Roanoke Street history: houseboats, Boeing’s first flight and Roanoke Reef

Houseboats at Roanoke, 1953 (Seattle Municipal Archives, via Flickr)

The Seattle Municipal Archives recently posted an intriguiging photo on their Flickr photostream of Lake Union houseboats at Roanoke.

The photo was taken in 1953 and would appear to be in the same spot where Mallard Cove houseboats float today. I wasn’t aware that this spot had previously contained houseboats. These 1953 models are a little more rustic than the homes anchored there today.


This part of the lake was the spot where a significant piece of Seattle history was made: Bill Boeing flew his first airplane in the air above Lake Union. HistoryLink.org has this to say about the B&W Bluebill’s flight on June 15, 1916:

B&W stood for the initials of Boeing and his partner Navy Lt. Conrad Westervelt. Herb Munter also helped to design and construct the two-seat, single-engine float plane in the Pacific Aero Club’s hangar-boathouse in a converted house at the foot of Roanoke Street in Seattle.

Boeing didn’t stay on Roanoke for long. By 1919, the company had moved to the Red Barn on the Duwamish River. The Red Barn is now part of the Museum of Flight.

Another historic moment for this area of lake came in 1971 when developers began construction on Roanoke Reef, a 112-unit condo project over the water at the foot of Roanoke Street. The concrete base and part of the parking garage were built before construction was stopped. According to HistoryLink.org:

It began with the bulldozing of the historic Boeing hanger. The Floating Homes Association joined a suit with the Eastlake Community Council to stop construction, but not before the pilings, platform, and part of the first story were built. The project was never completed.

Eventually, the pier was removed to make way for the Roanoke Reef houseboat community.

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