Structure Type: built works - military buildings

Designers: Olmsted Brothers, Landscape Architects (firm); John Charles Olmsted (landscape architect)

Dates: constructed 1898-1900

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3801 West Government Way
Magnolia, Seattle, WA 98199-1014

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Fort Lawton later became Discovery Park, part of the the Seattle Department of Parks and Recreation system. Its address is derived from that of the current Discovery Park Office.


Work began on the US Army facility known as "Fort Lawton" in 1898, during the Spanish-American War. (See “History of Seattle Year-by-Year from 1850 to 1909, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 12/27/1908, p. 5.) It was named in 1900 for Henry Ware Lawton, a US Army Major General killed in the Philippines during the war. Ownership of most of Fort Lawton reverted to the City of Seattle in 1971.

Building Notes

During the Spanish-American War, property owners in the Magnolia neighborhood of Seattle were lobbied to cede land (703 acres) to the government for a military base; it was seen as a patriotic and economically positive step at the time. The base opened in 1900, and was reconfigured to serve infantry training in 1902. John C. Olmsted (1852-1920), a partner in the renowned Olmsted Brothers landscape architectural firm, redesigned the fort's enlisted and officer's housing areas in 1910. The base's economic advantages for the City of Seattle never panned out, and it tried in 1917 to get the land back, to no avail. In 1938, the Army offered Fort Lawton to the City of Seattle for $1, but, because of the draining effects of the Depression, it declined, citing the maintenance costs of the parcel.

In 1969, the powerful Washington Senator, Henry M. Jackson (born 05/31/1912-d. 09/01/1983), introduced legislation making it possible for cities to recover surplus military land for no cost. Seattle initiated this process, and received, in 1971, 391 acres from the Army. This parcel became Seattle's Discovery Park.

Not all land from Fort Lawton was returned in 1971. The Capehart Houses, operated by the U.S. Navy, and 26 early Army officer's row houses were retained. Discovery Park was later designated a City of Seattle Historic Landmark. In 2007, the U.S. Army Reserve still controlled 700 acres. Fort Lawton was included on the Federal Government's Base Realignment and Closure List for 2005. All personnel living in the Capehart Housing cluster left by 12/2009, and the residential area was razed the following summer. The fort finally closed for good on 09/14/2011, when the Army's 364th Expeditionary Sustainment Command transferred operations elsewhere.

Building Notes

Fort Lawton was first occupied by the US Army and covered approximately 534 acres. Opening on 02/09/1900, it was named for Henry Ware Lawton (1843-1899), a well-known US Army Major-General, who was the second in command of all US Forces in the Philippines during the Spanish American War. Lawton was killed in the Battle of San Mateo, on 12/19/1899, along with 13 of his men. Lawton had the habit of actually facing fire himself, leading his troops into combat. For this tendency to share his hardships with his men, he was much admired. His death was well-publicized in the US, with many newspaper profiles of the general as a charismatic, dogged and successful commander.

During World War II, the US Army interned approximately 1,000 German soldiers at Fort Lawton, and temporarily lodged 5,000 Italian POWs who were being shipped to permanent camps in HI. In the 1950s, the military located Nike anti-aircraft missiles at the fort, which required the installation of advanced radar equipment to operate effectively. Over the years, various branches of the military were stationed at or near the fort, including members of the Army, Navy, Coast Guard and Air Force.

National Register of Historic Places (August 15, 1978): 78002752 NRHP Images (pdf) NHRP Registration Form (pdf)

PCAD id: 5407