Seattle's Fort Lawton was formally decommissioned Saturday. The federal government continues to own the fort property, but the city of Seattle has the opportunity to take it over.
The flag is down, the cannon fire over.
After 111 years as a military installation, Seattle’s Fort Lawton, rich in history but for decades considered one of the Army’s most expendable bases, was formally decommissioned Saturday.
It was here in 1970 that 120 fence-scaling Native Americans — at one point joined by actress Jane Fonda — invaded the fort, asserting their claim to the land.
It was here in 1944 that 28 African-American soldiers were court-martialed for rioting and allegedly lynching an Italian prisoner of war.
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And it was here in 2008 that the survivors among those soldiers were honored after their convictions were overturned because they had been denied a fair trial.
At Saturday’s decommissioning ceremony, politicians and generals gave speeches. Cake was served and a ceremonial cannons fired.
Then many in attendance took tours of the old fort in Magnolia where they had once served — or been born, as was the case with Pierce County Superior Court Judge Jack Nevin.
His father was an Army veterinarian stationed at the fort when Nevin was born in 1951 at its turn-of-the-century hospital, razed in 1987.
“I remember the bowling alley was right over there,” he said, gesturing toward long-gone buildings, “and I used to go to the doctor right over there.” He recalled trips to the commissary and how his parents would play bingo at the officers’ club.
Nevin later joined the Army Reserves and returned to Fort Lawton as its commanding brigadier general.
Attending the decommissioning was “very nostalgic,” he said. “But it’s all part of the natural cycle of things.”
Fort Lawton was built in 1901 to keep an eye on the Northwest’s surging labor movement, according to author Jack Hamann, whose book on the lynching of the Italian POW cleared the names of those who were convicted and dishonorably discharged.
The fort also was often used for community events, from women’s Red Cross training to baseball games, society teas and charity luncheons.
The federal government continues to own the fort property, but the city of Seattle has the opportunity to take it over. Over the last 40 years the city has assumed control of much of Fort Lawton’s original 700 acres; today it’s Discovery Park and the Daybreak Star Cultural Center.
A 2008 city study examined the feasibility of using what remains of Fort Lawton for housing — 108 to 125 market-rate units, 85 units for the homeless and six Habitat for Humanity units.
But the housing market has changed since then, Mayor Mike McGinn said Saturday, and the city is now re-evaluating that study.
The federal government tried to sell the fort to Seattle once before — in 1938, for $1, Hamann said.
The city, not having money for upkeep, declined.
Nancy Bartley: 206-464-8522 or firstname.lastname@example.org.