Seattle Orchards: Dr. Jose Rizal Park

[This exerpt is from Seattle’s Orchards: A Historic Legacy Meets Modern Sustainability, by Audrey LIeberworth. It’s a thesis paper written for Scripps College that explores the historic and new orchards in Seattle.]

Dr. Jose Rizal Park

One of three different plots of orchards at Dr. Jose Rizal Park, overlooking Interstate 5 and downtown Seattle -- photographed by Audrey Lieberworth

Dr. Jose Rizal Park, located on Beacon Hill, was created as a byproduct of the early settlers’ efforts to transform Seattle into a city. Settlers recognized the importance of the land just west of Beacon Hill as a shipping and industrial center because it was located right at the point where the mouth of the Duwamish River meets Elliot Bay. However, the transportation of people and goods inland and south was difficult because a glacier that passed through Seattle 15,000 years ago carved out a steep saddle between what is now First Hill and Beacon Hill. In the late 1890s and early 1900s, settlers began to level out the saddle, which made transportation far easier and also allowed a flourishing industrial center to appear west of Beacon Hill. In the 1960s, land was designated for a park meadow on the side of Beacon Hill as part of construction for the freeway that passes right through the area. In 1971, SPD acquired the meadow to create for a park.

In 1974, this park was dedicated to the memory of the Filipino patriot Dr. Jose Rizal. The park is located in an area that drew a significant Filipino immigrant population starting in 1900, after the Spanish-American War made the Philippines an American Protectorate. Dr. Jose Rizal was a Filipino patriot known for making “lasting contributions to medicine, psychology, literature, anthropology, art, drama, philosophy, botany, zoology, engineering, agriculture, and – above all – political and social reform”. This dedication reaffirmed the significance of the Filipino population in the Seattle community. Today, the park is still a popular gathering place for the Filipino community and they have also been a major source of support for the orchard rejuvenation project.

Dr. Jose Rizal Park

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It is unclear when this orchard was planted. However, Craig Thompson, a community member involved in the restoration of the orchard, believes that it dates back to the 1950s. Thompson states that there are three orchards at the park that are taken care of by community members and SPD. The largest, to the east, just downhill from the park’s scenic overlook, has twenty crab and true apple trees. One of the crab apples produces fruit, and orchard stewards and volunteers successfully grafted scions of the Victory variety of apple onto other crab stock. This orchard – the main orchard – is sided by a restored natural forest area to the south, a stand of Leyland cypresses to the west, and to the north a stand of European white birches. A second, smaller orchard is located further downhill and across a service road, and has five Winesaps, a fruiting crab apple, and another true apple variety. Further north, a third stand of three true apples sits inside the park, beside the Mountains to Sound Greenway Trail, a pedestrian and non-motorized transport path. Just south of the park are legacy nut and fruit trees planted by early Seattle settler, Katie Black. The nearby Katie Black Garden, which was laid out in 1914, commemorates her.

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