Featured Floating Homes on Lake Union

One of the most iconic features of Lake Union is the array of floating homes and houseboats scattered along the shores of the lake. It’s a key part of our neighborhood’s real estate as well as its character. Here are a couple of floating homes on Lake Union that we wanted to highlight…


Dunn Residence

It’s not currently available to buy or rent, but the Dunn residence is one of several floating homes that were designed by Vandeventer + Carlander Architects, giving a snapshot into what living in one of these gorgeous homes might be like. The foundation is 24 feet by 44 feet, with a glass facade to let in tons of beautiful natural light from the lake. The main area has a lounge, kitchen, dining room and terrace, with two bedrooms and two bathrooms downstairs on the lower level.



A funky, older houseboat tells a totally different story about living on a Lake Union floating home. The Sugarshack is a historic, 200-square foot houseboat with a tiny living room (which hides a bathtub!), efficient kitchen, dining for three, compact bathroom with a mini shower and bedroom fitted with a queen-sized bed. The houseboat dates back to 1946, when it was used to haul garbage before it became a home. Atop this charming little houseboat is a rooftop deck that is accessed by two ladders, and a deck off of the bedroom.

Eastlake houseboat

Eastlake HOUSEboat

If you want to live in a floating home that feels more like a house than a boat, this Eastlake home is the trick. It has two bedrooms and one bathroom, an upgraded kitchen with high-end appliances, a fireplace, and French doors that open to a private deck. The master bathroom features a gigantic soaking tub and faceted French doors that connect it to the master bedroom.

Lake Union: The Human Impact

Originated from the Inside Passage Blog, originally published on “Shavings”, a CWB blog.

By Dick Wagner, Founding Director of The Center for Wooden Boats

Western Washington has a mystique. It’s a unique blend of snow-capped mountains, misty rain forests, waters everywhere (an inland sea, bays, lakes, rivers), whales, elk, salmon, and mild, mosquito-free climate. These diverse natural elements are entwined in a complex, self-sustaining order. The threads of its beautiful tapestry began to weave together about 13,000 years ago when the 3,000-foot-deep Vashon Glacier retreated.

Unfortunately, after thousands of years of perfect primal coordination, this mixture of natural wonders is falling apart. A textbook example of why this is happening to our once perfectly-aligned environment is Seattle’s little Lake Union, now one of the most heavily-altered water systems in western Washington.

The Pre-industrial Lake

When the lake was at its prime, many shoreline plants were of value to the birds and fish and also the human inhabitants. Native tribespeople used Oregon grape for food, made dye from its roots, and an infusion of its bark for skin and mouth sores. They employed yarrow for hair wash, perfume, colds, stomach trouble, and as a general tonic. Skunk cabbage roots were an emergency food; the raw root is as hot as a pepper. It was also used as a blood purifier and for stomach and bladder trouble. Cabbage leaves were made into a healing poultice and also rolled into berry containers or drinking cups. The blossoms, when heated, were applied to rheumatic parts for relief. Springtime skunk cabbage was gobbled by the elk.

Native healers drew on nightshade leaves to make a drink for liver and yellow jaundice. The juice from the berries thinned blood. A poultice of nightshade leaves was used for rheumatism, skin diseases and abscesses. Natives cooked lady fern and bracken roots and served them with salmon eggs. Nettle was peeled into thin strips and twisted into strong twine for securing bone and stone tool handles and duck nets. Spirea stems also were used to make twine. Pond lily roots were heated and applied to rheumatic body parts.

When the wapato was lost, native peoples also was lost a cash cow that needed no cultivation. Wapato is the root of arrowhead, an edible tuber. Duwamish women felt for the roots with their bare feet while walking in the shallows, pulled them, and brought them back by canoe to the longhouse, where they were roasted. This “baked potato” was considered haute cuisine. The wapato by Lake Union was so plentiful that there was a surplus to trade with other native groups. Wapato was the chief part of the Duwamish economy for many generations.

The Era of Change

The first residents of Lake Union were about 100 Native Americans whom we call the Duwamish. In the basin of Lakes Union-Washington-Sammamish there were approximately 2,000 more Native Americans. Before the coming of European and American settlers, a roughly balanced relationship was maintained between plants, animals and humans. Today, about 500,000 people live around the lake and about a million live in the greater basin. A growing human population creates buildings, highways, bulkheads, docks, dams and parking lots that all challenge this region’s ecological equilibrium. The process of filling in a South Lake Union shoreline in 1962 forced a mountain up from the lake’s bottom – a mountain of muck. Now a red navigation buoy is moored to warn of the peak of the lake’s pinnacle only 10’ below the surface of the water.

