Olmsted & Vaux - Table of Contents

Municipal Parks and City Planning: Frederick Law
Olmsted's Buffalo Park and Parkway System

by Francis R. Kowsky
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Art History, State University of New York College at Buffalo
Preservation Coalition of Erie County Board of Directors

Reprinted with permission from the Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, March 1987

Note: The footnotes in the original publication have been inserted into the main body of the text; some of the illustrations were not found in the original publication.

For three decades beginning in 1868, Frederick Law Olmsted and his partners and successors created for Buffalo, the second largest city in New York State, a series of parks and parkways that attracted

Click on illustrations for larger size.

Frederick Law Olmsted

Calvert Vaux

Joseph Ellicott.

William Dorsheimer

1896 Map of Buffalo

Frederick Law Olmsted, map of North Buffalo, 1876.

The Park (Delaware Park).

Gala Water in The Park (Hoyt Lake in Delaware Park), 1902.

Calvert Vaux, boat house in The Park.

Gala Water in The Park (Hoyt Lake in Delaware Park).

Gala Water in The Park (Hoyt Lake in Delaware Park).

Gala Water in The Park (Hoyt Lake in Delaware Park).

Gala Water in The Park (Hoyt Lake in Delaware Park).

The Front (Front Park).

The Front (Front Park).

Calvert Vaux, the refectory in The Parade (Martin Luther King Jr. Park).

The Parade.

Bidwell Parkway

Soldiers Place.

Chapin Place (Gates Circle).

Delaware Street (Avenue).

Delaware Street (Avenue).

The Circle (Symphony Circle).

F. L. and J. C. Olmsted, plan of South Park, c. 1888.

South Park

Cazanovia Park

Niagara Square

Avenue de l'Imperatrice, Paris, 1856.

Olmsted, plan of Parkside, c. 1876.

Only some of the above illustrations were used in the original publication.
national and international attention. Olmsted's work for Buffalo occupied a prominent place in his influential career as park planner and urban reformer. In Buffalo, Olmsted and his partner Calvert Vaux implemented a comprehensive series of parks and parkways that pioneered the concept of the metropolitan recreational system. Initially conceived between 1868 and 1870 and substantially constructed by 1876, Olmsted and Vaux's Buffalo park system carefully modified the city's original plan, framed in 1804 by Joseph Ellicott, and introduced progressive design features inspired by the example of the Second Empire in Paris.

In 1868, the year that Frederick Law Olmsted (1822-1903) first came to Buffalo to discuss the setting aside of land for public recreation, he was relatively new to his career of landscape architect. Ten years earlier, he and Calvert Vaux (1824- 1895), an immigrant English architect, had won the competition for the design of Central Park in New York City. Olmsted and Vaux's remarkable plan, which reflected the romantic landscape tradition evolved by British gardeners in the previous century, brought into being the first extensive municipal park in the United States. Yet, despite the immediate acclaim and promise of future success that winning the Central Park competition earned him, Olmsted chose not to remain long in the position of park superintendent to which he had been appointed. Much of the time between 1858 and his visit to Buffalo he spent tirelessly aiding the Union cause in the Civil War as secretary of the United States Sanitary Commission and fruitlessly seeking fortune in the gold fields of central California as manager of the Mariposa Estate.

Only late in 1865, prodded by Vaux, who saw more clearly than Olmsted himself the calling for which his friend was best suited, did Olmsted turn permanently to landscape architecture. For the next 30 years, he pursued a practice that extended nationwide and produced plans for scores of public parks, private estates, and various institutions. Before his retirement in 1895, Olmsted had left his park on nearly every major American city.

The standard biographies of Olmsted are:

Exhibiting his plan for Buffalo at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, Olmsted described it as showing "the best planned city as to its streets, public places and grounds in the United States, if not the world."

Olmsted to George Waring, Jr ., 13 April 1876, Frederick Law Olmsted Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

The early park advocates

In August of 1868, at the request of
William Dorsheimer, US .District Attorney for northern New York, Olmsted stopped in Buffalo on his way back to New York City from Chicago, where he and Vaux were engaged in laying out the suburban community of Riverside.

Olmsted to Dorsheimer, 6 August 1868, Frederick Law Olmsted Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

Dorsheimer was a member of the Century Club in New York City and a former functionary of the Sanitary Commission, roles that may have led to personal contact with Olmsted. He had written to Olmsted as early as 1866 on the subject of a public park for Buffalo.

Dorsheimer to Olmsted, 23 July 1866, Frederick Law Olmsted Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

Two years later, Dorsheimer headed a citizen's committee seeking to secure parkland for the rapidly growing city. At the home of Sherman S Jewett, Dorsheimer introduced Olmsted to the members of the group that, in addition to himself, included Jewett, Pascal Paoli Pratt, Joseph Warren, and Richard Flach. The report that Olmsted and Vaux subsequently prepared for these men was submitted to Mayor William Rogers, himself a park advocate, in November 1868. This document became the basis for Buffalo's park system.

