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A historical look at Woodland Park and the Woodland Park Zoo

What do you think? (2 Comments) October 28, 2010 at 5:19PM

Attendees at Tuesday night’s Friends of Green Lake meeting were treated to a historical presentation by Sue Nicol of Friends of Seattle’s Olmsted Parks.

Nicol spoke on the Olmsted history of Woodland Park and the Woodland Park Zoo.

Nicol explained that in 1902, when the city of Seattle was only 50 years old, forward-thinking city leaders decided to plan a parks system that could be maintained for the next 100 years.  They wanted to ensure that the parks system could grow with the city, which then had a population of 7,000, to a future population of 500,000.

“We are all beneficiaries of their foresight,” Nicol said.  “It makes me worry about today’s politicians who don’t think past next month.”

Back in 1903, the city hired the Olmsted Brothers landscape architecture firm to plan Seattle’s overall parks system, as well as to create plans for twenty city parks and the University of Washington campus.

John Charles Olmsted traveled to Seattle from Brookline, MA in the spring of 1903.  After he arrived, he spent a month walking through the city surveying good locations for future parks.  He believed that parks should be located in all parts of the city, not just accessible to the wealthy.

Woodland Park was originally a private estate owned by Guy Phinney.  Phinney developed part it into an “English aristocrat park” with a formal rose garden, which eventually became the Woodland Park Rose Garden.

Nicol explained that there have been several changes at the zoo since it was originally built using the Olmsted plans.  Notably, there are now many more trees.  In fact, there were far fewer trees in the city of Seattle 100 years ago than there are today.

Woodland Park entrance, 1909

Woodland Park entrance, 1909

Creative Commons License photo credit: Seattle Municipal Archives

Phinney built a trolley line up Fremont Ave N to the park’s entrance in order to encourage Seattleites to come north to what was then considered the remote countryside.

“The minute the park was created,” Nicol said, “the price of land in the surrounding areas shot up.”

Guy Phinney's private trolley, 1891

Guy Phinney's private trolley, 1891

Creative Commons License photo credit: Seattle Municipal Archives

In the 1930s, Aurora Ave was built through Woodland Park, sparking public controversy.  Forested areas were taken apart and destroyed.  Soil that was removed during the construction was dumped into the south end of Green Lake, forming what are now the play fields.

Aurora Bridge under construction, 1931

Aurora Bridge under construction, 1931

Creative Commons License photo credit: Seattle Municipal Archives

Aurora Ave got its name from Edward Kilbourne, one of the first developers that bought land in Green Lake.  Kilbourne named the street after his hometown, Aurora, Illinois.

Edward C. Kilbourne, 1890

Sue Nicol promised to come back in the spring to discuss the history of Green Lake Park and Ravenna Park.

Thank you, Sue and the Friends of Green Lake!

2 Responses to “A historical look at Woodland Park and the Woodland Park Zoo”

  1. Sorry to have missed this! I’ll be back for the spring one.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Yes, I totally missed this; otherwise I would have attended.