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The Olmsteds in the Pacific Northwest:
The Art of Landscape Design


In 1903, the nation's premier landscape architects, the Olmsted Brothers, came to the Pacific Northwest from their offices in Brookline, Massachusetts to plan parks and playgrounds for Seattle and Portland. They toured the cities, evaluated existing parks, assessed current and future needs, and prepared plans for comprehensive park systems. Citizens and elected officials embraced both plans enthusiastically. They began implementing them immediately, a task they would continue off and on for decades. Seattle and Portland were just the beginning of the region's Olmsted story. Eventually, the firm worked on about 200 projects in Washington, Oregon, and British Columbia. Their commissions included parks for additional cities, college campuses, exposition grounds, public landscapes such as the Washington capitol grounds, residential neighborhoods, and more. They also designed about 150 private estates, some of which are now public gardens.

Although Olmsted designs often included formal elements, they are best remembered for naturalistic landscapes in which world-weary urbanites could restore their spirits inspired by the tonic effects of nature. The Olmsteds believed such parks should be scattered throughout the city, within easy walking distance of each residence. As important as parks were, there was more. The Olmsted plan linked these parks with boulevards and tree-lined parkways. They also recognized the need for playgrounds, and placed them in many neighborhoods.


check Frederick Law Olmsted

Frederick Law Olmsted

Frederick Law Olmsted

The Northwest's Olmsted tradition traces its roots back to the East Coast, and to the individual who is often described as the father of landscape architecture in America – Frederick Law Olmsted. FLO rose to prominence after he and his business partner, Calvert Vaux, won the competition to design Central Park in New York City. Their plan, titled Greensward, transformed a rough and blighted 800+ acre site into a naturalistic landscape. Olmsted's design was inspired, in part, by the English countryside. He had traveled there, and admired the rural landscape of meadows, trees, open woods, quiet lakes, and meandering streams. Remembering the pastoral scenes he saw in England's countryside, Olmsted created a whole new kind of park. Where his predecessors had relied on formal designs and rigid symmetry, he championed the informal. Where they imposed straight walks and drives, he trusted nature's hand, nestling curvilinear walks and drives in the existing topography. FLO's designs always celebrated the best the land had to offer. He capitalized on views, lakes, and other highlights. He also made the most of subtle features, including rock outcrops, grade changes, other picturesque elements.


Central Park took about ten years to build, and it catapulted Olmsted to national prominence. His firm, which would he would later pass on to his son and step-son, Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. and John Charles Olmsted (known professionally as the Olmsted Brothers), would remain the pre-eminent designers for more than a century. The Olmsteds would work on 5,000 designs in more than 35 cities. Their commissions included parks and park systems, residential developments, college campuses, gardens and arboreta, exposition grounds, private estates, and landscapes for commercial and public buildings. They worked on many prominent landscapes, including Prospect and Riverside Parks in New York, the Emerald Necklace in Boston, Yosemite National Park, Biltmore Estate, World's Columbian Exposition, and the White House Grounds in Washington, D.C.


Although FLO was far and away the most influential landscape designer of his day, he was a decade or so too early for the Pacific Northwest. His work here was limited, but the railroads did ask him to prepare a design for Tacoma in 1873. The plan he prepared had his trademark details. It capitalized on the natural features of the land, preserving views, creating parks, nestling building lots in the contours of the land, and threading curvilinear streets among them. Tacomans, who were accustomed to cities laid out on standard grids with square blocks and streets that met at right angles, were appalled. Critics who reviewed the irregular lots and curving arterials said they looked like a "...basket of melons, peas, and sweet potatoes..." Just six weeks after FLO submitted his design, Tacoma officials fired him.


Twenty years later, the Northwest found a new appreciation for the Olmsteds. Cities were growing much larger, and the growth had its pluses and minuses. Newcomers, welcome though they were, took land for homes, businesses, and schools, and residents could no longer use undeveloped lots for parks. Booming growth also brought new problems caused by crowding and poverty. Reformers hoped quiet, naturalistic parks might offer solace and heal urban woes.


