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Fort Lawton was a United States Army post located in the Magnolia neighborhood of Seattle, Washington overlooking Puget Sound. In 1973 a large majority of the property, 534 acres of Fort Lawton, was given to the city of Seattle and dedicated as Discovery Park. Both the Fort and the nearby residential neighborhood of Lawton Wood are named after Maj. Gen. Henry Ware Lawton.

Fort Lawton
Fort lawton gym.JPG
Fort Lawton post exchange and gymnasium
LocationSeattle, Washington
Architectural styleColonial Revival
NRHP reference #78002752
Added to NRHPAugust 15, 1978
In the Historic District, looking toward Puget Sound. The visible buildings are, left to right, the Band Barracks, Guard House and Quartermasters Stables.

While Fort Lawton was a quiet outpost prior to World War II, it became the second largest port of embarkation of soldiers and materiel to the Pacific Theater during the war. The fort was included in the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure list. Fort Lawton officially closed on September 14, 2011.


In 1896, the Secretary of War selected what would later be Fort Lawton for construction of an artillery battery intended to defend Seattle and the south Puget Sound from naval attack. Local citizens and governments donated 703 acres (2.84 km2) land to the United States Army for the installation the next year.

Soldiers taking a break at Fort Lawton in 1900 by Theodore E. Peiser

Fort Lawton was named after Maj. Gen. Henry Ware Lawton (1843–1899), a veteran of the American Civil War, the Indian Wars, and Spanish–American War campaigns, who was killed in action in the Philippines. The fort opened on February 9, 1900[1] on a 1,100 acres (4.5 km2)

The military encampment was redesigned in 1902 for infantry use. In 1910, a design overhaul, to include housing for officers and enlisted men, was prepared by landscape architect John C. Olmsted. In 1938 during the Great Depression, the Army offered to sell Fort Lawton back to the city of Seattle for one dollar, but the city declined, citing maintenance concerns.

Boxer RebellionEdit

Fort Lawton was used as a marshalling camp for soldiers preparing to travel to China to deal with the Boxer Rebellion. Seattle photographer Theodore E. Peiser photographed to horse corrals, soldiers, and U.S.A.T. ships that departed Seattle for Nome, Alaska on their way to China for the conflict.

Buffalo SoldiersEdit

On October 5, 1909 the United States Army's 25th Infantry Regiment which primarily consisted of African American soldiers transferred from the Philippines to Fort Lawton. These men are known as the Buffalo Soldiers. They acquired the name from the indigenous people of the Great Plains in the 1870s and 1880s.[2] It was due to their appearance that the indigenous people entitled the Buffalo Soldiers, as their dark curly hair resembled the coat of a buffalo. The soldiers welcomed name with honor and pride for the buffalo has a fighting spirit and is fiercely brave.[3] The following year the soldiers' families arrived. The initial 900 men stationed at the fort and their families accounted for about a third of Seattle's African American population.[2]

World War llEdit

During World War II, at least 20,000 troops at a time were stationed at Fort Lawton, with more than 1 million troops passing through both before and after the war. It was the second-largest port of embarkation for US forces and materiel to the Pacific Theater during the war.

The post was also used as a prisoner-of-war camp, with more than 1,000 Germans imprisoned there. Approximately 5,000 Italians were passed through en route to Hawaii for imprisonment. On August 15, 1944 an Italian POW, Guglielmo Olivotto, was found murdered at Fort Lawton after a night of rioting between Italian POWs and American soldiers. Twenty-eight African-American soldiers were later court-martialed, convicted of the crime, and sent to prison. They and their families challenged the convictions; after an investigation, the convictions were set aside in 2007. A formal army apology ceremony was held on July 26, 2008; officials also presented the relatives of former US soldiers and the two remaining survivors with years of back pay, following the overturn of their dishonorable discharges.[4][5]

On Memorial Day 1951, a grove of trees and monument honoring the war dead was dedicated near the post chapel. The Korean War brought a flurry of activity as troops headed to or returned from Korea were processed through Fort Lawton. In February 1953, the Fort Lawton Processing Center transferred half of its functions, the outbound tasks, to Fort Lewis (now called Joint Base Lewis McChord). Returnees continued to process through Fort Lawton.

In 1960, the Air Force established a radar station at Fort Lawton. Additionally, Nike anti-aircraft missiles and Air Force radars were in use at Fort Lawton, but in 1968 the site was rejected for proposed defense upgrades.

In 1970, the Fort was occupied for three weeks in March by a group of Native Americans, led by Bernie Whitebear, claiming that the Native Americans had claim to the land that was about to be surplussed.[6] The Native Americans succeeded in garnering 40 acres of land and the establishment of the Daybreak Star Cultural Center, but 534 acres (2.16 km2) of the land was surplussed by the Army in 1971. The property was transferred back to the city in 1972, and dedicated as Discovery Park in 1973.[7]


In 2005, the fort was included in the Base Realignment and Closure list for that year. Fort Lawton's family housing has been used by the U.S. Navy for Navy and Coast Guard personnel for almost 40 years. It is currently being vacated, with the officer and NCO housing scheduled to be sold to the public when the market improves. The Capehart Housing in the center of the park was vacated by December 2009 and demolished during the summer of 2010; the land has become part of Discovery Park.

Fort Lawton officially closed on September 14, 2011, and the 364th Expeditionary Sustainment Command, the last U.S. Army Reserve tenant on the post, moved to its new facility in Marysville, Washington. A closing ceremony took place on February 25, 2012.[8] The remainder of the fort property (with the exception of the military cemetery[9] on site) was transferred to the City of Seattle in 2012. As of 2018, there are plans to convert the property into low-income housing.[10] On 10 June 2019 the Seattle City Council voted to build 200 plus low income and homeless housing units on part of the property but local residents vow to sue to block such development.

