A Brief History of Peninsula Park Rose Garden

Peninsula Park Rose Garden is the oldest public rose garden in Portland, Oregon, having first opened in 1913.

There are many stories about the role of the site on which the garden was built: quarter-horse racetrack, the backyard of a tavern and brothel, the domain of Liverpool Liz, a notorious character from the turn of the 20th century. We do know from public records that the actual garden site was used as a quarry, providing rock and gravel for the roads and buildings of the Piedmont neighborhood, where it is located. This makes sense, given the sunken nature of the rose garden, which was an unusual feature for its time.


The Olmsted Bros. Firm and Emanuel Mische

Emanuel (Emil) Mische was the landscape architect who designed the rose garden when he was employed by the Olmsted Brothers landscape architecture firm, based in Brookline, Massachusetts. The Olmsted Brothers firm was owned and operated by John Charles Olmsted (Frederick Law Olmsted’s stepson) and Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. (FLO’s son). John Charles Olmsted spent several years in the Northwest designing parks and public spaces, including in Seattle and Spokane, Washington.

Mische designed Peninsula Park Rose Garden in the French style: a strolling garden, classical, formal and symmetrically balanced with geometric lines, featuring an elegant fountain in the center. Though small in comparison to some of its European counterparts, the garden does bear a resemblance in style to such famous gardens as the Jardins du Luxembourg in Paris, France. Mische went on to become the first Portland Parks Superintendent.


The Band Stand (Gazebo)

The band stand is an iconic element of the garden design that was in the original plan for the rose garden. Many people refer to it as a gazebo. Some refer to it as a “bandshell” which is not accurate as a bandshell typically consists of a stage, backed by an acoustically-projecting “shell”; think the Hollywood Bowl or the Spreckles Organ Pavilion in Balboa Park, San Diego. 

The band stand was designed by famed Oregon architect Ellis Lawrence. Lawrence designed many public and residential buildings in Portland and Salem, and went on to become the dean of the newly formed University of Oregon School of Architecture and Allied Arts in 1914. 

Peninsula Park Trees

The trees bordering the rose garden were also planted in 1913 and contribute to the overall design goals of the garden. Groups of Silver Lindens are well-established around the East and West ends of the rose garden, along the upper path. The lindens do particularly well here in Portland and provide an abundance of shade to keep visitors, walkers, joggers, and bikers cool on the upper path. One of the lindens on the Western end of the rose garden has been designated a Heritage Tree and is marked with a commemorative plaque.