Queen City Yacht Club
Presented by former Historian Captain Lloyd Vosper and Commodore Scott Grimm
If anything, the linking of Lake Washington to the tidewaters of Puget Sound created a spark that ignited the founding of Queen City Yacht Club. The construction and completion of the Lake Washington Ship Canal and the Hiram Chittenden Locks, in 1916, made all but inevitable the development of a club that could take advantage of both salt and fresh water cruising.
By the late fall of 1915 and early winter of 1916, the government had been working on the locks in Ballard for many months excavating, dredging and pouring enormous quantities of concrete. The channel dredging had been completed in Salmon Bay and had reached well toward Lake Union. Fishermen’s Dock (now Fishermen’s Terminal) could be reached by boat at high tide, but when the tide was out the boats rested in the mud. Native Americans fished for salmon from a low level bridge at Fremont. Lake Washington was nine feet higher than Portage Bay, and the outlet was just about opposite the end of our Dock 3. Pleasure boat owners, whose activity has been restricted to Lake Union or Salmon Bay, were looking forward to the time when they would access Lake Washington and the magnificent cruising waters of Puget Sound.
Naturally, boat owners in the Ballard and Fremont area were most receptive to the proposal of forming a boating club in “the north end”. Mr. J.W. Lough, the founder and the second commodore of Queen City Yacht Club, inserted in a spring 1916 issue of the Fremont Colleague an item “calling a meeting for the purpose of forming a motor boat club at 8:00 p.m., Monday night, May 8th, 1916, in the Fremont Hall.” Fifteen enthusiastic boaters attended the meeting and completed the membership. The initiation fee was one dollar. The members were in complete agreement that this was to be “an average man’s boat club where each man would be equal to all others, where his family would be in proper surroundings, and an added opportunity afforded of getting acquainted with other boat men.” A committee was appointed to formulate bylaws and to submit a design for a distinctive pennant.
The first official meeting was held May 15, 1916, and “The simple set of bylaws was fashioned somewhat after the old Elliott Bay Yacht Club.” The matter of a name had been discussed at length, with most of the suggestions carrying the ending, “Motor Boat Association”. It was Captain MacNichol’s suggestion that the club be named a “Yacht Club”. Captain Lough’s second suggestion, “Queen City Yacht Club” met with favorable reception because Seattle was known at the time as “The Queen City of the West”.
At the third meeting of the club, permanent officers were elected, resulting in the choice of William F. Herman as the first Commodore. The members enthusiastically embraced the Club and eight days later, with Commodore Lough leading aboard his flagship Friendship, twelve boats cruised across the Sound to LaView, near Point Monroe, to enjoy an old-fashioned clambake. “On this day, (Memorial Day, May 30, 1916) a new yacht club pennant whipped in the salt tangled breeze.” The Club was a part of the celebration of the official opening of the locks and received the distinction as being the first Club to traverse the newly opened Montlake Cut.
With such a lively beginning and without a permanent meeting place, the infant yacht club soon began to experience growing pains. A committee was formed, which submitted plans to the Port Commission asking them to build a meeting place on one of the stub piers of the Salmon Bay Dock. The Port Commission gave their whole-hearted approval and thus Queen City “came to have a new fifteen hundred dollar clubhouse in less than six months from the date of organization”. With some furnishings, the total cost came to $2028.20. The rental was fifty dollars per quarter. “Making it a gala occasion, with the Port Commissioners and many friends present, the house warming of the new clubhouse was celebrated on Thursday evening, October 26, 1916”.
In early 1918, owing to the tremendous growth of the shipbuilding industry and the immediate dock needs for the war, the United States government issued an urgent request for space. The Queen City Yacht Club willingly released their building and location at Salmon Bay to the war cause. At a special meeting called for the purpose of determining the quickest and easiest way to relocate, the members decided to build a floating clubhouse. In order to avoid every possible expense, several members volunteered their services as loggers and carpenters to construct such a clubhouse on cedar logs.
November of 1918 saw the Club “firmly” established in the clubhouse at a street end on Westlake. The as-you-go design did not incorporate a great deal of stability, so it was necessary on meeting nights for members to be evenly distributed throughout the room to keep water from shipping in and getting the members’ feet wet. Although the Westlake location was not ideal, it had one redeeming feature in that there was no rent to pay. Funds accumulated in the treasury and within a few short years, the Club was able to purchase two lots in the vicinity of the southeast pier of the University Bridge (where the original Red Robin stood for years). This location “was easily reached by automobile or streetcars which passed every few minutes”.
With the rapid growth of the Club, it soon became obvious that the 150 feet of waterfront would not be adequate for future growth. These parcels were used as leverage to purchase property at Edgar and Fairview on Lake Union. In 1926, with notes subscribed to by the members, the Club purchased a large old building owned by the Seattle Rod and Gun Club on the Duwamish. Commodore Ernie Wolfe came up with the solution for moving the building to the Fairview site, and in his own words, “we cut off most of the pilings, pushed a barge under the building at low tide so when the tide came in all we had to do was tow it away”. This clubhouse served the Club for several years as the country entered into the Great Depression.
Although the mortgage on the Fairview property was not burned until 1935, the Board of Directors with great foresight purchased the present site on July 2, 1934, for the sum of $12,000. Acquiring four hundred feet of waterfront during the height of The Depression was risky, but the gamble paid off. The property sported three docks, two of which moored boats and the third mooring houseboats. Fortunately, too, the land underneath the docks was dry land prior to the lowering of Lake Washington, so the Club owned the title to that property, as well.
