Navy artifact uncovered at Seattle’s Magnuson Park

Feb 26, 2021, 8:53 AM | Updated: 8:55 am
An old section of gym floor with a vintage Navy logo was recently rediscovered in a building at Magnuson Park. (Contributed) Building 47 was built in 1941 for recreation, with a theatre, gym and swimming pool. (City of Seattle) The building most recently served as the Seattle Parks and Recreation’s Magnuson Community Center; it is closed and undergoing renovation. (Feliks Banel/KIRO Radio) Exterior view of the theatre. (Feliks Banel/KIRO Radio) Interior of the theatre is still intact. (City of Seattle) The large space includes balcony seating. (City of Seattle) The indoor pool features glass-block windows for natural light. (Feliks Banel/KIRO Radio) The pool has not been operational for many years. (City of Seattle) During Magnuson Park’s earlier Navy base era, the structure was officially known as Building 47; a faded and peeling old sign is still attached to the west exterior wall. (Feliks Banel/KIRO Radio) A view of the underside of the old floor section. (Contributed) Across the road from Building 47, old barracks have recently been restored and now house hundreds of people. (Feliks Banel/KIRO Radio) NAS Seattle – for “Naval Air Station Seattle” – is shown at Sand Point on Lake Washington on this 1958 US Geological Survey map. (USGS)

An artifact discovered at Seattle’s Magnuson Park is a reminder of the old Navy base at Sand Point, and the role of a unique vintage building that still stands on the sprawling acreage along Lake Washington.

What was first called Sand Point Park was created from an old Navy base in the mid 1970s, and then was officially renamed in 1977 for longtime Democratic Senator Warren G. Magnuson.

Magnuson, who was actually a part owner of KIRO Radio back in the 1950s, was always a big booster of the Navy base at Sand Point. During the 1940s, he tried to make it the West Coast location of a second Naval Academy, a counterpart to the famous and storied institution at Annapolis, Maryland. When the Seattle base was surplused in 1972, Senator Magnuson was pivotal in securing the land as a public park. The former senator passed away in 1989.

The Navy base dates to 1922 and has an illustrious history, including hosting the start and finish of the famous Around The World Flight of 1924. Also in the 1920s, the base was one of the first locations that the Boeing Company assembled planes, as part of one if its early military contracts. As a military post, the base really boomed in the late 1930s in the run-up to World War II and, of course, was a bustling place during the war as well.

A special building there, which dates to right around the time that the United States entered World War II – it was dedicated in December 1941 – is currently undergoing renovation. It’s been called Magnuson Community Center for many years, but was officially known by the Navy as “Building 47.” Its original function was mostly recreation for enlisted men, and Building 47 includes a gymnasium; a full-sized movie theatre with a balcony; and what’s described by Seattle Parks as a “15-foot-deep pool to train flight crews for emergency water crashes.” That last part doesn’t sound very recreational.

A worker who we’re choosing to not name contacted KIRO Radio earlier this week and shared some information and photos. This worker is a Navy vet, and he came across an artifact from Building 47’s Navy days, stashed under the bleachers in the old gym.

The artifact appears to be a large section of the old hardwood gym floor, probably from center court. It features a logo for “Naval Station Puget Sound” – which is one of the many names the Navy base was called over the years (though most people referred to it as “Sand Point”). This big section of floor has a totem pole motif, and three large letters: M, W, and R.

What do those letters stand for?

Like probably any veteran of the U.S. military, the person who contacted KIRO Radio knew those three letters very well, and knew they stand for: Morale, Welfare, and Recreation. Building 47, of course, with its gym, pool, and theatre, would’ve been the center of MWR resources when the Navy base was in operation, and a popular place for blowing off steam and forgetting about the demands of being in the military, if only for a few hours.

A Seattle Parks and Recreation spokesperson told KIRO Radio that Parks and Recreation has no plans to dispose of the artifact, and they, in fact, actually hope to come up with a scheme whereby it will be preserved and displayed somewhere within Magnuson Park. There’s no timeline for that, of course, but at least it appears that this interesting section of gym floor won’t get trashed.

And just how old is the gym floor artifact? The wood itself is probably as old as Building 47, or nearly 80 years. However, as mentioned above, the Navy base at Sand Point went through several name changes. The “Naval Station Puget Sound” name wasn’t adopted until 1986, which means the painted portion is probably only about 35 years old.

But, who knows, it may be that there’s an even older logo underneath, just waiting to be carefully revealed. So be sure and stay tuned for the next exciting installment!

You can hear Feliks every Wednesday and Friday morning on Seattle’s Morning News and read more from him here. If you have a story idea, please email Feliks here.

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Navy artifact uncovered at Seattle’s Magnuson Park