Olmsted Legacy Task Force – Final Report

After several months of meetings, presentation, discussion and review, the Olmsted Legacy Task Force came out with its final recommendations report earlier this spring. The set of recommendations can be found here: https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1CTF9hzUI1fjlB5u4Htp21p_iSkCHhX1K

Anticipated next steps are adoption of the findings by the Board of Park Commissioners and implementation by Seattle Parks and Recreation.

Hand-drawn map of Seattle, titled "Parks, Boulevards and Playgrounds of Seattle," issued by the board of park commissioners in 1909.

2019 Summer Walking Tours

black and white photo of manicured sloping lawn with crushed rock path on the uphill side. Large trees are in the lawn and along the path in the background.
Upper Kinnear Park in 1925 (SMA postcard collection, 73333)

Join us for monthly walking tours in Seattle’s Olmsted parks and start your weekend with a dose of beauty, nature, and history!  We meet the third Saturday of each month, May-September.  Tour locations and dates are noted below. Appropriate for all ages and lasting approximately 2 hours. Contact friends@seattleolmsted.org for more information about specific tours.

May 18th
Kinnear Park and SW Queen Anne Hill
9:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m.

Meet at the stairway entrance at 7th Ave and W Olympic Place. 

June 15th
Denny-Blaine, Lakeview and Viretta Parks 
10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.

Meet in the parking lot at Denny-Blaine Park

July 20th
Schmitz Preserve Park 
10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.

Meet in the parking lot at 5551 SW Admiral Way

August 17th

Discovery Park 
10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.

Meet in the south parking lot off West Emerson and McLaren.

September 21st*

UW Campus/ A-Y-P Exposition
10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.

Start location TBD

*This is the FSOP annual meeting, please join us for potluck lunch after the tour.

Celebrating April 30 as “Seattle Olmsted Day”!

black and white image of John Charles Olmsted working on a drawing at his desk
John Charles Olmsted (Image courtesy Seattle Municipal Archives)

John Charles Olmsted first arrived in Seattle on Thursday, April 30, 1903, setting in motion the creation of our city’s connected system of parks and boulevards that is still largely intact today. To recognize the Olmsted Brothers’ impact on Seattle’s modern-day parks system and its influence on citywide development, and to honor the firm’s significant standing and achievements in landscape architecture and city planning nationwide, the Friends of Seattle’s Olmsted Parks would like to celebrate April 30 as “Seattle Olmsted Day.”

John Charles’ first morning in Seattle started with a visit to two local highpoints – the then-designated county courthouse on First Hill, and Washington Hotel on Denny Hill – that afforded great views over much of the downtown area. After visually surveying the city core, Olmsted and his assistant, Percy Jones, were escorted by several park board commissioners and city surveyor Captain John Pratt on their initial sojourn of the larger metropolitan area, starting with a tour of Volunteer and Lincoln (now Cal Anderson) Parks, then moving eastward to Madison and, from there, crossing Union Bay to its northeastern shore. The group continued their explorations the following week, each day reaching and traversing another area of the city either by streetcar, boat or by foot. Olmsted walked Cotterill’s bicycle path system to Bailey Peninsula, now Seward Park, about two-and-a-half miles south of the city boundary, and Fort Lawton (today, Discovery Park). He and Jones observed improvements made at existing parks and noted the terrain and native vegetation and spectacular views to water and distant mountains throughout their site reconnaissance. Afternoons and evenings often consisted of meetings and dinners with city leaders.

Black and white photo from 1903 showing eight men standing on grassy slope with copse of trees behind them.
Taken at Lake Washington on May 1, 1903. Pictured L-R are: E.F. Blaine, Captain Pratt, E.F. Fuller, J.C. Olmsted, P.R. Jones, C.W. Saunders, J.E. Shrewsbury, A.L. Walters.

The following Monday, May 11, Olmsted presented to the city council and urged them to acquire more, choicer land for parks and parkways before private development claimed these parcels. He particularly stressed setting aside shoreline and adjacent areas for public enjoyment and view opportunities, noting that “[y]our harbor front must be devoted to commerce, but around Lake Washington, Green Lake and other fresh water bodies there is an abundance of park possibilities, such views of wooded hills and outside views that are seldom met with. These lands, too, are going so fast that the city right now should take advantage of the time to secure them before they are all occupied or the native woods cut away.”

Olmsted also met with the Chamber of Commerce later that month and started sketching out a preliminary plan for park acquisitions. Given how ambitious his proposals were, Olmsted worked with the park commissioners to arrive at a much-reduced plan that could be more immediately attainable. Both his larger set of recommendations and a “reduced plan for the near future” are described in his final report, sent to the Board of Park Commissioners on July 2, 1903.

