South Lake Union

South Lake Union

South Lake Union is a neighborhood nearly as old as the city, but which has been pinched, pulled and prodded into being one of the newest in terms of buildings and business. South Lake Union can be considered an extension or subset of downtown, but is really, recently, coming into its own, even adopting its own sub-neighborhoods, pulling Cascade into its fold. Located, quite logically, at the southern tip of Lake Union, the neighborhood encompasses a variety of shorefront businesses, but also extends south towards downtown, with somewhat nebulous boundaries between the two. To its north, on either side of the lake are Eastlake and Westlake, respectively, while it meets Cascade and Capitol Hill to the east and Belltown and Seattle Center to the west.

The neighborhood began as an industrial powerhouse, with its first white settler, David Denny, using the area as a sawmill. Denny, after whom the nearby street is named, is responsible for making the land at the south end of the lake habitable by clearing it, as well as making it profitable by cutting a weir from Lake Washington to Lake Union, so that his sawmill had access to more logs. Eventually this helped it to become a transportation hub for other natural resources from the east side of Lake Washington, such as coal. Through the years it was home to many other types of industries, many related to the access to water afforded by the South Lake Union location, including Boeing’s first seaplanes and Seattle City Light’s Hydro House.

Following the creation of the Ship Canal in 1917, raw materials could be shipped directly from Lake Washington to Elliott Bay (downtown and the portal to the Pacific Ocean). The main South Lake Union area, despite its thriving industry in the early 20th century, was never really a residential area, save for its northeastern corner, known as Cascade. In part, this was because local employers (the Seattle Times chief among them) tore down any possible housing to create parking lots. As it lost its hold as a transportation hub, the area fell into disrepair and disrepute at times through the mid 20th century. Toward the end of the century, however, local business man Paul Allen and his company, Vulcan Inc. invested heavily in development of the area, making the neighborhood into what it now is, which includes a thriving business community, residential structures and large swaths of public lands.

South Lake Union is now home to a multitude of biology research and biotech companies including the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle Biomedical Research Institute and Zymogenetics. Amazon, the online retail giant has also begun their move to consolidate all operations to their brand new South Lake Union offices. In addition to the business resurgence in the neighborhood, there is now a vibrant restaurant scene developing. Much of this is helped by the creation of parks along the water and within the neighborhood, and the South Lake Union Streetcar, both of which were created for the public with generous help from Vulcan Inc. The streetcar runs three miles from the southeastern tip of Lake Union to Westlake Center, where it meets the monorail, in the heart of downtown.