Friends of Seattle’s Olmsted Parks is very pleased to lend our voice in support of the Be’er Sheva Park Capital Campaign. This project will create a beautiful and welcoming beach at the park, in the Rainier Beach neighborhood. It will also fulfill part of Olmsted’s vision for shoreline access in this neighborhood.
Community-led and designed, this decade-long dream is ready to be built, but additional funding is needed. Seeking both large and small contributions, the goal for Phase 1 is $1,000,000 by April 30, 2021. Approximately 60% of that goal has been reached to-date, with possible additional grants pending. We invite you to make contributions through this link and encourage others to add their support as well.
This community project is led by Rainier Beach Link2Lake Open Space Steering Committee, whose fiscal sponsor is the Seattle Parks Foundation.
FSOP is particularly excited about this project, not only for its improved waterfront access for an underserved neighborhood, but also for how closely it mirrors Olmsted’s vision, described well over a century ago. In 1908, Olmsted recommended a shoreline parkway be extended south from Seward Park to an expanded park at this location, which he later described as having “very notable landscape advantages.” Additionally, the Rainier Beach Link2Lake’s broader vision to create a pedestrian-friendly green corridor along Henderson Street, which would connect the park to lightrail and the Chief Sealth trail, traces Olmsted’s proposed parkway route connecting the neighborhood to Beacon Hill and other park boulevards. As Olmsted noted in his 1908 report, all these improvements would be “exceedingly valuable” for “making the lives of the people of the neighborhoods better worth living.”
Please consider giving your support for Be’er Sheva Park, especially as we look forward to 2022 and the national ‘Celebrating Parks for All People‘ effort of the Olmsted200 bicentennial.
Please note: following is a letter, written by Park Commissioner Tom Byers and addressed to Mayor Durkan and the City Council, addressing homelessness in Seattle’s parks. We at Friends of Seattle’s Olmsted Parks support his recommendations. We greatly appreciate his phased, balanced approach to providing shelter and resources, as we do not condone park sweeps that fail to offer lasting and attainable alternatives.
Indeed, the original Olmsted vision for parks was imbued with principles of social reform: public parks were intended as democratizing and humanizing spaces, for the common good, where everyone is free to gather.
January 21, 2021
Dear Mayor Durkan and Members of the City Council,
At least five times a week I take a long walk in one of our wonderful city parks. The exercise, fresh air, and occasional wild-life sightings help to clear my head and maintain some semblance of physical and mental health during these dark times. I am not alone. On this morning’s hour-long walk in a cold rain, I passed sixty-four others in the park, the vast majority of them women and small children. On days when even a trace of sunshine breaks through, the numbers are much higher.
The pandemic has made many of us more aware of how important our park system is, not only for our well-being as individuals, but to our sense of community. We value the parks as Seattle’s common ground, open to everyone, no matter their circumstances.
But today that is no longer true. There are many Seattle neighborhoods in which our fellow citizens don’t have the life-sustaining access to parks that my neighbors and I enjoy. Some neighborhoods didn’t have enough parks to begin with, and the limited park space they have has been taken over by tent encampments.
Ironically, our elected leaders enabled these occupations of our parks in the name of social justice. Their reasoning, as I understand it, was that Gov. Inslee’s order to “shelter in place” during the first days of the pandemic meant that homeless individuals who were then living in the parks should be able to remain there undisturbed. There was logic in that viewpoint last spring, but it has long since evaporated. Ten months into the pandemic, the city has failed to make tangible progress towards establishing temporary and long-term solutions to the housing crisis, allowing city parks to become the best option for hundreds of unhoused individuals to seek shelter. Indeed, the number of individuals living in parks has appeared to increase as the economic effects of the pandemic become more severe. Over time park encampments have mushroomed tenfold with newcomers who cannot claim they are simply sheltering in place.
Our Park Superintendent estimates that roughly 12 percent of our city’s parks have encampments large enough to discourage or prevent use by other park visitors. Many neighborhood park advocates believe the percentage is much higher. Most of those parks are in densely populated areas, where most residents are enduring the pandemic in apartments that don’t have back yards. Those families and individuals are dependent for fresh air and exercise on the parks nearby their homes, parks that are now filled with the tents of our unhoused neighbors who have few places to go besides public parks and lack access to essential services that are critical to maintaining public health during a global pandemic.
For those of us who believe in social justice, the current policy of benign neglect is a double-barreled failure. It is neither just nor progressive to deprive families and individuals of their ability to use their parks as they were intended to be used. Nor is it just and progressive to leave the people in those tents — some of whom are suffering from physical disabilities, mental illness, and addictions — to sleep in tents through a long and rainy Seattle winter.
Social justice demands we do better on both counts. It will not be easy. We did not come to this predicament overnight, and we will not find our way to higher ground quickly or cheaply. But for the good of the entire community, we need to find our way. Here are some steps toward that goal:
The Mayor and Council must overcome their past differences and work together to implement a strategy to end the epidemic of homelessness that is jeopardizing everything else we are trying to achieve as a community. It has been several years since homelessness was declared an emergency by a previous Mayor, yet most Seattle residents still do not perceive that City Hall has any coherent plan to meet the challenge, and the tents in the parks seem to be evidence that no such plan exists. We need a strategy that mobilizes all agencies of the city, and the community as a whole, to achieve the goal of restoring homeless individuals and families to full participation in the life of the community and preventing others from becoming homeless. The Mayor must identify a leader who will be in charge of implementing that strategy and hold that leader accountable for making progress. The Council must provide the necessary resources to enable city agencies to play their roles effectively.
