colorful Seattle houseboats

A Little “Dirt” On Seattle Houseboats History You May Not Know

Seattle houseboats

Colorful Seattle Houseboats History on The Log Foundation docks of Eastlake in 2014. Image courtesy of Cooper Jacobs Real Estate.

Seattle Houseboats History Has A “Colorful” Background & Entrepreneurial Spirit Transcends Time…

To look at all the colorful and cheery Lake Union floating homes today is to never know how truly Seattle houseboats history is. Seattle floating homes are a living and evolving part of Seattle’s history.  From their humble beginnings over a hundred years ago as floating shanties compiled of pillaged lumber, it is amazing to see that some sell for over $3 Million dollars in today’s real estate market.

Seattle houseboats were originally built in two different ways.  Either the worker would utilize his commuting work boat and build living quarters above it, or they would gather “loose” logs and raft them together to build a completely free floating structure.  It was an inexpensive way of living and was tax free on top of it.

Madison Park Seattle houseboats

Map of Seattle houseboats along shores of Madison Park. Image Courtesy of Seattle Municipal Archives Item #944

At the peak, the Seattle floating homes community was as large as two thousand houseboats lining the shores of the city in various locations which even included Madison Park in Lake Washington.  The residents of the surrounding Seattle neighborhoods reportedly snubbed them and looked down at this way of life.  They apparently felt that it was beneath their standards and so began the struggle of Seattle houseboats to Stay Afloat In Seattle™.  Today there are around 500 Seattle floating homes and probably another two or three hundred liveaboards that are officially newly categorized as Seattle Floating On-Water Residences (final count once all have registered themselves in the latest legislation). The latest Seattle floating home dock was a new construction floating home development called Ward’s Cove.  Very specific requirements need to be in place in order to develop new construction Seattle floating homes, so it is next to impossible to do so.

If The City Historically Wanted Them Gone, Why Did They Allow Docks To Begin With?

Denny Hill View

Here is a view towards Downtown from the South slope of Denny Hill in 1886 (photo courtesy of Seattle Municipal Archives Item # 2869)

The short answer is The University of Washington. Wait.  What? The long answer is that Seattle has a very long history of making some incredibly hairbrained decisions as far as infrastructure goes. A perfect example (and my apologies for going off subject here for a minute, but….) The Denny Regrade: The hill is too big?  Scrape it into the Puget Sound. In 1900, the city decided to basically eliminate a whole hill which covered 62 city blocks.  Denny Hill was a significantly beautiful hill in Seattle.  It had a gorgeous crowned jewel of a hotel atop it that was so grand that even President Theodore Roosevelt stayed there! It had an old cemetery and a beautiful park on it with expansivel views in all directions.  In all, they removed a reported six million cubic yards of earth.

Connecting the dots:  What does this all have to do with Seattle houseboats and The University of Washington? Let’s go backwards.  The modern day campus of The University of Washington was largely laid out and shaped by The Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition of 1909.   In 1907 the city of Seattle platted and sold the submerged “parcels” in Lake Union to the adjacent waterfront property land owners.  This enabled docks to be built and Seattle houseboats to be moored to them.  According to The Lake Union Mail on an article about Submerged Parcels Park on the Cheshiahud Loop, “The “Lake Union Shore Lands” were created in 1907 as a funding mechanism for the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition (S.B. #101). Water extending from shore approximately one block (roughly 400 feet) was platted as buildable land, then sold. These parcels didn’t sink, they started sunk. And they were considered valuable.” Now you know how a World’s Fair, Denny Hill, The University of Washington, and Seattle Houseboats are related.

Seattle houseboats booze hatch

While replacing the carpet for one of our Seattle historic houseboat listings in 2010, we found an old booze hatch left over from Prohibition days. Image Courtesy of Courtney Cooper.

More Shady Past on The Lake: Life Afloat In Seattle℠: You Want To Stay Dry, Except When It Comes To Your Drink…..

