Urban Design: The Barracks at Magnuson Park

The highlighted portion shows the barracks at Magnuson Park.   |   Image captured from Google Earth. 

The highlighted portion shows the barracks at Magnuson Park.   |   Image captured from Google Earth. 

Situated in Seattle’s Sand Point neighborhood, Magnuson Park is the second largest urban park in Seattle, best known for its variety of amenities and pieces of Seattle's military past. Since the park was formerly home to the Sand Point Naval Station, a few historic remnants of the former base remain — with some of them being vacant for over a decade.

This week, our Project Manager Josh introduced us to the evolution of the historic barracks at Magnuson Park and unveiled the potentials of an urban adaptive reuse project that will transform the barracks into affordable housing.

Written by Josh Janet, Project Manager | PE:

I have spent time in the last few months viewing condominiums on behalf of a friend who recently moved to Seattle from Philadelphia. On one such visit, I drove past the barracks in Magnuson Park. These buildings have interested me since the first time I visited the park years ago, and I thought I would re-visit the history and status of the Barracks today.

The barracks at Sand Point were built between 1929 and 1938 to house Navy sailors as part of a larger Naval Air Station complex. The park had previously been used as King County’s first airfield. The complex reached its peak military use in 1945 with the housing of over 4,600 Naval or Marine personnel and more than 2,800 civilians.

Building 9, the official name for the barracks, is a 144-foot wide, 800-foot long wood-framed building just north of the park’s entrance along Sand Point Way NE. Designed in colonial revival fashion, the exterior is faced with red brick with white trim around casement windows and around the roof edge. The roof is pitched and lined with dormers. The windows feature keystones above and stone sills below, with additional stonework surrounding a number of main entry doors. There are apparently some original stained glass windows intact in the former chapel at the south end, but I’ve only observed the casement windows or infill plywood at window openings in the past.

The building is two or three stories tall depending on what section you’re in, including the basement but excluding the attic space, of which portions were converted to dormitories in the 1940’s. The Navy stopped using it as formal barracks in 1953.

Building 9 courtyard. 

Building 9 courtyard. 

Building 9 exterior facade.

Building 9 exterior facade.

Park signage for Building 9.

Park signage for Building 9.

Boarded up exterior door.

Boarded up exterior door.

The land was formally designated as a park in 1977 by Senator Magnuson (hence the name) following a twenty-year public process and attempts by both King County and the Federal Aviation Authority to maintain the airfield status. A grassroots campaign called “Friends of Sand Point Park” led effort to eliminate the airfield and promote the land for its current park use.

The Navy declared its remaining property in the park surplus in 1991 and the city prepared a plan two years later to provide housing on it for low-income families and the homeless. City Resolution 29429, approving a physical development management plan, included plans for the rehabilitation and new development of low-income and homeless housing. The Resolution cited the need to “enhance safety, reduce social isolation, and create a sense of community among residents” as well as a need to “preserve the historic and neighborhood character of the site.” The city implemented the Sand Point Historic District, an area just south of Building 9 that includes 175 housing units, to meet this goal. These units have been managed by non-profit Solid Ground in coordination with the Seattle Parks and Recreation Department since 2007 for “transitional housing residences for families, single adults and youth.”

Building 9, however, was “intended to be developed as a multi-use educational facility” considering options such as food service, classrooms, and administrative offices instead of the plan today for additional housing. The University of Washington acquired the building in 1999, but it couldn’t get its act together while the building went unmaintained and vandalized over the next fifteen years. In its original request for proposals for redevelopment, the University stated that much of the building’s plumbing and electrical systems had been removed by thieves. Eventually, Washington representative Frank Chopp secured $14 million in state funding for its redevelopment into affordable housing. Mercy Housing Northwest (MHN) won the bid for the project in 2014.

The redevelopment by MHN will include “a computer lab, laundry facilities on each floor, an exercise studio, bike storage and maintenance area, and children’s indoor play areas in the basement,” as well as an 18,000 square-foot community health center to be operated by SeaMar Community Health Clinics. Rents are anticipated to cost between $700 and $1000, which is a little steep for low-income housing but represents rents affordable to individuals earning 30%-45% of area median income (nearly $90,000 in 2015). Perhaps most important among these units are that 70% of the units will be two- or three-bedroom units, a critical need for low-income families.

It is my understanding that the project is in the permitting phase right now, with construction not expected to begin for about another year. Still, I am eagerly looking forward to the day that the naval barracks at Magnuson Park are not only restored back to their original luster, but to see them being used by members of our community who could benefit from affordable housing.


Photo Credit:  All photos are taken by Josh Janet, edited by Sapphire Chan.


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