Monday, January 14, 2008

Olmsted Speaks

Frederick Law Olmsted saw the proposed West Roxbury (Franklin) park as a place for passive enjoyment. No ball fields, no games and no gardens were planned. It was a time when reformers wanted to get urban workers out of the city and in to an uplifting "natural" environment. Soon after the park was opened, the people decided otherwise, but this article gives us some insight into the thinking of the man himself.

Boston Daily Globe October 29, 1884

Landscape Architecture.

Plans and Theories of Laying Out Public Parks - Sylvan Features to Be Adhered to in the City Lands at West Roxbury.

The park commissioners recently requested F.L. Olmsted, landscape architect, to prepare plans for the laying out of West Roxbury Park. When asked in regard to the matter yesterday, Mr. Olmsted replied:

"I have avoided giving any special study to the laying out of this park until I could obtain accurate information by the survey of the topographer, lest the impressions which I should get by a mere cursory examination might in some way lead me into wrong ideas, and give me a false start in some respect. Therefore all I can say with respect to the plan for laying out the park would be what would be applicable to any large park. There is no purpose commonly expected to be met in a park - or in the grounds called parks - that requires a very large area, except that of the simpler forms of rural recreation, and the value of the West Roxbury park will depend wholly upon the degree in which it will present natural scenes of beauty. The first thing to be thought of will be the drainage. The park will have to be put in the best possible sanitary condition. The next thing to be considered will be the number of entrances to be made, and where to locate them so as best to suit the convenience of the public. Then the roads and walks must be laid out in such a manner as to present the sylvan and rural features of the park to the best advantage.

"There are not many houses left in the park," said Mr. Olmsted. "I think that nearly all of them will necessarily have to come down. There should be no artificial structures in the park that are no to necessary for comfort. One or two houses will no doubt be retained for administration purposes. One is now occupied by the engineer, and we are intending to fit up another as an office of the landscape gardener. The matter has not received any attention yet but if it should be found that one or two of the houses are well adapted to the purpose of shelter and refreshment houses they will no doubt be used for those purposes.

"As large a part of the park as possible will be kept under greensward. There has been no thought of growing plants; that is to say, the Public Garden, for example, is what may be called a decorated ground; it is not intended that the West Roxbury Park shall be a decorated ground at all. It is intended that it shall have a simple, natural character. The propagating house and nursery to be located there are for propagating material that it is difficult to obtain in the commercial nurseries in sufficient quantities, and are chiefly for low-growing plants, to be used in covering surfaces that are not adapted to grass."

Mr. Olmsted dwelt particularly upon the fact that Boston is largely made up of what were formerly a number of distinct local communities.

"Each of these is," he said, "habituated to regard its public affairs from an independent point of view, and sometimes in spirit of competition and jealousy toward the others."

To this, he added, he had called attention of the park commissioners in a communication. The site of the West Roxbury Park offered special qualities that could not "be gained in a tenth part of that measure at ten times the cost" on some other sites for parks that might be named. That park should be looked upon as one of the parks of the city of Boston, and not especially for the residents of the city in which it is located. The distinctive qualities of the park might, he said, be summarized as follows, to quote from the communication referred to: Complete escape from the town; open country; pastoral scenery; a lovely dale, gently winding between low wooded slopes, giving a broad expanse of unbroken turf, lost in the distance under scattered trees."

The plans for the laying out will be prepared during the winter. Mr Olmsetd expects that the work itself will be commenced in earnest in the spring.

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