by John A. Wott, Director Emeritus
An historic document connected to the early “life” of the Washington Park Arboretum has been found. It is the (believed) first design for the Arboretum, prepared in 1934 by Frederick Leissler, landscape architect in the Seattle Department of Parks.
Scot Daniel Medbury in his M.S. thesis The Olmsted Taxonomic Arboretum and its Application to Washington Park, Seattle (1990), documents this plan (pg 99). Scot was able to interview Mr. Leissler shortly before his death. Notes from these interviews are located in the Miller Library and UW Library Special Collections. Medbury states “[Leissler’s] design was monumental in the Beaux-Arts style, and included a gigantic conservatory rising above an axial and symmetrical series of planting beds.” Medbury reported that Leissler had adapted a design he made when he was a student that won a national prize for the first Arboretum plan. The plan called for an intensive development and as Leissler himself was later to recall, “the plan would have cost a fortune to build.” In a later draft, Leissler emphasized three main rock gardens, the “Alaska Rock Garden,” the “Northwest Rock Garden,” and the “Rock Garden of the Orient.”
It’s an interesting story of how I learned of the document’s existence. Leissler passed the original copy (signed by both Frederick Leissler and Hugo Winkenwerder, Dean of the UW College of Forestry) to Jon Stewart, a friend and colleague at Oregon State University. Recently, Mr. Stewart shared it with Raymond Williams, professor emeritus from OSU and a personal acquaintances from my time at Purdue University. It so happens that Steve Garber, a long-time Arboretum Foundation member, former Foundation president and Japanese Garden Society officer is Raymonds’s brother-in-law. Mr. Garber, in turn, brought it to my attention, and all of us are now involved with finding a permanent home for the document.