Harold L. Olmsted - Table of Contents

Harold L. Olmsted: 1970 Red Jacket Award Speech

Harold Olmsted (l886-1972) at the "Olmsted Camp"

In 1966 Olmsted was named Man of the Year by the Harvard Club of Buffalo. A citation for the award stated that the "... residences and gardens he designed leave an indelible imprint of beauty over a vast countryside. His refreshing enthusiasm is like a catalyst to originality and direct honest thought" (Buffalo Courier-Express 20 March 1972, 2). Olmsted was the recipient of the Red Jacket Medal Award from the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society in 1971. This award was "...in recognition of those qualities that are the true embodiment of the artist, the scholar, the gentleman, and the independent thinker which belong to Harold Olmsted" (Wettlaufer 1971, 9).

The text below is a transcription of Harold L. Olmsted's handwritten notes for his November 4, 1970 Red Jacket Award

Transcription by Lee Oprea

"You say I have lived a full life." I am here in this Historical building for a Red Jacket honor and, in a minor way, a review of my times, (History in a small way) of just what raw materials are historical memories concocted and how inaccurate may they be.

As to Indians: I remember, when a boy young enough not to pay railroad fare, going with my father to Castile on the Old Erie train. We spent the night at the Hotel and the next day drove by horse and buggy down to the Gardeau Flats where my grandfather, John Randolph Olmsted, owned property including, I imagine, that upon which once dwelt Mary Jamison, the White Woman of the Genesee. Anyway the cabin was still there, the one which he afterwards gave to William Pryor Letchworth who moved it up to Glen Iris where it now stands. I pray you may this incident make me fit material for the honor you now bestow me.

And I remember, too, my grandmother leading me up the newly cut-through Oakland Place to Summer Street and the Letchworth property to the immense stone mansion of Mr. Josiah Letchworth on North Street to visit an early school friend (Canadaigua 1846) Miss Edson, who in some way lived in it and so we have Paul Edson Green, Green and Wicks, and the Albright Gallery.

But let me go back to early memories. I won't be long, but no historical venture is complete without an "Epitome." I was born on a street that no longer as such exists, 13th Street. [Ed.: now "Normal Street"] We moved that year to 179 Bryant Street with board sidewalks and Hurdick's horsedrawn passing by. "Hollands" lot was at the corner and Mr. Roach used to lead his cow to pasture every morning - clip clop clip - and back to Delaware Avenue every night.

Next door - on the east - were the "Boarders" a collection of young bachelors with their roundish housekeeper who got their breakfast and dinner, and among them Louis Hart who sang summer eves on the verandah, sometimes with Emily Weed in the group. The same Louis Hart, later Judge Hart, who sparked the beginnings of Tin Pan Alley in New York, who headed later the Grosvenor Library and had himself an insulated sound proof hideout in its basement - ask Mabel Danahy - [by] agreement with my father.

And to the west was the old Umlauf house with his son-in-law, Mr. Muggler, and beyond Ed Smith's of Marine Insurance fame and at that time the only telephone available to us. About this time, the Umlauf property became the first home of the Elmwood School, founded by Mrs. Adelbert Moot, Mrs. Preston, Ed Rice, the Jewetts, my father [JBO] and others. I was always late (next door).

Eventually George Keating took over 177 Bryant and his bathroom singing voice carried up to Delaware Avenue.

Later, in 1901, the Pan American and the assassination of Pres. McKinley, my mother was in the receiving line.

It was about this time that I first went to Miss Muzzy's drawing school located on the now famous art center, Virginia Place, and my father's friend, Mrs. Carleton (Alice) Sprague presented me with Dow's (now famous book) on "Design." It was about this period I first found on Elmwood and the Moot boys, and became a part of Mrs. Moot's famous attic life, pool table, pianola player and what goes with it.

Then came college, marriage, Europe and all that. I came back to a lively world. The old and original Studio Club on Franklin Street, forerunner to the present Studio Theatre was just formed. John Eppendorf, Mrs. Putnam, Mrs. Potter, Jim How, Lars Potter Urguart and Ann Wilcox, Mrs. Russell, etc., etc. I helped Urguart and John Epp with the scenery, Hauptman and Gaulsworthy, Gertrude Gerrans often in the lead.

And for Mrs. Evelyn Rumsey Cary, I designed Charity Balls and with Edween Noye Mitchell at the old Rumsey pond, masks by Percy McKay and Urkart Wilcox. Started a sculpture class with Arthur Lee from NY instructor and later Gordon Washburn gave us an etching spot in the Gallery basement of which Niels Andersen, a consumate etcher was the kingpin.

Then the war. Things stopped for a while, later came Mrs. Wolcott and new theatricals and Jane Keeler at the Normal School which grew into her Studio Theatre. Plays were put on in private houses. "In a Gondola" at the Dexter Rumsey house with Catherine Cornell in the lead. Her first public performance and Mrs. Glenny's Amherst house, Wild Bill Donovan in, "On a Balcony" (both by Browning), and Christmas performances at the Twentieth Century Club.

Bach oratorios with Miss Edith Wyn Mathieuson from her school on the Hudson, as "narrator" and our own famous chorus under Miss ___? ___ to lead them.

This too was the period of my garden work. At first under Townsend and Fleming and later all my own. The Twentieth Century Club garden, "Holly Hedge" for Ernest Woodward in Camden, S. Carolina and in LeRoy and Dan Woodward's work, country club at Stafford and houses, mostly in the country, some here [Buffalo], Jim How's house on St. Catherine's Court, Mrs. Coonley Ward's and Shanklin in East Aurora and later on, the Hazard Campbell place [East Aurora] a makeover stable with no punches pulled that I gloried in. Life has been pleasant.

But before leaving you, I must recall an earlier era, my childhood days when the early Saturn Club crowd presented at the Old Star Theatre, for the benefit of the charity organization, parodies of famous works, plays such as "Frilby" (Dumaurier's Trilby) and "Orpheus & Euridice" with Dr. Cornell as stage manager and the A.T. & T. __?__ running the thing. Cornell never left that excitement whereby his daughter Catherine got the habit.

It was here that Almy Twins, Walter Cary and my father got into writing the "librettos" and my aunt Lilly (later Aunt Elizabeth) at the piano in the front parlor drumming the tunes of popular song, one of which I now repeat.

"When Trilby went to Paris she was just a simple maid
and the golden hair was hanging down her back.
Of soldiers and of artists she was mortally afraid
and the golden hair was hanging down her back.
She never talked so naughty and she always said her prayers
and she spat upon the mashers and rebuked their saucy stares
and she told them mind their business when she met them anywheres
and the golden hair was hanging down her back
Oh shame.
Trilby's not the same,
for when she left her mother she was shy.
But alas and alack, she came back
with the whole of wicked Paris in her eye."


[Ed note - the following unfinished notes were on a separate piece of paper]

And at my age, things I have seen all my life take on a new significance and excitement. The old Navajo rug in our bathroom is no longer an exercise in pure design but its violent zig-zags become the mountain peaks, the Indian fingers that wove it felt, or the off-set lintels and sloping jambs of the door and window trim, the fluted pilaster of the chimney piece, even the simple moldings in the baseboard recall, not Greece, but the pride of those Greek Revival carpenters that made them and I'm grateful for the quiet dignity they have left me or if today, I climb the stone steps of your building here
and see above me the beautiful Athenian design, cut in stone, I remember George Cary and - - - [end of notes]


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