See "Preliminary Report Respecting a Public Park in Buffalo, and a Copy of the Act of the Legislature Authorizing Its Establishment," Buffalo, 1869.

Of the far-sighted men who met with Olmsted at Sherman Jewett's house that summer evening, Dorsheimer became the best known outside of Buffalo In 1874, after switching political allegiance from the Republican to the Democratic party, he won election to the post of lieutenant governor of New York under Samuel Tilden Six years later, he moved to New York City, where in 1882 he was elected to the US Congress. A man whose character combined political ambition with an appreciation of art and literature, Dorsheimer found no inconsistency between the principles of democracy and the demands of culture.

For this reason, perhaps, a warm friendship developed between Dorsheimer and Olmsted. As head of the Capitol Commission in Albany, Dorsheimer saw to it that Olmsted, in association with Henry Hobson Richardson (1838-1886) and Leopold Eidlitz (1823-1906), took charge of completing the capitol, begun in 1867 by another architect.

For Dorsheimer's role in the capitol project, see Geoffrey Blodgett, "Lieutenant Governor William Dorsheimer and the Politics of Architectural Reform," in "Proceedings of the New York State Capitol Symposium," Albany (1983), 49-61.

He also joined Olmsted in championing the cause of reclaiming Niagara Falls from industrial encroachment and commercial exploitation, a project first discussed in 1869 when Dorsheimer, Olmsted, and Richardson visited the falls together.

For Olmsted's involvement in the campaign to establish the Niagara Reservation and the relation of this effort to Olmsted's work in Buffalo, see Charles Beveridge and Francis R. Kowsky, "The Distinctive Charms of Niagara Scenery: Frederick Law Olmsted and the Niagara Reservation," exh. cat., Niagara Falls, N.Y., 1985.

In addition, Dorsheimer asked Olmsted to landscape property he owned on Long Island and at Newport This latter site, surveying the ocean from Telegraph Hill, was praised in the press as one that "can hardly be surpassed for beauty the world over."

"The Newport Daily News," 13 October 1885, 9. See also David Chase, "Superb Privacies, The later Domestic Commissions of Richard Morris Hunt, 1878-1895," in "The Architecture of Richard Morris Hunt," ed. Susan R. Stein, Chicago, 1986, 160-161.

The other members of the Buffalo park group were primarily civic-minded businessmen Sherman S Jewett, who was later remembered as "the father of the park system in Buffalo," was a well-to-do manufacturer of stoves and a director of a railroad company. He served as president of the park commission from 1879 until his death in 1905. Pascal Paoli Pratt, owner of a thriving ironworks, had founded the Manufacturers' and Traders' National Bank. He became the first president of the park board in 1869. Under his leadership, Olmsted's plans were adopted and implemented. Of Joseph Warren, editor of the Buffalo Courier, his friend Dorsheimer wrote "He was a promoter of all the generous enterprises which promised to add to the prosperity of the city ."

William Dorsheimer, "The Life and Public Service of the Honorable Grover Cleveland," Philadelphia, 1884, 36.

The final member of the group, Richard Flach, operated a grocery business with other members of his family. Perhaps he represented the less-well-to-do class of people for whom the parks would provide the greatest benefit.

Drawn together, as Dorsheimer remarked, by a desire for "higher civilization,"

William Dorsheimer, "The Life and Public Service of the Honorable Grover Cleveland," Philadelphia, 1884, 37.

these men shared a vision of a new metropolis. Only a few decades earlier, Buffalo had been an inconsequential frontier town on the edge of the vast wilderness of the Great Lakes forest. With the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825 and the stimulus of the Civil War economy, the city had come into its own, assuming ever greater prosperity from the alliance of transportation and industry. Seeing the promise of a limitless future for manufacturing, Easterners as well as immigrants from abroad moved to the city in large numbers during the last half of the 19th century. The population soon swelled to the second largest in the state. And, while personal gain drove most who came, a number of enlightened men, influenced by the temper of Victorian political philosophy, sought to use wealth in the service of the common good. This reform spirit, conditioned by the liberal views of Jeremy Bentham, the 19-century British philosopher whose first principle of morality was the greatest happiness for the greatest number, was strong enough in Buffalo to implement the advanced planning ideals that Olmsted, himself a visionary, espoused in the name of human progress."

For a discussion of the reform spirit and its influence on Olmsted, see Albert Fein, "The American City: The Ideal and the Real," in "The Rise of an American Architecture," ed. Edgar Kaufmann, Jr., New York, 1970, 51-112.

Informed by a sense of civic responsibility and aware of the need to obtain the guidance of talented professionals, the men who sponsored the park movement, like their counterparts in other places, were involved in a historic phenomenon, one that was transforming America into an urban-centered society and directing the growth of its cities along the lines of those of Europe. In this movement, Buffalo came to occupy a significant place.

