As Volunteer Park Conservatory nears 100, group working to raise $3.5 million to finish overhaul

The Volunteer Park Conservatory will celebrate its centennial in 2012. This Saturday, its supporters are beginning a campaign to give it a rather significant 100th birthday present. Representatives for the Friends of the Conservatory group tell CHS that they are kicking off a drive to raise $3.5 million to complete an overhaul of the Seattle Parks-operated greenhouse that began way back in 1993.

“We’re coming up on 100 years,” Audrey Brumett Meade tells CHS about her group’s effort to finish the restoration of Seattle’s “Crystal Palace. “The city’s completed three out of the four parts of the conservatory spending millions of dollars. We’re looking at all places. Community support. Companies. Grants might not be fast enough.”


The unfinished work on the Conservatory has left the Seasonal House, the Cactus House and the working area in the East Greenhouse in need of significant restoration. The rest of the Conservatory was transitioned to aluminum framing in previous work but the wood in the remaining sections won’t last much longer, Brumett Meade says.

Here’s the statement the group is including in donation materials:

The Conservatory group has also provided some interesting history on the original financing behind the project:

On March 3, 1910, The Seattle Daily Times reported that ideas for extensive improvements of City property had been submitted to the Park Board by J. C. Olmsted. A $2,000,000 bond issue was being put to the voters in the following week. If passed, Volunteer Park would receive the majority of funds to improve the grounds. The highly touted design included construction of a conservatory at the northern
crest of the park.

Seattle residents awoke Sunday morning, September 22, 1912, to newspaper headlines which read, Park Conservatory Nearing Completion: New Improvement at Volunteer Park Will Be Thing of Joy and Beauty.

A panoramic photo of the Volunteer Park Conservatory appeared prominently on the page, showing the magnificent structure, all intact but for its 3,426 glass panes. The article praised the forward-looking Park Commissioners who were able to see the future value of the Conservatory as an asset to the City of Seattle.

According to the Friends group, timing on the project is an issue for two reasons. First, the permit approved to complete the work in 2010 expires next summer — though it may be possible to apply for an extension, Brumett Meade said. But the Friends group is also concerned for a second reason. As during last year’s annual meeting, concerns about possible declining support from Seattle Parks for the 1912 facility were again a major topic at the 2011 Friends of the Conservatory meeting.

“It’s one of the last of its kind,” board member Audrey Van Horne said. “And, well, we’re worried the city won’t be able to endure the cost. So we want to show support.”

The group will begin the push to keep the Conservatory alive — and growing — at their 2011 spring flower sale this Saturday, May 7th, at the park. Your purchases will help support the effort and you can learn more about giving at a more significant level and helping to spread the word. The sale runs from 10 AM to 3 PM on Saturday.

Meanwhile, CHS reported last week that Seattle Parks will replace Volunteer Park’s playground next summer as part of a $800,000 project. It’s not the best timing with the Conservatory’s big 100-year birthday coming up and the community facing the prospect of losing a unique, if expensive, civic asset.  “We’re a little afraid for it,” Brummett Meade said. “We have a lot to do before next year.”

The plans have been ready for years — the cash, unfortunately, hasn’t.

For more information and to give online, visit http://www.volunteerparkconservatory.org/.

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