On December 29, 2020, at 5:50 p.m., the Washington State Ferry Suquamish arrives at Mukilteo from Clinton, marking the official opening of Mukilteo's new, $187 million ferry terminal. The product of a partnership between the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT), the City of Mukilteo, the Port of Everett, and Coast Salish tribes, the two-story terminal is built to green and earthquake standards, replacing a long-outdated 1957 structure. It is the ferry system's first new terminal in 40 years, a part of State Route 525 (Mukilteo Speedway) that connects Whidbey Island to Mukilteo, Everett, and Seattle. Ceremonies for the long-awaited occasion are festive but virtual, in accordance with state social distancing guidelines due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
A Long Heritage
Although Mukilteo's old town shoreline has changed significantly over time, its deep-water harbor on Possession Sound and its close proximity (6.5 miles) to Whidbey Island have made it an important crossing point for thousands of years, navigated by canoe, small craft, steamboat, and ferry.
Mukilteo's name comes from a Lushootseed word meaning "narrow neck," accurately describing the passage between the island and mainland on the Salish Sea. An early Snohomish tribal village is believed to have stood at this location, before Snohomish people moved north to establish the Hibulb village at present-day Everett. On January 22, 1855, Washington Territorial Governor Isaac Stevens (1818-1862) met here with 82 Coast Salish leaders, including Chief Seattle, to sign a treaty by which tribes ceded their lands in exchange for relocation to a reservation and a small amount of cash.
The Mukilteo location continued as an important Coast Salish camping and meeting place for generations, evidenced by archaeological finds during the initial stage of developing the recent new ferry terminal. Because of this rich heritage, WSDOT involved the Tulalips and related tribes in shaping the terminal and placing found artifacts in their care.
Following Mukilteo's founding in 1860, non-Native settlers established a store near the crossing-over point, as well as a saloon, a brewery, and a salmon cannery, but the primary business was transporting logs to mills on Puget Sound. In 1861 Mukilteo became Snohomish County's first county seat. Travel in these years was by water and crude roads, with the Great Northern Railway bringing freight service along the coastline from the 1890s. (The railroad in 2021 is operated by the Burlington Northern Santa Fe). A lighthouse (now a National Register property) began operating in 1906 and a road connecting Mukilteo and Everett in 1914 increased use of the ferry crossing.
The Island Transportation Company began running passenger ferries between Mukilteo and south Whidbey Island in 1911, with car ferry service added in 1919. The company sold to Puget Sound Navigation Company (the Black Ball Line) in the 1920s. Black Ball operated ferry service for the next three decades. The company sold in the 1950s to the Washington State Ferry system. State Route 525 (Mukilteo Speedway) was the connecting road between Whidbey Island and Mukilteo.
Leisure travel increased in the 1920s and 1930s, vacationers crossing to visit island parks, and to fish and boat, the ferry crossing then referred to as Mukilteo-Columbia Beach ferry. Whidbey residents traveled to the mainland for jobs and medical care in Mukilteo, Everett, Edmonds, and Seattle.
In 1924 Howard Josh (1885-1938) opened a lunch room next to the ferry dock, catering to workers, townspeople, and Island commuters. His Eagle Lunch Room served as a ticket office for the Black Ball line. The lunch room continued through the next few decades, under various ownerships, and in 1944 it was purchased by Ed Taylor Sr. (1893-1951) and his wife Mildred (1891-1969). The restaurant continued in Taylor family hands, managed by sons Edgar and James Richard "Dick" Taylor (1918-2005), who expanded the restaurant over the water, added a cocktail lounge and renamed it Taylor's Landing. In 1991 it was sold to Ivar's Real Estate, and while it was transferred to MSI Mukilteo LLC in 2016, the name Ivar's Mukilteo Landing continued, with a Silver Cloud Inn next door.
Military and Aerospace
World War II drastically changed Mukilteo's waterfront. Five miles south of the ferry dock, Paine Field Airport (a WPA project constructed in 1936), was converted for military operations in 1941. It continued as a military base until 1946 and then was reactivated in 1950 during the Korean War. To supply planes with fuel, the U.S. government acquired the abandoned Crown Lumber Company site near the Mukilteo ferry, where it built 10 large fuel tanks near the ferry dock, despite strong objections by town residents who began calling it the Mukilteo Tank Farm. This site was also used to transfer ammunition, bombs, shells, and nitroglycerine from rail cars to ships. A small building was added for government offices and housing, which in 1970 was converted for use as the Mukilteo Biological Field Station.