Olmsted and Vaux's park plans

After looking over the City and its environs, Olmsted convinced Dorsheimer and his colleagues that instead of a single large recreation area like New York City's Central Park, Buffalo would be better served by a series of separate greenspaces. He proposed three parks in the northern part of the city. These he called The Park (the present Delaware Park), The Front (the present Front Park), and The Parade (after the 1896 Humboldt Park, the present Martin Luther King, Jr., Park). Each of these sites, as their names imply, had a different character and purpose within what Olmsted considered a citywide park system.

For a concise statement of Olmsted's design ideals, see Charles Beveridge, "Frederick Law Olmsted's Theory of Landscape Design," "Nineteenth Century, 3" (1977), 38-43. Beveridge also discusses the Buffalo parks in his essay "Buffalo Park and Parkway System," in "Buffalo Architecture: A Guide," Cambridge, Mass., 1981, 9-15.

The Park

The Park, which was the largest of all and located in an area that at the time was virtually uninhabited, expressed most truly Olmsted's concept of nature put to civic use. It consisted of 230 acres of greensward, the term Olmsted and Vaux employed to describe extensive stretches of rolling meadow land dotted with trees, and a 46-acre lake, water being to Olmsted an essential feature of pleasure grounds. Encompassed by a belt of trees and tall shrubs to screen the landscape from the city beyond (a characteristic of all of Olmsted and Vaux's parks), The Park, in Olmsted's mind, furnished much needed relief from the tedium of life in a modern industrial city. Here was a place that offered men and women from all walks of life and classes of society (and Olmsted regarded municipal parks as eminently democratic institutions) the quiet pleasures of strolling, picnicking, boating, riding, and relaxing in an atmosphere of artfully contrived natural scenery. Brought up in rural surroundings, Olmsted believed that the contemplation and passive enjoyment of nature promoted mental and spiritual well-being.

The Meadow, with its gently undulating topography and clusters of oaks, maples, and other trees, looks today much as it did when Olmsted first viewed it. He was drawn to this location for the main park by the natural lay of the land and its proximity to Forest Lawn Cemetery, a large, romantically landscaped burial ground laid out in 1853. Olmsted and Vaux reasoned that Forest Lawn would add considerably to the apparent extent of the park on the south. Other than grading and the planting of turf, little work was required to give the Meadow a lovely pastoral perspective, an effort once enhanced by grazing sheep, animals Olmsted associated with bucolic sentiments.

Around The Meadow, carriages traveled a winding perimeter road. The park's densely planted borders conveyed the feeling of cozy rural seclusion. At present, an expressway on the southern edge of The Meadow follows the routes of former bridle paths and carriage drives and bridges a city street as Olmsted's lanes did. By separating park from city traffic in this manner, as had been done in Central Park, Olmsted sought to preserve the tranquility of park drives.

The lake formed the major feature of the western section of The Park. Created by damming Scajaquada Creek, a stream flowing into the park grounds from Forest Lawn Cemetery, Gala Water, as it was called, originally possessed a picturesque aspect. Its irregular shoreline and small islands once abounded with masses of shrubs and trees. A wooden boathouse, designed by Vaux in the fashion of European park structures, occupied a site on the southern shore, where a modern masonry casino now stands.

The smaller bay to the northwest of the main lake bore the name North Bay. Now effectively isolated from the main body of the lake by expressway traffic, North Bay became in 1901 the setting for the
Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society building, an edifice designed by local architect George Cary for the Pan-American Exposition. (The Exposition was located on the north side of The Park.) Together with the Albright-Knox Art Gallery (designed by Green and Wicks), which went up at about the same time, the Society's building represents the shift of taste away from Vaux's picturesque architecture, none of which survives in Buffalo, toward monumental Neoclassicism. These later buildings also bear witness to the fact that, by the early 20th century, public parks had generally come to be regarded as appropriate homes for cultural institutions, an idea that Olmsted and Vaux had opposed. In their definition of a park system, even such worthwhile buildings were to be placed elsewhere than in areas expressly designed for outdoor recreation.

Alterations other than the art gallery and historical society buildings have had more drastic effects on modern Delaware Park. Well-meaning but uninformed renovations have robbed Gala Water and North Bay of the subtle, dreamy ambiance they once evoked. The marriage of beauty and nature that formerly existed there, and which made the lake a favorite theme of turn-of-the century Photopictorialists, can now be glimpsed only in old photographs and paintings.

The Front

In contrast to the large-scale and pastoral mood imparted by The Park, which was reserved for passive recreation, The Front comprised only 35 acres and occupied a strategic site on Lake Erie overlooking the opening of the Niagara River. Here, wrote Olmsted, one could witness "a river effect such as can be seen, I believe, nowhere else -- a certain quivering of the surface and a rare tone of color, the result of the crowding upward of the lake waters as they enter the deep portal of the Niagara.''

