South Lake Union, Seattle, 2018, Photo by Joe Mabel (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Broad Street and Mercer Street, Courtesy Seattle Municipal Archives (60906)
South Lake Union Streetcar, Terry Avenue and Thomas Street, Photo by Robert Scheuerman, CC BY-SA 3.0

South Lake Union

Where Seattle's past meets its high-tech future

by David B. Williams
Listen (English Only)

When Seattle was founded in 1851, Lake Union was the backwater of a backwater town. A natural dam at Montlake sealed it off from Lake Washington, while only a tiny stream through Fremont drained it into Puget Sound. Development accelerated after David Denny built the Western Mill in 1882, near the site of today’s Museum of History and Industry, and cut a weir to float logs between the lakes. Homes soon began to appear on Lake Union’s south shore, many housing immigrants from Scandinavia, Greece, Russia, and America’s own teeming East. In 1894, the Cascade School opened in the heart of the neighborhood, and with its nearby playfield, soon became its soul. In 2007, Amazon announced that it was consolidating its Seattle operations in South Lake Union, triggering a massive and ongoing growth spurt.

Learn More about South Lake Union at

Walking Distance: 3 miles
Terrain: City sidewalks and urban parks; some hills
Bus: Google Map Directions

Tour Stops

From the nearby Metro bus stop at Fairview Avenue N and Thomas Street, head east on Thomas one block to Minor Avenue. About 90 feet north of the intersection on the west side of Minor, look for a metal plaque...


Immanuel Lutheran Church

1215 Thomas Street

Thirty-three Norwegians started Immanuel Lutheran congregation in 1890 and built their first building at Minor Avenue and Olive Way in 1892. As attendance grew, the congregation opted to move, purchased the corner of Thomas Street and Pontius Avenue in 1907,...


Site of Pontius Mansion

1250 Denny Way

The City Light Substation here is built on the site of the former Pontius Mansion. In 1865, Rezin and Margaret Pontius migrated from Ohio to Seattle, where Rezin began to speculate in real estate, including buying a 160-acre tract that...


Seattle Times Facade

1120 John Street

The Seattle Times Building formerly stood on this site. All that remains is the façade. When the building went up in 1931, one could buy more than 150 different newspapers printed in Seattle, including several dailies and papers printed in...


Troy Laundry Facade

307 Fairview Avenue N

Troy Laundry was one of numerous commercial laundry operations in the Cascade neighborhood in the 1920s. Because in-home washing machines and dryers were not yet common, many Seattle residents sent weekly bundles of dirty clothes and linens to commercial facilities....


C. B. Van Vorst Building Facade

426 Terry Ave N, Seattle

Like many buildings in this neighborhood of change, the Van Vorst Building has had many occupants. The original brick structure was built in 1909 for the Club Stables, which had room for 250 horses. By 1915, it was owned by...


Westlake Streetcar

Westlake Avenue and Denny Way

Built in 2007, the South Lake Union trolley follows the historic route of the Seattle Electric Railway and Power Company’s streetcar, which began operating on October 19, 1890, on what was then known as Rollin Street and is now Westlake...


Denny Park

100 Dexter Avenue N

Yet another place of change, Denny Park started as a burial ground on property that David and Louisa Denny had donated to the city in 1864. In 1884, the property — minus the burials, which had been moved to what...


By 1939, some 40 automobile-related businesses could be found on the 12-block stretch of Westlake Avenue near Lake Union. Little trace remains of Westlake’s thriving neighborhood of dealerships and repair shops except for the facades of William Osborne McKay’s glamorous...


Lake Union Park

800 Terry Avenue N

Lake Union is a place that has long required patience for visionaries. At a July 4 picnic in 1854, Thomas Mercer, who had recently claimed land on the south shore of a small lake known in the Chinook trading jargon...


The south end of the lake experienced its first industrial development when the Seattle Coal & Transportation Company railroad began running on March 22, 1872. Built to bring coal from the east side of Lake Washington to Elliott Bay, the...


Center for Wooden Boats

1010 Valley Street

Long a center for the maritime industry, Lake Union is still home to many historic vessels. The Center for Wooden Boats owns the 1906 steam launch Puffin and the 1926 racing sloop Pirate (listed on the National Register of Historic...


Ford Assembly Plant Building

700 Fairview Avenue N

The Ford Motor Company opened this five-story plant for the assembly of Model T cars. Plant workers began assembling cars in March 1914, using engines and other parts shipped from Detroit. The assembly-line process started on the top floor and...


Supply Laundry

1265 Republican Street

In 1905, the Polk Directory to the City of Seattle included 37 laundries and 35 “Chinese and Japanese” laundries. One of those was the Supply Laundry, which a year later built a one-story, 106-foot-long brick building. Over the next few...


St. Spiridon Cathedral

400 Yale Avenue N

St. Spiridon was founded by Serbian-American missionary priest Father Sebastian Dabovich in 1895 to serve Seattle’s many recent arrivals from Russia, Serbia, and the Near East. The young congregation’s first building was a wood-frame structure on Lakeview Boulevard on the...

This tour is made possible with the generous support of

Seattle Department of Neighborhoods

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