A glimpse into the past – Leissler’s 1934 design for the Arboretum

December 3rd, 2014 by UWBG Communication Staff

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.

photo of plan

Copy of the Leissler Plan for Washington Park Arboretum

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.

photo

Raymond Williams, professor emeritus, Oregon State University; Jon Stewart, owner of the document and donor, friend of Frederick Leissler; Steve Garber, Washington Park Arboretum long-time supporter. Taken August 2, 2013

photo

Steve Garber; John Wott, Director Emeritus, UWBG; Brian Thompson, Miller Library Manager and Curator of Horticultural Literature; Julie Coryell, Japanese Garden Society enthusiast and long time supporter.
Taken July 9, 2014


Share

A glimpse into the past – a very low tide on Foster Island

November 4th, 2014 by UWBG Communication Staff

By John Wott, Director Emeritus

For many years both Lake Washington and Union Bay had variable water levels throughout the year.  The Army Corps of Engineers allowed the water of the Lake Washington system to drop several feet in order to have enough capacity for heavy spring rains and snow melt.  This frustrated many dock owners and also led to significant shoreline erosion.  Today they try to maintain a steady level, although it is difficult to predict both rainfall and rate of snow melt.

The photograph taken on September 12, 1958, show an extremely low water level on the north end of Foster Island. Currently the water level is usually near the top of the large stone works.  The gentleman standing there gives a perspective of at least a six foot drop.

photo

Low tide on Foster Island in September 1958.

Looking west is the University of Washington Stadium, which depicts only the southern section (now demolished and rebuilt in 2012). The campus buildings are quite low and mostly indistinguishable, and the smoke stack from the UW heating plant has been replaced with the newer large one.

Share

A glimpse into the past – Lookout rockery renovations

September 30th, 2014 by UWBG Communication Staff

By John A. Wott, Director Emeritus

One of the most interesting rockeries in the Washington Park Arboretum is located just below and north of the now restored Lookout.  It is an impressive wall of granite stones which gives great strength to the area on the southern edge of the large pond near the southern boundaries of Azalea Way. The original work was done by the Works Progress Administration laborers who defined many features within the Arboretum.

It would appear that it was neglected for much of its early life, and these photographs document its state in 1967. Taken by Brian O. Mulligan, then Director, the photos show the over-growth of grasses and other trashy plants. They were taken on July 2, 1967, and marked as the “north bank of Lookout, before reconstruction”.

lookout photo

For the next nearly 50 years, this has been a formidable rockery, with several prominent rhododendrons and other plants clinging to it. With the renovation of the Lookout, the plants at the top ridge have been removed, so again one can see north to the University District. The rockery is very steep and rugged for visitors to climb, even though many brave “souls” do.

Currently the UWBG staff is working on a renovation plan and they have been clearing much of the overgrown vegetation. Several new rhododendrons have been planted in honor of Professor Ben Hall and his wife Margaret, for his life-time research on rhododendrons.  So as you walk around this beautiful “bowl” at the south end of Azalea Way, watch for the rockery to again be a prominent feature in this section of the Arboretum.


Share

A glimpse into the past – origins of the Holmdahl Rockery

September 3rd, 2014 by UWBG Communication Staff

By John A. Wott, Director Emeritus

One of more famous locations in the Washington Park Arboretum is known as the Holmdahl Rockery, located along Lake Washington Boulevard E., and now the location of the Gateway to Chile Forest in the Pacific Connections Gardens section.

As cited in the Washington Park Historic Review, September 2003, page 78:

Otto Holmdahl was trained as a naval architect in Sweden, but became known as one of the best garden designers in the Northwest. Holmdahl consulted unofficially on the Arboretum for several years. He was well known to Sophie Krauss, who recommended that he be included in its planning: “I am sure some plan could be worked out for using some of the most competent men, such as Mr. Holmdahl who really does the most perfect rock gardens I think can be done…” In the summer of 1934, Holmdahl prepared a preliminary plan for the (entire) Arboretum, which was presented to the Advisory Committee. This plan has since been lost.

Frederick Leissler, Seattle Dept. of Parks Landscape Architect, had proposed the rock garden be located at the southwestern intersection of the Upper Road with Lake Washington Boulevard, where a steep hillside with southwest exposure provided better conditions for alpine plants. Leissler anticipated the rock garden would encompass 10 acres, but started the WPA (Works Progress Administration) crew in early 1937 laying basalt rock on the southernmost portion, and repairing the road cut made by the original construction of the boulevard. Otto Holmdahl supervised placement of stonework for the rock garden.

photo

Planting the Holmdahl Rockery. Click to enlarge.