The filling of Lake Union’s shoreline and building of docks and bulkheads began in 1870 and continued until 1967. Between the Fremont Bridge and University Bridge are 700 acres of water. It used to be 900 acres. The fill displaced shallow water which was an incubator, home, hotel and restaurant for a chain of plants and animals. Small fish, including minnows, salmon and trout fry, used the shallows to feed. The plants on and adjoining the lake included wapato, skunk cabbage, nightshade, cranberries, elderberries, smartweed, lady’s thumb, nettles, spirea, miralus, forget-me-nots, yellow mustard, water celery, pond lily, camas, Oregon grape, coltsfoot, yarrow, duckweed, cattail, willow, cottonwood, alder and Indian plum.

Birds feeding in the shallows included killdeer, flycatchers, red-winged blackbirds, white-crowned sparrows, towhees, robins, black swifts, kingfishers, ospreys, Cooper’s hawks, chickadees, tule wrens, red-backed sandpipers, greater and lesser yellow-legs, great blue herons, goldfinches, bitterns, Virginia rails, and the herring, short-billed, ring-billed, California, and glacous-winged gulls. Nesting waterfowl were pied-billed grebes, mallards, coots, and cormorants, and meadowlarks. Migrating waterfowl, including red breasted mergansers, scaups, wood ducks, pintail, buffleheads, eared grebes, western grebes, common loons, bald pates, blue-winged teals, shovellers, green-winged teals, gadwalls, dowitchers, bald eagles, black-tailed plovers, whistling swans, and Canada geese, found food in the shallows, which also were home to frogs, tadpoles, turtles, snails, crawfish, mussels, dragonflies, damsel flies, nightjars, protezoans, mice, muskrats, weasels, otters, mink, and beavers.

When creatures lose their usual places for food, nesting, hibernation or refuge, they leave. There are no more meadowlarks around Lake Union because there are no more meadows. Fortunately, even though the salmon population has dramatically declined in Lake Washington, there are still enough near-shore habitats for the Lake Union sockeye fry to linger for a year. My litmus test is that the great blue herons and kingfishers still hang out in the shallow areas for a good meal of young sockeye. On the other hand, a litmus test was not needed in 2008 to prove that the waterfowl population, both permanent and migrating, was virtually wiped out on Lake Union. The only birds now seen are a stunningly reduced number of Canada geese, mallards, coots, seagulls, kingfishers, blue herons, and cormorants. The weasel and mink are gone. There are small numbers of muskrats, otters and beavers.

In the late 1960s our child’s first words were “quack quack.” Mallard talk on Lake Union now is virtually lost, but not forgotten.

In the beginning, Lake Union’s connection to Puget Sound was Ross Creek at the north end, which emptied into Salmon Bay, an inlet of the Sound. The 8’ to 20’ flood tide pushed up the creek to its mouth where the Fremont Bridge now stands. The brackish water of the creek and Salmon Bay was an environmental adjustment for the salmon coming home from the ocean to spawn in the lake’s freshwater streams and also for the salmon fry waiting to grow big enough to swim in the Pacific Ocean. Native legends refer to whales entering Lake Union through a hidden tunnel. In fact, any of them could have done it simply riding the tide into the lake. It’s probable that fish-eating orcas would be tempted to ambush the home-coming salmon at the mouth of Ross Creek.

When the Ballard Locks were completed in 1916, a convenient connection between the lake and the Sound was provided for boaters. There was no more transition between saltwater and freshwater. This was an inconvenient connection for salmon and even the whales. In addition, road and trolley tracks were installed on fill around the lake. Salmon spawning streams were redirected into pipes as their outlets were filled and bulk-headed; these pipes were barren of the pebbles needed for fertile eggs to be laid.

As the lakeside developed, the shallows disappeared. Bright street lights were installed. The sounds of motor vehicles, seaplanes, trolleys, sawmills and boatyards replaced the calls of birds. The forests around the lake were logged off. This cut-and-build development expelled the nesting places and sealed off the sand and gravel that was the habitat of small fish, frogs, salamanders and turtles.

Because of the Locks and because the logged lake basin allowed stormwater to drain into the lake, it was deliberately lowered two-and-a-half feet each fall and raised the same amount each spring. The change of depth had an impact on remaining marshlands. In addition, during our rainy season, the stormwater pipes overflowed and added street and sidewalk dirt and trash to the lake. The lakeside didn’t have a sewer system installed until 1967. Because of the steady flow of the Cedar River through Lake Union, the streams in pipes and the underwater springs, the lake was relatively clean. The crayfish were so prevalent in the lake that they were commercially fished through the 1970s. Crayfish will not live in toxic waters.

