Seattle Floating Home Community Evolution Timeline
Many wonderful books have been written documenting the development of the Floating Home community in Seattle. Most of these document events that occurred within the floating home community itself. Having worked around Lake Union and Portage Bay for close to two decades, learning about the businesses, utilities and other infrastructure surrounding the floating homes allowed me to observe how these developments impacted the Floating Home community and how the Floating Home Community impacted these developments.
Businesses and infrastructure developments surrounding Seattle’s Floating Home Community had a major impact on the community. It is well documented that Seattle’s floating home community came forth from logging companies along Lake Union’s and the Duwamish River’s shores by loggers looking for inexpensive housing. However, the logging industry was not the only industry and event that impacted the evolution of the community. Through the following timeline we can see a more complete picture how the community was forged and evolved over time.
We hope you will enjoy this timeline and will help us continue to develop it if you see any incorrect items or omissions.
1853 – The first claim on Lake Union is made by David Denny, a white settler.
1861 – The University of Washington is founded as the Territorial University of Washington.
1882 – Lake Union Lumber and Manufacturing Company built a mill at the south end of Lake Union. The first floating homes were simple structures built by loggers & Fishermen on Lake Union, Portage Bay, Union Bay, Salmon Bay along the Duwamish river & Harbor Island. More luxurious homes were built along the shores of Lake Washington.
1906 – The Seattle Gas Light Company built its plant on Lake Union North shore, then called Brown’s Point, the current site of Gas Works Park. The currently visible structures at the park were installed around 1937.
1911 – George Pocock founds Pocock Racing Shells on Lake Union.
1914 – The Fremont Dam breaks due to high water damaging about 200 houseboats on Lake Union as the Lake dropped about 8.5ft of water.
1914 – The Lake Union Steam Plant opened operated by Seattle City Light and Power. It operated until 1987. It was later converted into a Biotech Laboratory.
1914 – The Ford Assembly Plant is constructed on the SE side of Lake Union. It produces Ford Model Ts at this plant until 1932. The building is currently is used as a public storage facility.
1916 – Boeing’s first airplane, a seaplane with pontoons made by Pocock Racing Shells, makes its maiden flight on Lake Union. Shortly after this William Boeing began marketing his planes to the government to be used in WW-I. Boeing maintains a training site for Navy Pilots on Lake Union after WW-I.
1917 – The Ship Canal and Hiram M. Chittenden Locks are completed connecting the Puget Sound to Lake Union, Portage Bay and Lake Washington. This lowers water levels on Lake Washington by approximately 9ft.
1919 – The Lake Union Drydock Company purchases land and starts operations building and maintaining vessels.
1919 – Lake Union becomes the first International Airmail destination during the Canada exposition when Bill Boeing and Eddie Hubbard fly from Vancouver BC to Lake Union.
1929-1939 – The Great Depression. The number of houseboats drastically increases during the great depression to provide inexpensive housing.
1929 – 1931 – The Aurora Bridge was constructed.
1938 – Sewers were built around Lake Washington and houseboats were required to connect. Due to the high cost to connect and organized eviction efforts, all houseboats on Lake Washington disappear. Some were torn down and others were relocated to Portage Bay and Lake Union.
1942 – The Naval Reserve Armory was constructed. This building is currently occupied by MOHAI, The Museum of History and Industry.
1956 – The Seattle Gas Light Company closes its fuel production plant on Lake Union.
1956-1960 – Construction of the 520 Floating Bridge. This eliminates about 50 moorage sites for houseboats including Burley Moorage. Some of the houseboats are able to find moorage places on Portage Bay and Lake Union. Others are destroyed.
1957-1967 – I-5 Construction. This removes 7 blocks of residences and retail in Eastlake. It also displaces and eliminates many floating homes and their docks along Portage Bay. Some of these were relocated along Fairview.
1962 – The Century 21 Exposition provides Lake Union the Space Needle at its horizon. It also eliminates floating home docks at the bottom of Lake Union to make way for a Boatel during the World Fair.
1962 – Floating Home Association was formed to battle the disappearance of moorage sites and minimize the vulnerability of houseboat owners. (Terry Pettus)
1962 – NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration leases a facility on the SE shore of Lake Union, eliminating moorage docks and displacing houseboats on the SE side of Fairview.
1962-1975 – Purchase, Planning and Construction of Gas Works Park, designed by Richard Haag, preserving iconic elements of the fuel production plant and incorporating some in the design of the park.
1965 – The city completed the Lake Union Sewer Line and houseboat owners began to connect their houseboats to the sewer line.
1969 – Union Harbor Condominiums are completed. The Floating Homes Association fought the development of this building. It lost this battle but the fight prevented other developments like it from proceeding.
1969-1971 – The AGC Building was built and completed. It was the second and last large partially over-water structure to be completed. A third building, at the current location of Roanoke Reef, an apartment building at the end of Roanoke was stopped mid-construction, was never finished and its foundation was removed in the 1980s.
1970’s – The former Boeing Hangers at the bottom of Roanoke that had sat unused were demolished.
1974 – The first Duck Dodge series was held, a series of weekly sailboat races often centered around a theme between the months May and October. It was originally called the “Tenas Chuck Duck Dodge.”
1977 – Seattle City Council passed an “Equity Ordinance” in 1977, providing strict controls on evictions and an attempt to hold moorage increases in check
1978 – The Center for Wooden Boats is founded by Dick and Colleen Wagner. Dick and Colleen previously rented wooden boats to customers from their floating home since 1968.
1984 – The New Equity Ordinance passes.
1993 – The Sleepless in Seattle Movie starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan is released.
1993 – Kenmore Air acquires Lake Union Air along with its facilities. Kenmore Air is still operating from those facilities.
2006 – A NOAA ship catches on fire damaging 2 piers, 4 boats and 2 NOAA buildings. NOAA relocates to Newport, Oregon.
2010 – Shoreline Master Plan Approval is implemented.
2011 – An 8ft fence along Aurora Bridge was completed to prevent people jumping from the bridge.