Schmitz Park was established in 1908 when Ferdinand and Emma Schmitz donated 30 acres of land to the City of Seattle. Ferdinand Schmitz was a German immigrant who came to Seattle in 1887. He was a prominent citizen of Seattle and served as Park Commissioner from 1908 to 1914. He and Emma donated the land with the intent that it be “at all times retained and used for park and parkway purposes,” and serve as a monument to the forests the pioneers found when they came to Seattle. (Sherwood File)
The park was part of the Olmsted Brothers’ recreation plan for the Alki District, and the Schmitzes also donated land for Schmitz Boulevard, which connected the park to Alki Beach. Under direction from the Olmsted Brothers, the Boulevard was planted with red maple and Norway maple (Acer rubrum and A. Platanoides).
A sign, hanging over the Boulevard between two stone columns, was located at the northwest corner of the playfield. Where the boulevard reached the park, a shelter house and pergola were constructed. (Sherwood File). “Winding paths”, “rustic bridges” and “rustic seats” were built in the park with the intention of preserving the park’s natural beauty. (1909 Parks Report).
Additional land was acquired in 1909, 1930, 1947, and 1958, and today the park is larger than 50 acres and is highly valued for its “old-growth forest” in the middle of the city. The Sherwood File notes that the “park ravine was spared from all but minor logging,” but the logging history of the remainder of the park is unknown. Correspondence in the City Archives files indicate that vandalism has been a problem in Schmitz Park since its inception. A letter dated September 6, 1915 complains that the park is “left to the mercies of hoodlums and tough boys of West Seattle” from September to Spring of every year. The letter indicates that a caretaker was present during the summer. Other letters complain of hunting and wood collection in the park. Photos in the files show the Shelter house severely vandalized in 1948.
In 1949 the Parks Department adopted “A Preservation Policy for Schmitz Park”. The policy, which was endorsed by the Schmitz family, stated the park was to be preserved in perpetuity in its native state. It specified that only foot trails would be permitted in the park, and that fallen timber should be allowed to remain on site. The entrance to the park from Admiral Way was constructed in 1949, and the boulevard was closed. In 1953 the stone columns and signs were removed from the boulevard. The shelter house and pergola and picnic area were removed at about the same time as well because they were so damaged from vandalism, and the restrooms had burned down (Roland Koepf, 1966).
A 1966 Interdepartmental Memo to Mr. E.J. Johnson from Roland Koepf says that patronage of the park in the past had been considerable, and that a full time caretaker was employed in the park. During World War II, attendance in the park decreased, and it became a “haven for hoodlums, especially at night.” The Park Board determined at that time to discourage use of the park that might damage its native state, and it began to be maintained weekly by drop-in crews.
In 1969, Neil Johannsen, a University of Washington student at the College of Forest Resources, wrote an Interpretive Master Plan for Schmitz Park Preserve. This report outlines a plan for a self-guided nature trail and lists the animals and plants found in the park. Johannsen’s plan cites a 1964 Survey of Existing Recreation Areas published by the Department of Parks and Recreation Bureau of Outdoor Recreation and states that the park received 8,000 visitors in 1959 and 10,000 visits in 1964. Johannsen estimates that 13,000 people visited the park in 1969.
An undated report that apparently was written in the 70’s or 80’s says that the two ideas that (1) the park should be managed as a natural forest preserve and (2) that the park should be opened up, have more interpretive elements and encourage more visitors, are controversial issues that have been addressed repeatedly throughout the history of the park. Citing the vandalism problems, it says that the park is more successful when managed as a forest preserve. The report makes the following recommendations: Install a sign at Admiral Way entrance; improve trails by cutting back vegetation, applying gravel, and widening at specific points; repair footbridges; reduce “big stump”; develop a self-guided nature trail with a guide available at community center; install a picnic table near the parking lot; consider classes on flora and fauna; and implement a community park watch.