Creativity has always been a strong characteristic of the Seattle floating homes community.  This was never so true as during the prohibition era. According to the 1996 article by Sharon Boswell in The Seattle Times, “But for those who couldn’t afford the pleasures of Doc’s or one of the hundreds of other boozy night spots and music clubs along Jackson Street, in Belltown or even on Lake Union houseboats, there was always a bottle of locally produced bootleg available to consume in the privacy of home.”  If floating homes seem like an unlikely place to get your alcohol fix then consider that In his highly acclaimed book, “Seattle’s Unsinkable Houseboats”, Howard Droker tells the story of a very enterprising entrepreneur who along with the cedar bark he sold off his boat, also sold smuggled Canadian liquor.

It’s absolutely true.  If you take a peek under carpets of older floating homes you will see the leftover evidence of the Prohibition era and how crafty houseboaters were able to not stay dry.  Many of them have hidden trap doors under the floor that were used for storing alcohol.  At one point in time there were regular “rum run” routes such as the one Droker writes about which would make their rounds delivering to Lake Union floating homes. These booze hatches were ingenious and stored between the floating logs with a wire cage so that the waters of the lake itself could keep the liquor cold and well hidden.  According to HistoryLink.org, The Seattle Times noted at one point that in regard to those wild times, “Some of the stories behind the houseboat population are as colorful as anything that ever came out of Seattle’s history, but respect for another’s privacy and past is an unspoken code on the lake.”

Seattle houseboats for sale in Eastlake

This historic Seattle houseboat was once used as a floating dance hall. It is for sale today for $697,000. Listed by Cooper Jacobs Real Estate. Molly Cartwright 206-841-6800

Seattle Houseboats Are Still Afloat & Strong Today

Go experience their magic – Take a kayak tour through Lake Union and Portage Bay where you will find what is left of the Seattle floating homes community.  Take a walk around Lake Union on the Cheshiahud Loop. Lake Union is the very heart of the city. Try and imagine the colorful past as you look at the beauty and creativeness which is so abundant today.  This is a living and breathing Seattle neighborhood, but also a significant part of Northwest history.  It is as vibrant as the wonderful people who live in it.  I am so thankful to have known so many of them and appreciate how they have enriched my life so far.  Please also take a minute and donate to the Seattle Floating Homes Association if you can.

Want more information on Seattle houseboats?

seattle houseboats expertsWe are happy to help!  Please call Courtney or Molly.  We are Seattle Houseboats Experts ℠, and have been Seattle Realtors specializing in floating homes and waterfront for many years. We look forward to helping you find your piece of Lake Union.

Molly Cartwright 206-841-6800   Courtney Cooper 206-850-8841
We can immediately answer your questions or email us at houseboats@CooperJacobs.com
Seattle Afloat ® We want to help you live your life Afloat In Seattle Cooper Jacobs Real Estate
seattle houseboats

Seattle Houseboats History Resource

Curious about Seattle houseboats and their history on Lake Union?seattle houseboats

You have to go back over a hundred years and look beyond Lake Union to see the roots of Seattle houseboats.  Beth Means and Bill Keasler  wrote a great piece about Seattle houseboats history on The Seattle Floating Homes Association website.  Seattle Floating homes have played a significant part in shaping the city’s history and landscape.  We at Seattle Afloat have a whole category on this site dedicated to it: Seattle houseboats history on Seattle Afloat.

