First proposed by the City of Seattle in 1893, this glass conservatory stands as the focal point at the north end of Volunteer Park. It was incorporated into the park design by Olmsted Brothers, who designed it as part of a comprehensive plan for parks, playgrounds and boulevards for the city.
The original Conservatory building, the Palm House, now serves as the central structure linking east and west glass house wings. The Conservatory was fabricated by Lord & Burnham in Buffalo, New York and shipped to Seattle, where it was assembled by the Seattle Department of Parks and Recreation in 1912. The 6800 square-foot controlled environment is divided into five distinct houses, which allows for a diverse plant collection including palms, cacti and succulents, bromeliads, cycads, and a seasonal house for rotating plant displays. Many of the plants in the collection are donated by individuals and have been cultivated there for many years, including a jade tree that is almost 100 years old. The award-winning orchid collection, housed with the palms, includes many rare and endangered species confiscated from illegal trade.
Since the 1990s the Conservatory has been renovated several times, including upgrading much of the houses’ wood framing to cast aluminum. The Conservatory and growing houses continue to be managed by and provide plant material for the City of Seattle. It was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1971.