Capitol Hill Historical Society | The many landmarks of Cal Anderson Park

Cal Anderson Park was designated a Seattle Landmark 19 years ago this month on November 4, 1998.

But if you search the city landmark list for “Cal Anderson,” you won’t find anything.

In 1998, Cal Anderson Park was still a civic dream. As part of the process leading to the creation of Cal Anderson, Seattle Public Utilities and Seattle Parks self-nominated the existing reservoir (Lincoln Reservoir) that they hoped to lid over, the grounds around it, and Bobby Morris Playfield to the south which would also be affected. The entire stretch from Pine to Denny, Nagle to 11th became a landmark.

Holding Seattle’s water

Lincoln Reservoir was an important part of the municipal water system created by Seattle following the Great Seattle Fire in 1889. One of the realizations after the fire was that the collection of private wells at springs across Seattle’s hillsides could not supply enough water to carry the city forward. After a successful funding vote, City Engineer R. H. Thomson set out to create a dammed reservoir in the Cascade mountains and a 20 mile pipeline to three reservoirs.

One was an expansion of the existing Beacon Hill reservoir and the other two were in our neighborhood: Lincoln Reservoir and the reservoir at Volunteer Park (then called City Park). The entire system including a standpipe on Queen Anne Hill — which held water pushed from Lincoln — was completed in 1901. Lincoln Reservoir was a critical piece of Seattle’s water system for decades, and one of the few pieces visible within the city.

Cal Anderson's Gatehouse and pool

Cal Anderson Park viewed north from the south boundary of the reservoir, Gatehouse on the left currently includes a Seattle Parks youth art project in each window (Rob Ketcherside)

The reservoir covered part of John Nagle’s remaining farmland. To the south of Olive street the city planned to build a new park, one of only a handful in their new park system. In an 1898 Seattle P-I article it was described as making something from nothing:

“In a little hollow which has been a noxious marsh for several years lie four acres of land which are to be a park. They lie on the Nagle tract. So soon as the city begins work on the lower reservoir in conjunction with the new gravity water system, the surplus dirt excavated from the reservoir will be carted down and dumped onto this marsh in the Nagle tract. Eight or nine feet of surface dirt will be applied, thus extinguishing the marsh. The surface will be adorned with the usual accompaniments of a public pleasure ground.” (Seattle PI 12/18/1898 p28)

Slow path to park

In that article, the improvement was described as Nagle Park. For many years this dirt fill was used as an ad hoc baseball field by Broadway High students and other neighbors. Finally in 1903 the Olmsted Brothers, the leading landscape architecture firm of its day, were hired to design the park. Initially their plan echoed the original 1898 intentions with walking paths and ornamental plantings but no sport facilities. They were given quick feedback that the informal playfield must be retained and improved.

Due to a budget fight between the Parks Board and the City Engineer, Lincoln Park (later Broadway Field and now Bobby Morris Field) was not completed until 1907. The city installed steel supports to put a canvas tent over the field to allow Broadway High students to use it for gymnastics regardless of weather. The first use of the canvas tent was a 3,000 person strong Christian Endeavor convention in July 1907.

Attendees of Christian convention

Attendees of Christian convention (Seattle Times July 11, 1907)

Remnants

In addition to paths and playfield we still have at least one tree from Olmsted’s design. At the far northwest corner of Cal Anderson Park near the station entrance is a Chinese Scholar tree that is more than a century old.
Ancient Chinese Scholar Tree at northwest corner of park

Ancient Chinese Scholar Tree at northwest corner of park (Rob Ketcherside)

The site also includes a few remnants of later improvements that are also covered by the landmark process. The Shelter House in the Olive Street right of way was built in 1962, a replacement of one built in 1907. Also the wading pool was built in 1937-1938 to replace one from about 1909. The wading pool is perhaps the last remnant of a major set of improvements to Broadway Field by the Works Progress Administration during the Great Depression. New football field turf was installed along with a pole vaulting pit, electric lights, fencing, and running track.

Bobby Morris from the south edge of the reservoir

Bobby Morris from the south edge of the reservoir (Rob Ketcherside)

Construction of the lid over Lincoln Reservoir began in 2003, and the new park was named that year. Cal Anderson Park opened to the public in September 2005.

What changes and new life will the next century bring to the park on John H. Nagle’s old farm?

Criteria

The reservoir and playfield were designated under 4 of Seattle’s 6 criteria for designation. Most landmarks are designated under only 2 or 3, so meeting 4 criteria shows at a quick take just how significant Cal Anderson was to the community even before the park was created. The criteria met were:

C. It is associated in a significant way with a significant aspect of the cultural, political, or economic heritage of the community, City, state or nation — Lincoln Reservoir’s role in the municipal water system.

D. It embodies the distinctive visible characteristics of an architectural style, or period, or of a method of construction — each landmarked element fits a different part of this criteria

E. It is an outstanding work of a designer or builder — Thomson and Olmsted Brothers

F. Because of its prominence of spatial location, contrasts of siting, age, or scale, it is an easily identifiable visual feature of its neighborhood or the City and contributes to the distinctive quality or identity of such neighborhood or the City.

Over the last four decades, only three landmarks have been designated under all six criteria: the Space Needle, Key Arena, and Mount Zion Baptist Church.

This article was written on behalf of the Capitol Hill Historical Society. The society’s next meeting is Saturday December 2, 2017. Check the Facebook event for details.

Capitol Hill Historical Society meeting for December 2017

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