VOLUNTEER PARK CONSERVATORY
Every year more than 150,000 people visit the Volunteer Park Conservatory located in Volunteer Park in Seattle, Washington. For nearly 100 years, the Volunteer Park Conservatory has stood in the heart of Seattle’s Capitol Hill district. The conservatory is a wood, iron and glass Victorian-style structure modeled on London’s Crystal Palace. 3,426 panes of glass allow the sunlight into the botanical gardens housed within its 6,200 square feet.
George Gosline, former President of the Friends of the Conservatory said of the gardens: “We go because we know that it is a place that we can just be. I know for myself that this is not a small thing at this time in the United States and western culture. A place that is warm and peaceful and still and cared for; where there is time to grow.”
The park itself was built following the purchase of 45 acres of land by the city of Seattle in 1878. Then called City Park, it was renamed to Volunteer Park to honor those who served in the Spanish-American War. The conservatory was proposed in 1893 and purchased from the Hitchings Company of New York for $5000, nearly $115,000 in 2011 terms. Construction was performed by the City of Seattle and completed in 1912. The approach to the regal structure of glass is watched over by an imposing statue of William Henry Seward, Secretary of State to President Lincoln. He famously negotiated the purchase of Alaska from Russia in 1867 for 7.2 million dollars, about 2 cents per acre.
Over the years, the structural integrity of the iron and glass began to fail and in 1978, the structure was so weak that the Conservatory was forced to close during high winds. In 1980, the Friends of the Conservatory was established and, in partnership with the Seattle Department of Parks and Recreation, restored the Conservatory to her rightful glory. Thanks to these efforts, the Conservatory remains open and vibrant. As a result of the renovations only the peacock window over the main entry remains of original wood and glass from 1912.
The Victorian glasshouse is a shining jewel in the often-named “Emerald City” of Seattle. Five display houses within the conservatory — bromeliads, ferns, palms, seasonal, and cacti and succulents — showcase a world-class collection of plants. True to its name, the conservatory is staffed by 5 paid gardeners and more than 100 volunteers who provide more than 2500 hours of service annually toward running Volunteer Park Conservatory’s tours, educational programs, classes, and many other elements of the community that surrounds the gardens.
The garden collections have largely been built through donations. Especially notable is the conservatory’s orchid collection, which was begun in 1921 thanks to an impressive donation from Mrs. Anna H. Clise. Indeed, it is fitting that Volunteer Park Conservatory should owe so much to the passion and dedication of so many volunteers who worked tirelessly to keep the Conservatory alive and still dedicate their time to keeping this historic site open to the public. The tradition and beauty of Volunteer Park Conservatory remains one of Seattle’s greatest treasures.
The conservatory is free to the public and open Tuesday to Sunday from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m.