Segments in this Video

Theaters of Life (04:26)


Frederick Law Olmsted created Central Park in New York City. Each aspect of the terrain was carefully designed. He and his partner Calvert Vaux invented landscape architecture. (Credits)

Olmsted's Childhood (03:30)

Olmsted's mother died of a laudanum overdose when he was 3-years-old. John Olmsted would explore nature with his son. Olmsted worked as surveyor, deckhand, a correspondent for the New York Times and farmer before becoming a landscape architect.

Central Park Design Contest (04:32)

John Olmsted, Jr. wrote his brother begging him to take care of his wife, Mary Cleveland Olmsted. Egbert Ludovicus Viele did not like the landscape architect. Vaux asked if Olmsted would partner him in designing Central Park.

Greensward Plan (02:38)

Vaux and Olmsted designed broad stretches of meadow with few buildings; Viele was fired. Olmsted marries his brother's widow and adopts their three children.

Constructing Central Park (02:34)

The land was cleaned and drained to create the public works project; Olmsted and Vaux incorporated naturally occurring bedrock into the design. Reginald Arcilla plays his didgeridoo at the ravine in Central Park. Ice-skating on the lake started in 1859.

Democratic Park (03:04)

Olmsted created rules for Central Park and believed that different socio-economic classes should enjoy it. Andrew Haswell Green reported that the landscape architects were over budget and began arguing about reimbursements.

Death of Olmsted's Son (02:33)

John Theodore Olmsted died a week after a devastating carriage accident. The Central Park board handed complete control to Green in 1861. Olmsted accepted a position as the head of the U.S. Sanitary Commission during the Civil War.

Mariposa Estate (04:40)

Olmsted accepted a position as the manager of a mining estate in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California. He returned to New York, formed Vaux and Company, and designed Prospect Park.

Olmsted's Partnership (04:02)

Experts discuss the tempestuous relationship between Vaux and Olmsted. Vaux and Company designed a park system for Buffalo, incorporating characteristics of each neighborhood.

Partnership Dissolved (03:45)

Vaux was engaged in designing the Philadelphia exhibition, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Museum of Natural History, but he lost these commissions within a decade. Chicago, Tacoma, and New York fired Olmsted; Central Park opened.

End of Central Park Relationship (04:32)

A new board of commissioners for Central Park fired Olmsted in 1877. The Free Niagara Movement fought to conserve the natural wonder of Niagara Falls, which was threatened by the industrial revolution. Vaux helped design the lands.

Tragedy for Olmsted (02:08)

Charlotte Olmsted was institutionalized and Owen died while ranching. Mary and Olmsted move to Brookline, Massachusetts and built Fairsted. The landscape architect renames his son Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr.

Public Works: Boston (02:55)

Olmsted re-created a salt marsh at Back Bay Fens. The Emerald Necklace stretches seven miles. Experts compare his design to Disneyland.

Olmsted's Other Designs (03:48)

Olmsted designed hospitals, armories, suburbs, cemeteries, and the white city for the Chicago World's Fair. George W. Vanderbilt commissioned him to create Biltmore. Experts describe how Olmsted fought against cities that tried to reallocate the parks for other purposes.

Death and Legacy (05:14)

Olmsted was unable to pose for John Singer Sargent's portrait. Mary could not bear to tell the landscape architect his former partner disappeared. After Olmsted succumbed to dementia, the architectural firm went on to design 700 public works spaces.

Credits: Frederick Law Olmsted: Designing America (00:60)

Credits: Frederick Law Olmsted: Designing America

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Frederick Law Olmsted was among the first to regard landscape architecture as a profession and a fine art—in fact, with Calvert Vaux he virtually created that profession. To Olmsted, a park was both a work of art and a necessity for urban life. Olmsted's efforts to preserve nature created an "environmental ethic" decades before the environmental movement became a force in American politics.

Length: 56 minutes

Item#: BVL151056

Copyright date: ©2014

Closed Captioned

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