As Northwest cities were growing, a new generation was emerging, one with sophisticated tastes and the money to pay for them. They looked to New York and other East Coast cities for the latest ideas in style and city building, and what they found were the Olmsted Bros., by then the nation's most prominent park designers. Seattle and Portland were the first Northwest cities to hire them, and several other cities followed their lead. Over the next 50 years, the Olmsted Bros. completed parks or park systems for Seattle, Spokane, Portland, and Walla Walla; the grounds of the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific and Lewis and Clark Expositions, five college campuses, and more than 150 residential estates. Their work also had a ripple effect, influencing other landscape gardeners and landscape architects throughout the region.


Today, the Olmsted landscapes sometimes pose something of a "can't see the forest for the trees" dilemma. That is, they look so natural, and they fit so perfectly into their surroundings that park goers sometimes think these landscapes simply developed spontaneously. Nothing, of course, could be further from the truth. One way to gain some insight into what the region's parks might have looked like if the Olmsteds had never worked here is to study the first parks in the Northwest.

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check Early Parks and Park Builders

City Park, Wenatchee

"City Park, Wenatchee"

Parks have been part of Northwest cities almost as long as there have been cities. Even before there were official parks, residents used certain fields and meadows for informal parks. Beacon Hill Park in Victoria, for example, dates from 1843, when fur traders used the original camas meadows for horse races. In Seattle, settlers used a field behind Henry Yesler's cook­house as a park. It is known today as Pioneer Square. By 1853, Portland had its "Park Blocks." As towns and cities sprang up throughout the region, many of them had public squares or similar areas. Wenatchee's park may have been typical of these early town squares. They usually offered shade trees, meandering paths, benches, and lawns. Many had memorials, statues, gazebos, bandstands, and other features.


By the 1880s and 1890s, Northwest cities began building parks in earnest, and they approached the task in different ways. In 1889, Victoria held a competition to design Beacon Hill Park, and selected a winner. Then, for reasons still unexplained, the city commissioned John Blair to design the park. Blair had worked on the 1865 Sanitary Fair in Chicago, where he probably met Frederick Law Olmsted. Tacoma took a different approach. In 1890, city officials hired a nationally-recognized landscape gardener to design its parks. Seattle tried a homegrown approach. Their first plan for Denny Park called for "the present growth of trees and shrubs upon the premises..." to be "...thinned and topped, which would materially improve the property." They also suggested "...that the fencing around the old cemetery be repaired in such a manner as to protect the shrubbery against damage by [live-]stock that may be running at large." Seattle also had private parks, built by land developers who hoped to entice buyers way out to the wilds of the Lake Washington to developments at Leschi and Madison park.

Seattle's Leschi Park on early postcard.

Scene in Leschi Park, Seattle


These early parks were attractive and drew huge crowds on pleasant weekends. At Madison Park, visitors could take in a concert, attend a vaudeville show, rent a boat, camp out, or go to a professional baseball game. Leschi Park offered many of the same activities, but discouraged rowdy behavior. Both parks had landscaped grounds, with boardwalks, benches, lily ponds, fountains, seasonal flowers, and borders and beds of mixed plantings. In keeping with the style of the day, they featured eclectic plantings, including exotics such as bananas and other bold tropicals that were immensely popular during the Victorian era.

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check Olmsted Design Elements

Although the region's early parks were immensely popular, the Olmsteds took park-planning in a different direction. Although each of the landscapes they designed was unique, their style had several key elements. It may be useful to look at several of them individually.

Views

Olympic Range, seen on a vintage postcard.

"Olympic Range from Kinnear Park, Seattle"

The 1903 Olmsted report for Seattle called the city's views an "...extraordinary advantage." They especially praised views of water, distant mountains, and hills. In Seattle, they identified several important view corridors, and recommended several parks built around these parks. The sites included Kinnear Park on Queen Anne Hill, Fort Lawton and a parkway in the Magnolia neighborhood. They also suggested setting aside parts of West Seattle.


