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Curbed Seattle History Lessons - Seattle's Suburban Airport

Seattle is known for tree-huggers, Earth-firsters, moss-between-the-toes nature lovers. So, here's a story about how Seattle got this way by leveling hills, filling valleys, and rerouting water - and by starting a trend in the suburbs that we continue today.


Image: Fancibaer/Wikimedia Commons

The Navy needed an airport, and by being in the upper left corner of the country, Seattle was a natural place for it. They found a site out of town, and Seattle had one of its first airports. Nope, not Sea-Tac. Not Boeing Field, either. Sand Point Naval Station, which you may know as Magnuson Park. The park that doesn't include a lot of straight lines, that is inside the city and surrounded by houses, was home to a Navy airfield. The city definitely has a tendency to keep changing.

Seattle was here before airplanes. The ambitious town growing up around Elliott Bay was expanding after recovering from The Great Seattle Fire. The invention of the airplane was a novelty until World War I. After that, the US Department of War was eager (with the help of some local champions) to find a place for an airbase close to the border and the coast. After a bit of scouting in the mid-1920s, the current site was chosen; but, at the time it was a peninsula and a lake beside Lake Washington. Just like today, people wanted the airport to be outside of town so it wouldn't be a nuisance. That was before frequent flier miles.


Wikimedia Commons

The little lake was filled in. The lakeside forest was cut down. And a pointed mile of waterfront became runway with both ends pointing at water. Considering the early pilots and airstrip's use for training, being able to ditch into water was considered a good thing. Go diving and visit history on the lake floor. Besides, it was a Navy base. It should have some water around. The water was also handy because, at the time, floatplanes and seaplanes were common. They patrolled the area's water routes, while operating from a protected site. Commercial flights even worked from the area, taking people to Alaska and the region. The site was also the start and stop of the first aerial circumnavigation of the planet.

The base operated for fifty years; and in those fifty years, Seattle grew. Eventually the houses surrounded the base, which is not surprising when there are 8,000 people working onsite. People complained about noise, and definitely didn't want anyone flying around with live bombs on board. Eventually, after World War II, a new Naval Air Station was established outside of town so it wouldn't be a nuisance, until Oak Harbor began to grow. But that's another story.

Sand Point's story became Magnuson Park's story. The runways were torn up, piled up, and turned into the hills of a park. Enough years go by that the constructed land becomes of the natural landscape; and the story becomes forgotten, except for the efforts of local historians (who can tell this story far more accurately and in greater detail.)

And, if you live near the park and don't look forward to the drive to SeaTac, keep in mind that there was an airport in your neighborhood - and still is, if Kenmore Air's float planes can get you to where you want to go.
· Magnuson Park [Seattle Parks]
· Friends of Naval Air Station Seattle [FNASS]
· Sand Point NAS [HL]
· Kenmore Air [KA]
· Great Seattle Fire [CS]
· All History Lesson coverage [CS]
Written by Tom Trimbath