Note the accession numbers jotted on to the photo to document the plantings. Click to enlarge.

Note the accession numbers jotted on to the photo to document the plantings. Click to enlarge.

Verbal legends passed by successive Arboretum staff indicated that several attempts were made to “populate” the rockery, but all met with ultimate failure, either due to the steep exposed terrain but mostly due to thievery of the small specialized plants. The photographs above, titled “Penstemon Plantings, 12 – 1954”, show an unidentified worker laying out specimens. A large number of accession numbers were added onto the photographs, and assumed planted. Needless to say, the penstemons also did not survive. Note the small sign pointing out the City of Seattle “Scenic Drive” on Arboretum Drive E.

Share

A glimpse into the past – new buildings for visitors and crew

August 4th, 2014 by UWBG Communication Staff
photo

Looking east, new sewer lines were installed behind the old apartment (aka barn).

By John A. Wott, Director Emeritus

The first buildings to be added to the grounds of the Washington Park Arboretum were begun in 1985, as defined in the Jones and Jones Master Plan Update for the Washington Park Arboretum. It took almost ten years for the building plans to be finalized and the funds to be raised. The public building was named the Donald B. Graham Visitors Center, and it housed offices, meeting spaces, public information space and a gift shop.

The Arboretum Foundation conducted the fund raising campaign, with the City of Seattle Parks Department supervising the project.

The original Works Progress Administration-constructed office/crew building was razed. A near-by large barn/apartment building was converted into the current crew headquarters and shop, with the upstairs apartment eventually being converted to office space. A new machine storage shed was added and the terrain of the land greatly changed.

The photographs taken March/April 1985 show sewer work and the building foundation and beginning walls of the storage shed. The new facilities were dedicated in 1986.

 

 

 

photo

Looking north to the new shed under construction and re-purposed apartment (aka barn).

phptp

Walls for the new storage shed being poured.


Share

A glimpse into the past – Joe Witt in the “pit house”

July 1st, 2014 by UWBG Communication Staff

By John A. Wott, Director Emeritus

photo

Joseph A. Witt inspecting seed flats and cuttings in the “pit houses” of the University of Washington Greenhouses at Washington Park Arboretum. April 1976,

This photograph taken in April 1976, shows Joseph A. Witt inspecting seed flats and cuttings in the “pit houses” of the University of Washington Greenhouses at Washington Park Arboretum. Joe, as he preferred to be called, was a prominent staff member of the Arboretum for more than 30 yrs. Officially the Curator, he was also appointed as a Professor of Urban Horticulture at the University of Washington’s Center for Urban Horticulture, when it officially opened in 1980.

Joe was a “people person” and was instrumental in assisting the Arboretum Foundation in starting many programs, including encouraging volunteers, “fun days” in weeding, and other educational events. As curator, he was in charge of bringing many new plants into the collection and for the leadership of the UW grounds crew. He was an expert on the horticultural and native flora of the Pacific Northwest. He was renowned and sought-after for his teaching of plant materials, both to UW students and to thousands of horticulturists who came to the Arboretum during his tenure. He also experimented with plant breeding and many of his unnamed rhododendron hybrids still “lurk” within the Arboretum collections. He named many plants and the famed Acer tegmentosum ‘Joe Witt’, a highly striped form of the Manchurian Stripebark Maple, is now  found in increasing numbers on Seattle streets.

His widow, Jean, still active in her mid-90’s, was a keen iris breeder and together they were well known and respected in the native and hardy plant societies of the world. I personally remember several memorable field study trips to the Cascades and east side of Washington in the early 1980’s, whereby Joe spoke about the plants and Jean spoke about the geology. As Joe approached retirement age, he was stricken with cancer and died in May 1984, a great loss to the Northwest horticultural community. However, his legacy lives on.

photo

Joe and Jean Witt, Arboretum Foundation Annual Dinner, June 1972


Share

A glimpse into the past – a view of MOHAI before SR 520

June 3rd, 2014 by UWBG Communication Staff

By John A. Wott, Director Emeritus

photo

In the Montlake Section in the Washington Park Arboretum looking NE down the site of the canal fill, with the Museum of History and Industry in the background.

This photo of the Montlake Section in the Washington Park Arboretum was taken September 10, 1953. The label states that you are “looking NE down the site of the canal fill, with the Museum of History and Industry in the background.” It is suspected that the small trees on the right are Japanese Cherry trees, which were later moved into the Quad on the University of Washington campus. A few of the conifers on the left side of MOHAI are probably in the wedge of UW property still evident as you currently exit the SR 520 ramp. When SR 520 was built in the early 1960’s, this entire area was destroyed in order to make the approach to the ramps and the new floating bridge. In the very near future, the newest SR 520 bridge and interchanges will take away the remaining area plus MOHAI itself.