Today, these parks and boulevards offer some spectacular views over Puget Sound to the Olympics in the distance. Across town, on the east side of Seattle, the Olmsteds admired views of Mount Rainier. Today, Seward Park and areas along Lake Washington Boulevard offer views of what is known locally as "the mountain."

Shorelines

Lake Washington Boulevard, seen on a vintage postcard.

"Lake Washington Boulevard, Seattle"

Water features play an important part in Olmsted designs. They sought out sites with natural streams and creeks. They also found ways to use seeps and boggy ground, often by converting them into ponds. Today, many Olmsted parks have small, tranquil lakes edged by groves of handsome trees and fed by meandering watercourses. Their designs often encouraged visitors to explore these features. Paths offered easy access, and benches encouraged visitors to spend time near the water.


The Olmsteds were also strong advocates of preserving public access to the shore. For example, their work set aside Alki Beach in West Seattle, the edge of Lake Washington in Seattle, and Gorge Park in Spokane.

Trees and Plants

Ravenna Park

"Ravenna Park, Seattle"

Even in the early 1900s, little of the original plant cover survived in Northwest cities. Much of the land had been cleared for development and huge tracts had been logged. Even out at the urban fringe, the land had been cleared for farming or by wood cutters felling trees for fuel. The Olmsteds recognized the beauty in the native woodlands, and sought out several unspoiled areas. For example, their 1903 plan for Seattle, suggested setting aside Ravenna Park, which was then a private park that contained giant old-growth trees, a lush understory of dozens of native plant species, mineral springs, and a rushing stream that tumbled over rocks and fallen logs.


Although they recommended setting aside selected parcels of native woods, the Olmsteds often used a different plant palette when they designed parks and gardens. Today, their designs are filled with handsome shade trees, typically deciduous species popular at the time in East Coast gardens. Their parks also have evergreen trees, used as specimen trees, in large borders, and small groves but never intended as reforestation. Their designs often included choice deciduous and handsome evergreen shrubs, typically landscape ornamentals rather than native species. Due to increasing problems with security, parks today have much less shrubbery than they originally did.

Drives and Walks

Seattle's Frink Park, on vintage postcard.

"Passing thru Frink Park,Seattle"

Olmsted parks had walks and roads that hugged the natural contours of the land, and the boulevards and parkways they designed were also typically curvilinear. Never intended as commuter routes, these boulevards measured as much as 200 to 300 feet wide. In keeping with the standards of the day, they had just one lane of traffic in each direction. The remainder of the space was used for a separate bike path and pedestrian walkways. To make them more appealing, the boulevards were lined with street trees, sometimes complemented with other plant material.


While the Olmsteds had a signature style, each of the parks they designed was unique. Many contain similar features, such as a pond, but in each case the features vary in size and shape and in their relation to other park elements. At their best (as they often are), these features seemed to spring organically from the site as if they were placed and shaped by the hand of nature. In addition, the Olmsteds also believed that each park should fit its surroundings. They added elements to complement the surrounding neighborhoods, incorporated everything from elaborate and formal features to more rustic elements, as needed.


Today, the Olmsteds are hailed as visionaries, and for good reasons. Certainly, their ability to see young cities both as they were and as they would become decades in the future was unparalleled. For example, in Portland, they realized that the city would eventually grow out to the wilds of Mt. Tabor, and recognized the value of the extinct volcano as a park. Similarly, in Seattle they identified rough and tumble parcels such as Baily Peninsula (now Seward Park) out in what was then the urban fringe. Some of these sites might well have slipped through the cracks and never become parks without the Olmsteds, whose professional stature convinced many nay-sayers that parks were wise investments. In the century since the Olmsted Bros. prepared their plans for Seattle and Portland, much of day to day life has changed, sometimes dramatically. Yet, the views, shorelines, streams, wildlands, and greensward that the Olmsteds identified still resonate with residents and visitors today. If anything, the areas the Olmsteds suggested are even more precious today than they were a century ago, since open space is now at a premium.

