Frequently Asked Questions

How was Fort Lawton Historic District established? What does it include? Who owns it?


Fort Lawton was developed in the late 1890s, opened in the early 1900s, and had long periods of underuse after each world war. By the 1970s, much of the fort's land was turned over to the City of Seattle to become Discovery Park. National Register ‘Fort Lawton Historic District’ was established in 1978. The historic district includes 25 privately owned residential buildings and 8 City-owned buildings. In 1988 the City of Seattle designated the National Historic District as a local historic district.




Why are the buildings boarded up?


In December 1985 the Seattle City Council passed a resolution to demolish all but two of the Fort Lawton buildings (not including the homes). The demolitions began in 1986 with destruction of a non-historic gym (constructed in 1944) and hospital (constructed in 1902, but not determined historic). The demolitions and future razing drew protests from groups arguing for reuse and historic preservation.

In December 1987, the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation, a group dedicated to protecting the states historic treasures, filed a lawsuit in Federal Court. The lawsuit challenged the City Council’s plan to demolish all but two buildings, the 1902 administration and guardhouse. In the suit it was argued that the City did not give serious consideration to other options. This violated the 1978 MOA stipulation that buildings would only be demolished if they interfered with the park. Further, the City had underestimated demolition costs. The Trust demonstrated that renovation would not cost more than demolition.

In February 1988 Federal Judge John Coughenor ordered the delay in demolition of seven buildings (the Headquarters, Post Exchange, Guardhouse, Civilian Employee Quarters, and Stables). The City would have to demonstrate full consideration of all the options. Following the court order, the City Council, at a June meeting, voted in a narrow 5-4 decision to save the buildings. A compromise was reached that the building exteriors be maintained, but not interiors. Additionally, the buildings would not be occupied as this would bring traffic and non-park visitors into the serene setting. The Seattle Historic Landmarks Board accepted the Fort Lawton Historic District as a Seattle Landmark (and that year the Seattle City Council voted in favor of an ordinance that restricted the reuse of seven buildings included within the district. The buildings have been boarded-up since then.)

The compromise has worked to date. The buildings have been painted and roofs maintained. Recently mitigation monies received from the Metro Sewage plant became available to demolish more non-historic buildings including a World War II Post chapel (also known as Chapel on the Hill), the Chapel in the Pines, and the Missile Master building. Community protests have saved the chapel (Chapel on the Hill) for its significant role in Fort Lawton life.

(Excerpts from HistoryLink.org Essay 8772: Fort Lawton to Discovery Park. By Duane Colt Denfeld, Ph.D. Posted 9/23/2008)




What is the status of the Post Chapel?


The Post Chapel is the only remaining building from the WWII era (other than the bus station) and in 2004 was designated by the City of Seattle's Landmarks Preservation Board as a Seattle Landmark. Seattle Parks took over management of the property in 1978 and used the Chapel and an adjacent educational building to host summer day camp activities for youngsters from 1979 until the mid-1990s. The building was closed to the public in 1997, and remains locked at present. Due to the terms of the 1978 sale, “During the useful life of the buildings, they must be maintained and used as a shrine, memorial, or for religious purposes and shall not be used for any commercial, industrial, or secular use” (Jewett, 1978; Casad, 1979; Bader, 1979). Outdoor weddings are performed on the site on the knoll overlooking the Puget Sound and Olympic Mountains.




What type of Park is Discovery Park?


Discovery Park is a 534-acre (2.16 km2) public park on the shores of Puget Sound in the Magnolia neighborhood of Seattle, Washington. It is the City's largest public park, operated by the Seattle Parks and Recreation. Discovery Park includes within its boundaries 11.81 miles (19.01 km) of walking trails (including the 2.8 miles long Loop Trail that is a designated National Recreation Trail), the United Indians of All Tribes' Daybreak Star Cultural Center, the West Point sewage treatment plant, the Environmental Learning Center, Fort Lawton Military Cemetery, Fort Lawton Historic District (FLHD) and West Point Lighthouse (both the FLHD and the Lighthouse are on the National Register of Historic Places). Unlike many other former military forts around the country which are part of National or State parks (see Ft. Worden, Fort Flagler, Fort Casey, Fort Vancouver and Fort Columbia in Washington state) Discovery Park is a City park which means it is at the peril of the struggling city budget.




What is Discover Arts in the Park?


Discover Arts in the Park is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization established in 2018 with the mission to integrate arts, nature and history in a revitalized and sustainable Historic District in Discovery Park. Discover Arts seeks to encourage community collaboration and environmental stewardship through adaptive reuse of the historic buildings and through partnership with the City of Seattle, historic preservation organizations and other non-profits.




What does Discover Arts 501(c)3 propose?


  • Discover Arts in the Park proposes to restore and revitalize the 8 City-owned historic buildings in the park; to serve the entire community and allow people of all ages, cultural and socio-economic backgrounds the opportunity to experience Arts, nature and history in a thriving public space.
  • Providing artists, environmentalists and scientists much needed spaces to collaborate, create and educate in a unique setting; ongoing use that will inspire the community to become stewards of the environment, both natural and built.
  • Working with the City of Seattle, Historic Preservation organizations and other non-profits, and encourage community collaboration and environmental stewardship through the adaptive re-use of the historic buildings.




What are the goals of Discover Arts 501(c)3?


  • To be stewards of our environment by preserving existing historic structures.
  • To provide economic value to our city, along with health and environmental benefits. By re-purposing the vacant historic buildings in Discovery Park which will provide artists, environmentalists and scientists much needed spaces to collaborate, create and educate.
  • To contribute to the city of Seattle’s cultural historic preservation and provide more diversity and inclusion within our community. By honoring what came before us, and restoring and enhancing it.
  • To offer more activities for youth and adults, that will make the historic district a valuable hub to foster positive engagements both with nature, and with each other.




Does Discover Arts 501(c)3 propose to build new structures in Discovery Park?


Discover Arts in the Park proposes the adaptive re-use of the 8 City-owned historic buildings. It does not propose any new construction in Discovery Park.




Does Discover Arts in the Park propose outdoor events at the historic district?


Discover Arts has promoted outdoor arts events at the Daybreak Star Cultural Center outdoor field.




How much will it cost to preserve and restore the buildings?


Full cost is unknown until there is a feasibility study and professional estimate, but a preliminary study done by SHKS Architects in 2018 gives detailed estimate costs for restoration and systems upgrades that would provide adequate safety, comfort and meet current code requirements.




How does the City maintain the buildgins? And is it enough?


Every decade or so the Parks Department paints the exterior or the historic buildings. No interior maintenance has ever been done although the Ordinance requires minimal protection of structure from deterioration and decay. A vacant historic building cannot survive indefinitely in a boarded-up condition. It requires stabilization of the exterior, properly designed security protection, some form of interior ventilation—either through mechanical or natural air exchange systems—and continued maintenance and surveillance monitoring.




Do the buildings have adequate structural, mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems?


All the historic buildings have some systems and infrastructure that will have to be upgraded to provide adequate safety, comfort and to meet current code requirements. These costs were part of the estimate described in question #10.




Is there vehicle access into the historic district?


Vehicle access to the Historic District area is allowed only for service vehicles and for the residents and guests of the Officers’ houses row and Montana Circle houses.




What happened to other former military forts around Washington State? What do they offer to communities?


Many former military forts around the country have been preserved, restored or rebuilt as monuments, museums or civic centers that offer enriching programs to communities and visitors, and play an important role within national or state parks. Here are a few examples in Washington State: Fort Casey, Fort Columbia, Fort Flagler, Fort Vancouver, Fort Worden.





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