Self-Guided Tour of Seward Park now Available

We now have a second self-guided tour script available online! The tour will lead you through Seward Park and introduce you to its historical design, natural features and ongoing cultural events. Keep reading to take in the tour on your screen, or you can find a printable version of the tour script, here.

collage of four photos of Seward Park.
images of Seward Park, past and present

Seward Park Self-Guided Walking Tour

Your walk today will start by the beach area, just west of the Clay Studio. Then proceed north along the west shoreline up to the north end of the park, where the Olmsteds proposed quite an interesting array of park features. From there, head back south through the middle of the forest on the Skebexced Trail, then turning onto the Lost Lake trail to eventually reach the Audubon Center, then the tennis court area, and finally to the inner turn-around to the Japanese Lantern and Torii Gate.

General note: Walking directions are in bold italics, and numbered stops are underlined. A route map is provided below that keys into each numbered stop. Historical information is in plain type. If you are already familiar with the Olmsted story and their work in Seattle, you might skip the General Introduction and begin at the row of asterisks.

During COVID please also note: some of these trails are narrow and also frequently used, so be prepared to wear your face mask where/when appropriate.

aerial photo showing tour route with marked and numbered stops
key map

To learn more about Seward Park, link to Friends of Seward Park’s website www.sewardpark.org and the Audubon Society’s website https://sewardpark.audubon.org/visit/history-seward-park-ye-old-seward-park-inn. Other excellent resources are the book Wild Isle in the City, the website Historylink.org, and www.seattle.gov/parks/find/parks/seward-park.

General Introduction to the Olmsteds

The Olmsted Name

Seattle’s system of parks and boulevards is based on plans and recommendations developed by the Olmsted Brothers Landscape Architecture firm of Brookline, MA. John Charles Olmsted first visited the city and produced the report in 1903 at the invitation of the Seattle’s Board of Park Commissioners.

By the early 1900’s, the Olmsted name was nationally renowned for having designed city and regional parks, park systems, neighborhoods, college campuses, private residence gardens, and world exposition fairgrounds. Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr. is generally considered the “father of landscape architecture” and is most famous for his work on Central Park in New York City and the Emerald Chain necklace of parks in Boston. He also produced a report on Yosemite that helped establish that land as our first national park.

Sepia photo of balding, gray-bearded man in dark coat with arms crossed, head tilted slightly and gazing off to left of frame.
Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr.

John Charles Olmsted, the senior Olmsted’s nephew and adopted son, and Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. (“Rick”), the senior Olmsted’s biological son, each joined the design practice in the late 1800’s. Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr., retired in the 1890’s, eventually leading to the firm being re-organized and renamed as the Olmsted Brothers. The Olmsted firm in its several iterations would last for over 100 years, producing more than 150,000 drawings for more than 5,000 projects all across North America.

black and white image of John Charles Olmsted working on a drawing at his desk
John Charles Olmsted (Image courtesy Seattle Municipal Archives)
black and white head and  shoulders shot of clean-shaven white man
“Rick” Olmsted

The Olmsted Legacy in Seattle

The late 1890’s brought the Yukon gold rush and, with it, exponential growth and rapid development in Seattle. Civic leaders recognized new urgency to set aside and protect land for public use as parks, but they struggled on how to move this goal forward. It wasn’t until 1902 that a newly re-formed Board of Park Commissioners determined to seek out the Olmsted firm to develop a comprehensively planned park system that could be implemented immediately or over the next 100 years. And though, at the time, the population was about 81,000, the civic leaders wanted a system that could meet the needs of a city of 500,000 people (for comparison, the estimated 2020 population is 783,000). This move was largely brought on by the public interest generated through the purchase of two large tracts, Woodland and Washington Parks, in 1900; and by the desire to prepare Seattle for the 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition.

John Charles Olmsted and his assistant, Percy Jones, arrived in Seattle on April 30, 1903, and during May and June they explored the city by carriage, boat, and foot. They studied the terrain, views to natural features, and patterns of current land ownership and use. They looked for suitable locations for playgrounds, parks and connecting boulevards that distributed recreational opportunities throughout the city as much as possible. Following initial input and discussions with local leaders, the firm submitted its recommendations report in July, and it was adopted in November.

