Volunteer Park,
Seattle, WA
Volunteer Park
Seattle, Washington
United States

Olmsted Brothers designed Volunteer Park in 1903. 

Volunteer Park is often described as the crown jewel of Seattle’s Olmsted Brothers park and boulevard system. It is the most developed and intact Olmsted-designed park in the city.  

In 1876, Seattle purchased 40 acres of land on Capitol Hill. The land was used as a cemetery from 1884 until 1887 when burials were relocated to make room for a planned park. Originally named Lake View Park and then City Park, Volunteer Park was given its current name in 1901 to commemorate Spanish-American War veterans. A reservoir and gatehouse were added in 1900.  

As the city population grew in the wake of the Klondike Gold Rush, city leaders invited John Charles Olmsted of the Olmsted Brothers firm to design a park and boulevard system. The resulting 1903 plan incorporated existing parks, connecting them by parkways, as well as recommendations for the largely undeveloped Volunteer Park.  

The plan included space for activities, such as music in the concert grove and a play area for small children. It also offered space for people to enjoy nature, with interior views through the tree groves and exterior views across the reservoir to the Puget Sound and the distant mountains. Paths meandered across large lawns and through the trees, and multi-layer plantings helped organize the space and block views of the streets and surrounding homes.  

In 1908, a water tower with an observatory— recommended by John Charles— was added to the traffic circle at 14th Avenue E and E Prospect Street, ensuring that expansive views of the city and surrounding landscape remained accessible as the neighborhood grew denser. Over the next few years, under the firm’s guidance, the park saw the addition of a new vehicular access point, a playground for older children, a set of tennis courts and a conservatory, added in 1912, which replaced the one at Woodland Park. John Charles also designed a delightful shelterhouse, which is now used as a restroom.   

After the park was completed in 1912, the firm continued to consult, often advising against large, proposed developments due to the negative impact they would have on the park’s character and the visitors’ experience. Notwithstanding, the park is today the home of the Seattle Art Museum’s Asian Museum. The museum overlooks the reservoir and has an exquisite mountain view on a clear day.   

Volunteer Park was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976 and became a city landmark in 2010. Soon after the landmark designation, the Friends of Seattle’s Olmsted Parks helped form Volunteer Park Trust, which continues to restore and protect the historic Olmsted landscape for future generations.

To dive deeper into the history of Volunteer Park, read more from our friends at HistoryLink here. 


    Isamu Noguchi's Black Sun sculpture and water system reservoir in Volunteer Park. Photo courtesy of the Volunteer Park Trust.

    Park reservoir. Photo courtesy of the Volunteer Park Trust.

    Plan for Volunteer Park. Image courtesy of FLONHS.

    Image courtesy of FLONHS.

    Shelterhouse in Volunteer Park. Photo courtesy of Volunteer Park Trust.

    Water tower and its view. Photos courtesy of Volunteer Park Trust.

    Early landscaping of Volunteer Park. Photo courtesy of FLONHS.

    Approach to water tower in Volunteer Park. Image courtesy of FLONHS.

    Information sign for Volunteer Park. Photo courtesy Dede Petri.


Shared Spaces


Village of Kohler

Olmsted Brothers created a 50-year master plan for the Village of Kohler in Wisconsin.

Washington Park

Originally called West Park, Washington Park in Milwaukee was designed by Olmsted, Olmsted & Eliot beginning in 1891-92.