Seattle’s Olmsted Parks


John Charles Olmsted of the Olmsted Brothers Landscape Architects firm developed a park and boulevard system for the City of Seattle between 1903 and 1912. In addition to the system plan, Olmsted and other landscape architects from the Olmsted Brothers firm also developed plans for individual landscapes, including the University of Washington campus, Volunteer Park, the Washington Park Arboretum, Hiawatha Park, and others.

The system plan and these individual plans share a number of Olmstedian characteristics:

  • Parks and boulevards located on hilltops or along shorelines take advantage of views, incorporated as "borrowed landscapes" into the designs.
  • In more formally designed parks, "rooms" consisted of sweeping lawns bordered by planting beds that featured multiple layers, from ground covers to mid-height shrubs to taller trees.
  • Olmsted encouraged the preservation and use of native vegetation.
  • Many parks incorporated playgrounds for Seattle's younger citizens.
  • Paths and drives often follow curvilinear lines through the landscapes.
  • Formal sections of boulevards are flanked by rows of trees, informal sections that travel through woodland parks incorporate the existing vegetation along the street borders.

Volunteer Park

Volunteer Park was designed by the Olmsted Brothers. It is located in the Capitol Hill neighborhood at 1247 15th Ave E, 98112 . It is 48.3 acres.

Volunteer Park is the jewel of Seattle's Olmsted legacy. Designed by John Charles Olmsted in 1909, it is an urban park designed in the naturalistic, pastoral/picturesque American romantic style that is closely associated with the Olmsted firm. The elements of this style include irregular open lawns bordered by shrub and tree plantings, carefully framed and modulated views, one or more circulation loops, and areas intended for crowds and social interaction which are treated in a more geometric and formal manner.

The park design integrates the water tower and reservoir that serve Seattle's public water system. City officials consulted with Olmsted regarding the placement of the standpipe that was needed to serve the homes at Capitol Hill's highest elevations, above the reach of the gravity fed system served by the reservoir. Olmsted had recommended in his 1903 plan for Seattle's park and boulevard system that an observation tower be constructed to allow visitors to see over the surrounding neighborhood and trees to the spectacular views in all directions. When the standpipe was built in 1908, it featured an observation area at the top of the tower surrounding it.

Olmsted aligned one of the park design's primary axes with the reservoir to take advantage of views to the east that included Lake Union and the Olympic Mountains. Today, the view also includes the Space Needle. Olmsted incorporated distant views into a number of his park and boulevard designed in Seattle. Known as "borrowed landscape," these views draw the beauty of natural resources into the park's design.

The Olmsted design's other primary axis ran along the ridge line of the hill, which is followed by the Concourse, running between the water tower and the Volunteer Park Conservatory, which was built in 1912. The area on either side of the Concourse is more formally designed, while the landscape along the Carriage Drive, which loops through the western portion of the park tends to be more informal. This is in keeping with Olmsted's practice of designing more formal beds and alles of trees where their are more organized activities (a bandstand and pergola along the Concourse in Volunteer Park) and less formal plantings, often including native species, along more passive recreation areas.

Volunteer Park became an official city landmark in 2011.

Volunteer Park Additional Info

Volunteer Park News


∆ Cal Anderson Park

∆ Cheasty Boulevard

∆ Cheasty GS: Cheasty Blvd

∆ Colman Park

∆ Frink Park

∆ Green Lake Park

∆ Hiawatha Playfield

∆ Hunter Boulevard

∆ Interlaken Park

∆ Jefferson Park

∆ Kinnear Park

∆ Lakeview Park

∆ Lake Washington Boulevard

∆ Madrona Park

∆ Magnolia Greenbelt

∆ Montlake Boulevard

∆ Mount Baker Boulevard

∆ Mount Baker Park

∆ Puget Boulevard Commons

∆ Schmitz Boulevard

∆ Schmitz Park

∆ Seward Park

∆ Volunteer Park

∆ Washington Park Arboretum

∆ Woodland Park


∆ Alki Beach Park

∆ Cowen Park

∆ Dearborn Park

∆ Denny Blaine Park

∆ Denny Park

∆ Discovery Park

∆ Golden Gardens

∆ Hamilton Viewpoint Park

∆ Leschi Park

∆ Lincoln Park

∆ Madison Park

∆ Marshall Park

∆ McGraw Square

∆ Miller Playfield

∆ Pioneer Square

∆ Ravenna Boulevard

∆ Ravenna Park

∆ Salmon Bay Park

∆ Sunset Hill Viewpoint Park

∆ Union Station Square


∆ Ballard Playground

∆ Beacon Hill Playground

∆ Beer Sheva Park

∆ Boren Park

∆ Cascade Playground

∆ City Hall Park

∆ Fairview Park

∆ Garfield Playfield

∆ Gasworks Park

∆ Genesee Park

∆ Gilman Playground

∆ Greenwood Triangle

∆ Howell Park

∆ Interbay Athletic Field

∆ Kerry Park

∆ Licton Spring Park

∆ Longfellow Creek GS: North

∆ Magnolia Boulevard

∆ Magnolia Park

∆ Myrtle Edwards Park

∆ Observatory Courts

∆ Pritchard Island Beach

∆ Queen Anne Boulevard

∆ Rainier Playfield

∆ Roanoke Park

∆ Rogers Playground

∆ South Park Playground

∆ University Playground

∆ Viretta Park