The firm then worked on designing and improving a number of the individual parks in the plan. In 1907 the Olmsted Brothers firm was again hired to write a supplemental plan because the City had expanded its boundaries. JCO worked on this while he was also working on the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition grounds at the University of Washington. The Olmsted Brothers firm ultimately developed design drawings for 20 Seattle parks and boulevards and consulted on dozens more. They also designed numerous residential landscapes in the Seattle area during that period, including the Uplands development directly west of Seward Park, which we will discuss later on the tour.

color map of Seattle showing proposed layout of parks and boulevards
Olmsted’s park system plan from 1903. . .
sepia photo of old map of Seattle parks
. . . and from 1908.

A Note on Social Equity

The Olmsteds believed in parks as potentially powerful democratizing agents, intended as they were for use by all, and they aimed for them being well-distributed throughout a city. John Charles explored Seattle at length to identify locations for parks, but the 1903 plan’s connected boulevard system avoids the already densely developed area around downtown. By the 1940’s (and perhaps earlier), the southeastern portion of this larger area became known as Seattle’s “ghetto,” as racially restrictive covenants throughout the city prevented non-whites from living anywhere else. The 1903 plan had recommended park playgrounds at two locations in this area — one, Garfield Playfield, was built starting in 1911.

Ironically and tellingly, our nation’s first and most famous Olmsted park displaced a community of African Americans when it was created. NYC’s Central Park, which brought the senior Olmsted his initial fame, was built on land formerly known as Seneca Village. The settlement existed from 1825 until 1857 and included more than 50 homes, three churches and a school. Many African Americans owned property here, which in turn entitled them the right to vote. With plans to create Central Park, the City exercised eminent domain and removed the community, although with compensation.

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Start the tour in the lawn next to the beach west of the Seward Park Clay Studio.

STOP 1

We care to acknowledge that we are on the traditional land of the first people of Seattle, the Duwamish People past and present and honor with gratitude the land itself and the Duwamish Tribe.

At the time East Coast settlers arrived in 1851, indigenous people had lived along the shorelines of Lake Washington and throughout the Puget Sound region for over four thousand years. These early inhabitants were known collectively as the Coast Salish or Puget Sound Salish people. A group of Duwamish living around Lake Washington were called “People of the Lake,” or xacua’bsh (hah-choo-ABSH). Their language is Lushootseed, and they called the northern tip of Seward Park peninsula skEba’kst (skuh-BAHKST), from the word for “nose”. They referred to the isthmus as cqa’lapsEb (TSKAH-lap-suhb), from the word for “neck”. Their permanent winter longhouses were nearby, near Leschi to the north and Brighton Beach south of here, but only summer encampments were believed to be located at Seward Park itself.

The federal Donation Land Claim Act of 1850 allowed US citizens the right to claim land in the Oregon Territory – of which Seattle was a part until 1853 – once Native American title was extinguished by treaty. The Coast Salish ceded their territory around Seattle only in 1855, with the Treaty of Point Elliott, although non-Native settlers started claiming land along Elliott Bay as early as 1852. The treaty designated reservation land and reserved certain hunting and fishing rights for recognized tribes, but with a burgeoning city offering trade and labor opportunities and strong ties to the land dating back thousands of years, many indigenous people continued to live outside the reservation. In 1865, Seattle passed an ordinance calling for the removal of Indians from the town. The ordinance remained in place until 1867, when the state legislature dissolved the government of Seattle. When the town was reincorporated in 1869, the ban was not re-enacted, although extralegal attempts to exclude and persecute Native people continued.

More information on the traditions of the Coast Salish people can be found on the interpretive signage by the tennis courts at the south end of the park, which is toward the end of this tour.

In 1903, when John Charles Olmsted arrived in Seattle, most of the peninsula was owned by Pennsylvania real estate investor William Bailey. He had purchased it for $26,000 in 1889. It was connected to the mainland by an isthmus that flooded every year, turning the peninsula into an island. Bailey Peninsula totaled 277 acres, 120 of which was old growth forest. Because of its difficult access, it had never been logged.