The city government must also renew its commitment to restore our parks so that all Seattle residents can use them for the purposes for which they are intended. As part of its comprehensive strategy, the city government should announce its intent to phase out the tent encampments and then enforce the long-standing regulations that have prohibited camping in the parks. The phase-out of the park encampments should be accomplished through the following measures (some of which are already underway, but under-resourced):
Active outreach and engagement with residents of the encampments
Referral to shelter and affordable housing as available
To the extent existing shelter or housing resources are insufficient, establish sanctioned encampments at non-park sites where appropriate sanitation and human services can be provided. First priority should be sites owned by churches, public agencies, or non-profit organizations that are willing to “sponsor” an encampment and assist with outreach and linkages to health and human services
Until better options can be created, upgrade the sanctioned encampments with the types of facilities provided in refugee camps and state-sanctioned farmworker housing during the cherry harvest. That translates into OSHA tents, mobile restrooms and shower facilities
Rapidly develop more “tiny-house villages” like those described here. The tiny-house villages are a big step up from tent encampments. They provide shelter, heat, and electricity in the individual units, and access to shared restrooms, showers, and kitchen facilities. The units also provide security for residents and their belongings because they can be locked by the resident. The importance of this feature is described powerfully in this short video. The existing villages in Seattle are managed by the Low-income Housing Institute (LIHI) and operate under a detailed code of conduct that each resident agrees to abide by. Each village has an advisory committee composed of neighbors to ensure they are well-managed. During her first year in office, Mayor Durkan stated she intended to create 1,000 units in tiny-house villages. About 380 have been developed to date
Invest in the primary health, mental health, and addiction care services available in the community and strengthen the connections between the providers and residents of the sanctioned encampments, shelters, and tiny home villages
Expedite the production of permanent supportive housing
Substantially increase funding for employment programs that help homeless individuals. A leading example is the Seattle Conservation Corps, which is operated by the Parks Department and employs and trains homeless individuals to complete park improvements and other public works. The Corps has an excellent track record of helping individuals regain their place in the community, but its enrollment has been limited to 60-70 per year by budget concerns. In light of the damage that has been done to the park system in the past year by cuts in the maintenance budget, plus the freeze on hiring temporary workers during the summer, now would be an excellent time to expand the Corps by recruiting some of able-bodied and resilient people living in the shelters and tents and deploying the Corps to repair the damage that has been done to the park system during the pandemic. The Corps could also help with construction of tiny-home villages
These actions can be paid for, at least in large part, by avoiding costs the City is incurring to mitigate the impact of the encampments on the parks (garbage collection, sanitation, etc.); the cost of the police presence necessary during “sweeps”; and other costs associated with allowing people to remain homeless (911 calls, emergency room visits, etc.) The expansion of the Conservation Corps and other measures to restore and enhance the park system could be funded by a modest increase in the levy rate of the Metropolitan Park District, which can be done with five votes of the Council and the approval of the Mayor.
These are the obvious first steps to meet the twin crises evident in our parks. A more complete list of actions will need to be created, and it must be forged by those most affected: by the families and individuals in the city neighborhoods who have been unable to use their parks for their intended purposes; by individuals who have experienced homelessness; by advocates for the mentally ill, and chemically addicted; and by the dedicated individuals who are working to reform the systems that have badly failed to protect both our parks and those who have pitched their tents within them.
Tom Byers, Member, Board of Park Commissioners and Park District Oversight Committee
Co-signers: Andrea Akita, Jessica Farmer, Kelly McCaffrey, Members of the Board of Park Commissioners and Park District Oversight Committee; Dennis Cook, Even Hundley and Jessica Vu, Members of the Board of Park Commissioners; and Dewey Potter, Member of the Park District Oversight Committee
Friends of Seattle’s OlmstedParks (FSOP) is proud to announce that Olmsted in Seattle has been named a finalist for the 2020 Washington State Book Awards. In addition to introducing readers to John Charles Olmsted’s plan for a park system, Olmsted in Seattle recounts the interplay of policy, politics and city development that led to hiring the Olmsted Brothers and examines how our park system has evolved since then.
The Washington State Book Awards, now in their 54th year, are presented by the Washington Center for the Book, a partnership of Seattle Public Library and Washington State Library. The awards honor Washington authors and will be judged by a panel of librarians and booksellers. Olmsted in Seattle is one of five books nominated in the “General Nonfiction” category. Winners in each of eight categories will be announced on September 25.
FSOP congratulates author Jennifer Ott and HistoryLink on this nomination! Jennifer Ott is an environmental historian and assistant director of HistoryLink. She served on the board of Friends of Seattle’s Olmsted Parks and was board president from 2011-2015. Ott’s other books include Waterway: The Story of Seattle’s Lock and Ship Canal, co-authored with David Williams, and Seattle at 150: Stories of the City Through 150 Objects from the Seattle Municipal Archives, for which she was head editor. She is a member of the Volunteer Park Trust steering committee and an advisory board member with FSOP.