Frederick Law Olmsted, "A Healthy Change in the Tone of the Human Heart," "Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine, 32(1886), 963.

A broad terrace afforded an impressive panorama of the lake and river, serving, in Olmsted's scheme, as a grand setting for public ceremonies. More ordinary pastimes were also provided for here. A promenade, a pavilion (known as the Front House), a ball field, and, later, waterfront playgrounds and boating facilities made The Front a popular spot. Olmsted was gratified by its reception, for to him it dispelled the "spirit of the middle ages" he had encountered earlier in Buffalo when he had been told, "Nobody here wants to look at the lake; we hate the lake."

Frederick Law Olmsted, "A Healthy Change in the Tone of the Human Heart," "Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine, 32(1886), 963.

While Olmsted's park, which was once considered for the site of the Pan-American Exposition, made peace with the railroad and canal that passed beneath the bluff, it has lost much to the ravages of the automobile age.

At the entrance to the city from Canada, The Front has lost much of its charm to the intrusions of the Canadian-American Peace Bridge (1929) and the New York State Thruway (1962).

The Parade

Located considerably east of the water, The Parade, as its name suggested, was also designed for more active recreation than was The Park. It included a parade ground and an area for children's games. A two-story wooden refectory building – the most elaborate of all the park structures that Vaux designed and the most evocative of the chalet architecture of Continental parks – was another attraction. On weekends, it accommodated large crowds who came to The Parade from the nearby neighborhood, which was home to many German immigrant families. Later in the 19th century, Olmsted's successors remodeled the park, cutting an avenue through its center and creating an immense circular pool that forms the major surface feature of the park today. These alterations also included rectangular basins for water lilies and other aquatic plants. By the 1920s, a casino had been added and a greenhouse had replaced the refectory.

The Parkway System

Of equal importance to the new public grounds were the parkways and avenues that Olmsted and Vaux planned to connect them to one another. These sylvan tributaries of the parks extended in a wide arc across the northern part of the city so that one could travel the six-mile distance from The Front to The Parade under a canopy of green. At 200 feet in width, the parkways were much broader than the normal streets of the city and provided separate lanes for different types and directions of traffic. Areas of turf planted with rows of overarching elms created a park-like environment for those who could afford to live along their borders. Spacious circles marked junctures where parkways came together or where they encountered major city streets. unpre pleasant avenues, the parkways in Buffalo were among the first to be constructed in an American city

Terming parkways "broad thoroughfares planted with trees and designed with special reference to recreation as well as for common traffic,"

Frederick Law Olmsted, "Public Parks," "The Garden," 10 (1876), 295.

Olmsted defined a special relationship between the new parkways and The Park. Four parkways approached The Park. The longest of these was Humboldt Parkway, which joined The Park to The Parade nearly three miles away on the east side of town. From the west, Bidwell Parkway, starting at Bidwell Place (the present Colonial Circle), ran northwest to Soldiers Place, a circular space 700 feet in diameter. Soldiers Place also formed the terminus of Chapin Parkway, which met Delaware Street (the present Delaware Avenue) at Chapin Place (the present Gates Circle). Both Chapin and Bidwell Parkways retain their broad central medians designed for horseback riders and pedestrians and their side roadways for vehicles. From Soldiers Place one drove north to The Park along majestic Lincoln Parkway. Its broad central carriage way was separated by grass and trees from outer roadways that were designed to afford access to the mansions that Olmsted and Vaux foresaw being built here.

In addition to the new parkways that formed the monumental approaches to The Park, several existing city streets assumed new importance as residential avenues leading to the parkways. These streets were enlarged to 100 feet in width and planted with American elms, as were the parkways. Delaware Street, which ran north for three miles from Niagara Square to Chapin Place, became the principal of these.

The creation on the west side of the city of Porter Avenue and The Avenue to link The Front with The Park required more drastic changes to the city's plan than did the relatively simple bettering of Delaware Street. From The Front, Porter Avenue proceeded east, generally following the path of two older streets (York and North) to Rodgers Street, a thoroughfare running north toward new Bidwell Place. Each of these streets was widened and planted with double rows of elms on either side of a central carriageway. Rodgers Street was renamed The Avenue (the present Richmond Avenue), signifying that Olmsted and Vaux regarded it as the major approach to The Park from the west.

At Ferry Street, where the original Rodgers Street had ended, Olmsted and Vaux laid out Ferry Circle and extended the line of The Avenue across unimproved land to join Bidwell Parkway at Bidwell Place. Where The Avenue met Porter Avenue, the architects created The Circle (the present Symphony Circle), into which came streets that united the existing neighborhood to the park system. The Avenue became a street of large houses set well back from the streetline, a feature they shared with parkway residences.

