By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Oct 25, 2022 at 10:01 AM

The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF) on Tuesday released its annual Landslide report of threatened and at-risk landscapes – which this year focuses on “The Olmsted Design Legacy” – and one Milwaukee park is on the list.

Washington Park, one of three Milwaukee parks designed by Frederick Law Olmsted (along with Lake and Riverside Parks), sits on the list, alongside sites like California’s State Parks system; Deepdene Park at Druid Hills, in Atlanta; Andrew Jackson Downing Park in Newburgh, New York; Franklin Park in Boston; Olmsted Woods at National Cathedral, in Washington, D.C.; and others.

“Washington Park was once a thriving urban park but has suffered in recent years from disinvestment and deferred maintenance,” the Landslide report says. “The park’s historic landscape features remain at-risk as myriad local stewards and interest groups balance natural and cultural concerns in planning for the park’s future.”

Broken bench
(PHOTO: Eddee Daniel, courtesy of The Cultural Landscape Foundation)

In addition to the Temple of Music bandshell, the park is also home to an Urban Ecology Center location.

“Washington Park is owned by Milwaukee County, which faces challenges in properly stewarding the park,” the report notes. “Plagued by long-standing neglect, the park is in dire need of preservation and rehabilitation. Throughout the park, paths are cracked and broken, posing tripping hazards to pedestrians.

“In some sections, vegetation is not regularly pruned, similarly increasing the risk of injury – and remedying this would also extend the lifespans of the mature canopy trees. There are numerous areas around the lagoon that appear to have a high degree of integrity, but are substantially overgrown and block or limit the intended historic views of and across the water feature. Additionally, the lagoon is unhealthy, and invasive vegetation has proliferated.”

In July, the County Board of Supervisors voted to change the name of the road through Washington Park to Olmsted Way.

That resolution – proposed by by Chairwoman Marcelia Nicholson and Supervisor Peter Burgelis – also included $14,000 funding for bike lines, crosswalk striping and signage and a center line in the road to help calm traffic through the serpentine section of Washington Boulevard that bisects the park.

The Landslide report notes that the park is likely eligible for historic designation, which could help push upgrades forward.

“Washington Park is likely eligible for local historic designation and listing in the National Register of Historic Places, like Milwaukee’s Lake Park,” said Charles A. Birnbaum, President and CEO of The Cultural Landscape Foundation.

“Such recognition would increase awareness of the park’s history and evolution over time, inform present day design and stewardship decisions, and help attract critical funding to rehabilitate the whole park and its declining infrastructure.”

Discussions on landmarking the park have taken place over the years.

"Washington Park is one of our most active and loved urban parks," said Jeremy Lucas, Director of Administration and Planning for Milwaukee County Parks. "It hosts a diverse set of recreational uses and natural areas and greatly benefits from programming by our partners that connect the neighborhoods to the park.

"Washington Park has seen renewed investment from both County and non-profit partners in completed and planned projects in excess of $17 million since 2016. From Washington Park Wednesdays to Urban Ecology Center youth programming, annual special events, and the steady activity of the senior center, Washington Park supports Olmsted’s vision of 'public spaces for all'.”

Washington Park was designed by Olmsted in 1892 a year after the Board of Park Commissioners bought 125 rural acres for what was initially called West Park. At the time, the land was outside the City of Milwaukee.

Park map
(PHOTO: Courtesy of Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site)

For many years, the park was home to the Washington Park Zoo, which relocated in the early 1960s to make way for Highway 175, which shaved off the western end of the park.

There is talk now of converting 175 into a boulevard.

“Landslide 2022 shows us that while the appreciation and value for Olmsted-designed landscapes in general continues to increase, some landscapes have been less fortunate,” said Birnbaum.

“Our intent with this report is to foster greater awareness and curiosity about this exceptional legacy, and to encourage a stronger shared responsibility for its future.”

The report website includes links to local government officials and agency so that those concerned can make their voices heard.

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.

He has be heard on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories, in that station's most popular podcast.