Washington Park: Denver, Colorado


Both historic and contemporary, Washington Park combines majesty with the practical. It is a jewel among Denver's 200-plus urban parks — a place where historic buildings, flower gardens modeled after George Washington's estate, extensive tree groves interspersed with meadows, two lakes, and great views of snowy Mt. Evans create a wonderful experience for visitors. First developed by Denver city architect Reinhard Scheutze in 1899, the park's design has been influenced by numerous local and national figures, including city planner George Kessler, the Olmsted Brothers, and the renowned philanthropist "The Unsinkable" Molly Brown.

Designated Area

The park is bounded by Virginia Avenue to the north; Louisiana Avenue to the south; Franklin Street to the east; and Downing Street to the west.

Washington Park's 2011 master plan outlines stormwater runoff control measures to help protect the quality of the park's bodies of water, including Smith Lake. Flickr photo by Kent Kanouse (CC BY-NC 2.0).

Planning Excellence

The park captures the spirit of the Mile High City through its use by more than one million locals and tourists each year. Encompassing 165 acres southeast of downtown, the park has two large lakes, 10 tennis courts, a large meadow used for lawn sports such as volleyball and soccer, a lawn bowling green, two of the city's largest flower gardens, and its busiest recreation center. People throughout Denver come to the park, most often to walk, jog, bicycle, use a playground, or hang out and people watch.

Denverites are actively involved with the park — which ties to the surrounding West and East Washington Park neighborhoods as well as the greater Denver parks system — whether it's to help with tree plantings or participate in the development of a park master plan such as the one completed in March 2011.

Park improvements in the works include $1.5 million for renovation of the park's main picnic site at the Mt. Vernon Gardens, the City Ditch, and the park's main entrance to the south. Other improvements outlined in the 2011 master plan include improving control of stormwater runoff; minimizing conflicts among pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorists; and rehabilitating the park's other historic structures and features.

Washington Park is used by more than one million visitors each year and has numerous amenities including a 1913 boathouse that is undergoing a $1.5 million restoration. Flickr photo by Jeffrey Beall (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Defining Characteristics, Features


  • Architect Reinhard Scheutze designs park in French country style (1899); city planner George Kessler enhances design with new paths, plantings (1908)
  • Bathing beach installed on Smith Lake (1911); city architect F.W. Ameter installs pedestrian and car bridges over City Ditch (completed 1912); Bath House built by Ameter in Craftsman Style (1913)
  • Olmsted Brothers design rolling Evergreen Hill, enhance pedestrian paths, and build Lily Pond (1912); Boat House built by J.B. Benedict, (1913), Girl Scouts fund installation of first fireplace grill and picnic area on hill (1924)
  • Big Perennial Garden at Downing built by S.R. DeBoer (1918); Mt. Vernon Gardens completed by DeBoer (1926)
  • Field House, former residence of local poet and journalist Eugene Field, moved to park's northwest edge by Titanic survivor and philanthropist Molly Brown (1930)
  • Architecture firm Anderson Barker Rinker designs modern Recreation Center (1971); park added to National Register of Historic Places (1986)
  • Cultural Landscape Assessment and Preservation Plan identifies park buildings, features needing renovation, and landscape and structure preservation plan (2003)
  • Park master plan completed in 2003, updated 2011; outlines park's future preservation and development goals

Park Design, Features

  • Scheutze's curvilinear loops provide smooth circulation through park; grove tree plantings spaced to afford spectacular views of mountains west of park
  • Built in 1867 and added to National Historic Register in 1977, City Ditch provides evidence of park's history and modern-day sustainable commitment
  • J.J.B. Benedict designs boathouse and pavilion in the Italianate Style , featuring shallow hipped roof and facades with illuminated eaves (1913)
  • Sculptor Mabel Torrey's "Wynken, Blynken and Nod" honors poet Eugene Field (1919); George Carlson's bronze "Early Day Miner" depicts local history (1980)
  • City architect S.R. DeBoer's Martha Washington Garden features flower beds in the style of her gardens at the Mt. Vernon Estate (1926)
  • Largest flower garden in Denver, Victorian-style Perennial Garden, includes elliptical lawn and symmetrical flowerbeds with 15,000 flower varieties (1917)
  • Park connects to city bike trails at Exposition Ave., Marion St., Louisiana Ave.

Ecological Restoration, Sustainability

  • Parks department tree survey begun (2000); 2007 Arbor Day tree planting event brought out 700 people who planted 300 trees
  • Park meadow areas being naturalized with native grasses and wildflowers to reduce water consumption; lake shore restoration focuses on historic lake design
  • Park conservation practices include reuse of irrigation water through city ditch system and water-saving measures for swimming pool, showers, faucets, toilets
  • Other sustainability practices address park plant diversity, water quality issues

The park's curvilinear rights-of-way accommodate pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorists alike. Flickr photo by J. Stephen Conn (CC BY-NC 2.0).