Following the approval of this plan, John Charles Olmsted and the Olmsted Brothers firm were hired by the Board of Park Commissioners several times in subsequent years to help develop site plans and detailed design for many of the parks and also to produce supplemental planning reports for an expanding city and in response to a growing awareness of the need for more playgrounds and playfields. The Olmsted Brothers further shaped the city’s public open space with their design of the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition grounds, on the University of Washington campus, in 1909. The firm’s last project for the city was completed between 1935 and 1939, when James Dawson created plans for a new arboretum at Washington Park.

Map of city of Seattle from the early 20th century, showing areas proposed for parks and routes proposed for boulevards, overlaid with quotes from the 1903 Olmsted report. Map is titled "Excerpts from Olmsted's 1903 Plan for Boulevards, Parks and Playgrounds."
Map illustrating Olmsted’s recommendations from hie 1903 report, with quotes from that report.

Looking for New Board Members

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 and/or our committees. Our board is typically composed of citizens with expertise in landscape architecture, history, horticulture, business management, project management and urban planning. We would like to further diversify our board to include individuals with expertise and/or interest in at least one of the following:

  • 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;
  • Accounting – looking for a candidate who can assist with our bookkeeping
  • Historical Research – looking for a candidate willing to do in-depth research on specific projects
  • 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

Terms begin in September immediately following our annual meeting on Sept. 21, 2019, 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 at the Seattle Department of Parks and Recreation headquarters (100 Dexter Ave N, 98109) in Denny Park.

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.

Please contact Douglas Luetjen at dluetjen@karrtuttle.com if you are interested in getting more involved!

Color photo of old cottonwood tree in mown lawn by the shore of Lake Washington on a sunny day.
A view of Colman Park

Olmsted Legacy Task Force Meetings in 2018

FSOP is excited to be partnering with Seattle Parks and Recreation on the Olmsted Legacy Task Force. The task force is made up of members of the FSOP board, staff members from several city departments, representatives of community organizations, such as Historic Seattle, Volunteer Park Trust, the Associated Recreation Council, Seattle Youth Soccer Association, and others. The task force will meet monthly during 2018 and the public is encouraged to attend the meetings. The next meeting is scheduled for May 30th at Parks headquarters in Denny Park at 6:30 p.m.

The task force grew out of meetings between Parks and FSOP about how to more proactively rehabilitate and preserve the city’s historic park system. As the task force web page explains, “Park planners across the country recognize Seattle’s Olmsted park system as one of the best preserved and best designed in the United States. More importantly, while many eastern cities have only one or two Olmsted-designed parks, Seattle has an extensive multi-park plan linked by boulevards. It is this legacy that makes Seattle one of the most livable spots in the country…The creation of the Olmsted Task Force is a deepening of the relationship between SPR and FSOP for the benefit of the parks in our community.”

The taskforce will focus on developing recommendations to the Superintendent and the Board of Park Commissioners. Some of these include:

• Specific standards of design related to maintaining the character and effect of the Olmsted Parks, such as park furniture, lighting, signage, and landscaping
• Best practices for maintaining our Olmsted parks and boulevards
• Educational programs for informing the public about the Olmsted legacy in Seattle
• Innovative approaches for managing Olmsted parks and boulevards
• How best to export Olmsted design elements to other parks in Seattle; how to improve existing and create new green connections between our parks
• How to prioritize funding for the recommendations above to be considered in the next iteration of the Park District funding package
• Creating a sustainable connection between SPR and the community and to improve on the existing connection between SPR and FSOP

For more information, visit the task force webpage or email friends@seattleolmsted.org.

black and white line drawing map of Seattle in 1908, showing hatched areas for existing and proposed parks and boulevard or parkway swaths.
Olmsted Park and Boulevard System, 1908. Courtesy Seattle Municipal Archives, 2390.

We are developing a book about Seattle’s Olmsted legacy!

The Friends of Seattle’s Olmsted Parks has joined with HistoryLink to produce a book about the Olmsted legacy in Seattle. FSOP sees this book as providing a much-needed tool and educational resource toward advocacy and protection of our Olmsted park and boulevard system, which is the foundation of the Seattle park system. Our current Olmsted parks system can be difficult to define by nature of its nuanced design, broad distribution, age, and continued evolution. By more fully describing the thinking of John Charles Olmsted and his associates and placing it to our modern-day city, we can create a fuller, more comprehensible rendering of this legacy.

We are thrilled that HistoryLink historian Jennifer Ott will be writing this book. She has a master’s degree in environmental and Western American history and has published numerous articles about Olmsted Brothers’ landscapes. Her nine years of experience on the FSOP board, and her extensive work on the Volunteer Park Trust steering committee, makes her the perfect choice.