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check Seattle's Olmsted Parks

Lake Washington Boulevard, seen on vintage postcard

"Lake Washington Boulevard" Seattle

In 1903, the Olmsteds prepared a master plan for Seattle parks. They identified 15 major parks, and offered a short explanation of the strengths and potential of each. These parks were scattered throughout the city, and the Olmsted plan suggested that they be linked by 23 miles of boulevards. At this early date, the Olmsteds were working on a macro level, providing a vision of what the city's parks might be. It did not contain detailed drawings or make specific recommendations about how each park should be developed. Civic leaders and local taxpayers began implementing the plan almost immediately. Park acquisition and building was neither fast nor cheap, but over the few decades, the city developed many of the areas identified in the original Olmsted plan.


Today, one of the best-preserved parts of Seattle's Olmsted legacy is a group of parks clustered in the southeast corner of the city -- Mt. Baker, Colman, Frink, Leschi, and Madrona parks. Lake Washington Boulevard connects these parks, and it, too, is part of the Olmsted legacy. Just as the Olmsteds planned, these parks are primarily passive use areas, with handsome trees, expansive lawns, and interesting terrain. They are now a mix of old and new. Decades ago, their plantings were much more elaborate than they are today. The shrub borders at Leschi were, for example, big enough to divide the park into quiet glades and sheltered coves. Today, security is a concern, and such plantings have given way to open lawns dotted with trees. Like the shrubs, seasonal flowers have been pared back, due to budget constraints. Over the years, park uses have changed, too. Today, these parks include everything from sister-cities pagodas to mini-gardens to tennis courts to buffers of naturalized vegetation. As is always the case, some of these elements complement the Olmsted design concepts better than others.


Volunteer Park, seen on a vintage postcard.

"Volunteer Park Seattle"

Although the Olmsted plan followed the lake shore north, they included a parcel off to the west. It has come to be known as the crown jewel of Seattle's parks – Volunteer Park on Capitol Hill. It is by far the most formal of the region's Olmsted parks. As they so often did, the Olmsted's intended the design to match the character of the surrounding neighborhood. In this case, the park adjoined Seattle's Millionaire Row and some other expensive real estate and so the Olmsted design called for elaborate arbors, circular lily ponds, formal planting beds, ample lawns, and fine trees. Today, this park also expresses another Olmsted ideal ­ the design is unique. Some of the elements are familiar, like the curvilinear drives, but the landscape is a one of a kind. Today, this park has many uses, and part of it is being restored. Workers are now returning the plantings at the entrance south of the water tower to its original configuration per the Olmsted design.


Although the Olmsted report for 1903 identified many potential parks, it left considerable work for a later date. Over the next few decades, the city would work with the Olmsted Bros. to prepare detailed drawings for a number of individual parks. The Washington Park Arboretum, for example, was part of the 1903 report, but it was not until the 1930s that the city had both the political will and the funding to bring it to fruition. In 1934, James Drawson, a junior partner at the Olmsted's Brookline office, prepared the Arboretum plan. It contained many typical Olmsted features, including ponds, natural rock bridges, stairs, and shelters, and exquisite plant combinations. As was typical in arboreta of the day, the plants are arranged by botanical groups. One of its most beloved features, Azalea Way, was part of this plan. Today, it offers a spectacular flower display each spring when Japanese flowering cherries, azaleas, and rhododendrons all bloom in concert.


AYP Grounds, seen on a vintage postcard.

AYP Grounds, Seattle

In addition to parks, the Olmsted Bros. also designed other Seattle landscapes, including the grounds of the 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition. Their plan centered the exposition around a riffling watercourse called The Cascades and a formal pond named Geyser Basin. To the southeast, the design axis offered a commanding view of Mount Rainier. Walks radiated out from the basin, leading to a circle of handsome buildings and formal gardens. Behind them, more buildings and grounds filled a second ring. Farther out, a perimeter road divided the heart of the expo grounds from a variety of other attractions, including a carnival, a model farm, a livestock exhibit, an amphitheater, and quiet walks in the native woods. However elaborate the AYP buildings appeared, only five of them were permanent. The others were torn down soon after the exposition closed. Fortunately, the Olmsted plan survived. The original Geyser Basin evolved into Frosh Pond, and classrooms and labs gradually filled the sites once occupied by AYP buildings. Even with all the changes, the campus plan is still one the Olmsteds would recognize in a heartbeat. It is so good that experts have called the campus a work of art.


