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Community by Design

The Olmsted Firm and the Development of Brookline, Massachusetts

Keith N. Morgan, Elizabeth Hope Cushing, and Roger G. Reed

Publication Year: 2012

In 1883, Frederick Law Olmsted Sr. moved from New York City to Brookline, Massachusetts, a Boston suburb that annointed itself the “richest town in the world.” For the next half century, until his son Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. relocated to California in 1936, the Olmsted firm received over 150 local commissions, serving as the dominant force in the planned development of this community. From Fairsted, the Olmsteds’ Brookline home and office, the firm collaborated with an impressive galaxy of suburban neighbors who were among the regional and national leaders in the fields of architecture and horticulture, among them Henry Hobson Richardson and Charles Sprague Sargent. Through plans for boulevards and parkways, residential subdivisions, institutional commissions, and private gardens, the Olmsted firm carefully guided the development of the town, as they designed cities and suburbs across America. While Olmsted Sr. used landscape architecture as his vehicle for development, his son and namesake saw Brookline as grounds for experiment in the new profession of city and regional planning, a field that he was helping to define and lead. Little has been published on the importance of Brookline as a laboratory and model for the Olmsted firm’s work. This beautifully illustrated book provides important new perspective on the history of planning in the United States and illuminates an aspect of the Olmsted office that has not been well understood.

Published by: University of Massachusetts Press


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pp. 1-6

Title Page

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p. 7-7

Copyright Page

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p. 8-8

Dedication Page

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pp. 9-10


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pp. ix-x

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pp. 13-xiv

The subject of this book is the development of Brookline, Massachusetts, a wealthy suburb of Boston that successfully resisted annexation by the expanding metropolis, unlike many other satellite communities. The story is noteworthy, owing both to the particular beauty of this place and the constellation of nationally prominent design practitioners who lived and worked here during a critical period of...

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pp. xv-2

A project of this scale could not be accomplished without the advice, assistance, and guidance of many people. The authors would first thank the National Park Service for asking the questions that led to the report on which this book is based. In particular, we are indebted to Myra Harrison, Betsy Igleheart, Paul Weinbaum, ...

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pp. 3-6

Initially commissioned by the Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site of the National Park Service through the Organization of American Historians, this volume examines the impact of the Olmsted firm of landscape architects on the development of Brookline, Massachusetts. Frederick Law Olmsted Sr.relocated his home and office from New York City to the Boston suburb of Brookline in 1883. Until the departure of his son and namesake, Frederick Law Olmsted Jr., for California in 1936, the firm played a dynamic and influential role ...

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1. Brookline before Olmsted

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pp. 7-18

Brookline seems to have been predestined to become an influential suburb and a likely home for Frederick Law Olmsted. From the colonial period forward, circumstances of location, topography, and economic, political, and social structure coalesced to create an environment in which the suburban ideal emerged. By the late nineteenth century, as the home of the first country club in the United States, Brookline could boast the status of a leading example for America’s affluent suburbs. Indeed, its staunch resistance to annexation by Boston ...

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2. Olmsted before Brookline

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pp. 19-40

Among the many salient features that enhance the city of Boston, not least is the enviable amount of green space that characterizes it. In part this rich resource is the consequence of the cultural evolution that left areas such as the Boston Common open to public access despite steadily advancing development from the late seventeenth century on. The large swath of open land encircling the municipal area was, however, the result of a concerted effort on the part of nineteenth-century city fathers who understood the growing importance ...

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3. Henry Hobson Richardson

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pp. 41-66

Frederick Law Olmsted and his family moved to Brookline in 1883 primarily because of their personal and professional connections to Henry Hobson Richardson (1838–1886) and his family. With Olmsted’s move from New York City, the nation’s leading landscape architect and its most prominent architect were near neighbors in this suburban enclave. Although both men moved their homes and offices because of major commissions in Boston, it was suburban Brookline that became the site of their residences, their businesses, and their ...