South Park and Riverside Park

Olmsted and Vaux anticipated that their park system would be eventually extended to benefit the southern part of the city, where most of the working-class population lived. Fillmore Avenue (named for Millard Fillmore, who, as a resident of Buffalo, may have aided the park movement) was to have been a parkway leading south from The Parade to South Park, which Olmsted proposed in 1887. South Park was also to have been reached from the central city by a pleasure boat canal.

See Frederick Law Olmsted and John Charles Olmsted,"The Projected Park and Parkways of the South Side of Buffalo," Buffalo, 1888.

Neither of these ambitious plans ever materialized, although Fillmore Avenue was partially laid out south from The Parade with a wide roadway and double rows of elm trees.

South Park, intended to be the city's southern counterpart to The Park, was eventually constructed on a considerably smaller scale than first planned. By 1893, the year that the Common Council approved South Park's creation, the lake front area that Olmsted hoped to include had been given over to industrial use. Eventually designed as an arboretum, South Park today preserves more of its original Olmstedean character than any of the other Buffalo parks.

Cazenovia Park was begun in tandem with South Park at a site farther inland. The large recreational lake that Olmsted created has disappeared, leaving only the winding Cazenovia Creek in its place. Olmsted also planned the Southside Parkways to link these two parks. But contrary to his intention, the drives were never joined to the older parkway system in the northern part of town.

Olmsted's partnership with Vaux ended in 1872. After that, Olmsted practiced under his own name until 1884, when he moved from New York City to Brookline, Massachusetts, where he worked with his stepson, John Charles Olmsted. In 1893 they were joined by Charles Eliot in the firm of Olmsted, Olmsted and Eliot.

Five years later, after Olmsted's retirement, the mantle of his reputation passed to the Olmsted Brothers, the professional name adopted by John Charles and Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., the only son on whom Olmsted doted and who was to continue his father's work well into the 20th century. During the first year of their association, the Olmsted Brothers designed Riverside Park, the last of the parks for Buffalo from the Olmsted office.

Overlooking the Niagara River and the Canadian shore in the Black Rock section of the city, Riverside Park provided natural scenery, access to a waterside boathouse (by means of a walkway over the Erie Canal),

When the New York State Thruway was constructed in the 1960's, engineers built the main roadway over the former canal bed that passed by Riverside Park and The Front.

a bandstand, tree-shaded minnow pools, and ball fields. Unfortunately, little remains of the original features of this pleasant setting for neighborhood leisure.

The example of Paris

In their plans for the original constellation of parks and parkways, which were substantially in place by the centennial year, 1876, Olmsted and Vaux revealed evident awareness of the example of contemporary Paris. The resplendent ambitions of Napoleon the Third had made the French capital in the second half of the 19th century the premier city of western Europe. Parisian taste, urbane and bourgeois, set standards that were widely emulated. Post-Civil War America was particularly susceptible to the mounting tide of French influence and saw Francophilia overcome Anglophilia in the arts and culture. It is not surprising, therefore, that Olmsted and Vaux, while preserving their personal idealization of nature and democracy, should have looked to Paris for instruction in the broader aspects of urban design. They both traveled to France during the Second Empire and saw the widespread rebuilding of the streets of Paris taking place under the direction of Baron Georges-Eugene Haussmann, one of history's most audacious city planners. Nor is it surprising that their Buffalo clients, men desirous of making their adolescent city prominent and beautiful, should have welcomed the air of international modernity that schemes of such imagination and breadth as Olmsted's possessed.

Especially suggestive of French example were the parkways that Olmsted and Vaux proposed for Buffalo "Paris is famous for its parks, its squares and its gardens," wrote William Robinson, an Englishman whom Olmsted admired,

but its noblest features, and those most worthy of imitation in other cites, are its magnificent open streets, avenues and roads, called boulevards . . . . They are merely such means of communication as would be found in every city of the world, if cities were designed with any due regard to their being fitting and healthy dwelling places for hosts of men.

William Robinson, "The Parks, Promenades and Gardens of Paris Described and Considered in Relation to the Wants of Our Own Cities and Public and Private Gardens," London, 1869, 112. Olmsted singled out Robinson as a person whose appreciation of nature was akin to his own. See New York State Commissioners of the State Survey, "Special Report on the Preservation of the Scenery of Niagara Falls"....1879, Albany, 1880, 28. Olmsted also corresponded with Robinson

Clearly, Olmsted and Vaux's conception of the parkway, a term they seem to have coined and which signified a formal, tree-lined residential street provided with separate lanes for carriages, horseback riders and pedestrians, derived from Haussmann's Paris. Together with the well-known Grands Boulevards that stretched from the Place de la Madeleine to the Place de la Bastille and were the locale of well-frequented and fashionable shops and restaurants, Haussmann created strictly residential avenues. These ranged from 100 to 200 feet in width and were shaded by rows of trees. The Avenue de l'Empereur between the Rue du Petit Parc and the Place du Roi de Rome was laid out in 1862 with the stipulation that no commercial use be permitted there and that each property owner set aside a 35-foot-wide area in front of his building for a continuous greenspace. The Avenue de l'Imperatrice, to which Olmsted and Vaux undoubtedly owed the greatest debt of influence, was the most prestigious of the new Paris thoroughfares. Exclusively residential, its borders were lined with expensive "maisons particuliers," and its roadway was divided for various types of traffic Built in 1856, it connected the circular Place de l'Etoile with the main park of Paris, the Bois de Boulogne, which occupied a site to the west of the city.