HistoryLink has been publishing top-quality books for more than 15 years. They have recently partnered with Documentary Media and have produced titles such as Waterway: The Story of Seattle’s Locks and Ship Canal, co-authored by Jennifer Ott.

We are joining with HistoryLink to raise money for this book and hope that you will consider a donation, working towards our goal of $95,000. The book will be released mid-year 2019. Donors will receive a copy upon publication and will be listed in the book.

Donations can be made directly to HistoryLink at HistoryLink.org, or sent to:

HistoryLink
93 Pike Street, Suite 315B
Seattle WA 98101

Please note on your donation that you want this gift to go to the Olmsted Book Project. All proceeds from sales of the book will go to FSOP.

Book Details:
144 pages 
overall dimension — 10″ x 9″
over 100 images (both color and black and white)
5,000-copy first edition
cover price: $34.95
release date: Summer 2019

Color photo of woodland path with arching branches full of yellowing leaves overhead. A lighter path and brighter foliage in background indicate a clearing in the woods. Image is bordered at top and bottom with black bands and light text: text at top reads "Olmsted in Seattle; How the Olmsted Brothers Created Seattle's Park System," and text at bottom reads "by Jennifer Ott and the HistoryLink Staff."

2017 Walking Tour Schedule

Join us for monthly walking tours in Seattle’s Olmsted parks and start your weekend with a dose of beauty, nature, and history! The tours are FREE, appropriate for all ages and last approximately 2 hours. Contact friends@seattleolmsted.org for more information about specific tours.

All tours start at 10:00 a.m.

May 20th
Seward Park 
Meet at Seward Park Audubon Center.

June 17th
Jefferson Park
Meet at Jefferson Community Center (south side entrance).

July 15th
Green Lake Park
Meet at Green Lake Community Center (entrance at northeast corner).

August 19th
Hiawatha Playfield
Meet on west side of Hiawatha Community Center.

September 16th
Washington Park Arboretum
Meet at Graham Visitor Center.
*This is the FSOP annual meeting, please join us for potluck lunch after the tour.

Black and white photo of school-age kids playing, standing and sitting on lawn interspersed with trees.
Hiawatha Park, 1925. Photo by Asahel Curtis. Courtesy Seattle Municipal Archives, 64050.

Public Meetings for SAAM Expansion Project in Volunteer Park

Friends of Seattle’s Olmsted Parks has been involved in reviewing proposed plans for the Seattle Asian Art Museum renovation and expansion project. We wrote a letter in June to the Landmarks Board outlining our concerns about the loss of park land, the need to effectively integrate any modifications into the surrounding park, and the impact the project would have on users. You can read our letter here: Landmarks Board Letter.

FSOP will be reviewing revised plans on Monday, September 26th. We will be sending a letter to the Landmarks Board in response to those new plans and posting information on our home page.

Please attend the following public meetings to learn more about the project and to provide feedback on the proposed plans:

SAT OCT 15 2016
Asian Art Museum
1400 E Prospect St, Seattle WA 98112

SAT NOV 19 2016
Asian Art Museum
1400 E Prospect St, Seattle WA 98112

SAT DEC 10 2016
Asian Art Museum
1400 E Prospect St, Seattle WA 98112

Black and white aerial view of linear breezeway structure with slightly larger, peaked square structures at each end and a peaked oval structure bisecting the middle. A drive with pullouts and a broad walk are seen in front of the breezeway. Conifer trees and clipped lawn are in background.
Volunteer Park Concert Grove and Pergola, 1910. This structure was demolished in 1932 to make way for the Seattle Art Museum. Courtesy Seattle Municipal Archives, 30464

2016 Summer Walking Tours

Join us for monthly walking tours in Seattle’s Olmsted parks and start your weekend with a dose of beauty, nature, and history! Appropriate for all ages and lasting approximately 2 hours. Contact friends@seattleolmsted.org for more information about specific tours.

July 9th
Colman Park
10:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.
Meet at the parking lot at the base of Colman Park (access from Lake Washington Boulevard).

August 20th
Magnolia Blvd 
10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
Meet at the parking lot on Magnolia Blvd W near Howe St.

September 17th
Woodland Park
10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
Meet at the parking lot near the Woodland Park Lawn Bowling area.
*This is the FSOP annual meeting, please join us for potluck lunch after the tour in Shelter #4 (up the hill from the Woodland Park Lawn Bowling building).

color photo of six individuals standing under arbor on a sunny day. All are facing to the right, apparently at someone off-camera.
Washington Park Tour, 2015.

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