In addition to the AYP grounds and the parks listed above, Seattle's Olmsted legacy includes many other properties. Woodland, Greenlake, Hiawatha, Schmitz, and Jefferson Parks were all identified in the 1903 report. So were a number of other parks, playgrounds, and boulevards. The Olmsteds also designed many private estates in Seattle and environs. Today, visitors are welcome at three of them. One of them, Dunn Gardens, is a public garden open by appointment. Another is Marymoor Park, now a King County Park in Redmond. The third is St. Michelle Winery, also in Redmond. The last two of these properties have changed significantly over the years, and original Olmsted features, while present, are not always obvious.

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check Portland's Olmsted Legacy

City Park, seen on vintage postcard

City Park, Portland

At about the same time Seattle hired the Olmsted Bros., so did Portland. In 1903, the Olmsted's toured the Oregon metropolis, evaluating existing parks and looking for new ones. That year, they issued their findings, which called for a variety of park facilities, including five, large "scenic reservations." One was to be a forest preserve located on the hills south of Riverview Cemetery. Another was to be a large meadow built on bottomland north of Portland on the Columbia Slough. The third was Mt. Tabor. The remaining two were Ross and Swan Islands. In addition to these large parks, the Olmsted report also suggested scenic parkways and boulevards that would link these parks with smaller, neighborhood parks and playgrounds.


The Olmsted report for Portland makes general recommendations about each of these properties, and reviewed each of Portland's existing parks. For example, they made several suggestions about City Park. They thought the park, which dates from 1871, was too fanciful. They suggested making it larger, realigning and improving internal roads, and repositioning park maintenance facilities. They also took exception to the park's flower displays, which they called "...exceedingly inappropriate, and one may almost say offensive to persons of refined tastes." What was wrong with these plantings is that they were scattered about, and clashed with the quiet beauty of the existing woodland. The Olmsted plan recommended encouraging native plantings, but improving them subtly. For example, crowded groves could be selectively thinned, so that the remaining trees would have room to grow. They were also critical of too much lawn, and suggested replacing some of it with ground covers and low shrubbery. Over the years, Portland implemented some of the Olmsted recommendations. Today, City Park has many different faces. Parts of it look very much like the kind of park the Olmsteds suggested, with hills and terraces filled with lush plantings. Other areas reflect the priorities of later generations, who added formal gardens, monuments, tennis courts, and other elements.


Two years after they submitted their report, the Olmsteds were back in Portland again, this time to design the Lewis & Clark Exposition. The fair would prove far more successful than anyone could have imagined, and its legacy would affect the city's parks for decades. From the beginning, the Lewis & Clark Exposition was an effort to promote Portland. Boosters hoped visitors would find the city irresistible, and plunk down greenbacks to buy a home. To create the expo, they selected a site with extraordinary natural beauty and expansive views. Located in northeast Portland, the property stepped from the hills overlooking the city center to what was then Marsh Lake and on to the Willamette River. Since the fair would last only a few months, planners leased the land and built temporary buildings. To make sure this expo was suitably impressive, they hired the masters of landscape design, the Olmsted Bros. If boosters wanted to make the case for Portland as an up and coming city, they hired the right firm. As always, the Olmsted plan capitalized on the site's best features, and offered the promise that the remainder of Portland shared the same quality of life. As expected, the fair was over in a few months, and the buildings were razed. Eventually, the site became an industrial park and Marsh Lake was filled.


While the exposition was on, promoters knew they had a success on their hands, but they had no idea how big its impact on Portland would be. Within five years, the city's population doubled, and property values shot up dramatically. Speculators added to the frenzy, snapping up desirable properties. Some researchers have suggested that city officials tried to keep emerging details of Olmsted plans secret to keep the sites out of the hands of land sharks. They had only partial success. Land became so expensive so quickly that that the city could only afford a few new parks. Most were on the then less populated (and thus less expensive) east side of Portland. The city purchased Mt. Tabor, Sellwood, and Peninsula (then Albina) Parks, all identified in the Olmsted plan. On the west side, the city could only afford one Olmsted's recommendation ­ Terwilliger Boulevard. Today, these parks offer inviting open space, access to inherently interesting lands, views, and incorporate many other Olmsted ideals.


