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Summary for 5900 W Green Lake WAY W / Parcel ID 0725049002 / Inv # DPR003

Historic Name: Aqua Theater (Green Lake Park) Common Name:
Style: Modern Neighborhood: Green Lake
Built By: Year Built: 1950
This reinforced concrete structure constitutes less than half of the original Aqua Theater, which was completed in 1950 as an open-air stadium for outdoor performances. Much of the fan-shaped grandstand was demolished in the late 1970s to accommodate construction of a new building for the Green Lake Small Craft Center. Within thirty years of the first settlement at Green Lake in 1869, the area had been transformed from dense forests to an attractive residential neighborhood served by a streetcar line, which connected it with downtown Seattle. In the late 1880s, entrepreneur William D. Wood acquired more than 600 acres of real estate around Green Lake and then platted and promoted his holdings. In order to stimulate development, Wood convinced Dr. Edward C. Kilbourne, one of the founders of Fremont, to extend his streetcar line from Fremont to Green Lake in 1891. Together, they organized the Green Lake Electric Railway, which Wood managed, and developed a ten-acre amusement park at its terminus on the northwestern corner of Green Lake. The same year, the City of Seattle annexed the Green Lake area along with other northern suburbs. In 1903, the city hired the Olmsted Brothers landscape firm to prepare plans for a comprehensive park and boulevard system, including suggestions for improvements to existing parks. This move was largely brought on by the public interest generated for the planned Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition and through the purchase of Woodland Park and the acquisition of Washington Park, two large tracts of mostly undeveloped land. The Olmsted Brothers recommended the acquisition of Green Lake and the creation of a park and boulevard surrounding the lake. Unfortunately, settlement had reached to the shoreline by this time, providing little opportunity to create the park economically. As a solution, the Olmsted Brothers recommended lowering the level of the lake and filling in the wetlands to create more usable parkland. In 1905, the State of Washington deeded ownership of the lake bottom to the city, which proceeded to acquire the remainder of the shoreline through purchase and condemnation, including the former amusement park site. Beginning in 1911, the level of the lake was lowered seven feet, which added 100 acres of dry land once it had been graded and filled. Before the lake was lowered, the shoreline extended south to North 54th Street. Much of this marshy area was filled to create additional space for athletic fields at Lower Woodland. A swampy area north of the boulevard remained largely under water until the early 1930s. The next great physical change came in 1932 with the construction of Aurora Avenue, a six-lane north-south highway, through the center of Woodland Park. Additional land at the south end of Green Lake was filled with material excavated from the trench through Woodland Park. Up until this time, the Parks Department had made extensive improvements to Green Lake Park. However, the financial difficulties of the depression in the 1930s and the shortages of labor and materials during the Second World War halted the construction of most park buildings until the later 1940s with the exception of those built by state and federal relief agencies. In 1949, a group of Seattle businessmen developed the idea for "Seafair" as a summer festival with a maritime theme in the spirit of the earlier "Golden Potlatch" celebrations. By March of 1950, the organizers, Greater Seattle Inc., had set the dates for the first Seafair for August 11-20, 1950. The centerpiece of the event would be the Aqua Follies, a "swimusical revue" with performers from St. Paul, Minnesota performing water ballet in a large pool, trick and comic dives from two towers, and a stage show with singing and dancing. However, a water theater complete with a stage, swimming pool, and two forty-foot diving towers was required. On May 15, 1950, after considering many locations, Greater Seattle, Inc. decided to lobby the Seattle City Council to build a 5,000-seat concrete "Aqua Theater" on the south shore of Green Lake. Three days later, they successfully lobbied the Seattle Park Board to approve its construction in a city park. On June 1, the Seattle City Council agreed to finance it and approved the plan unanimously. Over the summer of 1950, the Aqua Theater was designed by George Stoddard & Associates and constructed by Strand & Sons in less than 75 days from the date of its conception. The contractors also built a small shellhouse to house the Junior Crew Program of the Parks Department at no additional cost to the city. The 5200-seat facility was completed four days before the grand opening on August 11, 1950 for the first showing of the Aqua Follies. During Seafair, nearly every Aqua Follies show sold out. By the time of the twelfth and final performance on August 20, more than 59,000 people had attended. For most of his career, George W. Stoddard practiced alone, and designed large homes, clinics, banks, and apartment houses. Stoddard also designed a number of public structures, including the 1947 Memorial Stadium, and