Washington Park taken by Leslie Jacobs

Just weeks after the Olmsted Network’s successful conference in Milwaukee, the city’s rich Olmsted heritage is receiving recognition. Thanks to our partners and friends, Washington Park has been designated a Milwaukee County Historic Landmark by the Milwaukee County Landmarks Committee.  

The decision came after testimony by Olmsted Network board chair Phil Schultz: “As the city, county and state consider new plans for this park, understanding and recognizing the park’s important history are urgent. We know that Central Park and other Olmsted parks in Buffalo, Louisville, Rochester and Boston have financially benefited from historic designation, finding it easier to attract visitors, grant dollars and tax incentives.” Read the full statement here.  

In designating the park, the Landmarks Committee noted the park’s design by Frederick Law Olmsted, the “standard of excellence” established by the firm that “continues to influence landscape architecture in the United States to this day,” and the park’s embodiment of Olmsted’s design principles.   

The decision received prominent media coverage, including this piece in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and kudos from those engaged in the park.  

“Designating Washington Park a historic landmark is an important step in acknowledging Milwaukee’s ‘Central Park,’” said Olmsted Network Board Chair Philip Schultz. 

Melissa Muller, director of Washington Park Wednesdays, called the designation “a commitment to honoring and fulfilling the legacy of Frederick Olmsted… This declaration is a testament to our dedication to preserving history, fostering community and embracing a shared future.”   

Designed by Frederick Law Olmsted in 1895, Washington Park has played a central role in the life of the city. It was the site of the Milwaukee County Zoo until 1958 and is fondly remembered by many residents and visitors. (Read a related personal essay here).  

In 2024, the County will undertake a major upgrade of the lagoon bridges. Construction is also underway of a new Urban Ecology Center, long a beloved fixture of the park.

The Olmsted Network has been engaged in Milwaukee for some time. In 2022, we testified in favor of naming Olmsted Way and participated in the unveiling. We have supported the creation of a Washington Park friends group and held our 2023 national conference in Wisconsin, spending a day in the Washington Park Senior Center discussing the park’s past, present and future and then touring the landscape.  

We look forward to continuing our work with the local community.  

Learn more about Washington Park and its current opportunities and challenges in these conference recordings:  
Shaping the Future of Washington Park (Part 1: Revisiting the Master Plan)  
Shaping the Future of Washington Park (Part 2: Engaging the Community)  
The Future of our Parks (featuring local officials)