In 1892 Seattle Parks Superintendent E.O. Schwagerl recommended that the City buy the property, but with the recession of 1893 and it being so far out of town, the purchase was not made. When John Charles Olmsted toured the area on May 5, 1903, he wrote to his wife that evening:

We had lunch on Bailey Peninsula. The tree growth her[e] is very good, some very large maples, and a good number of large firs, especially on the east. There have been several small areas partially cleared, and other areas could be added so as to give good pic-nic ground. The topography of the peninsula is sufficiently varied to be exceedingly interesting, and as a terminus to the system of park-ways it would be especially good. A loop-drive, kept well up on the high ground, would, with a little judicious cutting, give beautiful views over Lake Washington.

John Charles Olmsted recommended that the City should purchase Bailey peninsula in his 1903 report, agreeing with Schwagerl’s earlier assessment. The peninsula would be a key element in the Olmsted plan, serving as the anchor of a landscaped boulevard that would wind north along Lake Washington. The peninsula was annexed to the City in 1907 along with Columbia City, West Seattle, Ballard, and South Park.

The City Council adopted the Olmsted plan in late 1903. However, it wasn’t until 1908 that the Bailey family agreed to sell the peninsula, and then at an asking price ($430,000 or $2,000 per acre) that the city considered exorbitant. The City finally acquired Bailey Peninsula in 1911, after condemning the land and paying the family $322,000, based on a fair-market value of $1,500 an acre.

black and white photo of man standing on lake shore with forested shoreline in distance
View of Bailey Peninsula

The new park was named in honor of William H. Seward, who arranged for the purchase of Alaska in 1867 as Secretary of State under President Andrew Johnson. Seward also served as Secretary of State under President Abraham Lincoln and was a prominent figure in the Republican Party in its formative years. Seward strongly opposed the spread of slavery and throughout his early career advanced the rights of black residents in New York State. As Secretary of State in the months leading up to the Civil War, he worked hard to keep the southern states from seceding. With the onset of the war, Seward devoted his efforts to the Union cause and persuaded Great Britain and France from interfering in ways that would have bolstered the confederacy’s standing and resources. Following the Civil War, Seward became an ardent expansionist, leading to the acquisition of the Alaska Territory.

photo of larger-than-life bronze statue, on pedestal, of man holding roll of drawings
statue of Seward in Volunteer Park

In 1912 the Olmsted Brothers prepared a preliminary plan for Seward Park, laying out general concepts for the park that exist today: a mix of shoreline, meadows, picnic areas, bathing beaches and play areas, ringing what Olmsted called the “Magnificent Forest” — the largest stand of native forest in the city. 

black and white drawing labeled "Seward Park Preliminary Plan" and dated January 30, 1912

Olmsted’s plan located programmed spaces, such as a dancing pavilion, croquet lawn, basketball and tennis courts, play area and a small boat harbor on the northern shore of the park. The majority of the park featured the old growth forest, which visitors could explore via several meandering trails or view from roadways that would have criss-crossed the woodland interior. Their design also proposed several smaller beaches and numerous “summer houses,” or pavilions, located throughout the woodland or perched along the shoreline. The lawn you are standing on was still underwater in 1912, when the lake water level was several feet higher. Olmsted proposed a canal cut through the isthmus for canoes and other small boats to travel through, with a vehicular bridge connecting to the peninsula – that bridge would have been where the entry circle is now built.

In 1916, the Montlake Cut of the Lake Washington Ship Canal was opened, lowering the lake nine feet and adding 70 acres to Seward Park. Other changes to the parkland included filling the wetlands in this area, road construction, and restroom and other building construction.

Olmsted’s plan was never fully implemented, but his 1912 plan influenced later development in the park, and the forest has largely been preserved.

Walk to the east side of the Clay Studio and stop near the door.

STOP 2

In 1926-27, with the construction of the entry drive and circle, two restrooms were built on this spot — these form the two ends of today’s building, which at some later point had a center section added with dressing rooms, office and first aid station. The addition was made possible through the federal Works Progress Administration. As times and customs changed, the bathhouse was used less and less, and SPR Cultural Arts Director Mildred Noble saw an opportunity to accommodate a growing arts program. In 1970, a skylight was added and the building was converted to an arts and crafts studio.

photo of clay studio showing front door and information kiosk
East side of Bathhouse/clay studio today
black and white photo of swimming beach
Bathhouse and beach in 1936 (SMA #10554)

Walk north along the shoreline path. Stop along the steep slope you see to the right.

