Lake Union is the lens through which we can view the history of Seattle. Home to Native American villages, lumber mills, airplanes, boat-building, the military, and recreation, Lake Union has a fascinating history.

We encourage you to learn more about the lake, its communities, its wildlife, and its industry.


Master landscape architect John Olmsted proposed a small park for the south Lake Union area as part of his 1903 Seattle Parks plan, but generally favored the lake’s development as an industrial and commercial hub. On July 1, 2000, the United States Navy deeded the five acres of land on which the Naval Reserve Building stands to Seattle Parks and Recreation. This land was added to a small five-acre South Lake Union Park site acquired by the City of Seattle in the 1980s. Groundbreaking ceremonies for the new Lake Union Park were held on February 28, 2007.

The Center For Wooden Boats, Northwest Seaport, the Virginia V Foundation, The Museum of History and Industry, United Indians of All Tribes, and other heritage organizations work together within the park to celebrate Seattle’s maritime heritage. Historic vessels dock at the South Lake Union Historic Ships Wharf, dedicated on June 2, 2004. The park is designed to accommodate large public celebrations in both indoor and outdoor spaces and to improve public access to the lake. Lake Union Park opened on September 25, 2010.

The City and the Seattle Parks Foundation created a multi-use loop around Lake Union. The vision is to invite community use and enjoyment of Lake Union; providing a loop that connects people to open space – connecting us to new and existing lakefront parks, celebrating the lake’s historic working waterfront, and revealing the unique character and quality of the lake itself.

The loop creates safe and attractive access to the lake for all Seattlites – connecting Gasworks and Lake Union Parks, linking more than 35 pocket parks, street ends and waterways that ring the lake, and improving access from adjacent neighborhoods, downtown, and the University of Washington.

This loop celebrates the rich and varied history of Lake Union and its ties to Seattle’s maritime and industrial past, present and future.


Observing Lake Union is an audio tour that focuses on four sites along the Cheshiahud Lake Union Loop: Lake Union Park, Fairview Park, Gas Works Park, and Lake Washington Ship Canal viewing spot under the Aurora Bridge on the Burke Gilman Trail. It explores the underlying ecology of Lake Union and its dramatic transformation through eras of geologic change, Native American stewardship, European settlement, commercial industry and large-scale infra structural development, as well as urban planning and park design.

Each site incorporates an introductory piece narrated by the Studio for Urban Projects, indicated with a sign and call-in number on the trail. Within each site, printed flags mark observation points and provide additional call-in numbers. Call in and listen to a collage of voices gathered from interviews with local scholars, ecologists, historians, plant experts, foragers, residents and designers, among others. The observations focus on the specifics of the site and collectively speak to the lake’s layered history.

You can call the project hotline at 206-395-2311, ext. 50, and offer you own observations about the site.

At the park, you can use your cell phone to hear the audio.

Download Field Notes MP3 file

Preloaded MP3 players are also available at the Northwest Outdoor Center and Dutch Bike Co., in Seattle.

Founded in 2006, Studio for Urban Projects is an artist collaborative that perceives art as a means of advancing civic engagement and furthering public dialogue.

Field Notes is created in collaboration with audio engineer Tim Halbur. The artwork is commissioned by the Seattle Office of Arts and Cultural Affairs with Seattle Department of Transportation and Parks and Recreation 1% for Art funds.

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