The Life of Frederick Law Olmsted

Monday, December 17, 2012

Justin Martin argues that Frederick Law Olmsted is probably the most important historical figure that the average American knows the least about. Best remembered for his landscape architecture, from New York's Central Park to Boston's Emerald Necklace to Stanford University's campus, Olmsted was also an influential journalist, early voice for the environment, and abolitionist credited with helping dissuade England from joining the South in the Civil War. Martin discusses Olmstead’s life and work in Genius of Place: The Life of Frederick Law Olmsted.


Justin Martin

Comments [8]

Meredith from nyc

Excellent book by Mr. Martin which I read a few years ago. One thing I recall--Olmsted was originally a gradualist on ending slavery, but after his his trips to the South reporting as a journalist, he became an abolitionist. Will listen to the program tonight.

Dec. 18 2012 01:23 AM
George from Brooklyn

How did the slums and tenements of Manhattan in the 19th century influence the development of parks?

Dec. 17 2012 02:13 PM
Shelley from Wisconsin

How can you have a discussion about the creation of Central Park without a discussion of the violent destruction of Seneca Village? The dismissive attitude of Mr. Martin to to Leonard's asking about the removal of the people who were living in the area to be cleared for the park, suggesting with a seeming wave of his hand by saying the persons living there were nothing more than squatters (and therefore not worthy of mention or consideration?) was very irresponsible and disappointing. Shame on Mr. Martin.

Dec. 17 2012 01:58 PM
Serge Lozach from NYC

Comments on Ft Tryon Park, please.

Dec. 17 2012 01:55 PM
fuva from harlemworld

Seems dishonest to try to minimize the injustice of displacing poor, mostly black disenfranchised landholders to build Central park. Olmstead knew what was happening and he seems to not have lost any sleep. Abolitonists didn't necessarily believe in equal rights...

Dec. 17 2012 01:55 PM
Amy from Manhattan

I thought there was a major population of black people in what's now Central Park, in Seneca Village. I'm surprised to hear that most of the people living in the area were Irish--were they in other parts of the land that was cleared?

Dec. 17 2012 01:50 PM
Lynas from Upper West Side

When I was looking for families with children in the park to look at dummy of my new book "The ABCs of Central Park", I came across a young family who looked at my book with unusual interest. They were Olmsteds, the direct descendents of of F.L. Olmsted.

Dec. 17 2012 01:49 PM
Cathie Zusy from Cambridge, MA

Please note that Charles Eliot (1859-1897, son of a Harvard president), inspired by his mentor Frederick Law Olmsted, led the development of the now beautiful Charles River Basin in Boston, described as “nothing less than a great cesspool” just decades prior. Eliot said of the Charles River and its banks: "Thus has nature placed and preserved at the very gates of Boston riches of scenery such as many another American city would give millions to create, if it were possible."

Today the Cambridgeport Neighborhood Association (CNA) is working with the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) to revitalize the largest park along the Cambridge side of the Charles. This includes an old powder magazine that was converted by the Olmsted Brothers (FLO’s two sons, Frederick and Charles, who inherited FLO’s firm in 1897) into a bathhouse in 1899 and grading around the building, giving swimmers better access to the river. The CNA is currently working to raise $100,000 to fix the roof of the building and re-slate it. All donations are welcome! Go to the CNA Magazine Beach blog for more information: The Olmsted Brothers employed nearly 60 staff at its peak in the 1930s.

Dec. 17 2012 12:59 PM

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