STOP 3

This small cliff rising on your right is probably part of an earthquake scarp, and it gives us rare glimpses of some of Seattle’s bedrock (through most of the city, the bedrock is buried deep beneath glacial deposits) – keep an eye out for some of the underlying rock layers as you walk along. A Seattle fault zone runs east-west through this part of the city, and it is likely that an earthquake from ~1,100 years ago uplifted and created this scarp. The bedrock here is soft sandstone, and its composition tells us that it was formed at a time when Seattle was still underwater. Harder conglomerates are exposed slightly to the north, where they project into Andrews Bay in the small promontory of Kingfisher Point near the dock storage area. These outcrops, along with outcrops at Alki Point and on the west side of Beacon Hill, are the only bedrock exposures in Seattle, which is mostly covered in glacial deposits. For more information on the geology of Seward Park, link to http://www.sewardpark.org/geology.html or https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/rosetta-stones/seward-park-a-scientific-wonderland-in-seattle/

photo of sheer wooded slope

Olmsted’s plan envisioned a shoreline path and a “West Bluff Drive” that ran along the top of this bluff. His design called for a loop drive along the top of bluff around the entire peninsula, with another drive winding through the center of the forest. Today’s Skebexced Trail loosely follows the alignment of that center drive, in the north end of the park.

This loop road along the shoreline, originally built for cars, was recommended to be closed to vehicular traffic in 1971. It was apparently being used for “washing of cars, racing, etc.” (Sherwood history files)

As you walk along the bluff, notice how tree roots snake down the exposed surface of the slope. The root systems of large woody trees and shrubs are very important in preventing landslides on these steep slopes. The majority of trees along here are Douglas fir and big leaf maple.

Walk approximately 50 yards north along the shoreline road and stop at the red fire hydrant on the right.

STOP 4

For over a decade, efforts to restore and enhance the “Magnificent Forest” have been led by the Green Seattle Partnership, Audubon Society, Seattle Parks staff, and Forest Steward volunteers. These efforts have been greatly supported by an anonymous donation of over $1 million to support these efforts. Notice the large stand of Himalayan blackberry near the hydrant. Each year these groups remove invasive species and replant portions of the park with native plants. More on this topic later near the Fish Hatchery trail.

Walk north along the shoreline road to the point jutting into the lake just beyond the swimming platform and the Andrews Bay Trailhead. Stop nearby.

STOP 5

cl;ose-up of black and white drawing of park plan
detail from 1912 plan. Features marked “CC” and “BB” were proposed summer houses.

The Olmsted Brothers’ Plan for Seward Park reflected their basic design philosophy, that each park should have its own individual identity (“genius of place”). Proposed improvements included eight small “summer houses,” a dance pavilion, tennis courts and viewing tower that would be fitted into the forest setting. One of those summer houses was to be located on this small point, with another located up the hill directly east of it.

The City failed to fully implement the Olmsted’s design for Seward Park. 1913 was a year in which money was tight. That year saw many letters passed between the City and the firm discussing their “exhorbitant” bills.

Walk north along the shoreline road and stop at the Poison Oak sign, near the fishing dock.

STOP 6

Over the decades people have wondered how this peninsula escaped being logged when the rest of Seattle was logged. Some people have assumed the enormous amount of poison oak in the park kept the loggers at bay. However, that never seemed to stop loggers in other parts of the Pacific Northwest from clearcutting forests. It is now believed that the simple reason was that this peninsula was far out of town, and inaccessible due to the periodic flooding across the isthmus. Once the land was purchased for a park and Lake Washington was lowered nine feet, logging no longer was a possibility, thankfully!

Keep walking on the shoreline road around the north end of the peninsula. Stop near the beach.

STOP 7

Because this was a suitable place for a harbor, the Olmsteds felt that the north end of the park should be where the park’s main features are located, boats being an easy method to get to the park in 1912. This is where a boat dock, bathing beach, playground, changing facilities, and active recreational opportunities were to be located. It is, after all, the closest part of the park to the rest of Seattle. This would have included a grand total of 70 men’s bath houses and 40 women’s bath houses as well.

Turn right at the North Beach Trailhead and head up the Skebexed Trail. Stop at the junction with the north end of Huckleberry Trail.

