Fort Lawton

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Fort Lawton (1900-1970) - Initially established on 9 Feb 1900 to protect Puget Sound from naval attack. The fort was named in G.O. 20, 19 Feb 1900, after Major General Henry Ware Lawton (1843-1899), U.S. Volunteers (Colonel and inspector general, U.S. Army), who was killed in action at San Mateo, Philippines Islands on 19 Dec 1899. He was a veteran of the U.S. Civil War and of the Indian Wars. Fort Lawton is slated to close no later than 14 Sep 2011.

Administration Building (Bldg 417), Fort Lawton 1966
Barracks and Headquarters at Fort Lawton, 1907 (University of Washington Archives)

Endicott Period (1890-1910)

In 1896, the Secretary of War selected what would later be Fort Lawton for construction of an artillery battery intended to defend Seattle and the south Puget Sound from naval attack. Local citizens and governments and the Seattle Chamber of Commerce launched a canvass of donations of land and cash and in February 1898, turned over to the U.S. Army title to 703 acres of land for the installation. Construction of buildings and roads began in June 1898. The first soldiers arrived in December 1899. The fort opened on 9 Feb 1900 on a 1,100 acre site, which was redesigned in 1902 for infantry use.

Originally planned as a coastal fortification, the first Coast Artillery unit did not arrive at Fort Lawton until July 1901, and guns were installed only temporarily. Fort Worden and Fort Flagler near Port Townsend on the Olympic Peninsula and Fort Casey (1) on Whidbey Island were built for heavy guns as the first and second lines of defense, and Fort Lawton would be the third line of defense. In May 1902, the Fort became an Infantry post and although it was designed to accommodate a full regiment (approximately 3,500 men), it rarely saw more than a headquarters and one battalion. In 1910 a design overhaul, to include housing for officers and enlisted men, was prepared by landscape architect John C. Olmsted. In 1927, the fort was converted to a Corps of Engineers installation. In 1938, the Army offered to sell Fort Lawton back to the city of Seattle for one dollar, but the city declined, citing maintenance concerns.

World War II (1941-1945)

During World War II, Fort Lawton became part of the Port of Embarkation, San Francisco. At least 20,000 troops were stationed at Fort Lawton at a time during the war. A total of 1.1 million troops passed through the installation during and after the war. The post was also used as a Prisoner of War (POW) camp, with more than 1,000 Germans imprisoned there and approximately 5,000 Italians passing through en route to Hawaii for imprisonment. On 15 Aug 1944 an Italian POW, Guglielmo Olivotto, was found murdered at Fort Lawton after a night of rioting between Italian POWs and American soldiers. Twenty-eight African-American soldiers were later court-martialed, convicted of the crime, and sent to prison. Future Watergate scandal Special Prosecutor Leon Jaworski was the prosecutor.

Cold War (1947-1991)

After World War II, Fort Lawton was used as an Air Force radar site, the 635th AC&W Sqadron, a surface-to-air Nike missile site, a training center and currently houses an FAA long range radar site.

The Korean War brought a flurry of activity as troops headed to or returned from Korea processed through Fort Lawton. On Memorial Day 1951, a Freedom Grove of trees and monument honoring war dead was dedicated near the post chapel. In February 1953, the Fort Lawton Processing Center transferred half of its functions, the out-bound tasks, to Fort Lewis (now called Joint Base Lewis McChord). Returnees continued to process through Fort Lawton.

In the late 1950s, Nike anti-aircraft missiles and radar were in use at Fort Lawton, but in 1968 the site was rejected for proposed defense upgrades. The Army surplussed 534 acres in 1971, which was given back to the city in 1972, and dedicated as Discovery Park in 1973.

The convictions of the 1944 rioters were set aside in 2007. A formal army apology ceremony was held on 26 Jul 2008 and to present to the relatives of former soldiers and the two remaining survivors years of back pay following the overturn of their dishonorable discharges.

Current Status

A much-reduced Fort Lawton still exists within the park as headquarters of the U.S. Army Reserve's 364th Expeditionary Sustainment Command. The family housing has for the past 30 plus years, been used by the U.S. Navy for Navy and Coast Guard personnel. It is currently being vacated, and the officer and NCO housing is scheduled to be sold to the public, when the market improves. The Capehart Housing in the center of the park was vacated by December 2009, and demolished during the summer of 2010; the land will become part of Discovery Park. Fort Lawton will close no later than 14 Sep 2011; many of its units have already moved to a new reserve center at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, near Tacoma, Wash. The 364th Expeditionary Sustainment Command will be the final unit to leave Fort Lawton and will move to its new facility in Marysville.

Some content above from Wikipedia - Fort Lawton article

Location: Discovery Park, Seattle, King County, Washington

Maps & Images

Lat: 47.65793 Long: -122.416492




  • Cornelius H. Hanford, Seattle and Environs, 1852-1924 (Seattle and Chicago: Pioneer Historical Publishing Co., 1924), pp. 243-244
  • Cornelius H. Hanford, Welcome to Fort Lawton: Newcomers Pamphlet (Seattle: Marquan Military Publishing Co., ca. 1961);

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