Open Space and Trails Bond Program Citizens Oversight Committee Records, 1990-2001

Overview of the Collection

Seattle (Wash.). Dept. of Parks and Recreation
Open Space and Trails Bond Program Citizens Oversight Committee Records
1990-2001 (inclusive)
0.8 cubic feet, (2 boxes)
Collection Number
Records of a citizens' committee which recommended areas for acquisition by the city.
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.


Historical NoteReturn to Top

The Parks and Recreation Department 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.

By 1969 golf had ceased to warrant a director-level position and came under the administration of the Recreation Director. A new directorship, the Aquarium Director, was added in 1973. By the following year there were only four executive positions reporting directly to the Superintendent: Zoo Director, Aquarium Director, Assistant Superintendent of Management, and Assistant Superintendent of Operations. In 1977, a charter amendment abolished the four-year term for the Superintendent of Parks established by the 1967 amendment.

The Olmsted Brothers Plan

In 1903, on the recommendation of the Board of Park Commissioners, Council contracted with the Olmsted Brothers of Brookline, Massachusetts to conduct a thorough survey of Seattle's park possibilities, and to submit a comprehensive plan that could be used to guide future work. This move was largely brought on by the public interest generated through the purchase of two large tracts, Woodland and Washington Parks, in 1900, and by the desire to prepare Seattle for the 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition.

The Olmsted Brothers had inherited the nation's first landscape architecture firm from their father, Frederick Law Olmsted, the designer of New York's Central Park, San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, and the campus of the University of California at Berkeley. John C. Olmsted, the stepson of Frederick Law and the senior partner in the firm, spent several weeks in the summer of 1903 studying the topography of Seattle and its parks. His report was accepted by Council on October 19th of that year.

Although J. C. Olmsted's primary goal was to locate a park or a playground within one half mile of every home in Seattle, the dominant feature of the plan was a 20-mile landscaped boulevard linking most of the existing and planned parks and greenbelts within the city limits. Furthermore, it emphasized the speed with which the plan should be realized; desirable sites would soon be developed privately or priced beyond the means of the City.

The Olmsted Brothers plan included numerous playgrounds and playfields, a manifestation of the new concept of public recreation which had been introduced with success in the East. These sites included buildings devoted to recreation (field houses) and facilities like ball fields, tennis courts, and playground apparatus which had unique maintenance requirements relative to park facilities. Hence, from quite early on, the Parks Division and the Recreation Division of the Department each had their own maintenance personnel.

During the first ten years after its submission, most of the primary elements of the plan would, through purchase, gift, condemnation, or bonded indebtedness, be incorporated into the city's structure.

Seattle became a city with hundreds of vistas, turns in the path or the road that offer views in every direction, each slightly different from the one just before or just after; and these were wonderfully exploited in the Olmsted boulevards and the new parks they connected. In a city that was little more than fifty years old one could claim to find something older cities could not match. (Seattle, Past to Present, Roger Sale [Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1976], 85).

The Olmsted Brothers continued to work in Seattle, for both private and public clients, until 1936, when J. C. Olmsted made his last visit to the city to plan the Washington Park Arboretum. Over that 33-year period the firm would see more of its designs realized in the region: the campus of the University of Washington, the 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition (which would dictate the future of the U.W. campus), and the State Capitol plan.

Content DescriptionReturn to Top

Records of the Citizens' Oversight Committee of the Open Space and Trails Bond Program. The committee was formed in 1990 with a citizen representative from each neighborhood district. The focus of the committee was to nominate and select greenbelts, natural areas, and trails for acquisition by the city. Records include minutes, correspondence, project proposals, and land acquisition and financial documents.

Use of the CollectionReturn to Top

Preferred Citation

[Item and date], Open Space and Trails Bond Program Citizens Oversight Committee Records, Record Series 5811-04. Box [number], Folder [number]. Seattle Municipal Archives.

Administrative InformationReturn to Top

Detailed Description of the CollectionReturn to Top

Container(s) Description Dates
Box Folder
1 1 Citizens Committee - representation 1991-1992
1 2 Project proposal documents 1990
1 3 Land acquisition and financial documents 1990-1994
1 4 Reports, correspondence, and project development documents 1990-1997
1 5 Reports, correspondence, and project development documents 1990-1997
1 6 Citizens Committee correspondence and memoranda 1990-1992
1 7 Citizens Committee correspondence and memoranda 1993-1995
1 8 Citizens Committee correspondence and memoranda 1996-1997
1 9 Letter to Seattle Weekly 1994
1 10 Citizens Committee application process 2001
2 1 Citizens Committee Meeting Materials 1990-1992
2 2 Citizens Committee Meeting Materials - 1/93 1993
2 3 Citizens Committee Meeting Materials - 2/93 1993
2 4 Citizens Committee Meeting Materials - 3/93 1993
2 5 Citizens Committee Meeting Materials - 4/93 1993
2 6 Citizens Committee Meeting Materials - 5/93 1993
2 7 Citizens Committee Meeting Materials - 6/93 1993
2 8 Citizens Committee Meeting Materials - 9/93 1993
2 9 Citizens Committee Meeting Materials - 10/93-12/93 1993
2 10 Citizens Committee Meeting Materials 1994
2 11 Citizens Committee Meeting Materials 1995
2 12 Citizens Committee Meeting Materials 1996-1997
2 13 1989 Citizens Oversight Committee Semi-Annual Report 1991
2 14 Oversight Committee 2001
2 15 Oversight Committee 2001

Names and SubjectsReturn to Top

Subject Terms

  • Acquisition of property--Washington (State)--Seattle
  • Citizens' advisory committees--Washington (State)--Seattle
  • Open spaces--Washington (State)--Seattle
  • Parks--Washington (State)--Seattle
  • Trails--Washington (State)--Seattle

Geographical Names

  • Seattle (Wash.)