A Little “Dirt” On Seattle Houseboats History You May Not Know
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.
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?
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.
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 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?
We are happy to help! Please call Courtney. 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.
Seattle Houseboats: Catching Up With The Seattle Floating Homes Market Sept 2014
Summary: Great Choices Available unless you want The Sleepless In Seattle Houseboat.
All year long, the story has been low inventory, low inventory, low inventory. Now we have inventory. Typically August is pretty quiet for Seattle houseboats sales, so it was no surprise to see that August was slow again. The real surprise, though, was the whole new crop of Seattle floating homes listings that have come on the market. We have some really cool choices right now which span into every price range.
The 2014 Seattle floating home tour was a success this year and definitely increased interest in this great community. Add to the the Boats Afloat show this weekend and I would say life on Lake Union is about as exciting as it can be aside from The Fourth Of July! If you are entering the Seattle houseboats world or already a houseboat buyer candidate, then this is truly your time to buy. Seattle houseboats sellers are motivated because the inventory increase has added competition for the sale of their home. Buyers are able to pick up some great floating homes right now.
So here are the Seattle houseboats that have sold in the floating home world (both on market and off market that I know about):
1. Sleepless in Seattle: All the buzz is about Sleepless. The house where Tom Hanks resided in while Meg Ryan chased after him in the original stalker movie – before stalking was actually even a thing besides in National Geographic and horror flicks… The Sleepless in Seattle houseboat has an amazing main level and a very dated upper level which I am sure the new owner will remedy. It has one of the largest floats on the lake and also one of the largest moorage spaces on Lake Union if you have a boat you want to tie up to your house. It is definitely worth the over two million paid for it. We almost sold it a couple times in the last year or so for over two million so we weren’t surprised. I knew it had been sold a couple months ago and put it here in my blog, but was politely asked to not report it yet. The secret is out. It is sold. Over two million dollars and a great deal in my opinion for one of the Duck Tour’s favorite shout outs on Lake Union.
2. Two floating homes on the 2025 Fairview Ave E Log Foundation dock also closed in the last 30 days. Slip M was a 625 square foot 1 bedroom and 1 bath houseboat built in 1930. It was listed for $495,000 and after 428 days on market sold for 93.54% of its list price at $420,000. Also on that dock was slip H – South facing 900 square foot floating home built in 1917, but updated. We listed this one for $725,000 and it sold for full price 34 days later.
Seattle Houseboats Pending in Escrow – The Big news on the Lake and I mean big as in expensive and beautiful and amazing is that the Fairview Landing (2369 Fairview Ave E) Seattle luxury floating home listed for $2,950,000 is pending in escrow. This is a lovely modern concrete dock with beautiful Seattle luxury floating homes and although this particular floating home is on the North side, the neighbors are amazing and so is the house. It’s a big sale on the lake and happy for the new buyers to have gotten on to this phenomenal gated dock.
What’s for sale now in the Seattle floating home world?
Seattle houseboats for sale are in all price ranges right now – ranging from an unheard of low in Eastlake houseboats for $365,000 (1 bedroom on Tenas Chuck dock) to Roanoke Reef at $1,890,000. We love the Tenas Chuck floating home for someone wanting to get on to the lake.
We also love 2017 Fairview Ave , Slip O – 2 bedroom home on a great dock for $617,000! This one is so cute and appeals to many. Good choice on one of the most well run coops on the lake. As far as the nicer homes go, we really love the house in Westlake listed for $1,299,000 at 2466 Westlake Ave N, Slip 7. You can have a FORTY FOOT BOAT tied up to your house there and it has been absolutely loved by its current owners.
Additional reading about these Seattle houseboats:
Summary Of Seattle Houseboats
Seattle Houseboats Market Update Details
Please call or email me if you want to see anything listed on the lake – or unlisted 🙂 We can show you any home listed by any broker and look forward to showing you some of our favorite spots on the lake. Courtney Cooper 206.850.8841