On March 8, 1926, King County transfers ownership of 413 acres at Sand Point to the United States Navy for use as an airstrip. Except for 40 acres near Pontiac Bay, most of the remaining area is either covered with second-growth Doug-fir trees or used for grazing. The Ferry Leary Land Company owns most of the uninhabited land. At this time, among those who reside at Sand Point are the families of Lawrence LeMar, Peter Peterson, Ernest Benson, Anton Smedsrud, Martin Marston, and Benton Embree.
Sand Point’s Largest Land Holder
Before 1920, when King County started to acquire the property, most (230 acres) of the uninhabited land was owned by the Ferry Leary Land Company. Anticipating the construction of a railroad line along Lake Washington, attorney, real estate investor, and capitalist John Leary (1837-1905) purchased the property in the 1880s. Elisha P. Ferry (1825-1895), in 1889 the first governor of the new state of Washington, formed a real estate partnership with Leary about 1892 and ownership of Leary’s Sand Point holdings was transferred to the Ferry Leary Land Company partnership. The Sand Point holdings proved to be a poor investment. Most of the land lay fallow and second-growth Doug-fir trees grew up on it until it was purchased for the Naval Air Station.
Community at Pontiac Bay
Most of the settlement east of Sand Point Way was concentrated on 40 acres between NE 75th and NE 80th streets and 60th and 65th avenues NE (as Sand Point Way heads north it follows 60th Avenue NE until it veers westerly at about NE 75th Street). In the early 1920s, just before the land was purchased for the Sand Point Naval Air Station, there were six residences located there. Following is a brief description of what is known about each residence, its owners and occupants. Proceeding from the south to the north:
By 1904, Lawrence E. LaMar (b. 1846) and family purchased 20 acres of land at northeast corner of NE 75th Street and 60th Avenue NE, likely cleared a portion of the land of its trees, and built a residence that the LaMars lived in until about 1911. Lawrence LaMar was born and raised in French Canada (Quebec) and learned the carpenter trade. In 1869, Lawrence married Flora and 11 years later the family immigrated to the United States. They lived in Missouri, Illinois, and Minnesota before moving about 1899 to Seattle just south of Lake Union.
The LaMars were probably drawn to Seattle by the Alaska gold rush boom. By 1900, of the 16 children that Flora and Lawrence had created, only six survived. The surviving offspring accompanied their parents to Seattle, including sons Hector (b. 1870) who worked as a house painter, Joseph W. (b. 1876) a machinist, John (b. 1881) a traveling salesman for Norris Safe and Lock Company, Lawrence E Jr. (b. 1883) a teamster and sales clerk, Arthur (b. 1894) who later worked in shipyards, and daughter Florence (b. 1880) employed at Crescent Manufacturing Company, a spice producer.
During the first decade of the twentieth century, Seattle's population exploded from 80,000 to 240,000, and there was an enormous demand for carpenters. By 1904, Lawrence Lamar quickly earned enough money to purchase land at Sand Point. The land was logged of its second-growth trees and the residence was completed for Flora, Lawrence, Arthur, and perhaps Hector and Florence to move into. By 1911 the family moved to 2916 NE 55th Street and within two or three years constructed an apartment house called LaMar Flats, which they operated at least until 1924. Although they left Sand Point they retained ownership of 10 acres of land at Sand Point and either raised cattle there or rented it out until it was sold to be used for the Naval Air Station.
In the late 1910s, Lamar sold five acres of his Sand Point land to Peter Peterson (b. ca 1865) a shipwright who had immigrated to the United States from Denmark in 1894. Peterson resided at Sand Point at least till 1922. He owned the land until purchased for the Naval Air Station.
In the summer of 1918, Emma W. and Ernest G. (b. ca. 1883) Benson, a gardener, acquired land near Pontiac Bay and established a nursery. Benson, born in Sweden, moved to the United States in 1898. He worked for a while as a miner, but by 1914 changed careers and with his brother Charles H. entered the gardening business and opened a florist shop on NE 45th Street near 14th Avenue (soon to be renamed University Way). They lived in the Montlake neighborhood of Seattle and probably had a nursery there. By 1918 the brothers had parted and Ernest was likely employed as one of the tens of thousands of shipworkers in the numerous Seattle and Lake Washington shipyards that were building "Liberty Ships," merchant ships for World War I.
When the war ended the shipyards started making drastic cutbacks. Shipyard workers, likely including Ernest Benson, went on strike and the rest of Seattle’s union workers soon followed in support. This became known as the Seattle General Strike (1919). Along with nearly all of the shipyard workers, Benson lost his job. He decided to reenter the nursery and landscape gardening business.
In August 1918 the Bensons purchased five acres from Lawrence and Flora LaMar. By no later than Spring 1919, Ernest along with his wife Emma W. and daughter Oliva A. (b. ca. 1918) were living at Sand Point and operating a nursery. He operated his nursery at Sand Point till at least 1922. The Bensons did not sell the property until it was purchased for the air station.
Sand Point’s Only Street
The only street on Sand Point that existed east of the Pontiac Road (later called Sand Point Way) was a five-block-long dirt road called 78th Street. It served the following three residences located between the road and Pontiac Bay to the north.
Within three years after his 1905 arrival from Norway to the United States, Anton Smedsrud (b. ca. 1888) purchased land at Pontiac Bay, Sand Point. In late 1908 he purchased 9.5 acres of land from shipbuilder and farmer Edward F. Lee. It would be about a dozen years before Smedsrud built a residence and moved there with his family.