Seattle Parks and Recreation took emergency measures to remove an infected tree on W McGraw Place, part of Queen Anne Boulevard, on Wednesday, July 29, 2020. The Parks Dept. briefed FSOP on the need for the emergency removal Tuesday afternoon and received approval from the Landmarks Board early Wednesday.
The tree, a mature Norway maple (Acer platanoides) was infected with a spore, Cryptostroma corticale, which when airborne can become a human health hazard. The tree removal crew wore special protective gear during the removal process.
The spore grows under the bark of the tree, and as the bark falls away the spore is released to the air. More information on the pathogen can be found in this article.
Seattle Parks will replace the tree with a young tree of a different species yet to be determined. Approximately 23 additional trees along the boulevard are being assessed and may need to be removed and replaced as well. FSOP will be involved in both processes.
Are you interested in becoming more involved in matters regarding our Seattle Olmsted parks and boulevards? Consider joining us!
We are currently seeking new members to serve on our Board of Directors. Board activities include consulting on park improvement projects, creating and organizing walking tours, advocating for our historic parks, and partnering with community groups to help meet shared goals. Included on our current board are landscape architects and designers, a horticulturalist, a lawyer, a business manager, retired park staff, graphic designers and community relations professionals. We seek additional individuals with expertise and/or interest in at least one of the following areas:
Historical Research – looking for a candidate willing to do in-depth research for specific properties or projects, one of which is expanding our narrative to include related instances of racial injustices
Community Outreach – looking for a candidate who will identify and work with community groups and individual Olmsted Parks groups to help with park improvement projects
Educational Programming – looking for candidates who can help lead walking tours and/or identify and develop additional teaching opportunities
Accounting – looking for a candidate who can assist with our bookkeeping
Landscape Design – looking for candidates who are comfortable reviewing design proposals
Fund Raising — looking for candidates that are interested in leading our fund raising initiatives
Strategic Planning – looking for candidates who can help direct and implement our long-range planning
Communications – looking for candidates who can spearhead letter-writing campaigns and help build our social media presence
Anyone with an interest in the importance of unique urban parks and a willingness to advocate on their behalf
Terms begin in September immediately following our annual meeting on September 14, 2020, and run for three years. Our board meetings are typically held from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. on the first Monday of each month. We are currently holding our meetings remotely via Zoom. As conditions allow, we will hold in-person meetings again at the Seattle Department of Parks and Recreation headquarters in Denny Park (plenty of free parking available).
Friends of Seattle’s Olmsted Parks (FSOP) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving Seattle’s unique Olmsted landscape heritage and raising awareness of the Olmsted philosophy of providing open space for all people.
We now have a second self-guided tour script available online! The tour will lead you through Seward Park and introduce you to its historical design, natural features and ongoing cultural events. Keep reading to take in the tour on your screen, or you can find a printable version of the tour script, here.
Seward Park Self-Guided Walking Tour
Your walk today will start by the beach area, just west of the Clay Studio. Then proceed north along the west shoreline up to the north end of the park, where the Olmsteds proposed quite an interesting array of park features. From there, head back south through the middle of the forest on the Skebexced Trail, then turning onto the Lost Lake trail to eventually reach the Audubon Center, then the tennis court area, and finally to the inner turn-around to the Japanese Lantern and Torii Gate.
General note: Walking directions are in bold italics, and numbered stops are underlined. A route map is provided below that keys into each numbered stop. Historical information is in plain type. If you are already familiar with the Olmsted story and their work in Seattle, you might skip the General Introduction and begin at the row of asterisks.
During COVID please also note: some of these trails are narrow and also frequently used, so be prepared to wear your face mask where/when appropriate.
Seattle’s system of parks and boulevards is based on plans and recommendations developed by the Olmsted Brothers Landscape Architecture firm of Brookline, MA. John Charles Olmsted first visited the city and produced the report in 1903 at the invitation of the Seattle’s Board of Park Commissioners.
By the early 1900’s, the Olmsted name was nationally renowned for having designed city and regional parks, park systems, neighborhoods, college campuses, private residence gardens, and world exposition fairgrounds. Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr. is generally considered the “father of landscape architecture” and is most famous for his work on Central Park in New York City and the Emerald Chain necklace of parks in Boston. He also produced a report on Yosemite that helped establish that land as our first national park.
John Charles Olmsted, the senior Olmsted’s nephew and adopted son, and Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. (“Rick”), the senior Olmsted’s biological son, each joined the design practice in the late 1800’s. Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr., retired in the 1890’s, eventually leading to the firm being re-organized and renamed as the Olmsted Brothers. The Olmsted firm in its several iterations would last for over 100 years, producing more than 150,000 drawings for more than 5,000 projects all across North America.
The Olmsted Legacy in Seattle
The late 1890’s brought the Yukon gold rush and, with it, exponential growth and rapid development in Seattle. Civic leaders recognized new urgency to set aside and protect land for public use as parks, but they struggled on how to move this goal forward. It wasn’t until 1902 that a newly re-formed Board of Park Commissioners determined to seek out the Olmsted firm to develop a comprehensively planned park system that could be implemented immediately or over the next 100 years. And though, at the time, the population was about 81,000, the civic leaders wanted a system that could meet the needs of a city of 500,000 people (for comparison, the estimated 2020 population is 783,000). 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.
