Lake Washington Boulevard

Lake Washington Boulevard extends from the Montlake neighborhood southward to Seward Park.

The longest and most significant boulevard in Seattle’s Olmsted park system, Lake Washington Boulevard links nine of the Olmsted parks, extending six miles from Montlake Boulevard at the north end, through Washington Park Arboretum and along the lake to Seward Park at the south end. Alternating between shoreline and upland stretches, the boulevard features park, lake and mountain views. Tightly winding, switchback segments mark grade transitions from hillside to shoreline in three locations, including the roadways within Lakeview, Frink and Colman parks. 

An extended boulevard route along this section of Lake Washington shoreline was first proposed in the Olmsted Brothers’ 1903 report. Their recommendation included routing the boulevard beyond the city limits at that time so that it might extend all the way to Seward Park (then known as Bailey Peninsula), even though land developers had already platted this southern stretch of shoreline so narrowly as to make a scenic, graceful route difficult:  John Charles observed that one subdivision’s shore street “is laid out on a succession of straight lines, . . . resulting in an extremely ugly route for a pleasure drive, and this street is apparently pushed out so close to the water line, and in some cases even beyond it, that scarcely a single one of all the beautiful trees which now fringe the lake, not to mention the important undergrowth, could be preserved. It would scarcely be possible to solve the problem in a more hideous manner than has been done in this case.” He encouraged the city to pursue wider expanses for a shoreline drive, “in order to secure beauty and fitness. . . worthy of such an undertaking,” or else drop this section (north to the city boundary, at present-day Hanford Street) altogether.

From the city boundary north to Madrona Park the 1903 Olmsted report proposed a few alternative routes for extending the parkway. The “most complete and comprehensive” – and ambitious — scheme was a “crestline parkway” that would leave the lakeshore in the area of present-day Mt. Baker Park and run along the top of slope while capturing all the land along the slope to the shoreline as public park.  This Crest Parkway would extend all the way to the north end of Madrone Park. Other, more expeditious schemes kept the parkway along the lake shore. North of Madrone Park, the crestline route would return to the shoreline until nearing a saddle in the ridge extending to the southern border of Washington Park.  The parkway, following this route, would continue through Washington Park to the Montlake District, where it was again proposed to follow the shoreline across the canal to the university grounds. The final alignment differs from these early proposals, most notably in taking an upland route (but not along the crest) from Colman Park to Leschi Park, in winding through Colman Park rather than the saddle at Mt. Baker Park to go upland, and in traveling through the middle of the north Montlake neighborhood rather than along its eastern shore (see Montlake Boulevard).

As it was being developed there were names for each segment, including University Boulevard, Washington Park Boulevard, Blaine Boulevard, and Frink Boulevard. By 1920 the entire parkway from Washington Park southward had been renamed as Lake Washington Boulevard.

The segment in Washington Park was the first section built following the design prepared by the Olmsted Brothers in 1904. As planning for the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition  got underway, the boulevard route, intended to serve as a primary and scenic approach to the Exposition showcasing the natural beauty in and around Seattle, was quickly designed, developed and planted.. Edward Cheasty, Parks Commission President was quoted saying: “To the tourist visiting Seattle, the boulevard system probably makes a more lasting impression than any other scenic feature.” (The Coast – 1909)

A Colman Park postcard caption, postmarked in 1912, captures the sentiment, saying: “World Famous Boulevards – Described by Former President Taft as follows: ‘One of the most magnificent combinations of modern city and medieval forest, of formal gardening and Nature’s handiwork with the most beautiful views of lake, sea and snow-capped mountain peak, that has ever delighted the eye of man in this or any other country.’”

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