Discovery Park History

Fort Lawton

Fort Lawton originally occupied much of the northwestern part of Magnolia Bluff. The bluff was named by Lt. George Davidson during a U.S. Coastal Survey in 1857, mistakenly identifying red-barked madrone trees as magnolias. The original high hopes that the post in Magnolia would become a major military installation by Seattle's turn-of-the-century civic leaders were never realized. Fort Lawton was developed in the late 1890s, opened in the early 1900s, and had long periods of underuse after each world war. By the 1970s, much of the fort's land was turned over to the City of Seattle to become Discovery Park.

Early Development

  • 1853: Dr. Henry A. Smith staked a donation land claim of 160 acres at the south end of Magnolia Bluff.
  • 1860-70s: Private property owners logged the bluff.
  • 1881: West Point Lighthouse was built.
  • 1891: Congress established a Navy yard on Puget Sound, at Port Orchard Bay (Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, Bremerton). Military planners considered defense of the area a high priority.
  • 1894: 11 sites for fortifications were identified, including Magnolia Bluff.
  • 1895: Congress appropriated funds to build a regimental post in Seattle, but the Secretary of War required that the property be acquired without cost to the U.S. Government. The Seattle Chamber of Commerce appointed an Army Post Committee to solicit donations of land and cash. Initially 613 acres were acquired from 27 owners at $1 per owner.
  • 1896: Secretary of War selects Magnolia as a fort site.
  • February 1898: Seattle Chamber of Commerce turned over to the U.S. Army title to 703 acres.
  • June 1898: Buildings and roads were built, and development of the fort included a pier to the north on Salmon Bay, a vegetable garden, large stockade for cavalry horses, a water line from Seattle, and barracks.
  • December 1899: The first soldiers arrived. The first seven buildings were occupied by 1900, with another 18 permanent structures, including a hospital, eventually ringing the oval parade ground.
  • February 1900: U.S. Army designates the military installation as Fort Lawton.
  • 1901: Coast Artillery unit arrived, guns installed only temporarily until 1902. Fort Worden and Fort Flagler near Port Townsend and Fort Casey on Whidbey Island were built heavy as the first and second lines of defense. Fort Lawton would be the third line of defense.
  • 1902-1927: Fort Lawton was designated an Infantry post designed to accommodate a full regiment (approximately 3,500 men). but rarely was more than one battalion were ever stationed at the site.
  • 1903: Olmsted Brothers' Seattle Parks and Boulevards plan includes Fort Lawton.

Pre-World War I

  • 1908-1941: Fort Lawton was dormant, had minor use.
  • 1910: John C. Olmsted prepared a master plan for housing officers and enlisted men, "Report on the Improvement of the Fort." The report identified continuation of a bicycle path along the Bluff, tide-fed swimming pools on the salt marsh at West Point, and military facilities in center of the area, to be "protected" from civilians by a fence.
  • 1917: Civic leaders and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer call for return of the fort for use as a park.

Pre-World War II

  • 1927-1941: Fort Lawton was converted to a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers installation.
  • 1927: Seattle Parks drafted legislation for leasing the Fort for park purposes, resulting in a Senate Bill, rejected by the Secretary of War, declaring the Fort to be indispensable.
  • 1938: U.S. Army offered all of Fort Lawton to the City of Seattle as a park for the cost of one dollar. The City Council declined because it was unsure whether the City could bear the cost of maintenance.
  • 1940s: Before World War II, Fort Lawton became part of the Port of Embarkation, San Francisco. Up to 20,000 troops were staged there at one time, and a total of 1.1 million troops passed through the installation during and after the war. Some 1,150 German prisoners of war were housed there, and 5,000 Italian prisoners of war passed through on their way to confinement in Hawaii. More than 450 buildings were constructed to house soldiers during the war; most were temporary and designed to be built quickly, with minimum standards of comfort.

