by Joel Lee
On April 30, 1903, Seattle leaders hired the prominent Olmsted Brothers, one of the first and most important landscape architecture firms in the country, to design a park and boulevard system for Seattle. On October 19, 1903, Charles Olmsted wrote of the Seattle park system that the “primary aim should be to secure and preserve for the use of the people as much as possible of these advantages of water and mountain views and of woodlands, well distributed and conveniently located.” Beacon Hill’s Jefferson Park was one of a handful of parks that the Olmsteds considered vital to the success of their plan and the health of the city, and joined a short list of important parks including Seward Park, Green Lake, the Arboretum, and Volunteer Park as key links in an “emerald necklace” of parks and boulevards connecting the city.
Unfortunately Jefferson Park’s history has been more convoluted than these other parks, and the Park has gone through many changes over the years since the land was first purchased by the city in 1898. Named after President Thomas Jefferson, the area was used for everything from a “pesthouse” isolating smallpox patients, to military use, housing anti-aircraft guns and a G.I. recreation center when the land was requisitioned during World War II.
A large northwest section of the park was turned over to the water department where, until recently, it housed the two above-ground water reservoirs built a hundred years ago. This had the unfortunate side effect of taking what had been a key open green space and community gathering spot on Beacon Hill and converting it to a fenced-off barbed wire government compound which served as a physical barrier dividing the neighborhood.
Soon, however, the fences are coming down and once again Beacon Hill will be united. At 52.4 acres, Jefferson Park and its accompanying golf course are one of Seattle’s largest parks. Although some of the key components to the park such as the skate park and the Beacon Mountain Playground are not yet complete, it is already easily one of the nicest parks in the city. With its well-planned walkways and playfields taking advantage of the stunning views of downtown and Elliott Bay, it is easy to imagine how this area is going to become Beacon Hill’s new outdoor living room and one of the best green spaces in the Seattle park system. Perhaps more importantly, it will finally complete the plan that the Olmsted Brothers put into place over 100 years ago to unite Seattle with an “emerald necklace” of parks and boulevards, and bring Beacon Hill together with the rest of the city.
Joel Lee maintains the Beacon Hill Public Art website.
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