The Cultural Landscape at Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site
This video is the eighth in a series of cultural landscape videos produced by the National Park Service (NPS) Olmsted Center for Landscape Preservation (OCLP). The video is made possible through the efforts of production digital media production consultant Vanessa Hartsuiker, who initiated this video series during an internship with the Olmsted Center supported in partnership with the National Council for Preservation Education and the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training.
To view more videos in the series click here.
“I don’t object to the cutting away of certain bramble patches if other brambles are to take their place, or anything that will appear spontaneous and not need watering or care. More moving or dug ground I object to. Less wildness and disorder I object to,” Frederick Law Olmsted to John Charles Olmsted, 1884.
Bob Page: Frederick Law Olmsted is considered the father of architecture and he is important because he really helps set the foundation for the profession. The philosophical underpinnings of the importance of public space, the value to society. He and others, but he was really the lead force in crafting and creating and defining the field of landscape architecture.
Lauren Meier: Frederick Law Olmsted’s first landscape architecture project was, of course, Central Park, a project that he did with Calvert Vaux beginning in 1857. Following the work on Central Park, Frederick Law Olmsted, and the successor firms, consulted on some 6,000 projects nationwide.
Alan Banks: Olmsted really started the whole urban park movement. And I think it also established the idea that there was an obligation that the government had to provide a place like Central Park. And this really would develop even more so as Olmsted’s career continued and I think one of the really seminal turning points for this idea was when Yosemite in California was set aside as public space and Olmsted was involved with kind of developing the philosophical underpinnings of why that should be. He wrote a report that is really considered to be kind of a cornerstone for not only the whole conservation movement but directly to the National Park Service itself.
Lauren Meier: Fairsted was Olmsted’s home beginning in 1883 and it is where the Olmsted Firm came to develop. He had had an office with Calvert Vaux in-in New York, but as work on the Boston Park System developed and his collaboration with H.H. Richardson developed, Olmsted chose to move and relocate here to Brookline and develop this as his home and office.
Alan Banks: He moved here kind of the height of his career. He had already designed Central Park, Prospect Park… had expanded his portfolio to include things like the Capitol Grounds in Washington D.C. Though Frederick Law Olmsted Sr. is the most famous Olmsted, it is actually the sons who are the most prolific. And if you look at the body of work probably uh close to 85% of those projects would have been done during that what they call the “Olmstead Brothers Era.” So what the Olmsted’s are doing here is they’re living here, this is their home, but their office is creating all these documents that then were basically being sent all across the country and put into three dimensions, which I think is a really cool thing.
Jay Newman: Here at Fairsted, we maintain an extensive and comprehensive collection of archives. We have over 200,000 plans and photographs. These archives are used extensively for research. We have hundreds of thousands of hits online every month. The plans are used in contemporary times right now for the preservation, restoration, and maintenance and management of Olmsted sites around the country.
Bob Page: In the 90s, we were just starting to think about cultural landscape reports and what they would include and their content, and how they could be used to guide management decisions. And this report really set the bar that would be required and for the importance of scholarly research and a high level of detail to make sound management decisions.
Lee Farrow Cook: The landscape is an intimate example of Olmsted’s design principles that you can see in the full range of his parks and landscapes elsewhere. The landscape includes both pastoral and picturesque elements, including the rolling peaceful south lawn, as well as more rugged and wild areas such as the hollow or the rock garden.
Lauren Meier: The Fairsted landscape is unusual as a historic landscape because it is very informal in character. And that means that there is not a lot of clipped vegetation. It has a quality of looking somewhat wild and natural. And therefore, the maintenance of the landscape has to be a little bit more thoughtfully done. So that means careful attention to plant form, to maintain a character that looks very natural.
Lee Farrow Cook: Visitors should come here because they have a first-hand opportunity to learn about the many achievements of Frederick Law Olmsted and the firm. And to also learn about the many efforts going on both here and across the country to preserve the places they created and to promote the stewardship of those places.
Alan Banks: We have various ways that you can look up what we call the Master List. And this is the firm’s own records of the projects they worked on. I still get a big kick out of it because you can hear them in the distance saying, “oh my god I can’t believe that he yeah the firm was involved.” In some ways, it is revealing only the work that they did but also it is explaining that there were actually these places exist because somebody here was thinking about making them exist.
Bob Page is the Director of Olmsted Center for Landscape Preservation, National Park Service.
Lauren Meier is an Editor of the The Frederick Law Olmsted Papers Project.
Alan Banks is a Supervisory Park Ranger at Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site.
Jay Newman is the Superintendent at Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site.
Lee Farrow Cook is a Site Manager at Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site.