The Volunteer Park Reservoir was taken out of service in April 2013 by Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) for decommissioning testing and seismic evaluation. SPU is determining whether the reservoir should be permanently removed from Seattle’s drinking water distribution system. The results from the seismic study have been delayed due to additional analysis needed and are now expected in mid-2017.
Complicating this project is the fact that the main pipeline from the reservoir travels under the 520 bridge. No work on the reservoir will be considered by the city until the bridge project is complete.
If SPU proceeds with decommissioning the reservoir, Seattle Parks and Recreation will then conduct a thorough process to determine the best future use of the property.
As part of the restoration of core features of John Charles Olmsted’s 1908-09 park design, a high priority for Volunteer Park Trust is to re-landscape degraded areas surrounding the reservoir.
The original design featured an unobstructed axial view from the central concourse west toward the city, Sound and Olympic Mountains. The Trust would like to see this once again become the “Sunset Promenade” and recapture the experience enjoyed by city residents who took the 15th Avenue trolley uphill to Volunteer Park to hear music in the bandstand, walk around the reservoir, and view the sunset from benches arrayed along its west edge. Like us, they enjoyed panoramas across the great reservoir reflecting pool, but their view was unmarred by chain link fence, graffiti, overgrown shrubs and weedy trees. We hope to bring back this magnificent space for the pleasure of today’s park users.
A key future project for the Trust is the restoration of Volunteer Park’s iconic Water Tower, which includes restoring framed vistas in all directions from the observation deck, and improving plantings at the base once the lead-tainted soil is replaced. Through careful tree management, the Trust hopes to recapture lost views from what was at one time the best viewpoint in Seattle, with its magnificent panorama of downtown, Lake Union, Lake Washington, Puget Sound, and the Olympic and Cascade Mountains from the very heart of the city. Working closely with Seattle Parks & Recreation, we are also looking to replant the lush gardens surrounding the Water Tower. Visitors who have braved the 105 steps to the top know the tower itself also needs attention, including improved lighting to make it a safer, more welcoming beacon to the city.
UPDATE: Cyndy Holtz, Major Watersheds Business Area Manager at Seattle Public Utilities (SPU), gave us this update on the Volunteer Park Water Tower on October 26, 2016:
A 2015 condition and seismic assessment of the Volunteer Park Standpipe determined that the interior and exterior of the bolted steel tank need to be recoated, the tank and decorative masonry shell need to be upgraded to meet current seismic codes, and there are miscellaneous operational repairs and upgrades needed for the tank and its appurtenances. Additionally, the exterior drain piping is crushed. It will likely be several years before SPU is able to address the more costly upgrades and repairs. Consequently, SPU is developing a small capital project to replace the external drain piping. Currently, SPU is determining if there are any other upgrade or repair tasks that should be included with the drain pipe replacement project. SPU is currently planning to complete the drain pipe replacement capital project in a year or two.
Access, Openness, & Safety
To help visitors feel safe and welcome in Volunteer Park we intend to look at ways of opening lines of sight and improve park green spaces.
Part of this idea is to restore the lawns and greenswards – a famous feature of all Olmsted landscapes. This would include restoring the flow of lawns around the amphitheater down to green strolling areas along the western border of the park. We would like to address areas that are overgrown (often with invasive plants) and support extensive tree restoration as well as large shrub borders that create a safe yet airy evergreen retreat from city life, allowing everyone to experience the restoring effects of nature.
The southeast entrance to the park at 15th Ave East & East Prospect Street is of particular concern. It is no longer the welcoming neighborhood gateway envisioned by the Olmsted Brothers. It is now overgrown, with a worn, narrow, often muddy pathway leading into the park.