Pioneers for Seattle Parks

It is some years back now, but throughout 2003, there were many reminders of the centennial for the arrival of the Olmsted Brothers firm. To celebrate the contributions of these pioneer landscape architects, the Seattle Parks Foundation featured monthly walking tours through 12 city parks that were shaped by the firm, the most celebrated of national activists in the progressive “city beautiful” movement of the late-19th and early-20th centuries. The first tour began at the Conservatory in Volunteer Park Saturday at 10 a.m.

See also this interesting Kyle McCoy video:

In the more than 30 years that followed the 1903 introduction of its comprehensive plan for Seattle parks, the firm was involved in 37 park projects.

Its influence is felt even more if we add boulevards, designs for many private local gardens, and master plans for making over the University of Washington campus as well as the 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition.

Volunteer Park at the summit of Capitol Hill was included in the 1903 plan. This view looks north from the entrance to the water tower — another Olmsted proposal — during the snow of Jan. 3, 1916.

The walkway that appears just above the three figures left of center runs between two lily pools that are planned for restoration during this centennial. In 1916 both the glass Conservatory (top center) and the charming lattice pavilion (right of center) were but four years old.

The Seattle Art Museum replaced the latter in 1932. The covered bandstand (left) on the far side of the reservoir is the newest structure in this scene. It was completed in 1915 for the park’s then frequent concerts.


Plenty of dusty treadmills are for sale, but bulletin boards are also fruitful for those willing to exercise their minds through alternative medicine, yoga, meditation, hypnotism and the like. Items for sale come with exclamation points. For some reason, pitches for mental and psychic well-being favor question marks. “Why are you so quiet?” “Isn’t it time to feel better?”

The Art of Living class sounded intriguing, so I called Robin, an open, relaxed woman who patiently described its basic elements. The technique, called Sudarshan Kriya, sounded like a little yoga and a little meditation with some crucial breathing tossed in. She also pointed me towards Outsider Art.

Then she got right to it: “It’s a powerful way to release stress so you can get a sense of who you are. It’s very profound and spiritual. I’m a very undisciplined person. It’s the only thing I’ve stuck with. It blasts all the crap out of you.”

The discipline is taught all over the world. She and her husband are certified teachers and donate the entire $250 instruction fee to the international organization. I tried to invite myself to one of her regular sessions because the group of attendees ranged from a doctor to high-tech workers to a tarot-card reader. She politely said no, but suggested a Bellevue class.

I opted, instead, to follow the trail of another flier promising a “Brain Stretch.” It led me to the Northwest Senior Activity Center in Ballard. The front windows were covered with massive white sheets of paper, each listing the menu of activities under all kinds of categories ranging from bingo to sculpture art to blood-pressure checks to belly dancing.

I had to wend my way toward the back of the building, up narrow stairs and down a hall to find the brain stretchers. There, I encountered five seniors sitting around a conference-room table. They were early and waiting for stragglers from a fitness class downstairs to arrive so the session could begin. I asked what exactly everyone would be doing to stretch his or her brain.

“If I could remember that,” said Duke, a man with gray bangs, big glasses a, d a wide smile, “I wouldn’t be here.”

The idea of the periodic classes is to exercise the mind by tackling riddles and clearing what the coordinator called “the assumptions that can clutter our minds.” The group, a dozen in all, took on a number of conundrums. You know the kind: impossible to figure out but annoyingly obvious when you learn the answer.

I slinked off without getting any of them right. Check also this article on Asian Art in Seattle.