John Charles Olmsted and his assistant, Percy Jones, arrived in Seattle on April 30, 1903, and during May and June they explored the city by carriage, boat, and foot. They studied the terrain, views to natural features, and patterns of current land ownership and use. They looked for suitable locations for playgrounds, parks and connecting boulevards that distributed recreational opportunities throughout the city as much as possible. Following initial input and discussions with local leaders, the firm submitted its recommendations report in July, and it was adopted in November.
The firm then worked on designing and improving a number of the individual parks in the plan. In 1907 the Olmsted Brothers firm was again hired to write a supplemental plan because the City had expanded its boundaries. JCO worked on this while he was also working on the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition grounds at the University of Washington. The Olmsted Brothers firm ultimately developed design drawings for 20 Seattle parks and boulevards and consulted on dozens more. They also designed numerous residential landscapes in the Seattle area during that period, including the Uplands development directly west of Seward Park, which we will discuss later on the tour.
A Note on Social Equity
The Olmsteds believed in parks as potentially powerful democratizing agents, intended as they were for use by all, and they aimed for them being well-distributed throughout a city. John Charles explored Seattle at length to identify locations for parks, but the 1903 plan’s connected boulevard system avoids the already densely developed area around downtown. By the 1940’s (and perhaps earlier), the southeastern portion of this larger area became known as Seattle’s “ghetto,” as racially restrictive covenants throughout the city prevented non-whites from living anywhere else. The 1903 plan had recommended park playgrounds at two locations in this area — one, Garfield Playfield, was built starting in 1911.
Ironically and tellingly, our nation’s first and most famous Olmsted park displaced a community of African Americans when it was created. NYC’s Central Park, which brought the senior Olmsted his initial fame, was built on land formerly known as Seneca Village. The settlement existed from 1825 until 1857 and included more than 50 homes, three churches and a school. Many African Americans owned property here, which in turn entitled them the right to vote. With plans to create Central Park, the City exercised eminent domain and removed the community, although with compensation.
Start the tour in the lawn next to the beach west of the Seward Park Clay Studio.
We care to acknowledge that we are on the traditional land of the first people of Seattle, the Duwamish People past and present and honor with gratitude the land itself and the Duwamish Tribe.
At the time East Coast settlers arrived in 1851, indigenous people had lived along the shorelines of Lake Washington and throughout the Puget Sound region for over four thousand years. These early inhabitants were known collectively as the Coast Salish or Puget Sound Salish people. A group of Duwamish living around Lake Washington were called “People of the Lake,” or xacua’bsh (hah-choo-ABSH). Their language is Lushootseed, and they called the northern tip of Seward Park peninsula skEba’kst (skuh-BAHKST), from the word for “nose”. They referred to the isthmus as cqa’lapsEb (TSKAH-lap-suhb), from the word for “neck”. Their permanent winter longhouses were nearby, near Leschi to the north and Brighton Beach south of here, but only summer encampments were believed to be located at Seward Park itself.
The federal Donation Land Claim Act of 1850 allowed US citizens the right to claim land in the Oregon Territory – of which Seattle was a part until 1853 – once Native American title was extinguished by treaty. The Coast Salish ceded their territory around Seattle only in 1855, with the Treaty of Point Elliott, although non-Native settlers started claiming land along Elliott Bay as early as 1852. The treaty designated reservation land and reserved certain hunting and fishing rights for recognized tribes, but with a burgeoning city offering trade and labor opportunities and strong ties to the land dating back thousands of years, many indigenous people continued to live outside the reservation. In 1865, Seattle passed an ordinance calling for the removal of Indians from the town. The ordinance remained in place until 1867, when the state legislature dissolved the government of Seattle. When the town was reincorporated in 1869, the ban was not re-enacted, although extralegal attempts to exclude and persecute Native people continued.
More information on the traditions of the Coast Salish people can be found on the interpretive signage by the tennis courts at the south end of the park, which is toward the end of this tour.
In 1903, when John Charles Olmsted arrived in Seattle, most of the peninsula was owned by Pennsylvania real estate investor William Bailey. He had purchased it for $26,000 in 1889. It was connected to the mainland by an isthmus that flooded every year, turning the peninsula into an island. Bailey Peninsula totaled 277 acres, 120 of which was old growth forest. Because of its difficult access, it had never been logged.
In 1892 Seattle Parks Superintendent E.O. Schwagerl recommended that the City buy the property, but with the recession of 1893 and it being so far out of town, the purchase was not made. When John Charles Olmsted toured the area on May 5, 1903, he wrote to his wife that evening:
We had lunch on Bailey Peninsula. The tree growth her[e] is very good, some very large maples, and a good number of large firs, especially on the east. There have been several small areas partially cleared, and other areas could be added so as to give good pic-nic ground. The topography of the peninsula is sufficiently varied to be exceedingly interesting, and as a terminus to the system of park-ways it would be especially good. A loop-drive, kept well up on the high ground, would, with a little judicious cutting, give beautiful views over Lake Washington.
John Charles Olmsted recommended that the City should purchase Bailey peninsula in his 1903 report, agreeing with Schwagerl’s earlier assessment. The peninsula would be a key element in the Olmsted plan, serving as the anchor of a landscaped boulevard that would wind north along Lake Washington. The peninsula was annexed to the City in 1907 along with Columbia City, West Seattle, Ballard, and South Park.