STOP 8

The Olmsted’s Preliminary Plan called for much development and programmed activity here. West of this spot the Olmsteds envisioned a Dancing Pavilion, Giants’ Stride, croquet lawn, swings, and seesaws. To the east was to be a basketball court and tennis courts.

close-up of black and white plan drawing of Seward Park

For the next several stops, you will walk through the “Magnificent Forest,” still the largest stand of old growth forest in Seattle.

As we walk through the “Magnificent Forest,” consider the immersive experience of being surrounded by these woods. Though Olmsted’s vision at this particular spot was a bit different from what we experience today, he also believed in the restorative value of bringing a person into the midst of a largely natural, wilder setting within the city environment.

Designing landscapes to create a sense of being immersed in, and enveloped by, nature began with Olmsted Senior. Before the Olmsted’s practice, designed landscapes were more typically considered and manipulated for pictorial effect, or organized to a recognizable geometry and order. Though nature’s beauty was to be admired, it was done so distantly, as a view from a train window or across a pond. In contrast, Olmsted began practicing during the height of the Romantic period when musicians, poets and philosophers were deeply inspired by and expressive of natural qualities and also carried the message that humans are part of nature, not separate from it. Olmsted’s philosophy is certainly in line with these ideas, as he believed in healthful benefits to be gained from being in the natural world.  As he once wrote: “It is one great purpose of the Park to supply to the hundreds of thousands of tired workers, who have no opportunity to spend their summers in the country, a specimen of God’s handiwork that shall be to them, inexpensively, what a month or two in the White Mountains or the Adirondacks is, at great cost, to those in easier circumstances.”

Although his main point in this remark was that public parks should provide relief for all city residents, the form of that relief was “God’s handiwork,” i.e., nature. 

photo of tall tree

Walk about 50 yards south of the last stop until you reach some logs on the ground to the left of the trail.

STOP 9

The Forest Stewards are using mulch berms and logs along the main trail to discourage people from making social paths through the forest. This is an effort to keep soil compaction to a minimum in order to preserve newly-planted native plants and the very precious old-growth trees.

photo of logs and branches blocking path

Just a few feet further along the main trail is a large big leaf maple with fungal conks growing out of its trunk. This fungus is commonly called the Artist Conk (Ganoderma applanatum) because the white spore surface turns brown when touched, or drawn on, as shown in the photo. The fungus is growing inside the tree while the conk is its external fruiting body or reproductive organ.

photo of tree trunk with fungus
Fungal conk growing out of maple.
detail of tree trunk with fungus growing out of it. The word "hi" is visible on the underside of the fungus.
Close-up of fungal conk.

This and other fungi are natural parts of our native forests. This forest is an excellent outdoor classroom for arborists and other tree lovers to learn about tree diseases in western Washington. Arborists from all over the Pacific Northwest come to this park to learn how to identify and manage trees found in remnant conifer forests in the urban environment. The main goal is to teach professionals about the many ecosystem components of native forests, how they work together as a whole, and how to manage these forests for people to enjoy safely without having to remove old trees unnecessarily.

Continue walking along Skebexed Trail ~1/2 mile  and stop at the junction with the south end of Huckleberry Trail.

STOP 10

A few yards off to the left the Olmsteds proposed to have a Hilltop Tower built, providing a view over the park and the lake.

photo of vegetation
evergreen huckleberry
photo of base of large tree
trailside snag providing a natural “bench”

If you are interested in the Park’s native plants, link here for a plant list of native plants in the park: http://www.sewardpark.org/plantsck.html.  Look for Western redcedar, Western hemlock, Douglas fir, sword fern, evergreen huckleberry, salal, and Oregon grape. Notice that a lot of replanting has been done in this area.  Invasives are being removed and young native plants planted to establish a more balanced ecosystem. This work is being done by Friends of Seward Park, Seattle Parks staff, the Green Seattle Partnership, and Forest Steward volunteers. Seattle Audubon leads volunteer work parties mostly in the south end of the Park.

Continue walking along Skebexced Trail and at the junction with Andrews Bay and Fish Hatchery Trails turn left and walk 50 yards to look down upon the old Fish Hatchery area.

