Over 110 years old, within the iron and glass of this “crystal palace” is an international showcase of floral beauty. Situated in Seattle’s premier parkland named for veterans of the Spanish American War, this large-scale greenhouse has offered its services to keep the community blooming even in the toughest of times.
Built in 1912 from a $5,000 kit from New York firm Hitchings & Company, the 3,426-piece glass-paned structure was erected to much fanfare as its design was inspired by London’s famous Crystal Palace. A timepiece from an era where greenhouses and public gardens were in much demand in the United States, the Volunteer Park Conservatory is one of the oldest continually operated conservatories in the country. With a few additions over the years, the glass castle now holds various orchids, palms, bromeliads, and even recently, home to a minty blooming jade vine.
But plants are not the only subjects that have been cared for in the conservatory’s history. In the troubled era of the Great Depression, when the institution was only 20 years old, the Volunteer Park Conservatory hired ten unemployed women to help their head gardeners for four years—culminating in each receiving a certificate of “Gardener, with Specialty in Orchid Culture.” In grim times, efforts like this by the conservatory left its community with a sunny disposition and a fondness for the flowers beyond simple viewing pleasure.
While it may look like a painless process of maintaining rosebuds to cacti year after year, the mirage of effortlessness is kept up by hundreds of volunteers. Giving back to a landmark that has given its community so much, The Friends of the Conservatory have since 1980 preserved the yearly blooms and restored different pieces of the structure. All are volunteer-based, and we hear some of them even specialize in orchid culture.