Share

A glimpse into the past: a 1950’s view from the lookout

May 6th, 2014 by UWBG Communication Staff

By John A. Wott, Director Emeritus

This photograph, taken on April 4, 1950, is located somewhere to the left of the location of the Lookout Shelter. It points southwest. Originally, the hillside held a large collection of Ceanothus, but they were killed during severe winters and never replaced. If one looks closely you can see “tracks” on Azalea Way, the outline of Arboretum Creek, and East Lake Washington Boulevard. It appears there is one house on the lower level of Interlaken Boulevard East, and of course, many homes on the slopes of Capitol Hill are easily seen.

Looking southwest to Lake Washington Blvd and Capitol Hill from Ceonanthus area by the Lookout Shelter

Looking southwest to Lake Washington Blvd and Capitol Hill from Ceanothus area by the Lookout Shelter

 

The kiosk at the intersection of East Lake Washington Boulevard and Interlaken Boulevard East is visible. Note how open the area is with small collection plantings and few towering native trees. This was taken before the construction of the Japanese Garden.

Share

A glimpse into the past: the early years of FlorAbundance

April 2nd, 2014 by UWBG Communication Staff

By John A. Wott, Directory Emeritus

The first major plant sale in Seattle (now called FlorAbundance) was sponsored by the Arboretum Foundation as a fund raiser for what was then the University of Washington Arboretum. The sales were originally held in a small building called Floral Hall, which later burned down. As the plant sale grew, it was moved to the small cluster of buildings on the northern end of the Arboretum.

photo

An eager crowd of shoppers line up waiting to get into the 1982 FlorAbundance sale. Photo by John A. Wott.

When the Graham Visitors Center and its larger parking lots were opened in 1986, this increased the available sale area. Eventually the sale outgrew this location as well. First, it was moved to an outdoor area on the Naval Station Puget Sound grounds where the volunteers almost froze with the cold winds. Then for several years it was held in the E-1 Parking lot on the University of Washington campus.   Although the parking lot had plenty of space, it also had hot sun, beating winds, and no shelter from heavy rains. It also had little electricity and water. After the Puget Sound Naval Station was “given” to the City of Seattle and become Warren G. Magnuson Park, Building 30 became an ideal home for many years. While that building underwent renovation during 2012 and 2013, the sale returned to the Arboretum. This year, FlorAbundance will again return to Building 30 at Magnuson Park.

For many years, the Plant Sale was managed through the Unit Council, an organized sub-group of the Arboretum Foundation. The many AF Units were represented in the Unit Council. The AF members often raised the plants which were sold, or the chair of each section (e.g. trees, perennials) secured those plants from nurseries. Today it is primarily a vendor’s sale composed of area nurseries and garden centers.

photo

A sale volunteer decked out in a floristic fancy hat. Photo by John A. Wott

Both pictures were taken by me on May 5, 1982 during the first sale I attended. The first shot shows the line-up of attendees at the entrance from Foster Island Drive onto Arboretum Drive. When the rope was dropped, there was a massive stampede to grab the most unusual plants. For many years, after that, it was my privilege to manage the massive line-ups for the cashiers. The second picture features Lee Clarke, a long-time volunteer (and resident poet). Many of the volunteers loved to dress up and wear fancy hats. They obviously enjoyed the customers and working for the Arboretum and its sales.

Share

A glimpse into the past: A view of Azalea Way 70 years prior

March 7th, 2014 by UWBG Communication Staff

By John A. Wott, Director Emeritus

photo

Azalea Way from Lake Washington Boulevard. Photo by H. G. Ihrig 1944

This view looks from Lake Washington Boulevard toward the southern end of Azalea Way. The photo was taken by H. G. Ihrig in May, 1944. It shows the opening of Arboretum Creek along Azalea Way as it flows north from the culvert under Lake Washington Boulevard. Note the large weeping willow trees as well as the large open grass path we all know as Azalea Way. The wooden bollards with the long grass growing under them are also noteworthy of the time.

On the extreme left is the entrance to East Interlaken Boulevard. The small kiosk located at the intersection was built by the Works Progress Administration crew. The kiosk was later destroyed and removed.

The intersection appears much the same today, with a few minor changes. Besides being widened, formal concrete curbs along Lake Washington Boulevard have been added.

Share