In Buffalo, Olmsted and Vaux's references to Paris were specific as well as formative. Soldiers Place is a wide, round intersection of major thoroughfares, including Chapin and Bidwell Parkways. With Lincoln Parkway, which leads directly from the circle to The Park, these elements strongly evoke the Paris grouping of the Place de l'Etoile, the Avenue de l'Imperatrice, and the Bois de Boulogne. Even in its military sentiment, Soldiers Place, for which Olmsted proposed a monument to the Civil War dead, echoes the Place de l'Etoile, where stands Jean Francois Chagrin's Arc de Triomphe, a memorial to Napoleon's victories. And despite its greater variety of trees and more gardenesque plantings of shrubs and flowers, the Avenue de l'lmperatrice, the monumental approach to the park from the Place de l'Etoile, was clearly the model for Lincoln Parkway, the grandest of Olmsted and Vaux's parkways.

In addition to planning the new parkways, Olmsted and Vaux had upgraded a number of older city streets to tree-lined residential arteries to carry travelers to the new parks and parkways. Many of the streets in this network met in Niagara Square, the hub of Ellicott's 1804 city plan, which itself reflected French ideals.
Ellicott, who had been associated with Pierre L'Enfant in Washington, had laid out Buffalo around a series of wide, diagonally radiating streets reaching out from Niagara Square, which was located near the shore of Lake Erie.

For Olmsted's plans for Niagara Square, see the Buffalo Park Commissioners, "Fifth Annual report of the Buffalo Park Commissioners, January 1875," Buffalo, 1875, 11- 16.

Richardson's arch design is preserved in the Houghton Library, Harvard University, and is discussed in James F. O'Gorman, "Selected Drawings: H. H. Richardson and His Office," exh. cat., Cambridge, Mass., 1974, 1888-190.
Primary among Ellicott's streets that Olmsted and Vaux incorporated into their system was Delaware Avenue, a thoroughfare for which Olmsted hoped Richardson would build a triumphal arch spanning the roadway at Niagara Square. The square itself Olmsted proposed to transform into a formal "rond point" in the manner of those that Adolph Alphand had created in Paris. In Olmsted and Vaux's scheme, Delaware Avenue became the principal approach from the center city to The Park. Olmsted and Vaux also constructed French inspired circles at other points in the new network of streets and parkways. In all of their work, the architects, who held Ellicott's city in high regard, thought of themselves as acting in concert with their predecessor's ideas. "Whether used for pleasure travel or for general traffic," they explained,

the fortunate location and liberal width of the trunk thoroughfares of the older portions of the city most happily exemplify the wise forethought of Mr. Ellicott. The Parkways provide equally liberal accommodations for travel through the newer sections, and simply supplement the original plan in fit accordance with the general design.

Olmsted, "The Buffalo Park System," 11.

As Haussmann had done in Paris, Olmsted and Vaux employed the new roadways to establish a comprehensive system of circulation in Buffalo. The pattern of streets and parkways, which were laid out on largely unoccupied land in the north away from the crowded waterfront city that had arisen with the success of the Erie Canal, provided a rational framework within which the city would expand during the next decades.

Olmsted's plan for Buffalo embodied theories he was expounding at the time on the role parks and parkways could play in the improvement of cities. In 1870, he wrote:

A park fairly well managed near a large town, will surely become a new centre of that town. With the determination of location, size, and boundaries should therefore be associated the duty of arranging new trunk routes of communication between it and the distant parts of the town existing and forecasted.

These may be either narrow informal elongations of the park, varying say from two to five hundred feet in width, and radiating irregularly from it, or . . . formal parkways. They should be so planned and constructed as never to be noisy and seldom crowded, and so also that the straightforward movement of pleasure carriages need never be obstructed, unless at absolutely necessary crossings, by slow-going heavy vehicles used for commercial purposes. If possible, also, they should be branched or reticulated with other ways of a similar class, so that no part of the town should finally be many minutes' walk from some one of them; and they should be made interesting by a process of planting and decoration, so that in necessarily passing through them, whether in going to or from the park, or to and from business, some substantial recreative advantage may be incidentally gained. It is a common error to regard a park as something produced complete in itself, as picture to be painted on a canvas. It should rather be planned as one to be done in fresco, with constant consideration of exterior objects, some of them quite at a distance and even existing as yet only in the imagination of the painter.

