HISTORY OF THE CONSERVATORY
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.
As the Volunteer Park Conservatory approaches its 100 year anniversary, it remains as unique today as it did in 1912. From the beginning, the Conservatory’s mission was to educate, collect and conserve threatened plants and to transport visitors beyond the open green spaces of the Park to another world that examines connected environments and plant species from around the globe. This philosophy continues today.
For decades our Conservatory has opened its doors to welcome diverse populations within Seattle, the Northwest and to both national and international tourists. The Conservatory’s historic landmark status reflects the distinctive architectural characteristics of this Victorian glasshouse, a true jewel in the crown of Seattle Parks.
Victorian public glasshouses are few and far between. As genuine design challenges, they testify to collaboration among architects, engineers and horticulturists. Those that have survived the test of time have undergone renovations with civic support and/or heritage organization funding.
When the structural integrity of the Conservatory began to fail over the years, energy-saving improvements and some phased renovations were addressed through the Parks Department Major Maintenance Budget and Capital Improvement Projects Fund. Only one final phase remains, the Conservatory East Wing and East Production Houses.
The amazing effort put forth by the City of Seattle, Conservatory staff, Friends of the Conservatory and others has been steady with respect to keeping the Conservatory’s legacy intact, alive and growing. The Conservatory East Wing requires immediate attention. The final renovation phase is critical and requires creative funding to get the job done. With permits in hand, the call-to-action is now. Some of Seattle’s best successes have been collaborative partnerships.