STOP 11

black and white photo of nine circular fish ponds
fish hatchery ponds, 1935 (Seattle Municipal Archive #9854)

Twenty rearing ponds were built in 1935 as part of an effort to make Lake Washington a “fisherman’s paradise.” By the 1940s, the hatchery was releasing 250,000 trout annually. Its negative impact on the natural ecology of the lake led to its closure in 1978. The hatchery was used as an educational research lab by the UW’s Department of Fisheries until 1997, when it was shut down altogether. Most of the ponds were removed, but five were retained as historical artifacts, along with the stone bridge over a now-dry waterfall and a pumphouse on the shore.

The construction of the hatchery, during the Great Depression, put 300 people to work under the Washington Emergency Relief Act as part of the Civil Works Administration and the WPA.

Turn around and walk back to the intersection with the Skebexced Trail and look down to the west through the trees.

STOP 12

The area west of this spot is where the Olmsteds intended the stables, toolhouse, service yard, and park foreman’s house to be located.

Die-off of native sword fern has been happening in this area at an alarming rate. It’s happening in other areas of the park and the region as well. This has been happening for a decade, and researchers at the University of Washington and Washington State are working with park professionals to try and determine the cause. For more information on what is being done regarding the sword fern die-off, link to http://sewardparkswordferndieoff.blogspot.com.

Continue south (left) on the Skebexced Trail and turn right just before its south end onto the Lost Lake Trail. Take the immediate left fork and cross two small bridges before coming to a longer boardwalk.

STOP 13

photo of long boardwalk through dense undergrowth

There is no historical evidence of the existence of a lake or pond here prior to the Olmsted Brothers’ Preliminary Plan of 1912. The Olmsteds named this area Woodland Pool and marked it on their plan. It is now believed that they intended to create a pond here, but it never was built. All the same, one can see evidence of a wetland environment here, with thickets of salmonberry, western redcedar trees, snowberry, and thimbleberry.

Continue along the Lost Lake Trail and stop across the road near Picnic Shelter #3.

STOP 14

This southern highland portion of Seward Park is known as “Pinoy Hill.” Filipinos in Seattle hold annual community picnics on Pinoy Hill, to celebrate both the national sovereignty of the Philippines, granted by President Truman in 1946 (prior to then, it had been a US territory), and the passage of the Filipino Naturalization Bill earlier that year. Originally held on July 4th, the day the Philippines gained independence, the picnic was later moved to June 12th to commemorate the Philippine Republic’s 1898 Declaration of Independence from Spain.

Additionally, Filipino immigrants in the 19th and early 20th centuries brought with them the tradition of the Pista sa Nayon – meaning “town festival” – for centuries held to celebrate a successful harvest. While Pista sa Nayon festivals are held in many communities with large Filipino-American populations, Seattle’s celebration remains the largest. This Seafair staple includes the Ihaw-Ihaw Jam, featuring live performances by mostly Filipino-American rock bands.

photo of picnic shelter and path
Picnic shelter #3 on Pinoy Hill

Walk to the west of Picnic Shelter #3 and take the steps leading up to a trail along the top of the knoll. Stop at the top of the stairs.

STOP 15

Olmsted took note of this high point in his 1912 plan and proposed locating a “Pinnacle Summer House” here.

South of this location, along the slope leading down to the shore, a native oak ecosystem is being reintroduced. This oak savanna, called Clark’s Prairie, once extended from the southern end of the peninsula, along the lake shoreline south ~1/2 mile to where Martha Washington Park is today. It was named after Edward Clark, Seattle’s third schoolteacher and one of the two earliest Euro-American settlers to stake a claim here. Clark’s Prairie is the home of Seattle’s only remaining significant grove of Garry oak trees (Quercus garryana). Also called Oregon white oak, this species reminds us of an earlier drier climate when native Americans would periodically burn oak savanna grasslands in order to keep fire-susceptible species like Douglas fir out and foods such as camas, acorns, and berries thriving.

photo close-up of oak leaves
leaves of the Garry oak tree

Continue along the trail and down some stairs, turning right at the bottom to reach the back of the Audubon Center. Walk around and stop in front of the Audubon Center.

STOP 16

photo of kids' fort built around base of large tree
en route to the Audubon Center
photo of Tudor-style building
Audubon Center

The building that now houses the Audubon Center was built in 1927 and named the Seward Park Inn. This Tudor-style building was built and operated as a concession stand by J. Frank and Catherine C. Redfield. The concessions stand was on the ground floor while the Redfields lived on the second floor with their two daughters. From the 1930’s onward, the business struggled and the Redfields gave it up in 1943.

