This more than 500-acre park projects into Puget Sound, just north of downtown Seattle. The U.S. military began using the site during the 1890s, and the Army designated the installation Fort Lawton in 1900. Olmsted Brothers were hired in 1903 to design the fort’s boulevards, parade grounds, and building alignments; in doing so they took advantage of the terrain’s dramatic topography and expansive views. The firm incorporated the fort into their plan for the city’s system of parks and boulevards, also completed in 1903, though the land continued to be managed by federal agencies for several decades thereafter. Between 1968 and 1970 the military transitioned away from active use of the fort. Hoping to transform the site into a park, the City of Seattle was able to acquire the land without cost. In 1971 Seattle Mayor Wes Uhlman hired Dan Kiley and Partners to produce a master plan. Two years later, U.S. Senator Henry Jackson dedicated Discovery Park.
This unusual commission for Kiley was envisioned as an urban refuge, where visitors would be afforded opportunities to connect with nature. Building upon the foundations of the earlier Olmsted Brothers design, Kiley created a Naturalistic landscape that re-introduced native forests and meadows to create a tranquil greenspace within an urban setting. The park features hills and valleys, second-growth mixed forests, recreational beaches, saltwater tidelands, bluffs, and freshwater ponds and streams. Also contained within the park are the Fort Lawton Military Cemetery along the eastern boundary; the West Point Lighthouse (1881) to the west; and the Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center (1977) at the northern edge.
Friends of Discovery Park was incorporated in 1974 to advocate for the preservation of the park. The Discovery Park Loop Trail, which winds around the perimeter, was designated a National Recreation Trail in 1975. The remaining military buildings and parade grounds were listed on the National Register of Historic Places as the Fort Lawton Historic District in 1978.