Laurelhurst Park, seen on vintage postcard

Laurelhurst Park, Portland

Curiously, the Portland park that looks the most Olmstedian is one step removed from them. Laurelhurst Park is complete with duck ponds, handsome trees, gentle, curvilinear walks, and a generous amount of parkesque plantings but it is not an Olmsted landscape. It was designed by Emanuel Mische, Superintendent of Portland Parks from 1908-1914, and a former member of the Olmsted firm. In 1919, the Pacific Coast Parks Association named it the most beautiful park on the West Coast.


In addition to parks, Portland also has one of the region's fine Olmsted-designed estates that is open to the public. The 13 acre parcel once belonged to Peter Kerr, who made his fortune in wheat. He worked with the Olmsteds for 10 years, designing his estate on property overlooking the Willamette River with distant views of Mt. Hood. Today, the plantings have matured, and the large-scale islands and borders of choice trees and shrubs are perfectly composed. The garden also has more intimate spaces, often with rare plantings in inspired combinations. The Kerr estate is known today as the Bishop's Close. It is located near Elk Rock in southwest Portland.

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check Walla Walla's Olmsted Parks

Pioneer Park, seen on vintage postcard

Pioneer Park, Walla Walla

Five years after Seattle and Portland commissioned the Olmsted Brothers, Walla Walla brought them to town to work on their city park. The Olmsted plan was later revised by John W. Langdon, president of the local parks commission and an accomplished horticulturist. The Olmsted/Langdon plan started with a ruined, 40-acre farm that had served, at various times, as a racetrack, a fairgrounds, and a reservoir. When locals talked of selling it to a developer, they sparked a political skirmish. When the dust settled, Walla Walla had itself a park. In 1908, the city asked the Olmsted Bros. to design their Pioneer Park. The designers transformed a big, flat, weedy parcel into a cool oasis with both formal and naturalistic elements. The centerpiece was a large, round concert ground in the middle of the park, accessed by a formal, tree-lined drive. The remainder of the park featured tree-lined walks, meandering streams, low waterfalls, rustic bridges, duck ponds, and sweeping lawns. Most of the park was informal and naturalistic, it also featured a playground and a zoo. More than 6,000 trees and shrubs transformed the bare ground into a fledgling arboretum of choice shade trees. Nearly a century later, these trees have grown enormous. Eleven of them are the biggest of their kind in the state. Eight others hold second or third place titles. Today, the park is not exactly the one the Olmsted's planned, but it has aged gracefully and is still a particularly fine example of their work.

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check Spokane's Olmsted Parks

Manito Park, seen on vintage postcard

Manito Park, Spokane

In 1913, it was Spokane's turn to hire to Olmsted Bros to design a park system. Just as they had in both Seattle and Portland, the Brookline firm prepared a detailed, written report that evaluated existing parks and identified areas that should be set aside for new ones. They proposed several large parks including Gorge Park, in central Spokane at the falls; Upriver Park, a little more than four miles upstream from town; Queen Anne Park, in the Latah Creek valley near Garden Springs; Ravine Park, off Greenwood Road west of the city; West Heights Park, the woodlands west of Greenwood Cemetery; and Eastside Park, upriver about three miles from the city center. The plan also proposed boulevards that would link the city's parks and playgrounds into a system. Today, much of this Olmsted legacy is accessible on City Drive, a 23-mile loop that winds through much of Spokane and environs.


