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Full Name: Laurence Cotton

Created Data: Sun Apr 04 2021


Contact Time: morning

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Phone: 5033497636

How To Contact: Email


Dear Riverside Historical Society: I am a biographer of Frederick Law Olmsted and a producer of the other PBS film “Frederick Law Olmsted: Designing America.” Up until the wall came down upon us, with the COVID shutdown, one year ago, I was busy traveling around N. America—the U.S. and Canada, delivering programs about the Olmsted landscape legacy. In fact, 5 or 6 such programs that had been scheduled for 2020 were canceled. (I did just present a rescheduled program, via Zoom.) I already have a few programs on the calendar yet for the rest of this year, and my 2022 calendar is beginning to populate. I have presented at theaters, libraries, museums, historical societies, and on academic campuses. Additionally, I have presented on-site at national parks, and to park conservancies, friends groups, and a variety of civic organizations.

Thus, I am writing to you, in advance of 2022, vis a vis public programming. I am reaching out at this time, as one year from now is the start of the Olmsted200 year. There will be a good deal going on around the U.S., with a heavy emphasis on the Spring. (April 26 will mark the 200th birthday of Frederick Law Olmsted). I want to clarify that the whole approach of the Olmsted200 program is to utilize the anniversary to educate the public about the entire Olmsted legacy—father, two sons, and Olmsted Bros. landscape architecture firm.

In fact, the content-rich website has just launched:

Naturally, it is everyone’s hope that one year from now that public audience programming might be underway by then. It might seem a little premature, but given that this is just one year out, I wanted to establish contact, about the possibility of my delivering a program about the Olmsted landscape legacy. Needless to say, the Olmsted landscape footprint along the West Coast alone is extensive--from Victoria, B.C., throughout Oregon and Washington, on both sides of San Francisco Bay and onward to Los Angeles, Palos Verdes, and Riverside., notable for the Olmsted-designed landscape at Fairmount Park. Of course, we all know that the Olmsted landscape imprint is even more extensive on the East Coast, including his masterful parks in New York City, Buffalo, Boston, and Louisville. There are also Olmsted landscapes throughout the Great Lake States, down the Mississippi Valley, and in the Rocky Mountain states, in particular Colorado. Then, in terms of private estates, there is the standout masterpiece represented by the gardens and extensive grounds of Biltmore in Asheville, N.C.. Olmsted was profoundly influenced by the design philosophies of Capability Brown, Humphry Repton, Andrew Jackson Downing, and his peer and partner, Calvert Vaux. Also, of note, Frederick Law Olmsted’s aesthetic was influenced by the art critics such as John Ruskin, and by the Hudson River School, and his design work and that of his sons, were all influenced the Arts & Crafts and the City Beautiful Movements.

One thought I just want to share and this has become so abundantly clear to all park users and park professionals: during this past year of COVID quarantine and social distancing, parks, in particular public parks, have been a lifesaver for so many of us, seeking fresh air, exercise, physical and psychological health, and doing so safely, as individuals, couples and in small groups. Frederick Law Olmsted now appears so entirely prescient, as for one, he emphasized public health, mental health, and taking it further--even the spiritual health benefits of the park experience, for everyone in a democracy. Though Olmsted did utilize terms so common in our vocabulary today, terms such as “equity” and “access.” Olmsted certainly didn’t use the terminology of “social justice.” However, if one reads his writings, you could argue that he cared deeply about all those issues. Plus, arguably, just as one can say he was one of our first urban planners, in our great urban parks and parkways, but also in fact, he was an early proponent of “forest bathing”—along with Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau—long before that term became so current in the 21st Century.

So, as we celebrate his birthday--and the Olmsted landscape design legacy during 2022-- we also celebrate the ever more crucial role that the public park experience plays in our lives. (Of course, one can extrapolate this out to regional, state parks, and national parks, as Olmsted, Senior, and the two sons and the firm were involved at all those levels. As well as residential enclaves, private estates, and the campuses of private schools, academic institutions, and hospital complexes.)

Info about our PBS film here, including viewing options:


As to the program itself, if it makes more sense, I can present the film and a short talk or just the more full-fledged PowerPoint lecture. I am now fully prepared to offer this as a virtual presentation. So, if it makes more sense, I could also offer something via Zoom yet this calendar year, 2021 or during 2022, as I am all set up for that.

The purpose of this is simply to touch base. Feel free to get back to me to explore this, or simply get back if and if and when the time is right for you. If you would like further info about the content of the proposed program. Naturally, I would be delighted to explore this further via phone or Zoom. I would be honored to present the Olmsted legacy program for your organization sometime during 2022.

Thanks and with all best wishes,

Laurence Cotton
Public Historian
(503) 349-7636


April 6, 2021, 2:50:28 PM

Posted By:

Glenn Wenzel

Forwarded to Steve

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