The City Council adopted the Olmsted plan in late 1903. However, it wasn’t until 1908 that the Bailey family agreed to sell the peninsula, and then at an asking price ($430,000 or $2,000 per acre) that the city considered exorbitant. The City finally acquired Bailey Peninsula in 1911, after condemning the land and paying the family $322,000, based on a fair-market value of $1,500 an acre.
The new park was named in honor of William H. Seward, who arranged for the purchase of Alaska in 1867 as Secretary of State under President Andrew Johnson. Seward also served as Secretary of State under President Abraham Lincoln and was a prominent figure in the Republican Party in its formative years. Seward strongly opposed the spread of slavery and throughout his early career advanced the rights of black residents in New York State. As Secretary of State in the months leading up to the Civil War, he worked hard to keep the southern states from seceding. With the onset of the war, Seward devoted his efforts to the Union cause and persuaded Great Britain and France from interfering in ways that would have bolstered the confederacy’s standing and resources. Following the Civil War, Seward became an ardent expansionist, leading to the acquisition of the Alaska Territory.
In 1912 the Olmsted Brothers prepared a preliminary plan for Seward Park, laying out general concepts for the park that exist today: a mix of shoreline, meadows, picnic areas, bathing beaches and play areas, ringing what Olmsted called the “Magnificent Forest” — the largest stand of native forest in the city.
Olmsted’s plan located programmed spaces, such as a dancing pavilion, croquet lawn, basketball and tennis courts, play area and a small boat harbor on the northern shore of the park. The majority of the park featured the old growth forest, which visitors could explore via several meandering trails or view from roadways that would have criss-crossed the woodland interior. Their design also proposed several smaller beaches and numerous “summer houses,” or pavilions, located throughout the woodland or perched along the shoreline. The lawn you are standing on was still underwater in 1912, when the lake water level was several feet higher. Olmsted proposed a canal cut through the isthmus for canoes and other small boats to travel through, with a vehicular bridge connecting to the peninsula – that bridge would have been where the entry circle is now built.
In 1916, the Montlake Cut of the Lake Washington Ship Canal was opened, lowering the lake nine feet and adding 70 acres to Seward Park. Other changes to the parkland included filling the wetlands in this area, road construction, and restroom and other building construction.
Olmsted’s plan was never fully implemented, but his 1912 plan influenced later development in the park, and the forest has largely been preserved.
Walk to the east side of the Clay Studio and stop near the door.
In 1926-27, with the construction of the entry drive and circle, two restrooms were built on this spot — these form the two ends of today’s building, which at some later point had a center section added with dressing rooms, office and first aid station. The addition was made possible through the federal Works Progress Administration. As times and customs changed, the bathhouse was used less and less, and SPR Cultural Arts Director Mildred Noble saw an opportunity to accommodate a growing arts program. In 1970, a skylight was added and the building was converted to an arts and crafts studio.
Walk north along the shoreline path. Stop along the steep slope you see to the right.
This small cliff rising on your right is probably part of an earthquake scarp, and it gives us rare glimpses of some of Seattle’s bedrock (through most of the city, the bedrock is buried deep beneath glacial deposits) – keep an eye out for some of the underlying rock layers as you walk along. A Seattle fault zone runs east-west through this part of the city, and it is likely that an earthquake from ~1,100 years ago uplifted and created this scarp. The bedrock here is soft sandstone, and its composition tells us that it was formed at a time when Seattle was still underwater. Harder conglomerates are exposed slightly to the north, where they project into Andrews Bay in the small promontory of Kingfisher Point near the dock storage area. These outcrops, along with outcrops at Alki Point and on the west side of Beacon Hill, are the only bedrock exposures in Seattle, which is mostly covered in glacial deposits. For more information on the geology of Seward Park, link to http://www.sewardpark.org/geology.html or https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/rosetta-stones/seward-park-a-scientific-wonderland-in-seattle/
Olmsted’s plan envisioned a shoreline path and a “West Bluff Drive” that ran along the top of this bluff. His design called for a loop drive along the top of bluff around the entire peninsula, with another drive winding through the center of the forest. Today’s Skebexced Trail loosely follows the alignment of that center drive, in the north end of the park.
This loop road along the shoreline, originally built for cars, was recommended to be closed to vehicular traffic in 1971. It was apparently being used for “washing of cars, racing, etc.” (Sherwood history files)
As you walk along the bluff, notice how tree roots snake down the exposed surface of the slope. The root systems of large woody trees and shrubs are very important in preventing landslides on these steep slopes. The majority of trees along here are Douglas fir and big leaf maple.
Walk approximately 50 yards north along the shoreline road and stop at the red fire hydrant on the right.
For over a decade, efforts to restore and enhance the “Magnificent Forest” have been led by the Green Seattle Partnership, Audubon Society, Seattle Parks staff, and Forest Steward volunteers. These efforts have been greatly supported by an anonymous donation of over $1 million to support these efforts. Notice the large stand of Himalayan blackberry near the hydrant. Each year these groups remove invasive species and replant portions of the park with native plants. More on this topic later near the Fish Hatchery trail.