Over the years, Spokane implemented many of the ideas in the 1913 plan, adding new parks and updating others. For example, the Olmsted plan offered many suggestions for Manito Park. When the Olmsteds came to town, Manito was already well-established, and the landscape architects praised the park, writing "The city is fortunate in possessing already a local park so large, so well situated, and so accessible as this is." They suggested that the city add to the park, purchasing level land for meadows and play­fields. They also thought that some of the plantings should be revised. The "scrappy little lawns" built by covering rock outcrops with soil had to go, replaced by grand lawns that swept across valleys. Scattered flower patches were out, replaced by better displays. Rock ledges could stay, especially those on varied terrain. The zoo had to go, though not immediately. Most especially, the horticultural conceits and eclectic flourishes that were popular a generation or so earlier had to go. In their place, naturalistic elements would create a more pleasing park. Over the years, park builders incorporated many of these suggestions, and added several impressive specialty gardens. The park has areas that are classic Olmsted, and other areas devoted to fine specialty gardens, including a rose garden, an extensive perennial garden, a Japanese garden, a greenhouse, and other features.


Liberty Park, seen on vintage postcard

Liberty Park, Spokane

Across town, the Olmsted plan identified another potential park. This one ran up and down a hill. At the top, a rugged promontory offered sweeping views over Spokane. At the bottom, a gentle valley had occasional basins that could be transformed into ponds. On the hillside, native pines grew in scattered groves and existing grasslands carpeted the ground between rock outcrops. The Olmsted plan capitalized on these strengths. Their plan for Liberty Park improved these features to create a picturesque park that fit hand in glove with its surroundings. Or so it appears in early images. Today, Liberty Park still hints at its former glory, but much of it was lost when I-90 was built right through the heart of the landscape. Such changes highlight the vulnerability of all parks, and the fragments that survive are poignant reminders of what might have been.


If what happened to Liberty Park is a cautionary tale, another of Spokane's parks shows just how well an Olmsted park can serve a community today. Cannon Hill Park (originally named Adams Park) is located in a neighborhood of fine old homes, and the park itself looks as if it had been transported from the English countryside. Ducks swim on a handsome lake where huge, old willows dangle weeping branches over the water. Easy walks circumnavigate the water, passing by lawns dotted with trees and crossing bridges crafted from natural stone. The whole park covers just a few blocks, but it feels expansive, as if it was a remnant of a bucolic countryside that predated the neighborhood. The design is, of course, all artifice. Neither the plants nor the lay of the land are originals, but they create a tranquil setting that welcomes visitors and encourages them to return often to see the park at different times and seasons. In the best of all worlds, the Olmsteds thought everyone who lived in the city should have such a park within easy walking distance of their home. Modern visitors today are likely to wish it were so. Today, Cannon Hill Park and the region's other fine Olmsted legacy parks are national treasures. In them, visitors can explore the work of the greatest designers of their day and experience first-hand the art of landscape design.

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check Other Olmsted Legacy Parks and Public Landscapes

The Olmsted Bros. worked on many projects in the Pacific Northwest including parks, college campuses, exposition grounds, cemeteries, and the like. Some of these designs were implemented immediately, some over time, and some were never built at all. Of those that were built, some have changed over the years, so that the landscape on the site today may bear little resemblance to the one the Olmsteds designed. The region's Olmsted legacy is further complicated by problems in verifying all the projects attributed to the Olmsted Bros. There is, for example, some evidence that they designed a park for Everett, Washington, but historians there have no record of it. There is obviously a great deal of research yet to do before the region's Olmsted legacy is full understood. Even so, a tentative list of a Olmsted designs sheds some light on just how influential these designers were in the Pacific Northwest.

Oregon

Washington

British Columbia

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check Olmsted-Designed Estate Gardens

During their careers, the Olmsted Bros. designed more than 150 estates in the Pacific Northwest. Over the years, a few have become public gardens, parks, or other facilities that are open to visitors. As with the Olmsted parks, some of these properties look much the original Olmsted concept, and some have changed considerably. Those who go looking for the Olmsted legacy at these properties will find, with a few exceptions, very little historical information available on site. Even without such information, the designs often speak for themselves, and offer astute visitors a chance to test their ability to read a landscape and identify (at least tentatively) some Olmsted signature elements.

Oregon

Washington

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checkOlmsted Resources

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