Clio Logo

Volunteer Park, Seattle

You are vieweing item 4 of 7 in this tour.

Built in 1912, this Victorian-style greenhouse was designed by the Hitchings Company of New York. After the City of Seattle ordered a conservatory kit from the company, plans and materials were sent across the country by train. The conservatory was assembled in the north end of Volunteer Park, opening in 1912 with much public fanfare. Housing an extensive collection of plant life from around the world, visitors today can still enjoy the bromeliads, ferns, palms, cacti, chrysanthemums, and tropical bird-of-paradise plants. Since 1980, the Friends of the Conservatory have overseen efforts to preserve the structure, which is largely still intact, and the Carnegie Steel framework bears the original manufacturer's marks. As of 2023, a campaign is underway to preserve the 1912 Lunette window above the main entrance, as well as the adjacent decorative green etched-glass panels created in 1981 by the artist Richard Spaulding.

The Conservatory at Volunteer Park, built in 1912

Plant, Greenhouse, Black-and-white, Building

The lunette window above the entrance to the conservatory

Property, Azure, Font, Fence

Volunteer Park, 1912

Water, Sky, Tree, Land lot

Renovating the Conservatory at Volunteer Park

Smile, Hat, Standing, Black-and-white

This conservatory was one of the first major additions to Volunteer Park, which evolved in the early 20th century from a previous city park. The initial idea for the conservatory was proposed in 1893, with a plan to create a Victorian-style greenhouse at the north end of the park. According to the Friends of the Conservatory, the glass structure was intended to become the "jewel box" of Seattle's new public park system, which was largely designed and improved by the Massachusetts-based Olmsted Brothers landscape architecture firm. After the City of Seattle purchased a conservatory kit from the New York-based Hitchings Company, the kit and many of the materials were transported across the country by railroad. Upon arrival, the conservatory was assembled by the Seattle Parks Department.

In 1912, the new conservatory opened in Volunteer Park with much public fanfare. Although it was based on Europe's impressive 19th-century conservatories (and in particular, London's Crystal Palace), the structure's materials were made in the United States, with the steel frame manufactured by Carnegie Steel of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. According to the Friends of the Conservatory, visitors who study the structure close at hand will notice the words "Carnegie Steel" embossed in several places on the conservatory's frame. Also noteworthy is the original wooden "peacock" or Lunette window above the main entrance, featuring wood that was sourced in 1912 from a Swamp Cypress (Taxodium distichum).

The Friends of the Conservatory at Volunteer Park was established in 1980 as a non-profit organization to protect and preserve the conservatory and its century-old collection of rare plants. This celebrated collection includes palms, ferns, bromeliads, and cacti, as well as chrysanthemums and other seasonal plants. Amidst summer heatwaves, wet winters, and earthquakes, the conservatory requires continual upkeep. Current restoration projects include the 1912 Lunette window over the entrance, and the adjacent Homage on Green decorative etched-glass art panels that were created by Richard Spaulding in 1981. In addition to ongoing historic preservation projects, the organization is also involved with arts programming, cultural heritage, and education programs on site.

"Conservatory History", Volunteer Park Conservatory. Accessed August 12th, 2023.

"Historic Preservation -- Volunteer Park", Volunteer Park Conservatory. Accessed August 12th, 2023.

Home, Friends of Seattle's Olmsted Parks. Accessed August 12th, 2023.

Ott, Jennifer. Olmsted in Seattle: Creating a Park System for a Modern City. Seattle, WA. HistoryLink Publications, 2019.

"Volunteer Park", City of Seattle. Accessed August 12th, 2023.

"Volunteer Park", Friends of Seattle's Olmsted Parks. Accessed August 12th, 2023.

Image Sources(Click to expand)

Friends of Volunteer Park

Friends of the Conservatory

Friends of Seattle's Olmsted Parks

Friends of the Conservatory