Walk north along the shoreline road to the point jutting into the lake just beyond the swimming platform and the Andrews Bay Trailhead. Stop nearby.
The Olmsted Brothers’ Plan for Seward Park reflected their basic design philosophy, that each park should have its own individual identity (“genius of place”). Proposed improvements included eight small “summer houses,” a dance pavilion, tennis courts and viewing tower that would be fitted into the forest setting. One of those summer houses was to be located on this small point, with another located up the hill directly east of it.
The City failed to fully implement the Olmsted’s design for Seward Park. 1913 was a year in which money was tight. That year saw many letters passed between the City and the firm discussing their “exhorbitant” bills.
Walk north along the shoreline road and stop at the Poison Oak sign, near the fishing dock.
Over the decades people have wondered how this peninsula escaped being logged when the rest of Seattle was logged. Some people have assumed the enormous amount of poison oak in the park kept the loggers at bay. However, that never seemed to stop loggers in other parts of the Pacific Northwest from clearcutting forests. It is now believed that the simple reason was that this peninsula was far out of town, and inaccessible due to the periodic flooding across the isthmus. Once the land was purchased for a park and Lake Washington was lowered nine feet, logging no longer was a possibility, thankfully!
Keep walking on the shoreline road around the north end of the peninsula. Stop near the beach.
Because this was a suitable place for a harbor, the Olmsteds felt that the north end of the park should be where the park’s main features are located, boats being an easy method to get to the park in 1912. This is where a boat dock, bathing beach, playground, changing facilities, and active recreational opportunities were to be located. It is, after all, the closest part of the park to the rest of Seattle. This would have included a grand total of 70 men’s bath houses and 40 women’s bath houses as well.
Turn right at the North Beach Trailhead and head up the Skebexed Trail. Stop at the junction with the north end of Huckleberry Trail.
The Olmsted’s Preliminary Plan called for much development and programmed activity here. West of this spot the Olmsteds envisioned a Dancing Pavilion, Giants’ Stride, croquet lawn, swings, and seesaws. To the east was to be a basketball court and tennis courts.
For the next several stops, you will walk through the “Magnificent Forest,” still the largest stand of old growth forest in Seattle.
As we walk through the “Magnificent Forest,” consider the immersive experience of being surrounded by these woods. Though Olmsted’s vision at this particular spot was a bit different from what we experience today, he also believed in the restorative value of bringing a person into the midst of a largely natural, wilder setting within the city environment.
Designing landscapes to create a sense of being immersed in, and enveloped by, nature began with Olmsted Senior. Before the Olmsted’s practice, designed landscapes were more typically considered and manipulated for pictorial effect, or organized to a recognizable geometry and order. Though nature’s beauty was to be admired, it was done so distantly, as a view from a train window or across a pond. In contrast, Olmsted began practicing during the height of the Romantic period when musicians, poets and philosophers were deeply inspired by and expressive of natural qualities and also carried the message that humans are part of nature, not separate from it. Olmsted’s philosophy is certainly in line with these ideas, as he believed in healthful benefits to be gained from being in the natural world. As he once wrote: “It is one great purpose of the Park to supply to the hundreds of thousands of tired workers, who have no opportunity to spend their summers in the country, a specimen of God’s handiwork that shall be to them, inexpensively, what a month or two in the White Mountains or the Adirondacks is, at great cost, to those in easier circumstances.”
Although his main point in this remark was that public parks should provide relief for all city residents, the form of that relief was “God’s handiwork,” i.e., nature.
Walk about 50 yards south of the last stop until you reach some logs on the ground to the left of the trail.
The Forest Stewards are using mulch berms and logs along the main trail to discourage people from making social paths through the forest. This is an effort to keep soil compaction to a minimum in order to preserve newly-planted native plants and the very precious old-growth trees.
Just a few feet further along the main trail is a large big leaf maple with fungal conks growing out of its trunk. This fungus is commonly called the Artist Conk (Ganoderma applanatum) because the white spore surface turns brown when touched, or drawn on, as shown in the photo. The fungus is growing inside the tree while the conk is its external fruiting body or reproductive organ.
This and other fungi are natural parts of our native forests. This forest is an excellent outdoor classroom for arborists and other tree lovers to learn about tree diseases in western Washington. Arborists from all over the Pacific Northwest come to this park to learn how to identify and manage trees found in remnant conifer forests in the urban environment. The main goal is to teach professionals about the many ecosystem components of native forests, how they work together as a whole, and how to manage these forests for people to enjoy safely without having to remove old trees unnecessarily.
Continue walking along Skebexed Trail ~1/2 mile and stop at the junction with the south end of Huckleberry Trail.
A few yards off to the left the Olmsteds proposed to have a Hilltop Tower built, providing a view over the park and the lake.
If you are interested in the Park’s native plants, link here for a plant list of native plants in the park: http://www.sewardpark.org/plantsck.html. Look for Western redcedar, Western hemlock, Douglas fir, sword fern, evergreen huckleberry, salal, and Oregon grape. Notice that a lot of replanting has been done in this area. Invasives are being removed and young native plants planted to establish a more balanced ecosystem. This work is being done by Friends of Seward Park, Seattle Parks staff, the Green Seattle Partnership, and Forest Steward volunteers. Seattle Audubon leads volunteer work parties mostly in the south end of the Park.