He was in the mining business and he apparently moved around a lot to wherever jobs were available. When in Seattle he resided on Thomas Street in the Cascade neighborhood south of Lake Union where he was listed in directories on and off from 1911 until 1921. In January 1920, the U.S. Census listed a sawmill clerk named Arne Smedsrud living east of Fall City in the foothills of King County’s Cascade Mountains with his 26-year-old wife Esther, also born in Norway, and six-year-old daughter Ethel, born in Idaho. Smedsrud is an unusual name and this is the only Smedsrud listed in the 1920 Washington census, so it’s probably Anton Smedsrud.
Most of the mining activity in King County occurred in the eastern portion of the county. It’s probable that he was working as a clerk during the winter when mining activity was suspended. In 1921, Anton Smedsrud was listed in the Seattle directory residing at 1314 Thomas. The following year he was listed as living at Sand Point and employed as a carpenter. It is unknown when the Smedsruds moved from Sand Point, but they still owned the property when it was taken over for the air station.
East of the Smedsrud property attorney Frank Jones owned three acres of land that was never built on.
Merton H. Marston
In about 1918, poultry farmer Merton H. Marston (b. ca. 1872) ran a chicken ranch near Pontiac Bay, Sand Point, for four or five years. Marston and his wife Stella Mazie acquired four-and-a-half acres of land from George N. Lee, son of the shipbuilder and farmer Edward F. Lee, and moved into George Lee’s approximately 10-year-old house.
Marston, formerly employed in the mining business, apparently decided to make a drastic career change and go into the chicken business. He started building chicken coops on his Pontiac Bay farm until he completed about 500 feet of them. The chicken coops formed a footprint shaped like a squared-off "J." The Marstons operated the business until 1923, when they left chicken ranching and moved to the Columbia neighborhood in south Seattle. They continued as the owners until the land was purchased for the air station.
Apparently shortly after the Navy acquired the Marston property they converted the chicken coops into barracks for the Naval Reserve aviation cadets. It is likely that the Naval Air Reserve Station continued using the converted-chicken-coop barracks until the Navy built brick barracks in 1929 or 1930.
In 1926, after leaving Sand Point, 54-year-old Merton Marston made another major career change. From 1926 to 1931 he headed the Terry-Madison Company, the corporate owner of the Hotel Sorrento located at 1001 Terry Street in Seattle. Marston also served as the manager of the hotel.
In 1908, attorney Benton Embree purchased four-and-a-half acres of land at Pontiac Bay for his family residence. Benton Embree (1866-1937) was born and raised in Oregon and attended the University of Oregon. In 1891, he moved to Walla Walla where he started practicing law. In 1898, the newlyweds Benton and Florence P. Embree (ca. 1877-1958), relocated to Seattle. Shortly after arriving in Seattle, the Embrees had their only child, Harold B. (1899-1964).
The family lived in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle till early 1908 when they purchased land at Sand Point on the east side of Pontiac Bay for their residence. After probably logging the second growth trees, Embree financed the construction of a two-and-a-half story residence plus a smaller one and a half-story residence, likely used for servants' quarters or perhaps as a guest house. One of the first servants the Embrees hired was Herbert Pickup, a recent English immigrant.
From 1909 to 1922 Benton Embree had his office for his general legal practice in downtown Seattle at the New York Block, a building almost exclusively occupied by lawyers, which even had a legal library that was available to all tenants. Embree went into partnership with other lawyers, but those relationships never lasted long. Since trolley lines were too far away from his residence and the unpaved roads in north Seattle were in poor condition, Embree probably commuted to work in the train that passed by just a few blocks from his residence several times a day (later the railroad tracks were removed and the railbed was renamed the Burke-Gilman Trail).
In 1922 Embree was described as an “approachable, genial, and at all times a very busy man” (Boswell, 200). That same year he moved his office to the Mutual Life Building in Pioneer Square.
In a four-month period, the Embrees' Sand Point land holdings gradually increased in size until they had grown north by approximately 150 feet. From July to October 1916, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers lowered Lake Washington 8.8 feet in connecting Lake Washington to Lake Union for the Lake Washington Ship Canal. This exposed the muddy lake bottom and increased land holdings of owners along Lake Washington. It would take years for plants to start growing in the exposed mud. By 1923, the mud had solidified and a few grasses and weeds had established themselves. The lowered lake made useless any preexisting docks along the lake, including any dock the Embrees had.
The Embrees' only child, Harold B., was raised at Sand Point and attended the Pontiac School located just over half a mile away. During World War I, he served in the Army. He later worked for the Owl Drug Company and advanced to become the Northwest District Manager. In 1941 he moved from Seattle to Portland where he continued his association with Owl Drugstores.
The family lived at Sand Point until about 1926, when their land was purchased for the Naval Air Station. The Navy made use of the Embree buildings. According to D. N. Morris, one of the first Naval Reserve Aviation cadets to serve at Sand Point, the Navy converted the main Embree house into the Administration Building. Because of its white paint, the cadets called it the “White House.” The story goes that the commanding officer, apparently Lt. John H. Campman, who served in that position from late 1925 to spring 1928, ordered the squadron not to use the nickname because “There is only one White House in the United States.”
Over the years the Administration Building quartered the station doctor, officers club, sleeping quarters for visiting officers, commanding officer’s office, etc. In about 1930 the Administration Building was relocated to allow for improvements to the landing field. It was used at least until 1933 and probably longer.
The former Embrees' servants' quarters or guest house was converted into a dispensary and sleeping quarters, likely for officers and visiting dignitaries. It too was moved, and for a number of years the naval station used it.