IN “SEATTLE TRANSFORMED,” the last of his three-volume history of Seattle in the 20th century, Richard C. Berner gives his scholarly summary of the housing crisis that greeted “the freshly discharged veterans” of World War II. The retired University of Washington archivist explains that Seattle’s dire straits in 1945 were built (or rather not built) upon the war’s own shortages. Many of the thousands who had earlier come to Seattle to build ships and bombers had great difficulties finding affordable beds.
Despite those discomforts, at war’s end most of these “visitors” wanted to stay in Seattle or in the charmed land that surrounds it. Of the 5,352 families questioned by the Seattle Housing Authority, 4,841 answered that they wanted to make this their permanent home. However, there was little help to fill the need for affordable housing. When the War Production Board lifted restrictions on construction materials, developers quickly purchased the released bounty, directing it for the more lucrative construction of commercial structures and upscale housing, of which these uniform huts at Union Bay Village are not examples.
For every patriotic reason imaginable, married veterans in pursuit of an education also needed to be sheltered. Here in 1946 the solution for at least a few of them and their families came — to embrace the pun — as fallout from Hanford and Richland, where these nifty quarters were first constructed for those who built the first atomic bombs without fully understanding what they were doing.
The lucky vets at Union Bay Village knew what they were doing. However, even with their $90 monthly GI-Bill and cheap rents, they still needed extra part-time work to raise their families. At night they studied — here in the “Ravenna lowlands” near the north shore of Lake Washington’s Union Bay until 1981 when the village was razed for another designed community — Laurel Village — with spiffier quarters but also still with controlled rents, late-night study and insistent children.
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