Green Lake Park and Boulevard

Green Lake Park was designed by the Olmsted Brothers between 1907 and 1912. It is located in the Green Lake neighborhood at 7201 E Greenlake Dr N, 98115. It is 323.7 acres.

At the end of the last Ice Age, what is today Green Lake was a geological remnant of glacial Lake Russell, a giant lake formed when melt-water from glaciers sitting on top of Seattle cut drainage ravines through new glacial deposits. Lake Russell disappeared when the Ice Sheet retreated, but various features remained, including the Green Lake drainage basin, which for thousands of years emptied through the Ravenna ravine into Lake Washington.

The Lake itself was named in 1855 by a US Geological surveyor who, arriving at the height of algal bloom, termed it “a tired post-glacial lake”. In 1869, Erhart Seifried, known as “Greenlake John,” staked a 132-acre homestead claim on the northeast shore, becoming the first white settler in the area. Homesteading continued and turned into development of suburban lots. In 1891 the Green Lake neighborhood was annexed by the City of Seattle.

Though 324-acre Green Lake Park was included in the 1903 Olmsted Parks and Boulevards Plan, at the time the lake itself was still owned by the State of Washington, and much of the surrounding land was owned by developers. In 1905 the State deeded it to the City. At the south end of Green Lake was a bathing beach, boat house, and hunting lodge, developed by Guy Phinney who owned the property he named Woodland Park to the south and west of the lake. At the time John Charles Olmsted came to town, the lake came as far south as 54th Avenue.

By 1903 a trolley, built by realtor W. D. Wood and Dr. Kilbourne, was actively bringing people from Seattle to the east side of the lake from the south. In his 1903 report, Olmsted noted that a “suitable boulevard is already provided for along the eastern and northern shores of Green Lake” and recommended continuing the boulevard along the lake’s western shore. By 1904 it was extended on around the lake and through Woodland Park on a trestle to Woodland Park Avenue and hence to 34th and to Fremont Bridge. A bulkhead still remains near 59th and Aurora.

In 1908 the City hired the Olmsted firm to prepare a preliminary plan for a park and parkway along the shores of Green Lake. The Olmsted plan called for lowering the lake four feet and filling two lobes of the lake, one on the northeast corner of the lake near today’s community center, and the other on the southeast corner, where the golf course is now. However all of the Green Lake business owners protested that amount of expansion to the city council, prompting the Olmsted Brothers to reduce the filled area in their final plan, submitted in 1911.

The plan included a parkway encircling the park. He incorporated the streetcar tracks on the inland side of the parkway, a local access roadway, and a pleasure drive closer to the shore. The streetcar tracks were to be incorporated into the design. Olmsted suggested the planting of trees and shrubs to limit its intrusions into the park experience. By adding fill along the east side of the lake, Olmsted wrote in the 1903 report, “These places will be valuable as local recreation grounds for the residents.” He also recommended that two or three small islands could be constructed in the lake and planted with “masses of trees and shrubbery.” While acknowledging that docks and boathouses could be built along the shore, Olmsted recommended that they only be allowed behind the islands so as not to obstruct the view across the open water.

The city eventually lowered Green Lake by seven feet. Olmsted’s recommended 4-foot lowering would have maintained the function of the outflow creek along Ravenna Boulevard, but the City chose to lower Green Lake further, which effectively negated the option of retaining the creek, but had the benefit of expanding the park by 100 acres. Over the next several decades, the park was developed largely according to the Olmsted plan. Much of the work was carried out by Works Progress Administration employment relief programs in the 1930s. He also advised against clearing existing vegetation in order to preserve the ‘wildness of the woods.’

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Olmsted 200. Celebrating Parks for All People

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