"Public Parks and the Enlargement of Towns," Cambridge, Mass., 1870, reprinted in S.B. Sutton, ed., "Civilizing American Cities: a Selection of Frederick law Olmsted's Writings on City Landscapes," Cambridge, Mass., 1971, 83.

Speaking of the Paris boulevards, Robinson noted that: "They do not simply pass through the city in one or several important lines, but pierce it in every direction, and are designed upon a far seeing and systematic plan, so that during the future existence of the city overcrowding of its parts must become an impossibility."

Robinson, "Parks, Promenades and Gardens of Paris, 112- 113.

Olmsted and Vaux had learned the lessons of Paris well and applied them with imagination to the challenge of shaping the new middle-class quarter of a burgeoning American industrial city. With this in mind, one can appreciate why Olmsted's plan for Buffalo received honorable mention at the 1878 Paris Exposition. Olmsted had sent his map of the city there to demonstrate to European audiences the efficacy of modern urban design in the United States.

The suburbanization of the city

Implicit in the decision to undertake the construction of Olmsted and Vaux's parkways was the understanding that they would stimulate development of individual, freestanding housing in the northern part of Buffalo. This phenomenon had already begun before Olmsted's arrival and was one his private backers were eager to encourage. Olmsted's improvements introduced a new scale and spaciousness to late 19th century urban domestic life and left behind the "old-fashioned, compact urban, block building" that characterized older quarters of cities.

Frederick Law Olmsted, "History of Streets." A paper read to the Brookline Club, c. 1888. Typescript, Frederick Law Olmsted Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

Olmsted regarded this new openness in residential districts, where each house stood by itself, as indicative of the modern age. It resulted from new modes of efficient transportation – to which his parkway system contributed – which made possible the separation of the residential parts of the city from the business and manufacturing districts. Olmsted and Vaux's parkways and avenues were designed to foster this suburbanization of the city, a notion that Olmsted regarded as an advance almost as important as the park movement itself. "There is a strong tendency in our civilization." he wrote,

to build parts of towns with reference . . . strictly to business . . . and to build other parts of the same towns with reference to the enjoyment of life apart from business in such a manner that more and more ground shall be appropriated to a given number of houses . . . . The effect of the tendency on the whole will be to spread out the domestic parts of a town and to include in the idea of a town a much larger proportion than at present of decidedly rus-urban elements.

Frederick Law Olmsted, "History of Streets." A paper read to the Brookline Club, c. 1888. Typescript, Frederick Law Olmsted Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

To further this development in Buffalo, Olmsted and Vaux proposed the lay out of a residential community they called Parkside. Located around the eastern and northern borders of The Park, Parkside could be reached by the parkway system as well as by a new trolley line linking it to the business district. Parkside, like Riverside, Illinois, was a private venture, but in Olmsted's mind it was loosely tied to the success of the municipal park system. The rise in tax revenues, he reasoned, that would accrue from Parkside's development would offset the cost to the city of constructing its park system. This was a theory that Olmsted had learned from Joseph Paxton's Birkenhead Park in Liverpool, which he had visited in 1850, where a similar mix of public and private development had taken place.

The broad, curving streets of Parkside appeared on early maps of the Buffalo park system. Its actual creation by the Villa Land Company, however, did not occur until the late 1880s.

As laid out, the streets of Parkside are less curving and more numerous than Olmsted had originally intended.

By the early 20th century, Parkside had become a desirable address, attracting among its residents Darwin D. Martin, who, at Frank Lloyd Wright's suggestion, purchased a prime tract of land there for the Prairie Style home that Wright built for him between 1903 and 1906. In addition to Martin, other Larkin Soap Company executives who patronized Wright also avoided fashionable Delaware Avenue - where, in 1868, Dorsheimer had constructed a house designed by Richardson

See the author's "The William Dorsheimer House: A Reflection of French Suburban Architecture in the Early Work of H. H. Richardson," "The Art Bulletin, 62 (1980), 134-147.

- and chose instead to build in Buffalo's Olmstedean landscape. Walter Davidson commissioned Wright in 1908 to erect a home for him on another Parkside street near the Martin residence, and William R. Heath purchased for his dwelling a lot on Soldiers Place, the most spacious (and best preserved) of the circles of Olmsted's parkway system.

John D. Larkin, who was secretary of the Hyde Park Land Company, another organization doing business with the Olmsted office, purchased land for his own home (not designed by Wright) on Lincoln Parkway.

