Board of Park Commissioners Subject Files (Series I), 1905-1920

Overview of the Collection

Seattle (Wash.). Board of Park Commissioners; Seattle (Wash.). Dept. of Parks and Recreation
Board of Park Commissioners Subject Files (Series I)
1905-1920 (inclusive)
0.8 cubic feet, (2 boxes)
Collection Number
Early subject files of the Board of Park Commissioners.
Seattle Municipal Archives
Seattle Municipal Archives
Office of the City Clerk
City of Seattle
PO Box 94728
Seattle, WA
Telephone: 2062337807
Fax: 2063869025
Access Restrictions

Records are open to the public.


Content DescriptionReturn to Top

Series contains correspondence, reports, petitions, contracts and agreements, protests, and various lists filed with the Board of Park Commissioners related to a wide array of Park matters including park acquisitions, facility improvements, park use and concessions, and park safety matters. Also of interest are inventory lists of animals in the Woodland Park Zoo, animal donation records, and plants and shrubs in various parks. The parks facilities most often referenced are Leschi and Lincoln parks, Hiawatha Playground, and the Zoo. Also included is correspondence from the Olmsted Brothers regarding street tree planting. Similar types of records can be found in the Don Sherwood Parks History Collection (5801-01); Sherwood may have incorporated Park Board records in his artificially compiled collections.

Historical NoteReturn to Top

The Department of Parks and Recreation administers Seattle's parks system and community recreation programs. It maintains over 6000 acres of city parks, 20 miles of shoreline, and 22 miles of boulevards. The department operates the city's 25 community recreation centers, the Woodland Park Zoo, the Seattle Aquarium, nine swimming pools, a tennis center, and more than 400 smaller facilities. In addition, it is custodian for four public golf courses, three moorages, and several other athletic and cultural facilities.

In 1884 David Denny donated a five-acre tract that was the site of a cemetery to the City of Seattle, stipulating that it be designated a public park. The site, initially named Seattle Park and later renamed Denny Park, was the first ordinance-designated public park in Seattle. The ordinance that accepted the property (Ordinance 571) also made allowances for its conversion from a cemetery to a park and included a provision that three Park Commissioners be appointed to oversee the conversion. At that time, the City of Seattle was operating under its 1869 charter which provided for a relatively small government of 13 elected officials and three other officers, in whom all municipal authority was vested.

Legislation in 1887 (Ordinance 874) created the Board of Park Commissioners, consisting of three members to be appointed by Council, and who served three-year terms. This unpaid body was charged with all management responsibilities for Seattle's parks and was expected to report to Council as often as each quarter, making recommendations for improvements and for the acquisition of new properties.

In 1890 the City of Seattle adopted its first home-rule charter. The city's population had expanded from 3533 in 1880 to nearly 43,000. The new charter mandated a dramatically larger city government composed of 34 elected officials, 13 departments, and six regulatory commissions, including a Board of Park Commissioners. A park fund was also established, consisting of: proceeds from the sale of bonds issued for that purpose; gifts; appropriations made by Council; and 10% of the gross receipts from all fines, penalties, and licenses. The new Board of Park Commissioners, appointed by the Mayor, consisted of five paid ($300 per year) members who served five-year terms. Although the Board had all management responsibilities for Seattle's parks, including the authority to appoint a superintendent and to negotiate for property, Council retained the authority to purchase property.

In 1892 the Board appointed E. O. Schwagerl, a noted landscape architect and engineer, to be the second Superintendent of Parks. During the four years that he held the office, Schwagerl developed the first comprehensive plan for Seattle's parks. This plan may have guided Assistant City Engineer George F. Cotterill. Cotterill organized volunteers to construct 25 miles of bicycle paths, the routes of which were utilized by the Olmsted Brothers in their 1903 city-wide plan for a system of parks and boulevards.

In 1896 Seattle adopted a new home-rule charter. This charter redefined the Board of Park Commissioners as the Park Committee: five unpaid appointees who reported annually to Council. In addition, all management responsibilities of the parks, including the authority to obtain new properties, were vested with the City Council. The Superintendent of Parks position was eliminated and its responsibilities were assumed by the new Superintendent of Streets, Sewers, and Parks, one of the three members of the Board of Public Works.

In 1903, City Council adopted the Olmsted Brothers plan to expand and develop a system of parks and boulevards. At the same time, the Charter was amended, re-establishing the Board of Park Commissioners and giving it the kind of independence that park commissions in the metropolitan cities of the East enjoyed. While Council retained the authority to approve the purchase of property, the Board assumed all management responsibilities of the parks, as well as the exclusive authority to spend park fund monies. In addition, all park-related authority was removed from the Board of Public Works, and the Board of Park Commissioners elected to appoint a superintendent. Public support, both for the implementation of the Olmsted plan as well as for the new, empowered Board, was substantial. In 1905 a $500,000 park bond was passed; followed by $1,000,000 in 1908; $2,000,000 in 1910; and $500,000 in 1912.

