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Volunteer Park and Conservatory

Published on: January 20, 2007

Tall trees and rainy day options
1247 15th Ave. E., Seattle

Volunteer Park
is one of Seattle's oldest parks, beautifully planned and important to
residents for generations. Natural beauty, open space, a large
playground, a museum and a conservatory give families plenty to choose

The City of Seattle purchased the 40-acre property that is now
Volunteer Park from sawmill engineer J.M. Colman in 1876 in hopes that
Seattle would be named the state capital and that the Capitol Building
would occupy the site. In 1883, however, Olympia was named the state
capital and Seattle decided to use the land as a municipal cemetery. In
1885 the property was dedicated as Washelli Cemetery. ("Washelli" is a
Makah word meaning "west wind.") Burials occurred in the area occupied
by the current reservoir, built in 1901. The bodies were removed in
1887 to the nearby Masonic cemetery (now Lake View Cemetery), and the
land rededicated as a park. The park was first called Lake View Park,
but confusion with Lake View Cemetery led the name to be changed to
City Park. The name was changed again in 1901 to Volunteer Park in
honor of the volunteers then serving in the Spanish-American War
(1898-1902). The land was cleared, and from 1904 to 1909 the Olmstead
Brothers firm planned the park's layout and features. By 1912, the
comfort station, walkways, pergola, lily ponds , conservatory, wading
pool and a play area were complete. The wading pool was renovated in
1943 and again in 1973, and current playground equipment dates from the
early 1990s. The playground/wading pool area is the oldest park
playground in Seattle.

The playground features a large climbing structure with bridges, two
slides and several hand-over-hand areas, and a large swing set with
three tot and three belt swings. Several wooden platforms foster
creative play--or spontaneous performances. An abstract sculpture many
kids call the dinosaur bone can be climbed over and through. A smaller
tot area with bouncy seats, a tiny slide, and a small-scale play
structure is set slightly apart under tall trees. Many picnic tables
dot the playground's perimeter. The large circular wading pool does
winter duty as a speedway for toddlers on wheels, so pack your
tricycle. Restrooms are located a good distance up the hill past the
wading pool and meadow.

The Conservatory,
built in 1912 and modified several times, is a wonderful place to spend
time on a rainy afternoon. The orchid collection, originally a 1919
gift from Anna and James Clise, is one of the largest in the country.
The cacti, bromeliads and carnivorous plants are novelties to many
Seattle children, and the building's interior makes a balmy refuge on
cold days., 206-684-4743.

The Seattle Asian Art Museum (formerly the Seattle Art Museum, built in
1933 and occupying the original pergola/music pavilion location) is
free on the first Thursday and first Saturday of every month. Even a
quick walk through will expose children to gorgeous Art Deco
architecture and a healthy dose of culture. Don't miss the children's
activity room in the rear of the main floor., 206-654-3100.

The Isamu Noguchi sculpture "Black Sun," located directly across from
the museum, is irresistible for climbing. Two lily ponds, recently
restored, flank the sculpture. The many monuments scattered throughout
the park are a historical treasure hunt, and the large old cedars that
grace the park grounds make good playhouses or climbing spots.

The Water Tower (built in 1906 and located just south of the museum)
makes a challenging climb for little kids, but the view is worth it.
Climb the 106 steps that lead in a spiral to an observation deck, and
look for the historical exhibit about Seattle's Olmstead-designed parks.

Neither the wading pool, the Conservatory, or water tower are
wheelchair-accessible. The playground predates and therefore is not
required to comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act, but has
some accessible features.

The Capitol Hill branch of the Seattle Public Library is located nearby
at 425 Harvard Ave. E., 206-684-4715. Two blocks east of the playground
is Cafe Europa: amazing panini and great baked goods, plus espresso,
hot chocolate and a delicious house chai. 1501 17th Ave, E. at the
corner of 17th and Lynn. 206-328-3155,

Paula Becker is a contributing editor to and mother of three.

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