Later known by such names as "City of Elms" and "Forest City," Buffalo, in fact, evolved substantially as Olmsted hoped it would. Although in recent decades some features of the Olmstedean urban setting have been lost, chiefly to the desolation of Dutch elm disease, modern highway construction, and unsympathetic alterations, significant aspects of the Olmsted legacy continue to give form to the city. In recognition of this fact, the following elements of the Olmsted park and parkway system have been listed on the
National Register of Historic Places: Delaware Park (which is still the city's most heavily used recreation area), Gates Circle, Chapin Parkway, Soldiers Place Lincoln Parkway, Colonial Circle, Richmond Avenue, Ferry Circle, Symphony Circle, Porter Avenue, Columbus Park (a park predating Olmsted's work, but one which he incorporated into his system), Front Park, Martin Luther King, Jr., Park (a site targeted for a new public school), Heacock Place, McKinley Parkway, McClellan Circle, Red Jacket Parkway, Cazenovia Park, McKinley Circle, South Park (which is slated for a major restoration program), and Riverside Park. The Parkside community is also listed on the National Register.

Olmsted and Vaux's Buffalo park and parkway system represented a significant advance in the history of the American municipal park movement. Beginning, in the 1840s, Andrew Jackson Downing, beside whom Vaux had worked and whose memory Olmsted revered, had strenuously promoted the cause of urban parks. The design that Downing developed with the backing of President Fillmore in 1851-1852 for a pleasure ground in Washington drew the first important public recognition of his pleadings. Through his writings, Downing opened the way for Olmsted and Vaux's Central Park, the work that established the large pastoral park as a permanent feature of the American cityscape. Building upon that success, the partners seized the opportunity that Buffalo provided to demonstrate that several recreational areas appropriately dispersed throughout the city could serve the modern city dweller's need for leisure better than a central park.

Supported by Buffalo's park advocates, Olmsted and Vaux were able for the first time to lay out a related group of parks, each of which served a different purpose, and to join them with each other by means of a new type of parklike street. They also gained approval for a new residential neighborhood to be created in conjunction with these elements. Olmsted and Vaux had written about the desirability of constructing a metropolitan body of parks and parkways in their 1865 report for Prospect Park in Brooklyn, and the following year they advised San Francisco city fathers to plan for a number of different types of parks in various parts of town. Also in 1866, they prepared their first plan for a residential district, the Berkeley Neighborhood, which would have brought into being a small, romantically landscaped tract of land contiguous with the grounds of the College of California near Oakland. This never-realized scheme in turn influenced Riverside, the extensive new community that Olmsted and Vaux laid out south of Chicago starting in 1868. Drawing upon these precedents for the Buffalo project -- as well as heeding the example of Haussmann's Paris -- Olmsted and Vaux arrived at their fully evolved image of the new American city.

By the end of the 19th century, the concept of the urban park system enjoyed wide acceptance in the United States. Many cities, often with Olmsted's or his successors' direct involvement, undertook to put together metropolitan park networks. Beginning in the 1870s, Olmsted fashioned the series of linked greenspaces in Boston that came to be called the "emerald necklace," perhaps the most celebrated of all park systems.

Cynthia Zaitzevsky in her book "Frederick Law Olmsted and the Boston Park System," Boston, 1982, 32, calls attention to the earlier example of Buffalo in relation to the development of the Boston park system.

Other growing cities that embarked upon aggressive park construction programs included Philadelphia, Rochester, Hartford, Louisville, and Chicago (where as early as 1871 Olmsted and Vaux had proposed parkway approaches to South Park).

This far-reaching movement was one of the principal achievements of liberal reformers who, like Olmsted, strove to cure ills that vastly enlarged commerce, industry, and population inflicted on America's cities after the Civil War. The systematic disposition of recreation accessible to all, residential life apart from business, and improved design of streets - all elements in a scheme to bring the healing power of nature into the lifeblood of the city—were Olmsted's antidotes to the poisons of congestion and disorder. In the new age of urbanism, he and his like-minded partisans saw these pernicious forces threatening material and moral health as well as the survival of democratic ideals.

M. Christine Boyer discusses this phenomenon in the context of late 19- and early 20th-century thinking about urban planning in chapter 3, "In Search of a Spatial Order," of her book "Dreaming the Rational City, the Myth of American City Planning," Cambridge, Mass., 1983, 33-56.

In the development of a comprehensive response to the threat, Olmsted and Vaux's work in Buffalo was of seminal importance. Here they articulated a plan that Olmsted would hold up to the national and international audiences as exemplary of the well-designed modern city.

The author wishes to acknowledge that his research has been supported by grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the State University of New York Research Foundation University Awards Program.

The New York Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation has assisted the author in many ways and has generously allowed him to use material pertaining to the Buffalo park and parkway system National Register nomination for this article.

The Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society and the Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site, National Park Service, have also been especially helpful to me in various aspects of research.

The author is particularly indebted to Charles Beveridge, editor of the Frederick Law Olmsted Papers, American University, for his help in locating pertinent Olmsted material, as well as for generously sharing with me his profound knowledge of Olmsted's life and thought.

- Francis R. Kowsky (Home Page)

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