This essay explores the reasons that Franklin Park in Boston, Massachusetts, failed to fulfill the high expectations of its designer, Frederick Law Olmsted. The fate of Olmsted's lofty goals in Boston is revealing because it sheds light upon his thought and work, on the historic development of the urban park in the United States, and on the significance of the movement for public parks as a turn-of-the-century reform effort. In 1886 Olmsted presented his plan for Franklin Park, the crucial component of Boston's new park system. Influenced by Ruskin and others, Olmsted held that contemplation of the park's vistas of rolling lawns would reverse the debilitating effects of city life. The success of Franklin Park, he felt, depended upon sequestering the Country Park section of the scheme and protecting it from noisy, crowded, and athletic activities. Olmsted's choice of the "beautiful" style of landscape without visual centers of interest allowed local golfers, bicyclists, and baseball players in the 1890s to shape Franklin Park's pleasant but empty-looking spaces for their own uses. Then, in 1910, the park commissioners added ornate flower displays and a wild animal zoo, both ideas that Olmsted had explicitly condemned. The alternative uses of the park were accepted because they were promoted by powerful groups of middle-class and upper-middle-class Bostonians and because their proponents claimed for them the same properties of mental, physical, and moral improvement that Olmsted claimed for his peaceful park scenery.
- Copyright 1988 The Society of Architectural Historians