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University of Washington Board of Regents adopts a campus plan designed by architect Carl F. Gould of Bebb & Gould on May 18, 1915.

HistoryLink.org Essay 10226 : Printer-Friendly Format

On May 18, 1915, the University of Washington Board of Regents adopts a campus plan designed by Carl F. Gould (1873-1939), of the architecture firm Bebb & Gould. The plan adapts the Olmsted Brothers' plan for the 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition and retains a number of its key elements, including its outward looking vistas, the liberal arts and science quadrangles, and several entrances to the campus. Gould makes some important changes, however. He retains the northeasterly axis of the liberal arts quadrangle, but reduces its scale. At the point where the two axes of the Olmsted design meet, Gould designs a central plaza with the library as its focal point. According to architectural historian Norman Johnston, the Regents plan, as Gould's plan came to be known, created "a campus design framework based on a hierarchy of axes, spaces, and forms that continues to underlie the planning of the campus today" (Johnson).

Designing a Campus

Several plans have shaped the University of Washington campus since it moved from its first location in downtown Seattle to the Brooklyn neighborhood north of Lake Union in 1891. The state legislature purchased 160 acres along Union Bay that year and the University Land and Buildings Committee hired Seattle architect William E. Boone (1830-1921) to design the new campus. Boone's design distributed five large buildings in an arc stretching from about where the medical center is today to the area of Hec Edmundson Pavilion. The plan included curving paths and looked out toward Lake Washington. When bids for the project were opened, they far exceeded the university's budget and the plan was never implemented.

In 1894, Governor John McGraw (1850-1910) signed a bill authorizing the university to purchase the rest of the 580-acre tract of land on the hill above the lake. The university then had a very large piece of land, covered in second-growth forest and fronting on Lake Washington and Lake Union. Shortly thereafter, the regents hired another Seattle architect, Charles W. Saunders (1857-1935), to design the first building, the Administration Building, now known as Denny Hall.

Contractors prepared about 80-acres on the top of the hill. The land there was relatively flat and the height of the hill offered views of distant water and mountains. Several other buildings soon joined the Administration Building. An observatory, also designed by Saunders, was built in 1895, and an armory and a gym soon followed.

In 1898 the regents asked engineer professor Albert H. Fuller (b. 1870) to design a plan for the top of the hill. Known as the Fuller, or Oval, Plan, it featured a large oval loop, with buildings situated on its perimeter. Clark Hall, originally a women's dormitory, sat on the northeast corner of the oval. The next building to the west, the men's dormitory called Lewis Hall, sat at the top of the oval.  Curving around farther west, the Administration Building flanked the oval's west side. Paths connected to the oval from Beacon, Federal, and Chester streets (now 42th, 41th, and 40th streets) along Tremont Avenue (15th Avenue NE).

Olmsted Arrives

Only Science Hall (later renamed Parrington Hall) and a power house were later built along the perimeter of the oval. When the opportunity arose to hire the Olmsted Brothers landscape architecture firm in 1902, the university moved quickly. They commissioned John Charles Olmsted (1852-1920) to design a plan for the campus. His 1903 plan for a system of parks and boulevards for the city had incorporated the university campus and the Olmsted Brothers were the pre-eminent landscape architects of the era. John Charles's stepfather, Frederick Law Olmsted (1822-1903) designed Central Park and the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago. He is considered the father of landscape architecture and his sons, John Charles and Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. (1870-1957), carried on his legacy in their firm, Olmsted Brothers.

The Olmsted Plan, completed in 1904, utilized the entire campus, down the hill to the railroad tracks that looped through the lower campus. Olmsted kept the northeast orientation of the Fuller plan for his Arts Quadrangle. A Science Quadrangle lay to the south, and a row of buildings backed up to Tremont Avenue. The plan was turned inward, without vistas to the scenery outside the campus.