The building remained in use as a concession stand for some years. The park foreman used the second floor as a residence until 1968. The building has since been designated a historic landmark. It is now operated as a nature education center by the Audubon Society in partnership with the Seattle Parks Department.

Head southwest to the tennis courts and interpretive signage along the shoreline here.

STOP 17

photo of interpretive panel and paved path beside tennis courts and along shoreline

In 2017 the City of Seattle finished construction of a 2.65 million-gallon storage tank to hold combined sewer overflows that in the past had dumped directly into Lake Washington due to heavy rainfall, up to seventeen times a year. The City placed the vaults under an existing parking lot and tennis courts. FSOP and other community groups worked with project designers to enhance the shoreline experience and improve path connections. Enjoy reading the series of interpretive signs here.

John Charles Olmsted’s 1912 plan envisioned a series of wharves at this location that would accommodate ferries, commerce and motorboats. Though we have not discovered any written account of boating activity in this area, there is photographic evidence of a boathouse once having stood along the park’s south shore. Here is a photo from 1936. An aerial photo (USGS) from the same year also shows a structure in the water, connected to the park’s south shore by a long boardwalk.

black and white photo of wooden building on pier and connected by long covered boardwalk
Boat house in 1936 (SMA #30361)
aerial photo of the isthmus in Seward Park, with dock and boathouse jutting out into water circled in red

From the tennis courts, walk north across the driveway to the garden located in the middle of the entry circle. Take the stone-paved path, marked by a boulder, leading into the garden. Stop at the large stone lantern.

STOP 18

stone pave path through woodland garden
Stone-paved path inside the entry circle, leading to the Yamato stone lantern.

This eight-ton Yamato granite lantern was given by the city of Yokohama, Japan in 1930 in thanks for Seattle’s assistance after a 1923 earthquake that devastated Yokohama and Tokyo. This and the gift of three Kwanzan cherry trees in 1929 were part of an international diplomacy effort by the Japanese government and Japanese-Americans to strengthen cultural and economic ties between the two countries. The three original trees were eventually followed by more than 3,500 additional cherry trees, donated to the Parks Department, which were planted along the Boulevard, at Green Lake, Volunteer Park and elsewhere throughout the City.

Continue north across the entrance drive to the lawn and the construction site for the Torii Gate, in June 2020 waiting to be erected.

STOP 19

A 26-foot timber Torii was constructed at the entrance to Seward Park in 1934 by Seattle’s Japanese American community as part of the International Potlatch celebration. The Torii was removed in the mid-1980’s due to decay. Watch the video on the Torii Story here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0By7W3D3hLZ4SdS02X1hOOVJuYUE/view

With a planning grant from the Department of Neighborhoods, the Friends of Seward Park has hired landscape architectural firm Murase Associates, working with Takumi Company, to gather community input on the design of a new torii. The columns (hashira) of the torii will be made of natural basalt columns from central Washington. The lintel (kasagi) will be made of a single minimally worked piece of western red cedar. The crosspiece (nuki) will be a worked piece of wood that contrasts with the kasagi. It is expected that installation of the new Torii will be completed in 2020.

On the slope immediately west of the entrance to Seward Park is a residential neighborhood. This is the Uplands development, platted and conceptualized by the Olmsted Brothers firm in 1924-25.

two maps of the Uplands side-by-side. Left image is 1924 plan drawing showing street layout and platted residential lots. Right image is Google map showing existing streets and outlining extents of the Uplands in red.
Olmsted Plan for the Uplands, left (courtesy Olmsted Archives), compared with today’s street map, right (Google maps). Note how many of the proposed street alignments were ultimately adopted.

