Map Legend:

  • Pre-1903
  • 1903-1909
  • 1909-1913
  • After 1913
  • Unrealized

Seattle's Olmsted Parks

Map categories reflect early patterns of parks acquisition and development.

When John Charles Olmsted first arrived in Seattle in the spring of 1903, there were a few city parks and several privately-owned parks already established. It was a common practice at the time for speculators to buy up property for community development at the end of a streetcar line, and as part of that development, they would set aside a recreational area along a lakeshore or other scenic spot as a way to draw would-be residents to the neighborhood. Olmsted recommended that many of these “streetcar destination” parks be acquired by the city. These pre-existing recreational sites, both private and public, are indicated as “pre-1903” on the map, except for those parks that were later designed by the Olmsted Brothers firm.

Between 1903 and 1909

The year of the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition, there was a huge push by the city of Seattle to acquire and develop many of the parks and boulevards recommended in the Olmsted Brothers 1903 report. A major incentive for this was the upcoming Expo and the many thousands of visitors anticipated to arrive that year. For that, a series of boulevards and adjacent parks were created as an approach to the fairgrounds at the UW campus. The Olmsted Brothers firm was deeply involved in the design of many of these parks and drives, as well as the redesign of some of the earlier parks.

From 1909 to 1913

The city continued to acquire and develop parks according to Olmsted’s recommendations. By this time, John Charles had produced an additional report, in 1908, that would expand the parks and boulevards system into newly annexed areas, including West Seattle, South Seattle and Ballard. The Olmsted Brothers provided design drawings for some of the parks developed during this period, and they also provided input on parcels designed by city staff and others. At the city’s request, Olmsted produced one more set of recommendations in 1910, this time focusing on playfield and playground locations throughout the city.

After 1913

With the economy slowing down, new parks development drew to a temporary standstill as well. The Olmsted Brothers firm designed only one more Seattle park after this time – the Washington Park Arboretum in the 1930’s, several years after John Charles’ death. But as the city and the Parks Department has grown over the decades, newer parks have continued to be added to the system, many of them in locations and designed for uses similar to what Olmsted had recommended many years earlier. These parks show up on the map as “1913-present.”

Unrealized Properties

We have added one further category – those parks and boulevards that have never been built – as a record of Olmsted’s vision for these areas of the city and for the city as a whole. These are the “unrealized” properties shown on the map.

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