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Volunteer Park bandstand: Group wins grant to come up with new design for amphitheater

The old Volunteer Park bandshell in 1932 -- it was demolished 16 years later (Image: Seattle Municipal Archives via Flickr)

The old Volunteer Park bandshell in 1932 — it was demolished 16 years later (Image: Seattle Municipal Archives via Flickr)

A Capitol Hill community group is excited about a big grant from the City of Seattle that will help it continue its mission of helping shape and restore one of the neighborhood’s favorite public assets.

The Volunteer Park Trust tells CHS that it is kicking off a project to replace Volunteer Park’s aging stage with a new bandshell. The money will go to the development of a conceptual design for a new bandshell to replace the masonry stage that has served the park since the early ’70s.

The stage in more recent times (Images: CHS)

According to a trust representative, the group plans to hold an open call to select the firm to create the conceptual design. You can sign up at to be notified when the process begins.

CHS can give you a few pointers if you’re looking for guidance in your design.

"Cavanaugh's City Band in Volunteer Park bandshell, Seattle, ca. 1905" (Image: Museum of History & Industry Photograph Collection)

“Cavanaugh’s City Band in Volunteer Park bandshell, Seattle, ca. 1905” (Image: Museum of History & Industry Photograph Collection)

The Volunteer Park Trust group formed in 2012 as a response to looming challenges to preserve the more than 100-year-old park while finding historically appropriate ways to enhance the Olmstead-designed green space. Subject to landmarks protection after its 2011 designation, Volunteer Park’s aging features are, one by one, coming up for upgrades, overhauls, and — sometimes — removal. The largest example is the 22 million gallon reservoir which still serves as part of the city’s clean water infrastructure even as Seattle Public Utilities considers decommissioning the facility. The Volunteer Park Conservatory, meanwhile, is already undergoing millions of dollars in historically appropriate upgrades. Future projects will include restoration work at the Seattle Asian Art Museum’s art deco building and a new lease on life for the park’s most visible landmark — the Volunteer Park water tower.

We expect whichever firm is selected will find a way to bring the park’s rich past into the present — and recognize this guidance from the Olmstead brothers when they noted the parks bandstand “is for the Symphony more than for brass bands.”

According to the city, a performance pavilion was designed into the park by the Olmsted Brothers back in 1912 — but that pavilion apparently stood where the Seattle Asian Art Museum stands today. According to the invaluable Don Sherwood Seattle Parks files, the present day location for the stage dates to 1915:

Screen Shot 2014-12-01 at 4.42.43 PM

“A tall wooden band shell, designed by prominent local architect Carl Gould, was built in 1915 in the current stage location to provide a better listening experience for musical performances,” the successful landmarks nomination for the park reads. “Eventually damaged by weathering and poor maintenance, the band shell was demolished in 1948 and replaced by the current building in 1971.”

The same report documents the current structure and regraded meadow thusly:

The current band stand is constructed of concrete and oversize clay tile laid in a running bond. Two bathrooms and space for storage and dressing are hidden behind the east-facing stage in a 19- by 33-foot building. The irregularly hexagonal stage is raised approximately 2.5 feet from the lawn and measures roughly 50 feet across and 30 feet deep, partially enclosed by the building and wing walls. It faces uphill toward the subtly-dished amphitheater-like portion of the NW lawn.

The $25,000 grant is part of the city’s Neighborhood Matching Fund program and will pay for the conceptual design of the project — another grant will need to be secured to complete the formal design and then the fundraising process will begin to power the construction phase of the project. It’s a slow process. Organizers don’t expect serious fundraising to begin for two years. In the meantime, if you’d like to support the nonprofit trust, donations now can help the group expand its programs and improve plantings in the park.

According to the Volunteer Park Trust representative, the group is also planning community meetings as part of the bandshell project to meet with neighbors and the community to hear about any concerns and ideas.

You can learn more at


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9 thoughts on “Volunteer Park bandstand: Group wins grant to come up with new design for amphitheater

  1. This is a fantastic idea! The current structure is ugly and cold. I can envision a time when the Seattle Symphony would play some free concerts in the summertime, once an acoustically-improved bandshell is in place, as people picnic on the lawn.

    I think sometimes we (me included) take Volunteer Park for granted. It is truly a gem.

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  3. Personally, I’m not really fan of that early-20th C neo-classical Americana look. It fits into a town in New England (or somewhere of the era, like Port Gamble), but seems weirdly anachronistic and retrograde to be constructed in Seattle a hundred years later. I mean, if you’re going to plunder the past why not go from something Art Deco, to reflect the Asian Art Museum?

    But I’d like to see something more in keeping with what amounts an emerging modern local aesthetic, something that looks like a relative to the Ballard library and the Bullitt Center and the REI flagship: something with exposed wood (rather than white-washed finials) and maybe even a “green” roof.

  4. I agree with Joe. Surely some of the creative people around here can help design a suitable structure. It would be great to have an actual bandstand again.