There was little or no direct human predation of the plants and animals of Lake Union but new species introduced to Lake Union caused unexpected impacts. The Norway rat was the scourge of the shoreside. They ate the bird eggs in the marshland nests. The rats came from Europe via trade vessels. Carp came from Asia via Europe. They root up the shallow water plants and roots that were food for waterfowl. There are now 24 non-native fish that have been introduced to the lake, including smallmouth and largemouth bass, which eat juvenile salmon. The non-native Eurasian watermilfoil dominates much of the shoreline and the non-native Himalayan blackberries have smothered many historic waterside plants.

Lake Union Today

What Lake Union was we will never see again. Even if there was a skunk cabbage farm on the lakeshore, the elk wouldn’t dare try to cross the congested traffic to get a nibble. What we can achieve is a lake sustained to the best possible state of ecologic balance.

How can we go about this?

We can crusade against the further building of lake-edge bulkheads and roads. We can advocate for the removal of all non-native plants and against the introduction of non-native fish. Then, seed-by-seed, drop-by-drop, bird-by-bird, fish-by-fish, Lake Union can recover some of the elements that were integral parts of its Northwest mystique.

Featured photo: Engraving of Lake Union, 1891. Source: University of Washington Special Collections.

South Lake Union Block Party – Next Friday!

The most exciting neighborhood event in Lake Union is coming up on Friday, August 12th. It’s the South Lake Union Block Party! Starting at 11 a.m., the festivities commence on the corner of Denny Way and Westlake Ave N.

The jam-packed lineup of local bands for the SLU Block Party’s beat connection includes Hibou, The True Loves, Lemolo, Danny Newcomb & The Sugarmakers, and more! Musicians and bands will perform throughout the day, so there’s plenty of chances to enjoy their fun sounds.

In addition to live music, there will be a couple of community activities to take part in…

Eateries that are known for their burgers are participating in the “Best Burger in SLU” competition, presented by Whole Foods Market. Purchase tickets for $20 to taste all five sliders from participating rivals: Brave Horse Tavern’s “The Torta Burger Press”, Local Public Eatery’s “Big Kahuna Burger”, Lunchbox Laboratory’s “Piggie Smalls” burger, Pan Pacific Hotel’s “99 Problems But A Peach Ain’t One” burger, and Sam’s Tavern’s “Magic Mushroom Burger”.

The School of Visual Concepts is hosting a Steamroller Smackdown. “Teams of top designers will print gigantic posters using a steamroller in lieu of a traditional printing press. This year’s thought-provoking poster theme is Northwest Stories; trophies will be awarded by Seattle Arts and Lectures Executive Director Ruth Dickey.”

Brave Horse Tavern is hosting a beer garden, with local craft beers, wine and cider and their signature pretzels for sale. Underdog Sports is hosting lawn games in the beer garden, for public enjoyment. And of course, Seattle’s best food trucks will be out and about, serving snacks and delicious lunch and dinner items.

SLU Block Party is free, so it’s a great way to get out, meet your neighbors, and enjoy some fun community activities, food and drink. This year, there will be art, lots of live music and other performances, and food and beverages to excite your taste buds and fill your belly.

See you there!

Lake Union Events: Things to Do in August

There’s all kinds of outdoor summer fun for the whole family this month in South Lake Union! Read more in this blog post…

August 2: National Night Out on Dexter Ave.
5pm – 7pm | 1100 Dexter Avenue
The National Night Out comes to the Lake Union neighborhood on Tuesday, August 2nd. From 5 until 7 p.m., learn about safety, meet your neighbors and enjoy free live music as you eat and drink. Our neighborhood Night Out will be held in the brick courtyard at 1100 Dexter Avenue.

August 6: Seattle Outdoor Cinema: “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?”
7pm – 10pm | SLU Discovery Center
The SLU Discovery Center is hosting an outdoor movie night on Saturday, August 6th, featuring “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?”. In addition to the movie, there will be lots of pre-show entertainment such as a beer garden. Doors open at 7 p.m., and the movie begins at dusk. Tickets are $5/person.

August 12: SLU Block Party
11am – 11pm | SLU Discovery Center
The annual South Lake Union Block Party is coming up on Friday, August 12th. Enjoy free live music and performances throughout the day, the School of Visual Concepts’ Steamroller Smackdown, Brave Horse Tavern beer garden, “Best Burger in SLU” competition (see below), and more! There will be plenty of art and vendor booths to peruse, plus food and beverages to taste and enjoy.

August 12: Best Burger in SLU Grilling Competition
5pm – 8pm | SLU Discovery Center
Which neighborhood establishment makes the best burger? You can find out for yourself at the grilling competition for the Best Burger in SLU (part of the SLU Block Party). On August 12th, starting at 5 p.m. in the SLU Discovery Center, taste slider samples from Sam’s Tavern, Local Public Eatery, Lunchbox Laboratory, Brave Horse Tavern, and Pan Pacific Hotel. Tickets are $20/person.