The First Seattle World's Fair

Before the plan could be implemented, a new opportunity for the campus arose. A group of Seattle business leaders began planning a world's fair for Seattle. At the behest of Professor Edmond S. Meany (1862-1935), who had fostered the growth and development of the university since the 1890s, the world's fair committee considered the university grounds for the fair's location. The committee considered a number of locations, but eventually chose the university because it offered plenty of room, and the university would benefit from the development of its grounds and the construction of several permanent buildings.

John Charles Olmsted was again hired to develop a plan for the campus. His plan fulfilled the needs of the 1909 fair, the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition, while keeping in mind the future needs of the university. It utilized nearly the entire campus, from the lake shore to the southern portion of the oval from the Fuller Plan. Olmsted's plan included a roadway through the campus (today's Stevens Way) and called for an evenly graded slope in the place of the undulating hillside. Much of the forest was removed and the grounds landscaped. Olmsted left a large forested area with trails and benches near the lake for respite from the noise of the fair.

The A-Y-P plan looked outward, toward Seattle's beautiful surroundings, and made them part of the design. Olmsted organized the main concourse of the fair along an axis that featured a view of Mount Rainier. Two additional view corridors, one to Lake Washington and one to Lake Union brought water views into the fair.

After the Fair

After the fair, most of the temporary buildings were removed, but five permanent buildings funded by the State of Washington, and several of the temporary buildings were left for university use. They included an auditorium, soon renamed Meany Hall, as well as classroom, office, and laboratory space.

In 1911 university president Thomas Kane (1863-1938) recommended that the Board of Regents hire the Olmsted firm again to make a plan for the campus, incorporating the changes made by the exposition grounds development. The plan they presented to the university in March 1914 was not greeted with the same enthusiasm that other Olmsted plans had been in the past.

A committee of faculty members and regents, which included Mechanical Engineering Professor Everett O. Eastwood (1875-1960), Regent Herbert T. Condon (1870-1952), Professor Carl F. Gould, Professor Meany, and Professor Vernon L. Parrington (1871-1929), reviewed the plan and made a list of recommendations. These included replacing the fair entrance at 40th Street NE with entrances at the north and south ends of campus, putting a new library at the center of the design, and reconsidering the liberal arts quadrangle design. They were careful in their critique because, according to Olmsted historian Joan Hockaday, "the media fallout from dropping Olmsted's directives would hurt the campus's image" (Hockaday, 135). Over the next several months the committee worked quietly to encourage the regents to end the Olmsted Brothers' involvement in the project. By November, Gould, a Seattle architect who had recently established the architecture department at the university, was in charge of creating a new plan.

The Bebb & Gould Plan

The Board of Regents adopted Gould's plan on May 18, 1915. The Regents Plan (also known as the Bebb & Gould plan for Gould's private firm), took the Olmsted quadrangles and reduced their scale. Instead of following the lines of the Fuller Plan oval, Gould placed the Arts Quadrangle downhill from the Administration Building and added a smaller quadrangle to the northwest that included Denny Hall. The Science Quadrangle bordered the Geyser Basin (today's Drumheller Fountain). Where the terminals of the two quadrangle axes met, Gould placed a central plaza with a library on its east side and Meany Hall on the west. In place of a group of curving drives in the northwest corner of the campus in the Olmsted plan, Gould placed a straight boulevard that led from the north entrance to the central plaza. Another entrance was located at the southern end of the Rainier Vista corridor.

Gould also recommended the Collegiate Gothic architectural style for the university's buildings and called for the use of warm colored stone for construction. University president Henry Suzzallo (1875-1933) later explained the philosophy behind the choice: "Because our climate is gray, we adopted a style of architecture which provided a maximum of light so as to cut down the overhead of artificial lighting. Because our climate is monotonous gray, we put all our buildings in color. Because the color of our climate is suggestively cool, we have broken the effect through the use of warm colors, precisely as the monotony of the white and hot light in the Mediterranean is broken by cool colors" (Johnston, 31). In a nod to the Olmsted plan, landscaping on the perimeter of the campus was left less formal and used more native plants. In the interior of the campus, more formal plantings and lawns surrounded the buildings and walkways.