In 1907 the Superintendent was joined by a new staff position, the Assistant Superintendent, and in the following year the first directorship, Playgrounds Director, was created. In 1912 the first full-time engineer appeared under the title Chief Engineer, later to be changed to Park Engineer. By 1922 a Head Gardener had been appointed, and two more directorships created: the Zoo Director and the Bathing Beaches Director.

In 1925 the charter was amended such that no more money could be spent in the acquisition of park properties than was available through the park fund. In that same year, the Park Engineer was replaced by a new position, the Landscape Architect. In 1926 the Board abolished the position of Superintendent, distributing that position's responsibilities between the Head Gardener and the Landscape Architect. In 1927 the position title of Park Engineer was re-established, but with the duties and responsibilities of the old superintendent, while the new Junior Park Engineer directly managed engineering and construction activity.

In 1926 Mayor Bertha K. Landes appointed a Municipal Recreation Committee, comprised of Park Board members, School Board members, and a representative of the community at large, to analyze ways in which they could cooperatively contribute to the municipal recreation program. The Committee submitted its report to the Mayor in January 1928. The report detailed which facilities were provided by the Park Board and which by the School Board; how the facilities could be more efficiently utilized; and what additional facilities were required.

A ten-year plan for the Department of Parks was announced in 1931. This plan, based upon a projected population for the Seattle metropolitan area in 1940, was a program of development aimed at making better use of existing properties, adding to those properties that needed more space, and acquiring new properties in those parts of town that were experiencing growth. Much of this plan would be realized by the Works Projects Administration later in the decade.

In 1939 administration of playground programs and bathing beaches was consolidated under the newly created position. In 1940, with the opening of the West Seattle Golf Course (the city's third municipal golf course) the position of Golf Director was established. A 1948 Charter amendment required the Board of Park Commissioners to appoint a park superintendent, and the position was to be excluded from the classified civil service.

A Charter amendment in 1967 reconstituted the Board of Park Commissioners as an advisory body to the Mayor, Council, the renamed Department of Parks and Recreation, and other City agencies. The amendment placed the fiscal and operational admistration of the department under the control of the Superintendent of Parks, who was now appointed by the Mayor to serve a four-year term. The specific duties of both the Superintendent and the Board, as well as the number of members and term length for the latter, were to be prescribed by ordinance. Council passed an ordinance in 1968 (Ordinance 96453) which defined the Board as a seven-member body with three-year terms of service.

The $65 million Forward Thrust bond was approved by voters in 1968. By 1974, with matching funds, interest, etc., it had grown to 92 million dollars in working capital; by 1976, over 40 new properties had been obtained by the Department of Parks and Recreation utilizing these funds. Forward Thrust and the Seattle Model City Program together supported the largest expansion of the Park system in Seattle history. These programs funded more than 70 new parks and park facilities.

Use of the CollectionReturn to Top

Preferred Citation

[Item and date], Board of Park Commissioners Subject Files (Series I), Record Series 5800-08. Box [number], Folder [number]. Seattle Municipal Archives.

Administrative InformationReturn to Top

Related Materials

A later iteration of the same series is 5800-07, Board of Park Commissioners Subject Files (Series II).