There is also a great spot to see amazing pictures and get more information on HistoryLink where the site describes various houseboats around Seattle and their origins:

“Some of these communities — especially those off the Madison Park and Leschi neighborhoods on Lake Washington —  were formed by the well-to-do who enjoyed summering aboard their fancy abodes. Others — along the Elliott Bay waterfront, the Duwamish River, Harbor Island, Salmon Bay, Lake Union, Portage Bay, and Union Bay — were mainly inhabited by workers struggling to stay financially afloat.. “

Howard Droker wrote the fascinating book Seattle’s Unsinkable Houseboats in 1977 and there is a great video about Seattle houseboats featuring him on the http://www.lakeunionhistory.org/ website.  I have embedded it here because it is worth a watch:


Vannessa Ho at the Seattle PI wrote an interesting piece about Seattle houseboats  – it was a cool slide show of houseboats then and now.  Here is a link to that slideshow: http://www.seattlepi.com/local/slideshow/Seattle-houseboats-Then-and-now-64448.php

seattle houseboatsIf you are curious about Seattle houseboats and interested in purchasing a Seattle floating home, then please let us know.  These are special homes and the ultimate in Seattle waterfront living.  You should work with real estate agents who understand the ins and outs of Seattle houseboats.  Molly and I understand all of the unique intricacies of the Seattle floating home world and we are happy to help you.  We can also help you with the various FSBO floating homes available across the lake.

You can reach Molly at 206-841-6800 or Molly@CooperJacobs.com or me at 206-850-8841 or Courtney@cooperjacobs.com

Cooper Jacobs Real Estate for all your realty needs – we have brokers who specialize in all Seattle neighborhoods and suburbs.

Seattle houseboats

Seattle Houseboats Happenings: Lake Union Ramblings

seattle floating homesA few random Lake Union thoughts –  Would love to hear some of your thoughts, too….

Seattle Floating Homes Association Website – One word: Gorgeous.  The updated Floating Homes Association website is fresh and beautiful.. I am jealous I didn’t make it myself.  Love it.  Kudos! You can see it here: www.seattlefloatinghomes.org Jann, I know you had a hand in that and it’s amazing!  You can see all the newsletters, updates, tour info, etc.  I particularly am fond of the Seattle houseboats history page.

Reality TV and Seattle houseboats.  It’s been overdone already. Have you watched  those shows on HGTV and other channels?  Molly and I get phone calls almost every other week from producers hoping to film the next reality TV show featuring  Seattle houseboats and us.  They ask us to be on these shows, but we say NO.  We STRONGLY believe that protecting the Seattle houseboat community’s privacy is far more important than cheap fame for ourselves.  We appreciate all that the Seattle floating home community has given to us and we would never ever cross what we feel is a strong trust boundary.

FSBO Seattle floating homes – dining room 2Word on the docks is lots of private sales going on.  Last night it was the talk of the Seattle Floating Homes Association meeting.  Molly verified it with Krista Todd at Sound Community and I verified it with Phil Miller who is a local legend and closes most of the floating homes in escrow.  Of course being real estate agents, we are partial to the idea of listing your home in the NWMLS (with Cooper Jacobs Real Estate preferably), but putting that aside, why aren’t you listing your floating home with a Realtor (please also make sure they are actual dues paying Realtors who abide by a code of ethics)? The Realtor’s commissions aren’t that high in comparison with how much more money the open real estate market would bring you in the form of a higher sales price.  I know news travels fast on the docks when someone is ready to sell, but even that can’t compare to the global exposure the MLS and the internet offer. I would love to hear some feedback on this.   Many FSBO buyers have the false misconception that if they go around the listing agent then they will be able to get the home for a discount to the tune of that full listing broker and selling broker commission.  That simply isn’t true.  While the seller may be willing to give you somewhat of a discount, in most cases they will more likely want to pocket the savings of not listing it themselves.  Any discount you could have gotten would easily be beaten by a skilled real estate agent in a negotiation.

seattle houseboats


 

That’s it for now – as always, thank you for your business.  Molly and I love serving this community and look forward to doing it for a long time.  please email us or call us if you need anything at all  – Molly Cartwright 206-841-6800  Molly@CooperJacobs.com  Courtney Cooper 206-850-8841  Courtney@CooperJacobs.com  We are Seattle Houseboats Realtors.

