Friends of Seattle’s Olmsted Parks: How it Started

As we celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of the founder of America’s landscape architectural profession, Frederick Law Olmsted, it’s hard to fathom how lucky we are in Seattle to have a nationally recognized system of interconnected parks and boulevards known as one of the best-preserved Olmsted designed park systems outside of New York and Boston.

The beginning

In the late 1970s, the Buffalo Friends of Olmsted Parks (now the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy), in New York, recognized that their city was facing a crisis in their park system. They saw parallels between the park systems of Buffalo and Seattle, and as a result, in 1978, they reached out to Seattle as a part of their effort to build a network of people interested in stewarding Olmsted parks across the country.

In 1980, Seattle Parks Superintendent Walter Hundley and Seattle Parks Department Development Director Donald Harris traveled to Buffalo for an Olmsted Conference. There, they learned about the larger context and the historical significance of the Olmsted park system in Seattle. At this same meeting, attendees formed the National Association for Olmsted Parks (known as the “NAOP”) to increase the awareness of the Olmsted firm and its work across the United States and Canada. (See www.olmsted.org.)

Hundley and Harris understood that, moving forward, Seattle needed to invest in restoring, preserving and protecting its park system’s unique and historic character. They recognized that the elements of the system that made it astonishing when it was originally designed and built also made it a priceless resource for Seattle’s future generations. Realizing they wouldn’t be able to do it alone, they engaged the community to develop an awareness of Seattle’s remarkable park system and an appreciation of its history, and to find others interested in joining in this educational and advocacy effort. In 1981, a core group of volunteers came together to form the Friends of Seattle’s Olmsted Parks (known as “FSOP”). 

our mission

The Friends of Seattle’s Olmsted Parks 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. FSOP volunteers work closely with Seattle of Parks and Recreation and other public agencies and community groups to provide independent review of projects in Seattle’s interconnected system of Olmsted designed and inspired parks and boulevards.

FSOP has worked a lot with Washington Park Arboretum over the years. For instance, we partnered with the Arboretum to advocate for Master Plan project funding from the State 520 mitigation process and also worked with the Arboretum partners on the development of the Loop Trail. The Loop Trail work included daylighting large sections of a degraded urban creek channel and providing extensive native plant restoration. When the lamp posts along Lake Washington Boulevard needed to be replaced in 2012, we helped the Arboretum secure historically appropriate lighting to preserve the Olmsted character of the parkway. Most recently, we helped fund an Olmsted Legacy project scoping study re-envisioning Crabapple Meadow as a welcoming, year-round event and celebration space. A concept drawing produced by Seattle Parks and Recreation during the study will help the Arboretum in its plans to revitalize this area—designated as part of the old nursery in the original 1936 Olmsted Brothers design—into a functional, ecologically sound, and aesthetically pleasing garden.  

moving forward

As the FSOP moves into 2022, the group continues to advocate for and provide education about the nearly 80 Olmsted legacy parks and boulevards in Seattle, as well as landscapes throughout the Pacific Northwest, including the grounds of our Washington State Capitol in Olympia. This work is guided by Olmsted’s principle of using plants—especially native species—in an environmentally sustainable way, as well as continuing to ensure that maintenance and expansion are done in a way that takes into consideration the equitable distribution of, and access to, Seattle’s Olmsted envisioned park and boulevard system. We will continue our collaborative efforts to restore and protect these amazing landscapes and the beautiful vistas of our natural surroundings that they reveal.

Sources:

• “Olmsted in Seattle” by Jennifer Ott and the HistoryLink staff

• Andy Mitton, Project Lead / Landscape Architect at Berger Partnership

• SeattleOlmsted.org

• OlmstedOnline.org 

Guided Tours Are Back!

2022 FSOP Guided Walking Tours
Get to Know the Seattle Olmsted Park and Boulevard System! Click on links below for more information and to sign up. Space is limited and FREE registation is required.