Historic districtEdit

The Fort Lawton Historic District (FLHD) in the heart of Discovery Park contains numerous historic buildings and structures that were once in, and part of, Fort Lawton. The following list includes only buildings and structures that survived at least into the 1980s.

Structure Constructed Comments Image
417 Administration Building 1902    
640 Double Officers Quarters 1904    
642 Double Officers Quarters 1904    
644 Double Officers Quarters 1904    
653 Air Defense Operations Building 1960 torn down 2008  
654 FAA Radar Building ca. 1959 torn down 2008  
Radar buildings

Building 672 and 670 can also be seen at left, and 640–644 at right.
655 FAA Radar Antenna Dome ca. 1959  
670 Single Officers Quarters 1904    
670-area housing
672 Double Officers Quarters 1899  
676 Double Officers Quarters 1899  
679 Double Officers Quarters 1899  
681 Reviewing Stand 1900    
730 Double Barracks 1904 Destroyed by fire February 13, 1983  
731 Double Barracks 1899    
S-732 Post Gymnasium 1942  
733 Post Exchange and Gymnasium 1905    
734 Band Barracks 1904    
735 Bakehouse 1902 Bakery until ca. 1938, offices until ca. 1960, no longer exists  
754 Quartermaster Shops 1905 no longer exists  
755 Civilian Employees Quarters 1908    
T-756 Commissary Warehouse 1939 no longer exists  
757 Quartermaster Storehouse 1899 no longer exists  
759 Guard House 1902    
T-760 Storehouse 1938 Used at some point as a garage for a fire truck, no longer exists  
T-761 Bus Stop 1949 Scenes from movie Expiration Date (released 2006), filmed at this location  
901 Double NCO Quarters 1933    
900-area housing
902 Double NCO Quarters 1933  
903 Double NCO Quarters 1904  
904 Single Family NCO Quarters 1930s Burned down approximately 2000 
905 Double NCO Quarters 1899  
906 Single NCO Quarters 1902 Former hospital steward's quarters; previously adjacent to post hospital, north east of administration building, moved to present location around WWII
907 Double NCO Quarters 1899  
909 Double NCO Quarters 1904  
915 Quartermaster Storehouse 1905 no longer exists  
915A Addition to Quartermaster Storehouse 1939 no longer exists  
915B Bulk Storage Warehouse 1938 no longer exists  
916 Quartermaster Stables 1908    
Building 916
917 Quartermaster Stables 1902  
S-918 Post Engineer Facility and Vehicle Storage Building 1904 Later turned into a groundskeeper's building, no longer exists  

Source for buildings, construction dates, comments:[11]

The ChapelEdit

Chapel-on-the-Hill[12] is outside the Historic District, has the status of a city landmark.[13] In July 2008, The City Council passed an Ordinance that changed the boundary of the Fort Lawton Landmark District to include The Chapel and the Chapel Grounds.[14]


  • Fort Lawton Landmark District, Department of Neighborhoods (City of Seattle)
  • Heather MacIntosh, Preservation at Fort Lawton and Discovery Park, Preservation Seattle (Historic Seattle), January 2004.
  • Yardley, William (October 26, 2007). "1944 Conviction of Black G.I.'s Is Ruled Flawed" (Newspaper article). The New York Times. Retrieved 2007-10-28.
  • City of Seattle ordinance number 114011 Retrieved 2015-12-16.


  1. ^ Wilma, David (October 17, 1999). "Fort Lawton is established on February 9, 1900". Essay 1757. Retrieved 2010-04-02.
  2. ^ a b "Buffalo Soldiers are stationed at Fort Lawton beginning on October 5, 1909". Retrieved 2018-06-07.
  3. ^ "Buffalo Soldiers - National Park Service" (PDF).
  4. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2008-07-30. Retrieved 2008-07-27.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  5. ^ Yardley, "1944 Conviction of Black G.I.’s Is Ruled Flawed"
  6. ^ Lossom Allen, "By Right of Discovery: United Indians of All Tribes Retakes Fort Lawton, 1970", Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History Project, Fall 2005. Accessed 3 March 2018.
  7. ^ Duane Colt Denfeld, "Fort Lawton to Discovery Park", Essay 8772, 23 September 2008. Accessed 2 April 2010.
  8. ^ Gutierrez, Scott (24 Feb 2012). "Historic Fort Lawton will officially close during weekend ceremony" (Newspaper article). Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Retrieved 2012-02-25.
  9. ^ Fort Lawton Military Cemetery; 47°39′37″N 122°24′22″W / 47.6604°N 122.4060°W / 47.6604; -122.4060
  10. ^ "Fort Lawton Redevelopment", City of Seattle. Accessed 16 January 2018.
  11. ^ Steve Wilke and Karen James, An Archeological Evaluation of the Fort Lawton Historical District, Seattle, Geo-Recon International (Seattle), July 1984. A report submitted to the City of Seattle Department of Parks and Recreation. p 43–47.
  12. ^ Marriage Certificate between Walter J. Monkerud and Eva Lee Start performed by army chaplin, on June 14, 1943, (# 91322) uses the name "Chapel-on-the-Hill, Ft. Lawton
  13. ^ Landmarks Alphabetical Listing for F Archived 2011-07-21 at the Wayback Machine, Individual Landmarks, Department of Neighborhoods, City of Seattle. Accessed 28 December 2007.
  14. ^ Ordinance Number 122750

External linksEdit


Coordinates: 47°39′40″N 122°24′53″W / 47.66104°N 122.41479°W / 47.66104; -122.41479