New Documentary on Olmsted’s Legacy

The premiere of “The Olmsted Legacy,” a new one-hour documentary on Frederick Law Olmsted was recently held in Prospect Park, a Brooklyn park considered one of the famed landscape architect’s masterpieces. More than a year in the making, the documentary features a set of well-known narrators (Kevin Kline and Kerry Washington) and a first-rate, Emmy-winning production and direction team. The film’s score was created by Joel Goodman, who has written music for a number of Oscar-winning films.

The filmmakers write: “The Olmsted Legacy examines the formation of America’s first great city parks in the late 19th century through the enigmatic eyes of Frederick Law Olmsted (1822 – 1903), visionary urban planner and landscape architect. With incredible foresight that spanned centuries, Olmsted brought nourishing green spaces to New York, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, Atlanta, Louisville, and dozens of other U.S. cities. Throughout his working life, Olmsted and his firm carried out over 500 commissions, nearly 100 of which were public parks. The parks, he held, were to be vital democratic spaces in cities, where citizens from all walks of life could intermingle and be refreshed.”

The documentary includes on-camera interviews with:

  • Charles Beveridge – Author, “Frederick Law Olmsted: Designing the American Landscape;” series editor, “The Papers of Frederick Law Olmsted,” Department of History, American University, Washington D.C.
  • Witold Rybczynski – Professor of urbanism, University of Pennsylvania; author, “A Clearing in the Distance: Frederick Law Olmsted and America in the Nineteenth Century.”
  • Arleyn Levee – Former chairperson, National Association of Olmsted Parks; board member, Emerald Necklace Conservancy; Olmsted historian.
  • Betsy Shure Gross – Co-founder, National Association of Olmsted Parks; former vice president, Emerald Necklace Conservancy; board member, City Parks Alliance.
  • Adrian Benepe – Commissioner, New York City Department of Parks and Recreation.
  • Doug Blonsky – President, Central Park Conservancy; administrator and landscape architect, Central Park.
  • Sara Cedar Miller – Official historian and board member, Central Park Conservancy; author and photographer, “Central Park, An American Masterpiece and Seeing Central Park: The Official Guide to the World’s Greatest Urban Park.”
  • Tupper Thomas – President, Prospect Park Alliance; administrator, Prospect Park.
  • Michael Dukakis – Former governor, Commonwealth of Massachusetts; Democratic nominee for U.S. President in 1980; professor of political science, Northeastern University.
  • Morrison Heckscher – Lawrence A. Fleishman Chairman of the American Wing, Metropolitan Museum of Art; author, “Creating Central Park.”
  • Margaret Dyson – Director of historic parks, Boston City Parks and Recreation.

Watch a preview online and see extended interviews. Also, check out The Olmsted Legacy’s news blog, which covers the making of the film.

Image credits: (1) Bethesda Fountain, Central Park, New York City, 1880 (2) Bethesda Fountain, Central Park, New York City, 2009 / The Olmsted Legacy News blog

2 thoughts on “New Documentary on Olmsted’s Legacy

  1. Ron Leighton 01/05/2011 / 10:11 am

    Saw this on public tv on January 4th. Very good film.

  2. T 01/05/2011 / 2:56 pm

    This informative film about an important figure in landscape architecture in the U.S. neglects to accurately acknowledge who lived on private property seized by NYC to create Central Park.

    Seneca Village, located between 82nd and 89th Streets and Seventh and Eighth Avenue, was Manhattan’s first significant community of African American property owners. Sadly, the film refers to these landowners as mere “squatters.”

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