Jefferson Park

Panorama of Jefferson Park from Google street view. Low grasses border a sidewalk heading toward a playground, skate park, and sculpture. The Seattle skyline is visible in the distance.

Jefferson Park is located in the Beacon Hill neighborhood at 3801 Beacon Ave S, 98108. It is 137.4 acres.

J.C. Olmsted visited the large tract of city-owned land on Beacon Hill (now Jefferson Park) in 1903 when he toured the city to develop his city-wide system of parks and boulevards. In the 1903 report Olmsted recommended ways the city could develop the eastern section into ball fields, walkways, and pleasure drives. In 1912, he developed a preliminary plan for a larger tract of land designated for park purposes. Though his plan would not be implemented in its entirety, it would inform the redevelopment of the park that began in 2001. 

When John Charles Olmsted visited Seattle in 1903, he toured a tract of about 115 acres at the top of Beacon Hill owned by the city. He found a stump-studded open space, some of which had been burned over. Looking at the area east of the pipe line road (now Beacon Avenue) that was intended for park purposes, Olmsted recommended that the northern, more level portion be cleared and developed into ball fields bordered by existing native trees and shrubs. He suggested the addition of two pleasure drives and the development of the pipe line road into a boulevard for vehicles and several walks branching off from a main circuit walk around the perimeter for pedestrians. Olmsted proposed that, “At suitable places vistas between the plantations should be arranged to command the distant views of Lake Washington.” 

Olmsted envisioned that Beacon Hill Park (later Jefferson Park), would be linked to other city parks by the boulevards. His 1903 report suggested that the Board of Park Commissioners build a drive from the northeast corner of the park down the hillside to Lake Washington Parkway. On the other side of the park, a group of three driveways (one for pleasure drivers, one a “speedway,” and one for “heavy traffic”) would carry vehicles south along Beacon Hill and then west down to “the new driving park,” a racing track in the Duwamish River valley. 

Originally purchased by the city for use as a cemetery and reservoir site (fed by the water mains on the “pipe line road,” later Beacon Avenue), the land parcels were acquired by the Parks department through a series of transactions beginning in 1909. When Olmsted began working on a landscape plan for Jefferson Park in 1911, Parks superintendent J.W. Thompson was working on getting the Board of Park Commissioners to authorize the inclusion of the city park land west of Beacon Avenue and north of Nevada Street in his contract. The land south of Nevada Street and west of the pipe line road were used by a sanitorium and a hospital. Thompson also indicated to Olmsted at that time that the Board planned to use the land for a golf course. 

Olmsted Brothers produced a preliminary plan in Feb 1912 that included a golf course east of Beacon Avenue and, on the west side of the boulevard, ballfields, a playground, a running track, and shelter at a viewpoint overlooking Elliott Bay between Beacon Avenue and city water system reservoirs. A walkway encircled the reservoirs and allowed pedestrian access to the views out over the city and the bay on the western and northern sides of the reservoirs. Olmsted’s plan continued the park walks and drives into the area south of Nevada Street to Alaska Street.

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