Post-World War II

  • 1950s: During the Korean War, Fort Lawton served both as an embarkation and debarkation station. During the early 1950s, 10,000 replacement troops a day were readied for transport to Korea. After the Korean War, Army activity at Fort Lawton declined and many of the WWII structures were demolished.
  • 1953: 26th Air Defense group established a Nike Ajax missile base.
  • 1959: Nike Hercules missiles were located at the base.
  • 1961: The U.S. House Appropriations Committee suggested the fort be declared surplus, which initiated a flood of proposed uses by military, federal, state, and school agencies.
  • 1964: The U.S. Secretary of Defense announced that 85% of Fort Lawton was to be declared surplus. Under applicable Federal laws at the time, the City was required to pay the Federal government 50% of the fair market value of the lands acquired for park purposes.
  • 1965: U.S. Congressman Brock Adams (D-WA) introduced legislation providing for the transfer of the surplus acreage at Fort Lawton to the City at no cost. The rationale for this bill was that since the site had been donated by the city, it should be returned to the city when the Federal government no longer needed it.
  • 1965: The Department of Defense announced plans to build an Anti-Ballistic Missile base at Fort Lawton.
  • July 1966: Metro dedicated the West Point wastewater treatment plant.
  • 1968: The Secretary of Defense announced the abandonment of plans for the missile base at Fort Lawton.
  • 1968: Voter approval of the City's Forward Thrust bond issue provides $3 million to purchase the fort for a park.
  • March 1969: U.S. Senator Jackson (D-WA) introduced a bill enabling cities to acquire surplus Federal lands at no cost for park and recreational purposes. President Nixon signed it in October 1970.
  • 1970: The United Indians of All Tribes presented a claim to all lands that might be declared surplus. The City negotiated an agreement to lease 17 acres to the organization for an Indian Cultural Center.
  • September, 1972: 391 acres were transferred to the City by the Federal government. Other lands were transferred to the U.S. Navy for housing (the Capehart Complex).
  • 1972: Fort Lawton Park (Discovery) Master Plan was submitted to the City.
  • 1973: U.S. Senator Henry Jackson dedicated 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.
  • 1974: The Discovery Park Revised Plan updated the 1972 plan.
  • 1975: Voters rejected by a 2-1 margin a proposal from the West Point Golf Association for an 18-hole golf course at Discovery Park.
  • 1977: Daybreak Star Cultural-Education Center opened.
  • 2005: Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC) 2005 determined that the 70th Regional Support Command headquarters would close, one of 10 RSC Major Subordinate Commands of the U.S. Army Reserve Command.


Dan Kiley and Partners. Master Plan for Fort Lawton Park. February, 1972.
Fiset, Louis. "Magnolia - Thumbnail History, June 29, 2001". As seen on the website 2005

Seattle Parks and Recreation. "Don Sherwood Historical Files, Discovery Park".

Wilma, David. "Fort Lawton is established on February 9, 1900." As seen on the website 2005.

West Point

West Point Light Station

Anticipating further growth of waterborne traffic in the wake of Seattle's flourishing lumber export business, the U.S. Lighthouse Board recommended in 1872 that a lighthouse be built at West Point. Congress appropriated $25,000 for the project, and in 1881, the U. S. Lighthouse Service built the first manned light station for Puget Sound. Almost 100 years later, in 1977, the West Point Light Station was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Two years later, in 1979, the station was slated for automation, but the keeper at the time, Marvin Gerber, wanted to have the lighthouse manned for its centennial. On November 15, 1981, he climbed atop the lighthouse and celebrated its centennial by dousing it with champagne. The West Point Lighthouse finally was automated in 1985, the last in the state to be converted.

West Point Treatment Plant

In 1911, workers under the direction of city engineer R. H. Thomson completed a 12-foot diameter brick-lined sewage tunnel that brought untreated wastewater from central Seattle to an outfall off West Point. West Point was nine-tenths an island, connected to the mainland only by the narrow beach on the south side of the tidepool. This entire area was later filled, and in 1966 it became the site for the Municipality of Metropolitan Seattle's (then Metro) West Point Wastewater Treatment Plant. In 1995, secondary treatment with a bacterial treatment process was added at the treatment plant to comply with the National Clean Water Act.


Fiset, Louis. "Magnolia - Thumbnail History, June 29, 2001". As seen on the website 2005

McClary, Daryl C. "West Point Lighthouse, June 2, 2003". As seen on the website

The Burke Museum's Interactive online feature: Archaeology of West Point

THIS IS THE STORY of a land and its people, and how both changed over time. It's a tale of urban archaeology and the discovery of ancient cultures beneath the city of Seattle, cultures with traditions that endure today.
The Archaeology of West Point
The Burke Museum