Land adjoining Frederick Law Olmsted’s farmhouse on Staten Island, which was instrumental in shaping his design principles, is in danger of being sold to developers. Despite recent designations to the national and New York state historic registries of the Farmhouse, the state has yet to release the funds it set aside to purchase 1.2 acres immediately adjoining the house. The National Association for Olmsted Parks, along with six other Olmsted 200 partner organizations, sent the following letter to Governor Cuomo, imploring him to protect this important landscape, which will preserve the farmhouse’s viewshed to Raritan Bay and descendants of trees planted by Olmsted himself. You can help us save the property by contacting the Governor’s office and members of the New York State Assembly, urging them to take action!
The letter is located here.
Dear Governor Cuomo,
It is hard to imagine New York State without Frederick Law Olmsted. There would be no Central Park, Prospect Park, Fort Greene Park, Herbert Von King Park, or Downing Park. There would be no Riverside Park, Morningside Park, Niagara Reservation, or park systems in Buffalo and Rochester. As a landscape architect, Olmsted discerned— long before the medical community— the mental and physical health benefits of access to nature. He was also dedicated to environmental equity and social justice, viewing urban parks as assets for all peoples. His landscape designs have contributed to the quality of life in hundreds of communities across the state and country.
For these reasons, we urgently call upon you to release the grant funds allocated to preserve and protect Olmsted’s Farmhouse on Staten Island— before it is too late. Capital funds of approximately $2.3 million have been set aside in the Dormitory Authority of New York State for NYC Parks to purchase and own the property which abuts the Olmsted Farmhouse. The city’s contract to purchase the property has expired, leaving the owners financially compromised. Therefore, this important historic site is in imminent danger of development unless these funds are released.
Just last year, New York State and the National Park Service announced that the Frederick Law Olmsted farmhouse would be listed on the state and national historic registers. These historic designations were the culmination of decades of work by local preservationists. The two-story farmhouse property and the 1.2 acres immediately adjoining the house are all that remain of the original ornamental farm and nursery, which played a significant role in Olmsted’s life and career. Tosomock Farms, as it was called then, functioned as an “experimental” farm, allowing Olmsted to test design principles, assess various crops and learn more about arboriculture. In many ways, Olmsted’s life and work on the farm influenced some of New York’s most iconic landscapes. It was here that he developed some of his signature design elements, such as prominent curving paths and drainage systems that addressed sanitation, that define parks like Central Park.
In 2006, the New York City Parks Department designated the Farmhouse as the Olmsted-Beil House Park. At that time, the department announced that they would use the house “for educational purposes and the surrounding land as a public park.” The acquisition of this parcel is not only in keeping with the department’s goals to serve as a community asset but will re-assemble approximately three acres of the original 130-acre Olmsted Farm. What’s more, it will ensure the protection of the site’s historic viewshed to Raritan Bay and help preserve descendants of trees planted by Olmsted himself.
Purchase by the city is essential to give visitors the same experience that Olmsted had as he began to develop the principles of landscape design that influenced— and still influence— parks and landscapes throughout New York and across the nation. The development of this property would severely restrict access to and seriously degrade the Olmsted-Beil Farmhouse as a unique destination for those interested in Olmsted’s role in New York and American history.
Furthermore, the acquisition will secure healthful open space, keeping with the values and principles of Olmsted who presciently called for the preservation of urban open space to serve as “lungs of the city.” This imagery is poignant given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the refuge that public parks have provided to communities during these unprecedented and difficult times.
Completing the long-planned purchase of this property is especially important as we approach the bicentennial of Olmsted’s birth. In 2022, communities across the country will celebrate this important milestone through Olmsted 200, which includes a special national birthday party planned in New York City’s Central Park.
There is no time to waste! Please release the allocated grant funds in recognition of the important role this landmark played in New York State history, ensuring that Olmsted’s legacy can be preserved for future generations.
Anne Neal Petri
President and CEO
National Association for Olmsted Parks
The Garden Club of America
National Recreation and Parks Association
City Parks Alliance
American Society of Landscape Architects
Charles A. Birnbaum
President and CEO
The Cultural Landscape Foundation
Landscape Architecture Foundation
Assembly Member Carl E. Heastie
Speaker of the NYS Assembly
Legislative Office Building, Room 932
Albany, NY 12248
State Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins
Senate Majority Leader
188 State Street
Legislative Office Building, Room 907
Albany, NY 12247
Lieutenant Governor Kathleen C. Hochul
NYS Capitol Building
Albany, NY 12224
State Senator Andrew Lanza
Room 413 Senate Capitol Building
172 State Street
Albany, NY 12247
Friends of the Olmsted-Beil House
P.O. Box 120095
Staten Island, NY 10312
The National Association for Olmsted Parks is the only national organization dedicated solely to preserving and protecting the life, leadership and legacy of Frederick Law Olmsted. Our network includes the Friends of the Olmsted-Beil House, Central Park Conservancy, Prospect Park Alliance, Buffalo
’s Olmsted Parks Conservancy, Central New York Conservancy, Highland Park Conservancy, Lower Falls Foundation, Bayard Cutting Arboretum, Fort Tryon Park, Friends of Morningside Park, as well as friends groups and conservancies around the country dedicated to protecting Olmsted parks and landscapes.
Founding members of Olmsted 200, the national bicentennial celebration of the birth of Frederick Law Olmsted are the National Association for Olmsted Parks (managing partner), the American Society of Landscape Architects, City Parks Alliance, The Trust for Public Land, The Garden Club of America, The Cultural Landscape Foundation, American Public Health Association, National Recreation and Park Association, Landscape Architecture Foundation and the Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site. www.olmsted200.org.