The Club set to work building a clubhouse and the new structure was dedicated on November 8, 1938. This event is memorialized by a special brick centered in the fireplace on the third deck. With raw materials not available, World War II limited expansion and development of the facilities and so the treasury slowly but surely built up. Through careful fiscal management, the membership enjoyed another mortgage burning on January 4, 1944. The end of the war brought rapid growth to the Club, as GIs returned from overseas and set about getting on with their lives. Meeting minutes record one general meeting inducting nearly fifty members in one night. This explosion provided much needed revenue and the Club added the present second deck to the clubhouse to include the caretakers’ quarters and the original lounge and snack bar. Further, the Club set about rebuilding, rewiring, and extending all three docks. Ultimately, the houseboats and their residents on Dock 3 were removed to provide more moorage for members’ boats.
The early 1950s continued to see continued growth of the Club and one amusing event sparked the further expansion of the docks and the building of the covers. At that time, many members provided covers for their boats by building Quonset hut-style covers over their slips. The Club was ordered by the county not to build any more of these huts, especially double-slip covers. In 1951, when the club ignored the county, sheriffs arrived at the Club, delivered a cease and desist order, and placed Commodore Ray Hacker in handcuffs and hauled him off to the hoosegow. The Club realized it needed a more permanent solution to covers and began the process for extending Dock 3 and designing and building permanent covers. Again, members volunteered their services and time, including architecture, project management, and electrical skills. The club negotiated the purchase of additional lake bottom outside Dock 3 from the state and private owners to ensure easy ingress and egress, and commenced the final extension of Dock 3. By 1959, the first phase of the project covered 70 boats. It was the culmination of nearly ten years of planning and devotion to the plan. The second stage for an additional 78 slips was completed in 1963. Dock 1 was rebuilt seventy feet to the north to provide a wider causeway between Docks 1 and 2. The work slip that was originally positioned by the willow tree to the north of Dock 1 was repositioned to the south side of Dock 3. The shore side portion of Dock 3 was rebuilt three feet north when it was discovered by survey that it extended into city property. Dock 2 was slightly shortened on the landside to provide more parking space. The purchase of the underwater lots, the dock extension, and the covers totaled $300,000 and was covered by an over-subscribed bond issue to the members. The bonds were retired in twenty years on schedule.
During the latter part of the 50s and into the early 60s, the second Lake Washington Bridge was built, and thanks to some great effort by a couple of very influential members, the bridge placement skirted our valuable property. During this era, the present parking was effectively split into two lots, one to the north and one to the south, with a small, thin stretch of land connecting the two lots. The lots were also narrow, with lake water lapping up to an area by the present-day light pole on the north lot, and approximately 50-60 feet into the present day south lot. As part of the demolition projects for the building of I-5, Past Commodore Bob Burfitt, a construction company owner, filled in the gap between the lots with the excess concrete and dirt from the demolition projects. He also filled in the areas in front of Docks 1 and 2. When you go onto Docks 1 or 2, you will notice that the slip numbers do not start at 101 or 201, respectively, due to the removal of those slips for this project.
For the first fifty years, events like Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Labor Day were celebrated with cruises to different places. By the mid-60s, the Club decided it wanted an outstation where members could celebrate these events and also have a destination for members to gather at different times. In 1968, the Club purchased two lots in Eagle Harbor and members proceeded to build docks for their new outstation. In 1970, member Cliff Roberts spearheaded the commencement of construction of a clubhouse on the property, with raw logs cut from the San Juan Islands and a design literally laid out on a paper napkin. By 1971, through the efforts of scores of members, whether through manual labor or monetary contribution, the clubhouse was completed and dedicated. Today, through the hard work of our forefathers, we enjoy one of the nicest outstations in Puget Sound.
By the 1980s, the boathouses on the end of Dock 3 were nearing the end of their lifespans, and the Club embarked on a program of purchasing these sheds from members who owned them. The Club built replacement sheds in 1987 and you will notice their design is similar to that which the Club replaced – a requirement of the state and city ordinances.
In the mid-90s, The Club recognized that its main station clubhouse was in serious need of a remodel after 60 years of use, so it embarked on an ambitious $2 million project to rebuild the clubhouse. During demolition and construction, meetings were held in a trailer in front of Dock 2. In 1999, the remodeled clubhouse was dedicated by Commodore Dick Timmerman and the membership. Again, thousands of man hours were donated to the Club by members to assist in its design and implementation, and the membership again stepped up to subscribe to bonds and notes. Those notes were retired in early 2017.
The 2000s saw the Club again reinvesting in itself, with the commencement of the replacement of the roof of the covers in 2005-2006, the addition of fire vents, and the addition of slips to the end of Dock 1. More importantly, the electrical system on the docks, due to its age, required replacement. The membership stepped up once again and approved a short-term mortgage of $1.3 million to replace the entire system and upgrade the power availability to members.
This history, if anything, demonstrates the resourcefulness and foresight of its members. Throughout its history, members have stepped up when needed and made incredible decisions that have made this Club great. It is a testament to the wonderful type of people this Club attracts to its rolls.
Narrated slideshow of the first 100 years