Historic Sites

Saturdays In The Park

Saturdays at Lake Union Park just got more exciting!

8:30-9:45am: Free Yoga class in the MOHAI atrium. Bring your own mat.

10am-5pm: MOHAI open, including 30-minute Atrium Tours at 11am and 2pm

11am-2pm: MOHAI Family Lab! Take-home crafts, collaborative games, and artifact exploration. Included with admission and appropriate for all ages.


On Lake Union, houseboats comprise Seattle’s most unique and coveted real estate. Now cherished features of the lakeshore, houseboats were not always accepted by mainstream Seattle. The first houseboats on Lake Union in the early 1900’s were floating shanties for workers at the Lake’s various industries. Post World War II, the houseboats began attracting writers, artists, musicians, and students. About 1,200 houseboats were moored in Lake Union, Portage Bay, and the Ship Canal in 1957.

Seattle Yacht Club

The last home inhabited by a Native Duwamish family stood near the site of the present-day Seattle Yacht Club. The cabin was home to Chief Chi-Siak-Ka (also known as Chodups John) and his wife Madeline until at least 1909. John and Madeline were some of the few Duwamish people who did not relocate to the Port Madison Reservation. The chief carved traditional lake canoes from red cedar logs. The Center for Wooden Boats has such a canoe, possibly made by Chi-Siak-ka, on display in its Pavilion.


During Prohibition, Portage Bay became a tolerance zone where houseboats provided alcohol and companionship. Entrepreneurial studentsfrom the nearby University of Washington ran a 24-hour rowboat taxi service to the houseboat speakeasies.

George Pocock

In 1912 there was one boat shop on the lake, in the Tokyo Tea House on the University of Washington campus shoreline. Built in one day by Japanese carpenters for the 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition, the Tea House was a delicate post and beam structure with rice paper sliding screen walls perched over the water. In 1912, the University wanted a varsity rowing team and recruited the best rowing shell builder in the Northwest, George Pocock, to build eight-oared shells in the Teahouse. When business for shells was slow, Pocock was hired to build Boeing seaplane pontoons.

Naval Reserve Base

Southern Lake Union once extended to what is today Mercer Street. Industry’s waste filled in the lakeshore over time, including the byproducts of a coal landing, sawmill, garbage incinerator, and asphalt plant. The first industry to begin filling the lakeshore was the Western Mill steam sawmill built in 1880 by one of Seattle’s founders, David Denny. The mill gradually filled its pier with yard scrap creating the small peninsula where the Naval Reserve Base stands.

Lake Union Park

A visitor to Lake Union Park sees a lake buzzing with activity. Kayaks, rowboats, yachts, and sailboats criss-cross the water, seaplanes launch and land, and people picnic on the lawn or stroll the lakeshore. The scene is of a city that values its waterfront. It may take imagination to recall a time when present-day Lake Union Park was home to Seattle’s first garbage incinerator, built in 1908. Burning waste, including about one horse a day, ran the steam machinery for the nearby laundry and asphalt plant. Instead of a place to recreate, the lake was a convenient dumping ground for industry.

Queen Anne Hill

An 1889 fire that claimed over twenty-five city blocks, every wharf and mill from Union to Jackson Streets, and one million rats, spurred Seattle to ban wooden buildings in the business district downtown. The decree caused a land rush to the closest source of clay, at the southwest corner of Lake Union. Excavation of Queen Anne Hill to make clay bricks transformed the southern slope of the hill, originally steeply angled down to the lake. In 1911, Mayor Hiram Gill proposed to blast Queen Anne Hill into the lake with high-pressure water.

Electric Streetcar

Along the southern shore between the Aurora and Freemont Bridges, close observation reveals an old trestle overgrown with bramble and ivy. These are the remains of an electric streetcar line built in 1880 along the lake.

City Light Plant

An evening on the lake reveals a sparkling city skyline. One hundred years ago, most of the shoreline was dark. You may have seen flames shooting from the gas plant burners at the north end of the lake or spied glowing brick ovens along the western shore. At the southeastern corner of the lake, golden light bulbs spelled out “CITY LIGHT” below the six smokestacks on the City Light Plant, built in 1913 (now ZymoGenetics).


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