Monthly Archives: February 2009

Houseboat History

Please visit the Lake Union Virtual Museum at
Howard Droker explanining traditional houseboat architecture
Author Howard Droker explaining traditional houseboat architecture

The newest chapter of the Lake Union Virtual Museum tell the story of one the lake’s most charming features: it’s floating homes.  Howard Droker, author of the definitive book on the subject, Seattle’s Unsinkable Houseboats, hosts a five and a half minute mini documentary video on the first page.

Droker takes us back to the early years of the 20th century, when houseboats were far from being the romantic and expensive enclaves they are today.  Unable to afford housing on land, Droker explains, many loggers, fishermen and itinerant workers lashed together rafts from floating logs and built shacks on top of them, using castoff materials from Seattle’s many lumber mills.

During the two World Wars, when war work at Boeing and PACCAR brought thousands of workers to Seattle, houseboat colonies expanded and played vital roles in relieving housing shortages.  As soon as shortages were over, however, the city did its best to eliminate what it saw as eyesores and communities too much on the fringe of society.

At one time the shores of Lake Union, Lake Washington and the Duwamish River bristled with thousands of houseboats, but today only a few small colonies on Lake Union remain.  Thanks to the work of a Communist newspaperman, who came out of retirement to organize the last of the houseboat community, floating homes survived the onslaughts of urban development to become proud symbols of Lake Union tradition, and among Seattle’s most cherished landmarks.

Currently this chapter consists of two pages, but I will be adding more historical materials in the future.  Take a nostalgic stroll down houseboat docks normally not accessible to the public by visting our latest chapter.