Historic South Downtown Oral Histories: Dennis Frair Recalls Mooring at the Washington Street Boat Landing on Seattle's Waterfront

  • Posted 10/25/2015
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 11130

Dennis Frair is a facilities manager for the Samis Foundation in Pioneer Square. A lifelong fisherman, he frequently moored his boat at the public Washington Street Boat Landing in the 1970s. Frair was interviewed on March 20, 2015, for a project HistoryLink did in partnership with Historic South Downtown to document the historical connections between the Chinatown International District and Pioneer Square neighborhoods and the central waterfront. Dominic Black spoke with Frair about using the boat landing to come into downtown Seattle from West Seattle after fishing on Elliott Bay.

The boat landing was originally built in 1920 for military and harbor patrol uses. After World War II, military use declined, but the harbor patrol continued to moor boats at the landing until 1972. It was the only dock on the central waterfront scaled to small boats.

In the 1970s there were public demands for a small-boat harbor on the waterfront, including a 1972 letter to The Seattle Times that read in part, "There is not one place on the central waterfront to tie up so we can shop around at the waterfront stores. Some people do tie up at the piers and then climb the ladders on the sides. Well, some people can't climb those ladders. Also, they have to leave someone on board to watch the boat so it won't get smashed against the pilings" (Moody). As a result, the Washington Street Boat Landing was opened to public use. 

In 1973 the pergola at the landing was restored through the efforts of the Committee of 33. Floats for public use were added, making it the only place on the waterfront set aside for small boats. These floats served recreational boaters and fishermen until the 1990s. As of 2015 moorage for recreational boats can be found at Bell Harbor Marina, which was developed at Pier 66 in the 1990s as part of the Port of Seattle's Central Waterfront Project.

Fish the Bay, Visit the City

Dennis Frair: I’ve been a fisherman all my life here in Washington and used the Sound for fishing and launching and coming into town. So we used to be able to come into town and spend some time in Pioneer Square and around the ferries.

DB: And where would you be coming from?

West Seattle boat launch. Don Armeni boat launch.

DB: Can you paint a picture for me of what the city was like at the waterfront at that time?

Yeah, so when you come in, you could park, and you could either go over to the ferry, or if you wanted to spend an hour or two in Pioneer Square you could walk up and once you -- you know the viaduct did block it off, it kind of made a block for it -- but once you passed that then you’re in the Pioneer Square.

Or it was good to come in from fishing and have lunch at Ivar’s and the other stores because they were close, and there’s no other restaurants or anything around where you could actually pull your boat in for a while and have lunch or dinner and then leave again.  


Dominic Black interview with Dennis Frair, March 20, 2015; Dick Moody, "Times Troubleshooter," The Seattle Times, September 11, 1972, p. A4; HistoryLink.org Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, "Seattle's Naval Shore Station opens at the foot of Washington Street on July 3, 1920" (by Alan Stein) and "Shaping Seattle's Central Waterfront, Part 2: From 'Back Alley' to 'Front Porch'" (by Jennifer Ott), http://www.historylink.org/ (accessed October 19, 2015).

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