In the middle of Seattle’s Discovery Park, 534 enchanting acres of forest, meadow and beach, is the old military base Fort Lawton and 26 houses that, until very recently, were owned by the federal government.
“They are about 100 to a 115 years old,” says Gary Blakesly, vice president of Rise Properties. “They were built for the military as housing for officers and non-commissioned officers back in the turn of the last century.”
These days Discovery Park is full of dog walkers and day trippers, picnickers and couples taking engagement portraits up against the backdrop of the Olympic Mountains and Puget Sound. But during World War II, at least 20,000 troops were stationed at Fort Lawton at one time and it served as a prisoner-of-war camp for thousands of Germans and Italians.
“The houses were assignments but then they had barracks and tents and all kinds of different infrastructure built for people that were just coming for these short term stays as they moved on to something else,” Blakesly says. “So, from all around the Northwest, they would gather here and then they would get on boats in the Seattle port or trains down to California to go to war zones in other places.”
The land Fort Lawton sits on was taken over by the city and transformed into Discovery Park in 1973. The base didn’t officially and fully shut down until 2011.
Rise Properties recently purchased the 26 homes from the federal government and they are carefully, and slowly renovating each one.
“We have two for sale right now,” Blakesly said. “We’re gonna just sell them as we finish them.”
One historical stretch is Montana Circle, which feels like a meticulously manicured street out of “Leave It To Beaver.” The 13 homes on this street are either the original cheery yellow and white clapboard, or sturdy brick.
“The sizes range from about to about 1,650 square feet to about 2,000 square feet. Price points start at $799,000,” Blakesly says. “Officer’s Row (where the other 13 homes are situated), the home sizes start at 3,600 square feet and go up to 6,600 square feet. I don’t know the prices on those yet.”
All of the homes are on the National Register of Historic Places, so their exteriors are being preserved, but the insides are being completely updated with new plumbing, electricity and appliances. Walls have been knocked out to create bigger spaces, but the bones of these gorgeous houses remain.
“You know, the fireplaces are a rare find in that there are virtually no two that are alike. In these homes, these are non-commissioned officers’ homes, and they are fairly modest,” Blakesly said. “Up in Officer’s Row there are elaborate tile details and in some of the homes there are five or six fireplaces. None of the fireplaces within that home are exactly the same.”
The old wavy glass windows are still intact and some of the brassy door knobs date back to 1900, but after being renovated the houses feel decidedly modern. Blakesly says it’s a very unique opportunity for buyers.
“I am not aware of a single instance where historic housing, in a former base, has been refurbished to this state and made available to private owners,” he says.
He notes that they would like to sell the homes to people who will appreciate living a quiet life inside the giant park.
“We are very intentionally trying to sell only to owner occupants. And both our marketing and the style of finish is intended to be attractive to local residents in general. But people that are passionate about the park in particular. Our hope in this is the community of 26 home owners will be 26 park stewards. They’ll really be passionate about the park. Where else can you live in a 534 acre park? They’ll also be passionate about the history of the homes, because they won’t be allowed to modify these any old way they want.”
The homes on Officer’s Row have panoramic views of the Puget Sound, Olympic Mountains, Bainbridge Island and Vashon.
Two homes are on sale now, and more will continue to go up for sale as their renovations are complete.