September 30

Landmarks Abound In SLU

Floating buildings, curious clocks, and timeless boats mark the neighborhood’s deep history.

On the surface, South Lake Union is shiny and new, brimming with glass, and full of modern corporate architecture. It wasn’t always this way. In his writeup for, writer David B. Williams says, “when Seattle was founded in 1851, Lake Union was the backwater of a backwater town.” The area dug itself out of that backwater once David Denny built his Western Mill in 1882. That set the stage for future development and innovation.

And now, if you look closely, you’ll find the neighborhood is full of remnants from this time. One of the newest additions to this list is The Center for Wooden Boats, SLU’s beloved “living museum” that promotes northwest maritime heritage through classes and lectures, interpretation, and plenty of hands-on experiences. In September 2021, The CWB was designated a Seattle landmark. The designation includes the floating structures of its South Lake Union home (also known as Waterway 4) and The Old Boathouse (also known as the Wagner Floating Home).

The Center for Wooden Boats Wagner floating home in front of MOHAI.

According to CWB Executive Director Josh Anderson, the designation has been in the works for a few years. Colleen Wagner, cofounder of the CWB along with her late husband Dick, had been working on the application before her passing in 2020. Her goal was to preserve the CWB for future generations by making sure it was a landmark. With the support of The CWBs members, volunteers, staff, and board, this dream became a reality.

“This property along with the Wagner floating home, they are the only floating buildings that are landmarked in the City of Seattle. So that’s pretty special. We all know this place is one of a kind, but it starts with a really great property, one that has some historic significance, and this property absolutely has that,” said Sarah Martin, architectural historian.

Center for Wooden Boats wooden building entrance sign.

What does a landmark designation do? Martin explained that the basic impact of a landmark designation is to place certain controls on the property. The city negotiates those controls with the property owners on what those controls look like, and they’re meant to preserve the cultural significance, character, and essence of place for years to come.

What to learn more about how The CWB became a Seattle landmark, and what it means for the organization? Check out this video created by CWB volunteer Shelley Sabin. You can dig deeper into how the The CWB’s landmark status came to be by reading its application to the City of Seattle Landmark Preservations Board.

Here are more notable Seattle-designated landmarks in South Lake Union, plus links to their landmark designation details:

Virginia V

M.V. Malibu

Immanuel Lutheran Church

West Earth Company Clock

Lake Union Power Generating Plants

Want to explore more landmarks in the city? Dig through the comprehensive list here.

Story by Ethan Chung & photographs courtesy of The Center for Wooden Boats.

At The Center

SLU is the geographical center of Seattle