Detailed Description of the CollectionReturn to Top

Container(s) Description Dates
Box Folder
1 1 Alki Bath House. Suites and Towels Inventory 1912-1917
1 2 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition Grounds. Lease and Agreement. 1910
1 3 Agreement for Use of Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition Land 1912
1 4 American Association of Parks Superintendents Convention in Seattle. Program and Registrants 1909
1 5 American Association of Parks Superintendents Convention. Itinerary Planning 1912
1 6 Band Concerts. Contracts. Seattle Symphony Orchestra 1910
1 7 Band Concerts. Contracts. Wagner's Second Infantry Band 1910-1911
1 8 Band Concerts. Contracts. E.O. Cavanaugh's Band 1910-1911
1 9 Band Concerts. Petitions for Cowen Park Concerts 1911
1 10 Band Concerts. Bids and Correspondence 1911-1913
1 11 Band Concert Agreements 1912
1 12 Band Concerts. Petition for West Seattle Playgrounds Concerts
1 13 Boulevards. Discontinuance of Traffic Permits 1913
1 14 Petition for Streetlight on Blaine Boulevard following Hold-up and Shooting 1915
1 15 Petition for Improvement of Bowman Place/Wildwood Lane 1917
1 16 Leschi Park. Concessions 1909-1913
1 17 Park Concessions 1912-1916
1 18 Alki Beach. Concessions. R.F. Campbell 1920
1 19 Woodland Park. Concessions. C.O. Walcott Baloons 1920
1 20 Fortson Square. Petitions for Use 1907-1915
1 21 West Seattle Miscellaneous Correspondence. Hiawatha Playfield 1911
1 22 West Seattle Orchestra Club Proposed Use of Hiawatha Field House 1912
1 23 Petition for Completion of Jefferson Boulevard 1913
1 24 Petition for Improvement of Jefferson Park Golf Course 1917
1 25 Petition for Extension of Kinnear Park Street Car Line 1911
1 26 Petition for Improvements at Kinnear Park 1913-1915
1 27 Petition to Stop Dancing at Leschi Pavillion 1911
1 28 Petition for Exterior Light at Leschi Pavillion 1915
1 29 Petition to Use Leschi Park for an Automobile Thoroughfare 1915
1 30 Petition to Remodel Leschi Pavillion
1 31 Petition for Driveway to Connect with Lake Washington Boulevard in Leschi Park
1 32 Petition for Additional Tennis Courts at Lincoln Park 1913
1 33 Petitions to Open Lincoln Park on Sundays for Baseball 1916
1 34 Petition for a Field House at Lincoln Park
1 35 Petition for Bathing Beach in Madrona 1917
1 36 Petitions Regarding Boulevards at Madrona Park 1912
1 37 Petition for Improvements at Madrona Park 1912-1915
1 38 Parks Employees Petition for 15-day Annual Vacation
1 39 Park Police. Receipts for Police Stars 1908
1 40 Park Police Appointments 1909
1 41 Special Police Officers 1910
1 42 Park Police Roster and Badge Numbers 1910-1911
1 43 Correspondence Against Reduction in Playground Supervision 1914-1915
1 44 Petitions Against Reduction of Playground Supervision 1914-1915
1 45 Drawings. Ravenna Park Structures 1908
1 46 Olmsted Report on Playgrounds 1910
1 47 Description of Parks Recommended by Olmsted Bros. 1908
2 1 Leased Facilities 1908-1915
2 2 Resolutions Accepting Property for Park Purposes 1909
2 3 Real Estate Owned by the Parks Department 1909
2 4 Offers to Sell Property for Parks Purposes 1909
2 5 Offers to Sell Property for Parks Purposes 1909-1914
2 6 Offers to Sell Property for Parks Purposes 1909-1917
2 7 Inquiry re Sale of Shack on Condemned Property on Alki Avenue 1910
2 8 McGilvra Offer. Washington Park to 40th and Madison 1911
2 9 Petition to Acquire Land on East Side of Lake Park Drive 1911
2 10 Resolution. J.W. Clise Property Acquisition 1911
2 11 Osbourne Estate Tracts. Proposed Purchase 1912
2 12 Petition for Purchase of Land Near Hugo Place 1914
2 13 Offers to Sell Property for Parks Purposes 1914-1915
2 14 Offers to Sell Property for Parks Purposes 1916
2 15 Land Valuation Map. Lewis and Fehrens Addition
2 16 Report on Eastern Trip 1910
2 17 Report on Fact Finding Trip to Eastern Cities. J.W. Thompson 1910
2 18 Report on Trip of Investigation 1911
2 19 Report on Eastern Trip and American Association of Parks Superintendents Convention 1914
2 20 Petition Against Riding Academy Near Longfellow School 1909
2 21 Petition to Improve Seward Park 1916
2 22 Street Flower Boxes on Cluster Light Poles 1915-1916
2 23 Street Tree Planting. Olmsted Brothers Correspondence 1905
2 24 Inventory of Park and Private Tree, Shrubs and Evergreen Plantings 1911
2 25 Street Trees. Report and Correspondence 1912
2 26 Petition to Investigate Conditions Near Sturgis Park 1916
2 27 Volunteer Park Conservatory Inventories 1914
2 28 Petition for Playground at West Seattle's High School
2 29 Inventory of Nursery. Woodland Park 1908
2 30 Inventory of Nursery. Woodland Park 1909
2 31 Inventory of Nursery. Woodland Park 1911
2 32 Woodland Park Zoo. Animal Donations 1909-1910
2 33 Woodland Park Zoo. Animal Donations 1916
2 34 Woodland Park Zoo. Animal Inventory 1908
2 35 Woodland Park Zoo. Animal Inventory 1911
2 36 Woodland Park Zoo. Animal Inventory 1912
2 37 Woodland Park Zoo. Animal Inventory 1913
2 38 Woodland Park Zoo. Animal Inventory 1915
2 39 Woodland Park Zoo. Animal Inventory 1916
2 40 Woodland Park Zoo. Animal Inventory 1917
2 41 Woodland Park Zoo. Inventories and Yearly Report. 1920
2 42 Letter from Kojiro Matsukata Donating Pagoda Lantern (Mount Baker Park) 1911

Names and SubjectsReturn to Top

Subject Terms

  • Parks--Washington (State)--Seattle
  • Zoos--Washington (State)--Seattle

Corporate Names

  • Olmsted Associates
  • Woodland Park Zoo

Geographical Names

  • Seattle (Wash.)

Other Creators

  • Corporate Names
    • Seattle (Wash.). Dept. of Parks and Recreation (fmo)