Celebrating Earth Day 2021 with Coyote Central

During this past year so many of us have been rekindling our fondness for green space and especially the city parks. Gaining a hyper appreciation for the views, natural wooded areas, and the ability to leave our homes for even a brief respite. With schools closed we have seen kids returning to parks in new ways – with family, pets or making their own field trips.

To celebrate Earth Day this year we have partnered with the very creative people at Coyote Central. Students were asked about preservation, access, and reconnecting with nature in Seattle’s Olmsted Parks. Here is a slideshow of posters created by students ages 10 – 15. We hope you find them as inspiring as we do!

  • Olmsted Parks - A place to connect. Computer illustration of people spending time in Volunteer Park, looking out at the city skyline with the space need. The sun is setting in a brilliant orange sky. A girl poses with her dog in the famous "donut" sculpture, two women walk with children, and a few other people are sitting on the grass surroudning the resevoir enjoying the park.
  • Root for trees! Wave back to the ocean. Digital art. In front of an abstract galaxy, a globe is topped with a gigantic tree covering most of a hempisphere. Rotating the image 180 degrees, a giant red octopus grabs onto the opposite site of the globe in a dark blue ocean.
  • Be the solution, Not the pollution! Hand-drawn poster. Large block letters and a globe site atop a wall of words including pollution, trash, deterioration, gross, catastrophe, plastic, downfall, and abuse. Occasional yellow words through include reduce, love, and water.
  • Everyone Needs a Space to Breathe. Protect Seattle Olmsted parks. Watercolor of volunteer park black ring sculpture with abstract space needle, resevoir, and trees in the background.
  • Protect Connect. An elaborate collage featured hands covered in green ivy atop a background of abstract nature images in shades of green. Phrases are pasted on top of background. Dissolve into the earth / we sha'll become one. Sway with the leaves / let us dance together. Take your time / like the old wise snail. Shine like the sun / help others grow. Explore the earth / proect her. Skip like a stone / over the creek. Bloom like a flower / and fill others with love.
  • Earth Loves You! Love It back! A hand drawn sketch of a person in a green hat walking up a hill in the hot sun. The word "Earth" is filled with green and blue like the planet.
  • Protecting nature youth artwork, with an orca jumping over the Seattle Space Needle

Funding the Beach at Be’er Sheva Park

logo for Rainier Beach Link2Lake

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. 

current shoreline conditions at Be’er Sheva

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.

along Henderson Street
Henderson Street connection to lightrail

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.

Call for Volunteers

Are you interested in becoming more involved in matters regarding our Seattle Olmsted parks and boulevards? Consider joining us!

Historical photo showing rustic road bridge in Interlaken Park

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.

Please contact FSOP President Douglas Luetjen at friends@seattleolmsted.org if you are interested in getting more involved!

Color photo of about 25 people gathered together in middle of vegetated meadow.
Walking tour through WA Park Arboretum

Update on New and Restored Paths at Volunteer Park

We are very excited that a further piece of Olmsted’s original design for Volunteer Park is now being restored and/or installed for the first time! ‘New’ pathways are currently being constructed, and existing paths repaved, in the park’s eastern greensward as part of mitigation efforts for the SAAM expansion project.

A gently sweeping path leading NE from the water tower to the central area of the greensward was originally proposed by John Charles Olmsted to connect these two features of the park. On-site discoveries suggest that this path did originally get built, but it was lost and disappeared over time.

A second, new path extension will formalize an existing “desire path” into the park at its SE corner. In addition, a new pathway north of the SAAM museum will replace a former walk leading through the museum’s service area to provide a cleaner, safer connection between the greensward and the park’s central concourse.

If you happen to visit Volunteer Park sometime in the next several months, you will also encounter much temporary fencing — these are in place for general safety and/or to protect the existing mature trees on-site.

For more info, please visit http://volunteerparktrust.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Path-Restoration-Flyer-Nov-2018.pdf

crushed rock path leading between two tall shrubs, with chain link fencing in background

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Olmsted 200. Celebrating Parks for All People

We are a proud partner of the Olmsted 200 campaign, a nationwide bicentennial birthday celebration of the democratic values and enduring influence of the visionary American landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted.

Join the celebration at Olmsted200.org