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4. The Design Community

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pp. 67-94

Perhaps the most important and most obvious network that extended from Fairsted into the surrounding neighborhoods and the community of Brookline at large was the collective of architects, landscape architects, civil engineers, horticulturalists, and other professionals who shared interests with the Olmsted family and the firm’s office staff. Some of these connections began before Olmsted relocated to Brookline and continue, in some ways, into our own time. The Richardson-Olmsted matrix has already been discussed; the association ...

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5. Charles Sprague Sargent

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pp. 95-136

Frederick Law Olmsted’s prominence in Brookline is unquestionable, and the prevailing wisdom has always decreed that Henry Hobson Richardson’s presence drew people to the Warren Street neighborhood, in particular Olmsted himself. Historically, however, there has been an unrecognized third element in what turns out to be an important triad in the history of architecture, landscape architecture, and horticulture in Brookline and in the larger world: Charles Sprague Sargent, director of the Arnold ...

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6. The Planning Context

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pp. 137-176

On February 25, 1889, Frederick Law Olmsted gave a talk at the Brookline Club about the history of roads and parkways, beginning with the earliest periods of Western civilization. According to the local newspaper, Olmsted related his reasons for moving to Brookline, remarking that it was an attractive place to live, efficiently managed, and very unlikely to be developed by “commercial interests,” adding, “How to preserve the topographical condition of the town is the most critical question of the time.” In what was presumably ...

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7. The Institutional Context

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pp. 177-198

Beyond the armature of the major boulevards, subdivisions, and park systems, the Olmsted office influenced the development of Brookline through key institutional projects. These reinforced traditional patterns in the religious, political, and social life of the community, facilitated planned growth, and engaged central questions about the role of suburbanization in both Brookline and the nation at large. The commissions that the Olmsted firm executed for the First Parish Church, Brookline’s park and school systems, the Boston and ...

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8. The Neighborhood Context

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pp. 199-226

To understand fully the deep impact that the Olmsted family and firm had in the development of Brookline at large, we need to consider the microcosm of the Fairsted neighborhood in which they chose to live and work. Here they interacted with neighbors, many of whom sought their professional services, while others contributed to the knowledge and experience of the Olmsted office.(figs. 8.1 and 8.2) Few other areas of the town would have been more receptive or responsive to the professional and personal interests of the Olmsteds. And few ...

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Conclusion: Landscape into Townscape

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pp. 227-232

In the half century after his removal from Manhattan to Brookline, Frederick Law Olmsted, his family, and successor firms manipulated the landscape of suburban Brookline through privately financed commissions and public planning efforts. For “the richest town in the world,” the Olmsteds provided the professional guidance that made the community the envy of and model for many other suburbs. Their new hometown became a laboratory in which they pursued ideas and practices that reflected the national changes in landscape architecture ...

Appendix A: Olmsted Design Projects in Brookline

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pp. 233-236

Appendix B: Architects and Landscape Architects in Brookline

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pp. 237-238

Appendix C: Statement as to Professional Methods and Charges, 1902

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pp. 239-242

Appendix D: Collaborative Projects of H. H. Richardson and F. L. Olmsted Sr.

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pp. 243-244

Appendix E: Collaborative Commissions of the Olmsted Office in Brookline

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pp. 245-246

Appendix F: Brookline Projects of Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge

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pp. 247-248

Appendix G: Brookline Projects of Peabody & Stearns

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pp. 249-252

Appendix H: The Brookline Commissions of Andrews, Jaques & Rantoul

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pp. 253-256

Appendix I: Town Green and Green Hill Properties with Olmsted Connections

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pp. 257-260


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pp. 261-290


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pp. 291-302

Back Cover

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p. 322-322

E-ISBN-13: 9781613762271
E-ISBN-10: 1613762275
Print-ISBN-13: 9781558499768
Print-ISBN-10: 1558499768

Page Count: 384
Illustrations: 130 illus.
Publication Year: 2012

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • City planning -- Massachusetts -- Brookline -- History.
  • Olmsted, Frederick Law, 1822-1903 -- Friends and associates.
  • Brookline (Mass.) -- Buildings, structures, etc.
  • Brookline (Mass.) -- History.
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