In 1903, on the recommendation of the Board of Park Commissioners, Council contracted with the Olmsted Brothers of Brookline, Massachusetts to conduct a thorough survey of Seattle's park possibilities, and to submit a comprehensive plan that could be used to guide future work. This move was largely brought on by the public interest generated through the purchase of two large tracts, Woodland and Washington Parks, in 1900; and by the desire to prepare Seattle for the 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition.
The Olmsted Brothers had inherited the nation's first landscape architecture firm from their father, Frederick Law Olmsted, the designer of New York's Central Park and the campus of the University of California at Berkeley. John C. Olmsted, the stepson of Frederick Law, and the senior partner in the firm, spent several weeks in the summer of 1903 studying the topography of Seattle and its parks. The Council accepted his report on October 19 that year.
Although J. C. Olmsted's primary goal was to locate a park or a playground within one half mile of every home in Seattle, the dominant feature of the plan was a 20-mile landscaped boulevard linking most of the existing and planned parks and greenbelts within the city limits. Furthermore, it emphasized the speed with which the plan should be realized; desirable sites would soon be developed privately, or priced beyond the means of the City.
The Olmsted Brothers plan included numerous playgrounds and playfields, a manifestation of the new concept of public recreation, which had been introduced with success in the East. These sites included buildings devoted to recreation (field houses) and facilities like ball fields, tennis courts, and playground apparatus which had unique maintenance requirements relative to park facilities. Hence, from quite early on, the Parks Division and the Recreation Division of the Department each had their own maintenance personnel.
During the first ten years after its submission, most of the primary elements of the plan would, through purchase, gift, condemnation, or bonded indebtedness, be incorporated into the city's structure.
Seattle became a city with hundreds of vistas, turns in the path or the road that offer views in every direction, each slightly different from the one just before or just after, and these were wonderfully exploited in the Olmsted boulevards and the new parks they connected. In a city that was little more than fifty years old one could claim to find something older cities could not match.
The Olmsted Brothers continued to embark in Seattle, for both private and public clients, until 1936, when J. C. Olmsted made his last visit to the city to plan the Washington Park Arboretum. Over that 33-year period the firm would see more of its designs realized in the region, the campus of the University of Washington, the 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition, which would dictate the future of the University of Washington campus, and the State Capitol plan.