To facilitate speedier access to the ferry dock, a Mukilteo Speedway viaduct was built over the railroad tracks in 1941. The following year Naval Air Station Whidbey Island began at Oak Harbor on Whidbey Island to support and refuel Navy patrol planes defending Puget Sound.
Hoping to better deal with these rapid changes, the city of Mukilteo incorporated in 1947. A much-needed new ferry dock replaced the old one at Mukilteo in 1957, but this was soon insufficient with the arrival of The Boeing Company, which set up operations at Paine Field in the 1960s. By 1970 it was clear that a bigger and better terminal was needed.
A Very Long Process
Government plans for a new Mukilteo-Clinton ferry terminal began in 1976 and some modifications were made to the existing structure in the 1980s. In following years the state legislature appropriated $68.6 million and the federal Department of Transportation granted $4.7 million to complete the new terminal project. Additional government funds would raise the amount to $187 million.
WSDOT worked closely with the Port of Everett, the city of Mukilteo and local tribes including Tulalip, Lummi, Muckleshoot, Nooksack, Sammish, Stillaguamish, Snoqualmie, Swinomish, Suquamish, and Sauk-Seattle. Project partners agreed on several goals: designing and building to green standards; reclaiming the site and providing greater public access to the Mukilteo waterfront; ridding Mukilteo of traffic congestion along SR 525 and near the ferry landing; making easy connections to Sound Transit rail and community transit buses, and, most of all, honoring and sharing Coast Salish history and culture.
The Tank Farm site was selected as the site for the new terminal. While governmental clearance was granted for tank removal in 1989, it took decades before tanks were gone. Workers completed cleanup of the site in July 2015 when the remaining fuel tank pier, old fuel lines, and toxic remains were removed.
LMN Architects and KPFF Consulting Engineers, HBB Landscape Architects, IMCO Construction, and various other partners, designed and built the terminal in the style of a tribal longhouse, prominently incorporating local Native art in its exterior and interior design as well as the ticket booths and including interpretive signage. Major art installations were done by Tulalip artists Joe Gobin and James Madison (b. 1973), and Suquamish artist Kate Ahvakana. Concrete, timber, and glass compose the energy efficient 5,865 square-foot two-story structure that has solar roof panels and is earthquake resistant.
Prior to the pandemic, the Mukilteo-Clinton route moved more than 2 million vehicles and 4 million riders annually. The new multimodal terminal connects to city and county buses, a Sound Transit commuter rail station, and park-and-ride, all in close proximity to Mukilteo Lighthouse Park, Edgewater Park, and Japanese Gulch trails. It is 4.7 miles by road from the ferry dock to the Paine Field Airport, which opened for passenger service on March 4, 2019.
A Quiet Celebration
The evening of December 29, 2020 was rainy. All new terminal features were not completed, including vehicle holding areas, terminal elevators, and overhead passenger loading, which were scheduled to be completed in February 2021. The Suquamish (launched in 2017 for the Mukilteo-Clinton run) made practice runs prior to the official event and, upon boarding in Clinton at 5:35 p.m., riders were given commemorative banners that read: "SR 525 Mukilteo Ferry Terminal 12-29-2020." Upon arrival at Mukilteo, walking passengers waved, drivers honked and they were greeted with the cheers and applause of onlookers viewing from the new terminal's second level.
Due to the pandemic, speeches and ribbon cutting were done virtually, via a WSDOT video. The media extensively covered the event. Phillip Narte, tribal liaison with Washington State Ferries, said: "The Ferry Terminal has been the most challenging project I have been involved in due in part to the collaboration with 11 tribal governments and the associated cultural and historical issues. I believe the project will become a model for how local, state and tribal governments can work together. The Mukilteo Multimodal Ferry Terminal is the most rewarding and satisfying project that I will ever work on" ("LMN Architects Celebrate ...").
Charles Torres, Mukilteo Design Project Manager at WSF, stated the importance of working closely with local tribes: "We listened intently and realized our project had to tell a story, one that had been partially hidden from the general public for years and covered under a Cold War fueling tank farm and a pioneer lumber mill before that. The group of designers asked to bring the project together embraced the goal of designing a new ferry terminal and honored and respected the values of the Coast Salish people. While only a transportation facility, it owes a debt to the generations of people who occupied this beautiful piece of land along the Salish Sea thousands of years before our time. The project is light on the earth and wrapped in cedar" ("LMN Architects Celebrates ...").