Real estate investor A.C. Frost hired the Olmsted Brothers firm to plan the Uplands neighborhood. They laid out the community, which extended west as far as  51st Ave, with curvilinear tree-lined streets and neighborhood parks and homesites with views to Lake Washington and Mount Rainier. The design included a short strip of business buildings at Wilson Ave and Orcas Street and “Aerielle Plaza” as an entry point for the neighborhood at Orcas and Seward Park Ave (a pair of arced stone walls mark this entrance today). James Dawson’s design also proposed how Lake Washington Boulevard might terminate at Seward Park. Work by the Olmsted Brothers on the Uplands included grading, planting, lot platting, and road layout plans.

pencil sketch including text, "The Uplands"
sketch of proposed advertising (courtesy Olmsted Archives)
black and white photo looking down graded but unpaved street to low buildings and treed slope in distance
photo of Seward Park from Orcas St., circa 1924 (courtesy Olmsted Archives)

At about the same period that the Uplands was being developed, real estate developments throughout Seattle began adopting racially restrictive covenants to prevent African Americans and other people of color from moving in. This and related segregationist practices continued up until 1968, when Congress passed the Housing Rights Act. This 1948 graphic from the Seattle newspaper, the New World, illustrates in general terms how widespread these practices were in Seattle and how effectively they kept the city segregated.

black and white drawn map of Seattle area titled, "This New World Map Shows Seattle's 'Ghetto'"
Racially restrictive covenants throughout the city resulted in a “ghetto” district, described here as “four blocks wide on either side of Jackson Street from 5th to 23rd Avenues, and north six blocks wide on either side of 23rd Ave to Roy St. For more history on Seattle’s restrictive covenants, visit https://depts.washington.edu/civilr/covenants_report.htm

As of this writing, we haven’t found evidence that the Uplands adopted racially restrictive covenants, but in 1960 a group of white neighbors, led by realtor John L. Scott, tried to prevent an African American physician and his family from moving in. The Civic Unity Committee (CUC) documented what happened. Dr. J.R. Henry ultimately moved his family in without disturbance that December, though Scott delivered a parting message saying Henry was “no gentleman” for refusing Scott’s offer (to buy him out).

This concludes our tour! We hope you enjoyed this self-guided version of our tour of Seward Park!

2017 Walking Tour Schedule

Join us for monthly walking tours in Seattle’s Olmsted parks and start your weekend with a dose of beauty, nature, and history! The tours are FREE, appropriate for all ages and last approximately 2 hours. Contact friends@seattleolmsted.org for more information about specific tours.

All tours start at 10:00 a.m.

May 20th
Seward Park 
Meet at Seward Park Audubon Center.

June 17th
Jefferson Park
Meet at Jefferson Community Center (south side entrance).

July 15th
Green Lake Park
Meet at Green Lake Community Center (entrance at northeast corner).

August 19th
Hiawatha Playfield
Meet on west side of Hiawatha Community Center.

September 16th
Washington Park Arboretum
Meet at Graham Visitor Center.
*This is the FSOP annual meeting, please join us for potluck lunch after the tour.

Black and white photo of school-age kids playing, standing and sitting on lawn interspersed with trees.
Hiawatha Park, 1925. Photo by Asahel Curtis. Courtesy Seattle Municipal Archives, 64050.

Summer 2015 Walking Tours Announced

Getting to Know the Seattle Olmsted Park System

Join us for monthly walking tours in Seattle’s Olmsted parks and start your weekend with a dose of beauty, nature, and history! They are held on 3rd Saturdays (except August) and begin at 10:00 AM, lasting approximately two hours. Appropriate for all ages. These walks are free and open to all, and go on rain or shine. There is no need to register in advance. Contact friends@seattleolmsted.org for more information about specific tours.

2015 Summer Walking Tour Schedule

May 16th
Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition at the University of Washington campus
Meet at the entrance to the Burke Museum.

June 20th
Washington Park Arboretum
Meet at the Graham Visitor Center.

July 18th
Madrona Park and Frink Park
Meet at Leschi Elementary School parking lot.

September 19th
Volunteer Park
Meet at the Black Sun sculpture across from the Seattle Asian Art Museum.
*This is the FSOP annual meeting, please join us for potluck lunch after the tour.

colorized photo from old postcard showing aerial view of central plaza, bordered by red-roofed buildings, with cascading pools to large round pool, all centered on-axis with a distant view to Mt. Rainier. Text on postcard reads, "Mt. Rainier and Court of Honor, as seen from the US Government Building, Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition, Seattle, Wash., 1909. (Official Post Card)"
Rainier Vista, Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition, 1909. Courtesy J&A Collection.

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