campus), and the State Capitol plan.
OLMSTED PARKSDESIGNED, Influenced or Recommended
OLMSTED BOULEVARDSDESIGNED, Influenced or Recommended
Updated June 14, 2012
Park History on the Seattle Channel
(Olmsted Park Centennial)
Learn about the legacy of the Olmsted Brothers.
> view the video
John Charles Olmsted 1903
National Park Service
Waterfall in Frink Park Photo courtesy of Friends of Seattles Olmsted Parks
Gas Works Park 1960
Green Lake Park 1930
Volunteer Park 1913
Volunteer Park Preliminary Plan by Olmsted Brothers - April 1909 Photo courtesy of Friends of Seattle's Olmsted Parks
Olmsted in the News
PI: City celebrates
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