Glenwood Park in Minneapolis, later renamed Theodore Wirth Park, shows its beauty as a winter landscape in the city, here, circa 1940. Its mature evergreen woods, beaches, ski traits, and a historic wildf lower garden were all envisioned by Theodore, pictured on the left below in 1932 with his son Conrad and grandson Ted.

We remember Theodore Julian Wirth and three generations of leaders in landscape architecture. By Frank Edgerton Martin

HOW MANY AMERICAN FAMILIES can boast three consecutive generations of landscape architects? This was true of the Wirths, a family that shaped parks and vast natural areas both nationally and internationally for more than a century. Theodore Senior is largely responsible for building one of the nation's greatest urban park systems in Minneapolis. His son Conrad became the longest-serving director of the National Park Service (NPS). The third in line, Theodore Julian Wirch, or "Ted" as he liked to be known, served as ASLA president while also leading a large international practice. Ted s recent passing leads us to reflect on the accomplishments of this illustrious design family.

There is a continuity of memory in the Wirth family that parallels the growth of landscape architecture over the past 1 20 years (see "Chronology of Three Generations," page 40), from the Olmsted and Vaux plan for Central Park to the planning of millions of acres of national parks both in this country and in Saudi Arabia.


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Chronology of Three Generations

1863 Theodore Wirth is borr ¡n Switzerland to a falter who is a schoolteacher in ¡he town of Winlertiur. Wirlh's father develops Innovative afler-schoo-. programs and summer camps in the ftps for Swiss childrer that introduce his

■ son lo aclive recreation and nalure.

Circa 1879 As a teenager, Theodore leaves home to serve as an apprentice with a leading

■ Swiss horticulturist.

1383 Theodore finds a job in the landscape department of the National Exhibition in Zurich, where he assists n the laying out and maintenance of the exhibition grounds Shortly thereafter, he moves to London to seek further horticultural experience working tor florists and nurseries and as a window box planting designer

1886 Theodore moves lo Paris and is employed In the Jardin des Piantes, one of

■ Europe's most mportant botanical collections.

Winter of 1B87-1888 Theodore returns to Switzerland and serves as the city gardener of Zunch. He attends right courses in English in

■ anticipation of moving to the United States

1888 Theodore immigrates to the United States, where he beg:'ns workirg In the New York Parks Department's greenhouses and with panting and forestry crews. He worira his way up to the position of sub-superintendent of Riverside Park in New York City After a change in city administrations; Wirth worte briefly at the Niagara State Reservation. He ihen finds pr vate sector work at the Perkins estate in Glen Cove, Lorg Island, where he serves under the estate's manager. Felix Vlerse. A few years later Theodore marries Leonle Mense, Fell's

■ eldest daughter

1896 Theodore becomes superintendent of pari« n Hartford, Connecticut, where he deveops a park system based on plans by the Olmsted off:ce. Dur ng this time, he develops the

■ first murlcipa rose garden n the Inited States.

1899 Conrad L. Wirth, one of Theodore's three sons Is born in I larltord.

The Wirths' multigeneranonal journey into environmental stewardship began in the late 19th century in Winterthur, Switzerland. Theodore's father was an innovative schoolteacher who believed that young people should explore nature through active recreation and on-site learning. He organized hikes in the Alps for the town's children, an experience that no doubt inspired young Theodore's love for active recreation and ecology. In 1888, Theodore immigrated to the United States as a horticulturist. Only in his mid-twenties, he had already worked in formal gardens in his native country and in public and private gardens and nurseries in France and England.

Given the relatively small size of the landscape architectural profession in the early 20th century, it's not surprising that the first two Wirth generations, Theodore and his son Conrad, personally knew another prominent family of landscape architects—the Olmsteds. Their overlapping careers began when, after immigrating to the United States, Theodore immediately began work supervising forestry and planting crews in the New York City parks, where he likely met the Olmsteds. Later, in 1896, when he became the superintendent of parks in Hartford, Connecticut, Theodore worked to implement an overall master plan vision for the park system developed by the Olmsted office.

When Minneapolis hired him away from Hartford to become parks superintendent, Theodore took on the similar charge of realizing a systematic regional parks vision set out 20 years earlier by H.W S. Cleveland, a collaborator with the elder Olmsted on New York's Prospect Park and other projects. From Europe to Minneapolis, Wirth never forgot his roots in Alpine hiking and environmental learning. Despite his early work in formal gardens, Theodore believed that parks should be actively used for all kinds of recreation ranging from skiing to sailing.

Theodore developed in Minneapolis a myriad of golf courses, beaches, and recreational sites for all four of Minnesota's distinct seasons. In Glenwood Park, later renamed Theodore Wirth Park, there were even ski jumps set in a rolling landscape with a Swiss-style community building that survives to this day. Citywide, Wirth

Perhaps remembering his Swiss childhood, Theodore strongly encouraged the development oi outdoor recreation and park centers including a chalet in Glenwood Park, below. He also had a strong interest in year-round recreation, demonstrated by ice skaters on a Minneapolis lake, above.


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