Continue walking along Skebexced Trail and at the junction with Andrews Bay and Fish Hatchery Trails turn left and walk 50 yards to look down upon the old Fish Hatchery area.
Twenty rearing ponds were built in 1935 as part of an effort to make Lake Washington a “fisherman’s paradise.” By the 1940s, the hatchery was releasing 250,000 trout annually. Its negative impact on the natural ecology of the lake led to its closure in 1978. The hatchery was used as an educational research lab by the UW’s Department of Fisheries until 1997, when it was shut down altogether. Most of the ponds were removed, but five were retained as historical artifacts, along with the stone bridge over a now-dry waterfall and a pumphouse on the shore.
The construction of the hatchery, during the Great Depression, put 300 people to work under the Washington Emergency Relief Act as part of the Civil Works Administration and the WPA.
Turn around and walk back to the intersection with the Skebexced Trail and look down to the west through the trees.
The area west of this spot is where the Olmsteds intended the stables, toolhouse, service yard, and park foreman’s house to be located.
Die-off of native sword fern has been happening in this area at an alarming rate. It’s happening in other areas of the park and the region as well. This has been happening for a decade, and researchers at the University of Washington and Washington State are working with park professionals to try and determine the cause. For more information on what is being done regarding the sword fern die-off, link to http://sewardparkswordferndieoff.blogspot.com.
Continue south (left) on the Skebexced Trail and turn right just before its south end onto the Lost Lake Trail. Take the immediate left fork and cross two small bridges before coming to a longer boardwalk.
There is no historical evidence of the existence of a lake or pond here prior to the Olmsted Brothers’ Preliminary Plan of 1912. The Olmsteds named this area Woodland Pool and marked it on their plan. It is now believed that they intended to create a pond here, but it never was built. All the same, one can see evidence of a wetland environment here, with thickets of salmonberry, western redcedar trees, snowberry, and thimbleberry.
Continue along the Lost Lake Trail and stop across the road near Picnic Shelter #3.
This southern highland portion of Seward Park is known as “Pinoy Hill.” Filipinos in Seattle hold annual community picnics on Pinoy Hill, to celebrate both the national sovereignty of the Philippines, granted by President Truman in 1946 (prior to then, it had been a US territory), and the passage of the Filipino Naturalization Bill earlier that year. Originally held on July 4th, the day the Philippines gained independence, the picnic was later moved to June 12th to commemorate the Philippine Republic’s 1898 Declaration of Independence from Spain.
Additionally, Filipino immigrants in the 19th and early 20th centuries brought with them the tradition of the Pista sa Nayon – meaning “town festival” – for centuries held to celebrate a successful harvest. While Pista sa Nayon festivals are held in many communities with large Filipino-American populations, Seattle’s celebration remains the largest. This Seafair staple includes the Ihaw-Ihaw Jam, featuring live performances by mostly Filipino-American rock bands.
Walk to the west of Picnic Shelter #3 and take the steps leading up to a trail along the top of the knoll. Stop at the top of the stairs.
Olmsted took note of this high point in his 1912 plan and proposed locating a “Pinnacle Summer House” here.
South of this location, along the slope leading down to the shore, a native oak ecosystem is being reintroduced. This oak savanna, called Clark’s Prairie, once extended from the southern end of the peninsula, along the lake shoreline south ~1/2 mile to where Martha Washington Park is today. It was named after Edward Clark, Seattle’s third schoolteacher and one of the two earliest Euro-American settlers to stake a claim here. Clark’s Prairie is the home of Seattle’s only remaining significant grove of Garry oak trees (Quercus garryana). Also called Oregon white oak, this species reminds us of an earlier drier climate when native Americans would periodically burn oak savanna grasslands in order to keep fire-susceptible species like Douglas fir out and foods such as camas, acorns, and berries thriving.
Continue along the trail and down some stairs, turning right at the bottom to reach the back of the Audubon Center. Walk around and stop in front of the Audubon Center.
The building that now houses the Audubon Center was built in 1927 and named the Seward Park Inn. This Tudor-style building was built and operated as a concession stand by J. Frank and Catherine C. Redfield. The concessions stand was on the ground floor while the Redfields lived on the second floor with their two daughters. From the 1930’s onward, the business struggled and the Redfields gave it up in 1943.
The building remained in use as a concession stand for some years. The park foreman used the second floor as a residence until 1968. The building has since been designated a historic landmark. It is now operated as a nature education center by the Audubon Society in partnership with the Seattle Parks Department.
Head southwest to the tennis courts and interpretive signage along the shoreline here.
In 2017 the City of Seattle finished construction of a 2.65 million-gallon storage tank to hold combined sewer overflows that in the past had dumped directly into Lake Washington due to heavy rainfall, up to seventeen times a year. The City placed the vaults under an existing parking lot and tennis courts. FSOP and other community groups worked with project designers to enhance the shoreline experience and improve path connections. Enjoy reading the series of interpretive signs here.
John Charles Olmsted’s 1912 plan envisioned a series of wharves at this location that would accommodate ferries, commerce and motorboats. Though we have not discovered any written account of boating activity in this area, there is photographic evidence of a boathouse once having stood along the park’s south shore. Here is a photo from 1936. An aerial photo (USGS) from the same year also shows a structure in the water, connected to the park’s south shore by a long boardwalk.
