From September 20-22, 2023, the Olmsted Network took to Wisconsin for three-days of memorable lectures, panels, tours and dinners. The event drew over 70 partners, supporters and scholars from across the globe, including a Beveridge Fellow from Paris.
The conference kicked off on Wednesday with shuttle service from the historic Pfister Hotel, carrying attendees to the Washington Park Senior Center, located on the site of the first Milwaukee County Zoo. Olmsted Network Board Chair Phil Schultz and President & CEO Dede Petri welcomed attendees before historian Virginia Small offered an introductory overview of Olmsted and Milwaukee. A panel discussion— Public Parks: Why Our History Matters— and a virtual presentation on park adaptation from Patricia O’Donnell followed. During lunch, local officials discussed the future of Milwaukee’s parks, which segued nicely into two larger panel discussions about the future of Washington Park. The afternoon concluded with a tour of Washington Park, with guides Virgina Small and Dave Boucher. A great white egret joined us as attendees reviewed the current state of the Washington Park lagoon.
On Wednesday evening, Lake Michigan served as the picturesque backdrop for dinner at Bartolotta’s Lake Park Bistro, a local French kitchen, for a flavorful dinner of beef bourguignon and chocolate lava cake. Closing out the night was a rousing game of Olmsted trivia with the help of Jill Trebbe, Site manager and National Park Service ranger from Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site in Brookline, MA.
The second conference day took us to Olmsted’s magnificent Lake Park. After a brief hello from the local supervisor, Lake Park Friends Chair Anne Hamilton introduced the park and welcomed everyone to the Marcia Coles Community Room. Up next, Marquette University Professor Patrick Mullins offered a visually beautiful and inspiring lecture on English enlightenment aesthetics in Olmsted parks. From the sublime to the practical, leaders of Highland Park Conservancy in Rochester, NY; Weequahic Park Association in Newark, NJ; and Lake Park Friends then engaged in a powerful discussion on the benefits of historic designation and other tools for successfully caring for historic parks. Big Head Fred, our 7-foot-tall caricature of Frederick Law Olmsted, joined us for lunch, posing for pictures in front of Lake Michigan. In the afternoon, we enjoyed a multi-faceted examination of trauma, public health, equity and inclusion followed by restorative tours of Lake Park, Newberry Boulevard and Riverside Park, with Virginia Small, Anne Hamilton and Joanne Barndt.
One of the most anticipated moments occurred on Thursday night as we gathered at the Grohmann Museum to honor our 2023 Olmsted champions. After greetings from Big Head Fred and a taste of Wisconsin cheeses, attendees enjoyed cocktails on the rooftop terrace and sculpture garden overlooking downtown Milwaukee. Dinner featured a Wisconsin-themed menu of German schnitzel and apple cake and a silent video showcasing the award winners.
Olmsted Network board members did the honors, presenting awards to Constance Guardi of Riverside, IL; Arleyn Levee of Boston, MA; Friends of Olmsted-Beil House of Staten Island (received by Sean Ryan); Lake Park Friends of Milwaukee (received by Joanne Barndt); and Washington Park Camera Club, Archives Committee of Chicago (received by Duane Savage). Each presentation was followed by moving and memorable acceptance remarks.
On the third and final day, our Olmsted exploration moved to Lake Geneva. Starting the day at Yerkes Observatory, we toured the observatory and grounds before hearing a presentation on the Olmsted Brothers in Chicago from expert Julia Bachrach and a final panel discussion on the horticultural challenges of historic landscapes. As a special treat, we boarded buses and headed to an Olmsted residential property— House in the Woods— for a tour of the landscape and house and a ride on the unique, electric yacht known as the Henry Knox.
No visit to Milwaukee is complete without a trip to a historic brewery. On Friday evening, a hearty few met for a tour and fond farewell at Lakefront Brewery. Our group, welcomed by a lively tour guide, enjoyed the tour and beer tasting, as well as an amazing fish fry. The event proved to be a perfect way to wrap The Olmsteds in Wisconsin.
Please pencil in our 2024 annual conference for the week of September 16. We’ll be in Newburgh, NY, at Downing Park and will also visit some of the surrounding Olmsted landscapes. More details will be coming soon.