the 1950 south stands at the University of Washington’s Husky Stadium. In 1955, Stoddard went into practice with Francis Huggard, a partnership, which lasted into the early 1960s. Stoddard & Huggard designed the 1961 south stands at the West Seattle Stadium. Over the next fifteen years, the Aqua Follies as well as other annual summertime productions played to sold-out crowds at the Aqua Theater, which reached the zenith of its popularity in the summer of 1962. That year, the Seattle World’s Fair Century 21 Exposition helped to draw large crowds from throughout the country to five separate productions, occurring during the summer season. However, the creation of the Seattle Center proved to be the demise of the Aqua Theater, which could not compete for national productions with the superior indoor and outdoor facilities at the new civic center. Declining use by the end of the 1960s led to the demolition of the diving towers in 1970 and of most of the remaining portion of the facility ten years later. The 1968 Forward Thrust Bond Issue had allowed for the construction of a new small craft center to accommodate rowing, sailing, and canoeing on Green Lake. Construction of a new building for this facility on the southwest corner of the lake required the demolition of much of the Aqua Theater. The new Green Lake Small Craft Center was dedicated on September 27, 1980. Although only a portion of the Aqua Theater remains, the structure is significant for its associations with the creation of the summertime Seafair celebration and other outdoor entertainment productions and with the development of Green Lake Park.
Completed in 1950, this reinforced concrete structure occupies a site at the southwest corner of Green Lake adjacent to the Green Lake Small Craft Center. Originally, the fan-shaped open-air stadium featured an enclosed pool area in front of a stage, two forty-foot diving towers, and seven sections of seats with a capacity of 5,200. The semicircular pool measured approximately 180 feet by 67 feet with depths varying between four feet and fifteen feet. The rectangular plan stage at the rear of the pool measured 130 feet by 40 feet with angled walkways at either end, connecting it to the shoreline. The diving towers at the north and south ends of the stage had three platform levels. In 1960, a new box seat section was added between the pool and the stands, which increased the capacity by almost 400 to 5,582. In order to limit access, a chain link fence surrounded the site, which extended as far north as the shellhouse. Despite declining use over the 1960s, the structure remained largely intact until the diving towers were removed in 1970 and much of the grandstand was demolished in the later 1970s to accommodate construction of the new small craft center. Facing northeast, the present structure constitutes nearly three full sections as well as the lower portion of the center section. The upper portion of the center section was removed as well as the three northern sections. As part of the demolition, the seats were removed, some openings were enlarged, and new railings were added within the remaining sections for safety purposes. At the rear of the poured concrete structure, the upper portion of the grandstand cantilevers over the tapered concrete piers supporting each section. The exposed underside of the grandstand reveals the terraced seating levels lined with concrete walls on the east and south. Concrete block walls enclose the lower rear portion of the grandstand and contain two tunnels with stairways, which lead up into the stands. A number of entrance doors line the concrete block walls between the tunnels, which provide access to rooms and storage areas beneath the structure. A portion of one of the support piers remains extant at the rear of the center section and serves as the base for a sculpture entitled “Stroke.” Dedicated in March 1981, this sculpture by R. Allen Jensen features a crew oar, which waves in the wind. In addition to the extensive alterations, the concrete displays signs of deterioration in places, including spalling and rust jacking. As a result, this structure retains very little physical integrity.

Detail for 5900 W Green Lake WAY W / Parcel ID 0725049002 / Inv # DPR003

Status: Yes - Inventory
Classication: Building District Status:
Cladding(s): Concrete Foundation(s): Concrete - Poured
Roof Type(s): None Roof Material(s): None
Building Type: Recreation and Culture - Music facility Plan: Other
Structural System: Concrete - Poured No. of Stories:
Unit Theme(s): Architecture/Landscape Architecture, Arts, Community Planning/Development, Entertainment/Recreation
Changes to Original Cladding: Slight
Changes to Plan: Extensive
Major Bibliographic References
Ochsner, Jeffrey Karl, ed. Shaping Seattle Architecture, A Historical Guide to the Architects. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1994.
Sherwood, Don. Seattle Parks Histories, c. 1970-1981, unpublished.
Seattle Department of Parks. Annual report/Department of Parks. Seattle, WA: 1909-1955.
HistoryLink Website (
Fiset, Louis. "Green Lake -- Thumbnail History," The Green Lake News, July-August 2000, p. 4-5.

Photo collection for 5900 W Green Lake WAY W / Parcel ID 0725049002 / Inv # DPR003

Photo taken Jul 18, 2000

Photo taken Jul 18, 2000
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