In 1902 Baltimore’s Municipal Art Society and the city’s Park Board president Major Richard Venable jointly commissioned the Olmsted Brothers firm to create a plan for a municipal park system. Heavily influenced by the principals of the City Beautiful movement, civic leaders believed that a park system would provide Baltimoreans more access to natural, recreational space, improving both their mental and physical health while directing urban growth away from the city center and toward the northwest suburbs, which had been annexed in 1888. Published in 1904, the resulting plan (titled Report Upon the Development of Public Grounds for Baltimore) envisioned an interconnected system of “parked’’ (that is, planted) boulevards linking Druid Hill Park to other large parks and newer recreational areas that encircled the city, including the recently purchased Gwynns Falls, Wyman Park, Swann Park, and Latrobe Park. These green corridors were meant to connect to various public spaces along the route, including playgrounds, squares, and stream valley reserves.
Among the significant results of the Olmsted Brothers plan was the creation of three parkways—the Alameda, the 33rd Street Boulevard, and the Gwynns Falls Parkway—and the development of the new Wyman, Swann, and Latrobe Parks. Improvements were also made within existing parks, including Druid Hill, Clifton, and Patterson Parks, and stream valley reserves were established within Wyman Park, Jones Falls, and Gwynns Falls. The 1904 plan was largely overseen by Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., and his colleagues P.R. Jones and Percival Gallagher, all of whom worked with Venable and William Manning, the city’s superintendent of parks. Despite the enthusiasm of city leaders and the public, the park system was slow to develop. The fire of 1904 destroyed much of downtown Baltimore and delayed the project for two years. Budget cuts and rapid urban growth presented further challenges to the original plan, not all of which came to fruition. In a follow-up report by Olmsted Brothers in 1926, the firm’s Henry Hubbard addressed these lapses by calling for the creation of more parkways and stream valley reserves using lands gained in a 1918 annexation. Although many of the recommendations were unrealized because of a lack of funding, the addition of Leakin Park to Gwynns Falls Park was one direct outcome.