Seattle houseboats

Seattle Houseboats: Annie “O” Is In The House

Seattle Houseboats for sale: this ONESeattle Houseboats: Enduring Over 100 Years And Still Floating.  This particular one hasn’t been around quite that long, but long enough for it to be a site!

 Yes.  It floats.

Seattle houseboats have been afloat for over one hundred years now.  It all started when a few resourceful and down on their luck people decided to basically start tying loose logs up and forming rafts. A little time before 1909 Seattle came up with an ingenious way to raise money for the Alaska Yukon Pacific Exposition. This world’s fair eventually shaped the campus of The University Of Washington! And it was financed largely by the beginnings of Seattle houseboats:

Over one hundred years ago the city of Seattle platted and sold the submerged “parcels” in Lake Union to the adjacent waterfront property land owners.  This enabled docks to be built and Seattle houseboats to be moored to them.  It was quite a popular and thrifty idea!  The city now regulates them heavily and as a result of this regulation, Seattle houseboats have dwindled down considerably  from well over two thousand Seattle houseboats at one time to just around five hundred or so of the floating home variety. They are scattered throughout Lake Union and in Portage Bay.

Speaking of dwindling.seattle houseboats

The Seattle houseboats market has had a dwindling inventory and we are down to just a couple options right now in the floating homes world. This particular home is my favorite.  “Annie O” is her nick name.  She is houseboat “O” because the slips on the dock are lettered according to the alphabet, but I like her nick name personally.  She is a jewel and is priced perfectly at $599,000.  Two bedrooms are not always easy to come by in the land of Seattle houseboats, but this is a beautiful two bedroom and it has been lovingly restored by the famous Sid McFarland and also upgraded and improved by its current owner who has a real artist’s eye.  If this doesn’t make you want to go buy a boat or a kayak to tie up to it, then that is okay because there is lots to do in this community.  Annie O happens to be on one of the very best docks in one of the very best co-ops on Lake Union.  You will own the slip you and your home are in so there is security of knowing that this log pack is not going anywhere.  Let us know if you would like more information on this perfect little Lake Union gem!  Molly: 206.841.6800 or Courtney 206.850.8841  Please call or text for more info. 

Still Afloat: Seattle Floating Homes – Wonder Where That Name Came From?

Still Afloat:  Seattle Floating HomesStill Afloat:  A Contemporary History Of Seattle’s Floating Homes  is a temporary exhibit at MOHAI which showcases what else?  Seattle’s floating homes. It started yesterday and runs through November 3rd.

The Still Afloat exhibit is sure to entertain and educate you on all the aspects of Life Afloat on Lake Union and Portage Bay.  If you want to explore the history and current events of one of Seattle’s most iconic neighborhoods, then this is a great place to start.

You can also learn more about Seattle floating homes here:

  • SeattleAfloat.com : Seattle’s first and most read Seattle houseboats blog.  This is a great place to find pictures and current information about happenings in the houseboat community as well as some of the highlighted floating homes which are for sale.  If you are interested in getting your Seattle floating home highlighted on the site, please email homes@seattleafloat.com
  • CooperJacobs.com/seattle-houseboats :  Cooper Jacobs Real Estate is a premiere seller of Seattle floating homes with Realtors in the office that specifically focus on the neighborhood and uniquness of this real estate product.  You can find all Seattle floating homes for sale on this site.
  • The Seattle Floating Homes Association:  Want to see current and past newsletters form the houseboats community?  This is a great place to read up!  Support FHA so that they can continue to do all of the great work they do and keep Seattle floating homes afloat.  The FHA is why Seattle’s houseboats are still afloat.

Here is another screen shot from my phone on the MOHAI exhibit.  Please support this exhibit and support MOHAI.  

still afloat

If you want a tour of Seattle floating homes for sale, please let us know.  Molly and I are two of the premiere Lake Union floating home Realtors and we can show you our favorites.  We also are pretty creative when it comes to marketing your Seattle floating home is you are interested in selling.

We are available to talk now.