Preserving the History of the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks in Seattle, Washington

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Monday, August 26, 2019



Researched and written by Eleanor Boba


Seattle’s Lake Union has served for more than a century and a half as a home for maritime industries, floating homes, and water-based recreation. It has also been a transportation hub for everything from portaged canoes to historic sailing ships to float planes.
In 1970, nearly a half century ago, a photographer traveled Seattle’s inland waterways from the Ship Canal to Lake Washington. We do not know who this individual was; the effort may have had something to do with the Corps of Engineers’ work building trails along the route of the Ship Canal. The images, in the care of the Friends of the Ballard Locks, provide a somewhat rare waterside view of the structures along the shorelines. Today we offer a selection featuring a look at Lake Union on October 13, 1970.

Catalog #011.126
The Vic Franck boat works built and repaired wooden boats for decades at the north end of Lake Union. Established in 1927 by Victor Arthur Franck, the business remained in the hands of the Franck family until the death of son Vic Franck in 2005. Some famous boats built here include the Tatoosh, an 80-foot sailboat owned by actor Peter Fonda and the 104-foot yacht Kakki M., later named the Dorothea.

Catalog #011.128
Lake Union has served as a graveyard for ships in more than one way. For many years following World War I, the unwanted hulks of the nation’s Emergency Fleet Corporation lay dormant in the middle of the lake. Many wrecks, including a navy patrol craft, a minesweeper, and at least one automobile, lie at the lake’s bottom. Despite the busy industrial nature of the lake, wrecked and abandoned vessels have been a fairly common sight for decades. In this photo, the cannery tug Alitak lies bow up.

Catalog #011.130
Our catalog lists these homes as “Copeland houseboats.” The Copeland brothers, Gerry and Grant, designed the floating home community on Portage Bay, which later became the Portage-At-Bay cooperative in the late-1960s. Portage Bay is the body of water connecting Lake Union to the Montlake Cut.

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Some more of the lake’s many floating homes, with Union Harbor Condos behind at 2301 Fairview East.

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Many a tug made its way through the Ship Canal to Pioneer Sand & Gravel Company on Lake Union’s east shore. The products the company shipped in from its gravel pit in Steilacoom and elsewhere were much in demand for the city’s building boom. The bunkers were located at 901 Fairview Avenue North, approximately where Duke’s Chowder House is located today.

Catalog #011.139
The west side of Lake Union with Queen Anne Hill as a backdrop. The AGC (Associated General Contractors) building dominates the skyline. A seaplane skims the waters. The office building, at that time known as the Northwest Construction Center, is still under construction in the photo.

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Like the AGC building, the Lake Union Building, still under construction here, was built on pilings over the water. When complete, it offered seven stories of commercial space and its own marina.

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The Lake Union Elks Club was easily spotted from the water by the enormous word ELKS atop the building. Although the Seattle Elks (Lodge No. 92) left the building in the mid-1990s, the structure still stands and houses the China Harbor restaurant.

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The famed Seattle Gas Works were a going concern from 1907 until 1956. In 1975, five years after this photo was snapped, the abandoned and highly-polluted site was turned into an innovative park.

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The old Naval Reserve Building, now the Museum of History and Industry. MOHAI officially opened at this location in 2012. The reserve building, or Armory, was designed by renowned architects B. Marcus Priteca and William R. Grant and dedicated on July 4, 1942, as the United States ramped up its involvement in World War II. In 1998 the Navy abandoned its interest in the building and its future was precarious until the MOHAI deal was struck. Today the structure anchors the newly developed Lake Union Park. Heritage ships are berthed at the wharf just out of frame at left. The Center for Wooden Boats occupies a series of waterways to the east of the building. The smokestacks of the city’s former Lake Union Steam Plant, now a biotech company, can be seen in the background at left. The structure at right has been demolished.

Catalog #011.151
Our last image shows a barge loaded with pre-fabricated housing units headed to Alaska. 

All images are used courtesy of  the U.S Army Corps of Engineers