From the tennis courts, walk north across the driveway to the garden located in the middle of the entry circle. Take the stone-paved path, marked by a boulder, leading into the garden. Stop at the large stone lantern.
This eight-ton Yamato granite lantern was given by the city of Yokohama, Japan in 1930 in thanks for Seattle’s assistance after a 1923 earthquake that devastated Yokohama and Tokyo. This and the gift of three Kwanzan cherry trees in 1929 were part of an international diplomacy effort by the Japanese government and Japanese-Americans to strengthen cultural and economic ties between the two countries. The three original trees were eventually followed by more than 3,500 additional cherry trees, donated to the Parks Department, which were planted along the Boulevard, at Green Lake, Volunteer Park and elsewhere throughout the City.
Continue north across the entrance drive to the lawn and the construction site for the Torii Gate, in June 2020 waiting to be erected.
A 26-foot timber Torii was constructed at the entrance to Seward Park in 1934 by Seattle’s Japanese American community as part of the International Potlatch celebration. The Torii was removed in the mid-1980’s due to decay. Watch the video on the Torii Story here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0By7W3D3hLZ4SdS02X1hOOVJuYUE/view
With a planning grant from the Department of Neighborhoods, the Friends of Seward Park has hired landscape architectural firm Murase Associates, working with Takumi Company, to gather community input on the design of a new torii. The columns (hashira) of the torii will be made of natural basalt columns from central Washington. The lintel (kasagi) will be made of a single minimally worked piece of western red cedar. The crosspiece (nuki) will be a worked piece of wood that contrasts with the kasagi. It is expected that installation of the new Torii will be completed in 2020.
On the slope immediately west of the entrance to Seward Park is a residential neighborhood. This is the Uplands development, platted and conceptualized by the Olmsted Brothers firm in 1924-25.
Real estate investor A.C. Frost hired the Olmsted Brothers firm to plan the Uplands neighborhood. They laid out the community, which extended west as far as 51st Ave, with curvilinear tree-lined streets and neighborhood parks and homesites with views to Lake Washington and Mount Rainier. The design included a short strip of business buildings at Wilson Ave and Orcas Street and “Aerielle Plaza” as an entry point for the neighborhood at Orcas and Seward Park Ave (a pair of arced stone walls mark this entrance today). James Dawson’s design also proposed how Lake Washington Boulevard might terminate at Seward Park. Work by the Olmsted Brothers on the Uplands included grading, planting, lot platting, and road layout plans.
At about the same period that the Uplands was being developed, real estate developments throughout Seattle began adopting racially restrictive covenants to prevent African Americans and other people of color from moving in. This and related segregationist practices continued up until 1968, when Congress passed the Housing Rights Act. This 1948 graphic from the Seattle newspaper, the New World, illustrates in general terms how widespread these practices were in Seattle and how effectively they kept the city segregated.
As of this writing, we haven’t found evidence that the Uplands adopted racially restrictive covenants, but in 1960 a group of white neighbors, led by realtor John L. Scott, tried to prevent an African American physician and his family from moving in. The Civic Unity Committee (CUC) documented what happened. Dr. J.R. Henry ultimately moved his family in without disturbance that December, though Scott delivered a parting message saying Henry was “no gentleman” for refusing Scott’s offer (to buy him out).
This concludes our tour! We hope you enjoyed this self-guided version of our tour of Seward Park!
The Friends of Seattle’s Olmsted Parks mourn the tragic loss of life due to injustice, racism, or intolerance. We remember George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Manuel Ellis, Roger Reese and Barry Lawson, and countless others as we condemn the continued violence and oppression against Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. We, as did the Olmsteds, believe in a society that honors and protects the personal rights and freedoms that work to make everyone feel welcome and safe.
The Friends of Seattle’s Olmsted Parks commit to understanding our role in dismantling institutional racism and to seek partnerships with individuals and communities to further inform the ways our historic parks can effectively serve them. We will seek broader understanding of the factors and policies that helped form our historic park system so as to acknowledge and communicate this history fully and transparently. We will incorporate these lessons in our ongoing efforts to support the Olmsted legacy of a park system meant to provide access, and value, equally throughout our community.
Go here to read our statement on race and social justice.
We are happy to announce that the first of our self-guided tour scripts is now available online. The tour will lead you through Interlaken Park and along Interlaken Boulevard, learning about historical events and designs that helped shape this forest oasis within our city. You can find the tour script, here.
Many thanks to everyone who submitted their photos, artwork and artpieces for our slide show! It is fabulous to see how our natural environment inspires us and what elements, in particular, draw our eye and mind to attention. We hope you enjoy this slide show presentation, in honor of Earth Day’s 50th Anniversary.
We also encourage each of you to take part in “Voices Carry,” a project being created by Earth Day NW: https://earthdaynw2020.org/voicescarry/ You can add your own message and ideas for change in order to better protect our environment. In the words of Kristi England, executive director of Earth Day Northwest 2020: “In supporting this campaign, you will encourage thousands to get involved, and share their own unique visions of how they want to see the future unfold.”
We hope also that your thoughts and intentions this Earth Day include ways to continue preserving Seattle’s natural open spaces and parks, including our Olmsted system that first established this open space network.