Mount Hood in Oregon by Phil Schultz.

The Olmsted Network trekked to Portland and Seattle last month for a week-long visit to the Pacific Northwest. Our goal? To grow our network and educate ourselves and others about the incredible assets in these cities — and the values behind them. While many associate Frederick Law Olmsted and the Olmsted firm with the East Coast, in fact, the Olmsted heritage in the West is a rich and fascinating one.   

A Bit of History 

The Olmsted firm had a vibrant Pacific Northwest practice beginning in 1911. This work involved John Charles Olmsted, as well as Olmsted firm members Percival Jones, Emanuel Mische, Frederick Dawson, and others who continued their engagement in these cities (as we outline in this 100-year timeline of Olmsteds in the Northwest) long after John Charles Olmsted’s death in 1920.  

The Olmsted firm had nearly 50 commissions in Portland and 85 commissions in Seattle. Projects in Portland ranged from the Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition to Elk Rock and the Portland Park System to Oregon State and Terwilliger Parkway. In Seattle, Olmsted Brothers was responsible for the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition, the parks and parkways, the university grounds, and numerous residential properties. 

1903 was an especially golden year. In that year, Olmsted Brothers— led by John Charles Olmsted— published comprehensive park reports for both Portland and Seattle. To this day, these plans provide a framework for park design. 

Friends of Elk Rock Reception, Portland Working Group & CPA Conference 

On Tuesday, June 18, the Olmsted Network was pleased to join with the Portland Parks Foundation and Friends of Elk Rock Garden to host a memorable reception at Elk Rock (Job No. 03722).   

On a perfect summer evening, Mount Hood made an appearance as family member Josephine Kerr Lowe, former director of Portland Parks and Recreation Zari Santner, Portland Parks Foundation board member Suzanne Bishop, and I urged attendees to enjoy the estate and appreciate their great Olmsted legacy. 

This was one of many stops and introductions to treasures in Portland including Terwilliger Parkway, Laurelhurst Park, Washington Park, Hoyt Arboretum, Columbia Park, the Plaza Blocks, Peninsula Park, 40-Mile-Loop, and Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge. During my stay, the Olmsted Network, working with Suzanne Bishop and many fantastic organizations, gathered to explore ways we might work together  

Then, it was off to Seattle, where the Olmsted Network moderated a peer conversation, The Legacy and Continued Relevance of Olmsted Parks, at City Park Alliance’s Greater and Greener conference. Olmsted Network Board member Bronwyn Nichols Lodato and Boston’s Joelle Fontaine and Anita Morson-Matra joined me in the discussion. 

The Seattle visit also included tours of the University of Washington and its Arboretum, Green Lake Park, Woodland Park, and Volunteer Park, and a drive on the boulevards. Special thanks go to Friends of Seattle’s Olmsted Parks president Doug Luetjen as well as FSOP members Sue Nicol and Don Harris, who was also a founder of NAOP.  The grand finale included a reception for the Olmsted Network at the Rainier Club hosted by Doug Luetjen, our board Vice Chair. The Rainier Club is a special venue since it often served as the home-away-from-home for JCO on his trips to Seattle.  

Pop-Up Showcases Dunn Gardens  

My trip West included our first “pop-up” event— this one to Dunn Gardens, one of the few residential designs in the Northwest open to the public. With Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains as a backdrop, 25 happy travelers gathered at the Gardens in northern Seattle. 

Welcomed by Dunn Gardens Executive Director Carolyn Cox and me, registrants toured the seven-plus acres, taking in a range of plants, trees, shrubs, and glorious vistas, as well as stories about the Dunn and Agen estates which shared a common border and common design by the Olmsted Brothers firm. Referencing the original Olmsted plans, attendees were able to see how Dunn Gardens, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, remains true to its design.   

Arthur Dunn and Ed Dunn were the two gardeners within the Dunn family who seriously engaged in the Olmsted Brothers’ plan. Arthur took great delight in realizing the planting plan, insisting that the garden include some of his favorite trees from the East Coast—including many remarkable beeches that thrive to this day. Ed Dunn took the garden to a new level, creating his own sympathetic additions. He transformed the rustic area called the hollow into a woodland glade with a pond garden that is a beloved feature to this day. 

The tour concluded with a glorious lunch under a massive magnolia overlooking Puget Sound. For more pictures, check our photo album here.   

Thanks go to the Friends of Seattle’s Olmsted Parks for much of the information in this blog post. See “Guide to the Olmsted Legacy of Residential Gardens in the Pacific Northwest,” Friends of Seattle’s Olmsted Parks, 2015.