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Despite new projects, vision for Capitol Hill’s Volunteer Park remains unchanged

With $54M worth of structural and design upgrades underway, the Seattle Asian Art Museum renovation is just one of several ongoing projects in Capitol Hill’s Volunteer Park. Nearly 120 years after the ridgeland was shaped by an Olmsted design, a passionate cohort of minders advocate, volunteer, and fundraise in order to preserve function and maximize recreation for the community. Sunday, some of these caretakers invite you to get your hands dirty along with them as they spruce up the park.

This Sunday is Fall Restoration Day at the park from 10:00 AM to 2:00 PM when volunteers of all ages are invited to meet at the southeast entrance at Prospect and 15th Ave E to help with weeding, mulching and more. There will be free donuts and coffee.

Fall Restoration Day in Volunteer Park

“One of the positives of the park is that it hasn’t changed a whole lot in over 100 years,” said Parks and Recreation project manager Kelly Goold.

The old park is a busy place. A full scale makeover for the park’s amphitheater is garnering actionable support fast and the lily ponds will soon be protected by sturdy metal railings. The amphitheater design will innovate Seattle’s performance culture as the first outdoor stage specifically designed to accommodate dance. The addition of overhead protection, ADA access and a greenroom-like area were planned to promote year-round accessibility. Part of the mission statement for the amphitheater is to promote different types of community events, and invite diversity, which would in turn increase visitorship. The Volunteer Park Trust is awaiting a decision on their grant application to the Parks District for $900,000 to make it happen.

Park improvements are measured and served with equal consideration for preservation such as the modern LED light bulbs installed in the Conservatory that are encased by the original fixtures, according to Goold. “The original 20th century steel structure has been retrofitted completely but from the exterior, it looks exactly the same,” he said.

Never before built pathways designed by the Olmsted Brothers are taking shape this fall as part of the SAM’s commitment to give back to the park, according to SAM COO Richard Beckerman. Additional improvements to current pathways and and plans to make some of the hidden park entrances more inviting are in process while the Asian Art Museum is almost halfway complete.

All the commotion has led city, park advocates, and builders to work closely together in order to ensure the improvements don’t abrade park visitors or its neighbors. A mix of meetings and feedback sessions have tailored everything from the various project’s hours to where the construction crew will park their vehicles.

Brian Giddens, chair of the Volunteer Park Trust community group formed to help preserve, protect, and improve the park, says that so far there has been minimal disturbance caused by the construction. “I live here too and see a lot of construction notices keeping people informed,” he said. Giddens shared his approval of the construction company BN Builders, who he says recently personally worked with a soon to be married couple so they could enjoy their ceremony without disruption.

The refurbished SAAM building promises tree canopy views and new exhibit design in addition to a more robust collection. “We will continue collecting, acquiring and buying pieces that we think will increase interest and the value of the museum,” said Beckerman. “We are looking at some Ai Weiwei materials right now and other objects and collections from South Asia,” he said. The museum is planned to re-open in October of next year. At this point Beckerman estimates construction may be delayed by as much as two weeks but he believes the company may be able to make that the time up as the project progresses.

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The days are getting shorter…

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First time I've ever seen one of these actually moving

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Originally intended as a cemetery, the city purchased the grounds for $2,000 and six years later, opened the land as Volunteer Park — thanks in large part to the insistence of a local journalist and Spanish American war veteran — in 1901. That same year, Seattle faced a major Typhoid outbreak, the U.S. sweltered under the hottest summer ever recorded, and Booker T. Washington made history when he was invited to the Roosevelt White House.

Giddens considers it a success that the city and community interests have been centered around maintaining the original vision of the park. By contrast, just 101 stair steps up the contouring stairwell of its iconic Water Tower, the 360-degree vantage beyond the park reveals a constantly changing city.

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8 thoughts on “Despite new projects, vision for Capitol Hill’s Volunteer Park remains unchanged

  1. The original vision for the park was defiled when the original art museum building was built way back. Now it’s been defiled again with the new construction. And it’s being further defiled by the drug addict vagrants being allowed the squat in and next to the park- they discard needles, dump feces and engage in other criminal activity.

    • Yes! It’s continually defiled by things I don’t like! Furthermore, no one should be allowed to enter unless approved by me!

      Back to NextDoor to complain about undesirables defiling my neighborhood!

    • Next thing you know birds will crap on the park! Drug addict birds! Drug addict homeless birds! Drug addict homeless criminal birds! They all have berry addictions! And they dive bomb random needles! Including knitting needles! Defilement! Please help by warning the birds to stop! At least the Eagle sculpture by Calder was moved out of the park years ago. It took huge orange metal art craps I loved but Calder sculpted it after the park was opened. So it was defilement!

    • I walk through the park, and also along 15th Ave E, frequently, and have seen very little of the “drug addict vagrants” you describe. I think you are exaggerating the problem. Yes, there is some car camping on 15th Ave E, but that has minimal negative effects on the park itself.

    • The original museum certainly defiled the park, essentially breaking it in two and destroying a hilltop garden and concert space. The museum expansion permanently removes yet more open park space. (The Calder sculpture was a temporary art installation.)
      If you don’t think the homeless are having a negative impact on the park, you haven’t been going there.
      The new paths are not needed, but are a visible concession planned to allow taking of public land for the museum.

  2. I can’t imagine the Olmsteads thought their parks were meant to be frozen in amber after they were designed. The park is still a beautiful place to visit, and I welcome the changes.

  3. Personally, I could to without more pathways. It’s kind of nice walking off-path through the grass and the lack of path seems to add to the feel of being pleasantly isolated. If it’s an access for all/ADA improvement I support it though.