August 14: Lake Union 10K
7:30am | South Lake Union Park
The 8th annual Lake Union 10K is coming up on Sunday, August 14th. The race begins at 7:30 a.m. at Lake Union Park in the southwest corner of Lake Union. Enjoy vendors, raffles, awards, and Portage Bay Cafe’s French Toast and breakfast bar after the race. Click here to learn more about the Lake Union 10K.

August 14: Cascade Second Sunday Stroll
1pm – 4pm | South Lake Union Neighborhood
On the second Sunday of each month, businesses and residents of Cascade and SLU get out and about to appreciate the fun activities and features of the neighborhood in the Cascade Second Sunday Stroll. Visit participating businesses and venues that offer deals and discounts, special products and services, seasonal treats, art pop-ups, and more.

August 14: Tom Douglas Lawn Party & Croquet Tournament
1pm – 5pm | SLU Discovery Center
Don’t miss the 5th annual Lawn Party & Croquet Tournament, presented by Tom Douglas and Dahlia Lounge, on Sunday, August 14th from 1 – 5 p.m. There will be food tents, a cocktail & beer garden, music, revelry, prizes and a costume contest. Come together to enjoy and raise funds for the Food Lifeline at this 21+ event.

August 19: Seattle Outdoor Cinema: “The Big Lebowski”
5pm – 10pm | SLU Discovery Center
The SLU Discovery Center is hosting an outdoor movie night on Saturday, August 19th, featuring “The Big Lebowski” as part of the 5th annual Dude Fest! In addition to the movie, there will be lots of pre-show entertainment such as a beer garden. Doors open at 7 p.m., and the movie begins at dusk. Tickets are $10/person, 21+ only.

August 20 & 21: Seattle Street Food Festival
11am – 6pm | 101 Westlake Ave N
More than 100 local eateries are bringing us the goods for the Seattle Street Food Festival on August 20th and 21st. This is a free 2-day event in South Lake Union.

August 20: Movies in the Park: “Toy Story”
6pm – 9pm | Lake Union Park
As part of MOHAI’s current exhibit on “Toys of the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s”, the museum is hosting an outdoor movie night on Saturday, August 20th from 6 – 9 p.m. The featured movie will be “Toy Story”. Pre-show activities, including oversized Jenga, Connect Four, Bananagrams, chess and inflatable bowling are from 6 p.m. until sundown. Hula hoop performances (with lessons and hoop time) from Hoopsmiles is from 6:45 – 8:15 p.m., Brian Vogan and His Good Buddies is from 7 – 8 p.m., and a “Toy Story” costume parade (open to all) is at 7:45. Then, enjoy the movie with cotton candy, popcorn and other treats from MOHAI Cafe. This is a free event, and includes fun for the whole family.

Featured photo source: SLUBlockParty.com

Hundreds of Gallons of Diesel Spills into Lake Union from Yacht

According to the Washington Department of Ecology, diesel oil spilled from a 74-foot yacht on Tuesday, July 19th. Workers noticed oil on the water at approximately 6:30 a.m. on the morning of the spill, reported it to authorities, and deployed an oil spill containment boom.

“The amount spilled and the cause of the spill remain under investigation. and it appears that fuel leaked from at least one of four tanks on board into the vessel bilge, activating the bilge pump and discharging fuel overboard,” the Department of Ecology’s website states.

KOMO News reported that the fuel tanks had only just been filled on Monday, and by Tuesday morning they were completely empty. An estimated 630 gallons of diesel fuel had leaked into the water.

There was a strong odor of diesel, but vapors were monitored well below the level of risk for fire or explosion.

In addition to the State’s Department of Ecology, Seattle Public Utilities and the U.S. Coast Guard have formed a unified command to respond to and clean up the spill. “The owner has hired spill response contractors who are acting under the agencies’ oversight.”

Cleanup efforts included removal of the diesel from the surface of the water, as well as hand cleaning under docks and along the shoreline. Materials such as containment booms, oil-absorption materials, vacuum trucks, and other vessels, equipment and vehicles have been used to support efforts to clean up after the spill.

As of 5 p.m. on July 20th, the Department of Ecology reported that all oil that could be recovered from the water and shore structures had been removed. “Some sheen may be visible on the water, a layer of oil too thin to recover, that will dissipate in the next day or so… Ecology crews are assessing environmental effects. There have been no reports of oiled wildlife.”

Investigation as to the cause of the fuel spill continues.

Featured photo source: KomoNews.com