Jack Straw Special Project

Lake Union Oral History Project

Historian Holly Taylor and Jack Straw audio producer Jennie Cecil Moore completed a series of oral history interviews to document a part of Seattle's heritage through the stories of long time residents, workers and preservationists.

The project's focus is the history and development of Lake Union's shoreline, from the perspective of the water, including stories of ship yards, houseboats, bridges, industrial sites, the natural environment, and other unique and distinctive aspects of this area.

The project team noted that several history books have been published about Seattle's neighborhoods, from Ballard to Queen Anne to Capitol Hill, but few historical records document Lake Union as a community, and fewer still that look at the role of water-related industries in Seattle's history and development.

Watch "Lake Union: Past and Present"

Speaker Biographies
Ken Leask was born in Metlakatla, Alaska. He was a fisherman in Alaska and Washington. He was a Bus Driver for Seattle Transit, November 1955-August 1967 and a Bridge Operator for Seattle Engineering, August 1967-December 1996.

Interview with Ken Leask:

David K. Leask was born in Seattle. He has been a Seattle Bridge Operator since July 1987. He has been Senior Operator for Ballard Bridge since September 1997.

Interview with David Leask:

Susan D. Boyle, a principal with BOLA Architecture, was educated in art history and architecture, and focuses on historic preservation in her professional and civic work. In the last 20 years her architectural projects have involved over 90 properties which are listed on the National Register or designated as local landmarks, they include museums, school and park facilities, theaters and civic buildings.

Interview with Susan Boyle (with Pat Fels):

Patricia Fels is the founder and principal architect of PTF Architects. Her involvement with Lake Union goes back thirty years and includes work with the houseboat community, an inventory of historic buildings in South Lake Union followed by consultation on the first SLU Neighborhood Plan, and the landmarking of Gas Works Park.

Interview with Pat Fels (with Susan Boyle):

In spite of his history, geography and social studies teachers, Dick Wagner has always been a history fanatic. He became a classic boat nut when friends invited him to sail as moveable ballast. Back in high school he rowed to make a difference and in Seattle he discovered he could by making history a direct experience, with no textbooks allowed.

Interview with Dick Wagner:

Jann McFarland grew up in Seattle and moved into a rental houseboat on Lake Union in 1972 after staying on her fatherís houseboat in the fall of 1971. In 1974 she was able to purchase a houseboat for $6,000 with a loan from her father. Sid and Jann were married in 1978 and purchased their moorage in the mid 1980s when the Log Foundation co-op was formed. Jann was on the Floating Homes Association Board for many years and currently is Office Manager for the Association. She also is Vice President and one of the founders of their houseboat co-op.

Sid McFarland grew up in a land house just up a driveway from the houseboats in Portage Bay and as a kid was the paper boy for much of the floating home community. After several different career paths, including building houses, Sid started his business, S.J. McFarland, Inc as a General Contractor in 1994 and works almost exclusively on houseboats, understanding the differences in the way you have to think when working on a floating home.

Interview with Jann and Sid McFarland:

Howard Hansen is a retired boat builder and Quileute tribal elder who worked in the Seattle and West Coast maritime trades for fifty years. He was raised on the Olympic Peninsula, and apprenticed with Danish boat builder John Hanson in Ballard as a teenager. He worked at many of the boat yards around the Lake Washington ship canal, and at several different ship yards from Southern California to Alaska. He also worked a fisherman and tug boat operator. He is currently a member of the Executive Board of Local 1184.

Interview with Howard Hansen:

John Modrell is a retired boat builder, who worked for over 30 years at Vic Franck's Boat Company at North Lake Union. Born in Seattle and raised in Alaska, John learned the boat building trade at Edison Technical School. He is currently a member of the Executive Board of Local 1184.

Interview with John Modrell:

Zalmai (Zeke) Zahir (on the left) is a speaker of Puget Salish, and an instructor of the Lushootseed language and culture. He has studied and collaborated with Upper Skagit Vi Hilbert, and other tribal elders, researching, transcribing and translating Lushootseed. He has authored and co-authored a number of Lushootseed language publications, including Puget Sound Geography, based on the original manuscript by T.T. Waterman, edited with new material from Vi Hilbert, Zeke, and Jay Miller. More information can be found at www.pugetsalish.com

Jay Miller, PhD, (on the right) has just served two years as founding coordinator of American Indien [sic] Studies at Ohio State University, with a focus on the Native Midwest and earthen mounds. He is a linguist and anthropologist known for his wide-ranging fieldwork, scholarship, and publications with many Native communities across North America, especially in the Northwest. He has worked with Vi Hilbert for three decades, edited for Lushootseed Press, and serves as an adviser for the Salish Art exhibit opening at Seattle Art Museum in October. He is the author of Lushootseed Culture and the Shamanic Odyssey, and many other books.

Interview with Zalmai (Zeke) Zahir:


Interview with Jay Miller:


An audio sampler from the interviews is available for download. Completed recordings and transcriptions are available at Jack Straw Productions. The project has been supported by grants from 4Culture (King County Lodging Tax) and the Hugh and Jane Ferguson Foundation. For more information, contact project director Holly Taylor at holly@pastforwardnw.com or 206.463.3168 or contact us at Jack Straw Productions, (206) 634-0919, jsp@jackstraw.org.