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Fort Lawton Landmark District

Fort Lawton originally occupied much of Seattle's Magnolia Bluff, which offers a commanding view of the entrance to Elliott Bay and Puget Sound. The bluff itself was named by Lt. George Davidson in 1857 during a U.S. Coastal Survey on the mistaken identification of its red-barked madrona trees as magnolias.

In 1896, the Secretary of War selected the site for construction of an artillery battery intended to defend Seattle and the south Sound from naval attack. The following year, local citizens and governments donated 703 acres land to the United States Army for the installation.

The Army officially named Fort Lawton in 1900 to honor Major General Henry Ware Lawton, a veteran of Civil War, Indian, and Spanish-American campaigns who had died in the Philippines the previous year. The base was converted to infantry use in 1902, and landscape architect John C. Olmsted prepared a new master plan in 1910 for housing officers and enlisted men.

The fort saw active duty as a staging center and prisoner of war camp during World War II, and was equipped with anti-aircraft missiles and radar in the 1950s. After rejecting the site for a proposed anti-ballistic missile defense system in 1968, the Army decided to surplus most of the base and offered 534 acres to the City of Seattle for park use under a new law sponsored by U.S. Senator Henry M. Jackson.

Native American tribes asserted treaty rights to the original land but settled with the city for a portion as the site for Daybreak Star Center (completed in 1977). In 1973, Senator Jackson dedicated the tract as Discovery Park in honor of the British sloop HMS Discovery commanded by Captain George Vancouver during the first European exploration of Puget Sound in 1792.

The city decided to preserve most of the park as open space and nature reserves in 1974, and the appropriate intensity of public use remains a subject of debate. The best preserved collection of early Fort Lawton buildings was declared a landmark district in 1988.

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