In an insert in The Seattle Times produced by University of Washington journalism students, an article extolled the plan's many benefits: "Every portion of the grounds was covered with minute care in order to take advantage of its natural beauties and correlate the whole to an organic workable form for its complete development" ("University Adopts").

The UW Campus Today

Both the Olmsted plan and the Regents Plan are visible today on the University of Washington campus. Memorial Way carries visitors to campus down the hill from the entrance at 45th Street NE to Red Square, as the central plaza was renamed in 1969 when a parking garage was built underground and the ground above it covered with red brick. Suzzallo Library, built in 1925, serves as the centerpiece of the plaza. To the north, the Quad is home to liberal arts departments. To the south, science departments encircle Drumheller Fountain, which had been the centerpiece of the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition. The Rainier Vista remains an iconic view corridor, framed by evergreen trees. Collegiate Gothic dominated building design on the campus into the 1950s and many of the buildings in the upper campus reflect that influence.

Gould would remain closely connected with the university over the course of his career. He was chair of the Department of Architecture from 1915 until 1926 and designed 18 buildings for the university, including Suzzallo Library and the Henry Art Gallery.

Sources:
T. William Booth and William H. Wilson, "Bebb & Gould," in Shaping Seattle Architecture: A Historical Guide to the Architects ed. by Jeffrey Karl Ochsner (Seattle: University of Washington Press in association with the American Institute of Architects Seattle Chapter and the Seattle Architectural Foundation, 1998), 174-179; Joan Hockaday, Greenscapes: Olmsted's Pacific Northwest (Pullman: Washington State University Press, 2009), 135; Norman J. Johnston, The Fountain & the Mountain: The University of Washington Campus in Seattle (Seattle: Documentary Media LLC and University of Washington, 2003), 17-41; Seattle Board of Park Commissioners, Parks, Playgrounds and Boulevards of Seattle (Seattle: Pacific Press, 1909), 74); University of Washington Board of Regents meeting minutes, May 18, 1915, Folder: January-June 1915, Box 12, University of Washington Board of Regents records, Acc. No. 05-039, Special Collections, University of Washington Libraries, Seattle, Washington; "Carl Freylinghausen Gould Sr." entry, Pacific Coast Architect Database, University of Washington Libraries website accessed October 4, 2012 (https://digital.lib.washington.edu/architect/architects/1764/); "No Finer Site: VII. Campus Plans, 1891-1915," University of Washington Libraries website accessed October 4, 2012 (http://www.lib.washington.edu/exhibits/site/plans.html); "University Adopts Plans for Campus," The Seattle Times, June 6, 1915, p. 22; "University of Washington, Seattle (UW), Old Observatory, Seattle, Washington," entry, Pacific Coast Architect Database, University of Washington Libraries website accessed October 4, 2012 (https://digital.lib.washington.edu/architect/structures/5434/).


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Carl Freylinghausen Gould (1873-1939), ca. 1920
Courtesy Shaping Seattle Architecure


William E. Boone's University of Washington campus plan, Seattle, 1891
Courtesy UW Special Collections (Neg. No. UW15723)


University of Washington campus with Lake Union, and corduroy road in foreground, Seattle, 1894
Courtesy UW Special Collections (Neg. No. UWC2109)


Olmsted Brothers' University of Washington campus plan, Seattle, 1904
Courtesy UW Special Collections (Neg. No. UW15724)


Plan of the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition, designed by John Charles Olmsted, UW campus, Seattle, 1909
Courtesy UW Special Collections (Neg. No. UW28336z)


Revised Plan of the University of Washington Campus, Seattle, 1915.
Courtesy UW Special Collections (Neg. No. UW6049)


Bird's eye view of the Liberal Arts Quadrangle in the 1915 University of Washington campus plan, Seattle, 1916
Courtesy UW Special Collections (Neg. No. UWCO779)


 
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