The Deep Sea Fishermen's Building - Still Anchoring a Changed Ballard

Constructed in 1902, the Deep Sea Fisherman’s Building is among the oldest, most intact and architecturally significant historic buildings within the Ballard Avenue Landmark District

Early Ballard Avenue circa 1902

Early Ballard Avenue circa 1902

The Ballard Avenue Landmark District encompasses a particularly well preserved section of one of several successful small towns that flourished around the perimeter of Seattle in the late nineteenth century and would be subsequently incorporated into the metropolis.

Ballard Avenue is now lined with an intact collection of modest scale commercial buildings that reflect the development of the community’s main commercial street between 1890 and 1930. The character of this distinctive historic streetscape was primarily preserved because it was by-passed by Post-War era development that instead occurred along modern arterials - Market Street and 15th Avenue, to the north and east.

In 1976, the Ballard Avenue Landmark District was formally designated a local historic district by the City of Seattle and was also listed in the National Register of Historic Places (Ballard Avenue Historic District).

Early Ballard Building Boom

The Deep Sea Fishermen’s historic “Fishermen’s Building” property is directly associated with a crucial era in the commercial and industrial development of Ballard (1900-1907) when the commercial district along Ballard Avenue was fully established and a significant number of permanent buildings were constructed.

By the early 1900s Ballard became known as the “Shingle Capital of the World” with approximately twenty lumber and shingle mills in full operation. In addition to the mill operations the industrialized shoreline included iron foundries, machine shops, paint manufactures, shipyards, pipe making plants and boiler works.

Early Ballard Avenue Weather-related gridlock circa 1916 taken near the Fishermen’s Building

Early Ballard Avenue Weather-related gridlock circa 1916 taken near the Fishermen’s Building

Substantial commercial buildings were constructed along Ballard Avenue as the local population grew to over 10,000 residents (including 3,400+ school age children) by 1904.

During this era Ballard Avenue functioned as a full service commercial street populated by numerous boarding houses, hotels and lodging houses, clothing merchants, banks, hardware dealers, druggists, dry good stores, laundry businesses, meat markets, restaurants, theaters and saloons. Gradually, the earliest wood-frame structures were replaced by more permanent – often architect designed – commercial buildings. 

Among the distinctive masonry and stone buildings that date from this era and most of which continue to characterize the streetscape are the G.B. Sanborn Block (1901, Portland Building (1901), Felt Block/Jones Building (1901, demolished), St. Charles Hotel (1902), Deep Sea Fisherman’s Building (1902), Scandinavian American Bank (1902), Matthes Block (1903), Kelsey Block (1903), Junction/Lombardini Block (1904), Kutzner Block (1904), Barthelemy Bros. Hardware Building (c.1904), Ernst Brothers Hardware Building (1904, demolished), A.L. Palmer Building (1905), Theisen Block (1905), Ballard Hardware Supply (1905), Peterson Hardware Co. (c.1905), Markussen Building (1905), and the Enquist Block (1906).

In late 1906 Ballard residents approved annexation and the town became part of the City of Seattle on January 1, 1907. The boom era of major commercial construction began to lessen after the annexation.

Construction of the Fishermen’s Building

Our building is believed to have been built in 1902. Efforts to identify the original owner, builder or tenants of this historic property have been unsuccessful. According to historic 1905 insurance maps its original address was 211-213 Ballard Avenue.

It was designed to function as two storefront level shops with lodging and/or office rooms at the second floor. Utilized common central entry/stair passage plan for access to second floor level, typical of several other commercial buildings constructed along Ballard Avenue during this era and the prior decade. City directories from 1904 -06 indicate that the White Front Saloon was located at 213 Ballard Avenue. The White Front appears to have relocated here from 5229 Ballard Avenue (aka 221 Ballard Avenue) c. 1905.

Fishermen’s Headquarters circa 1950.

Fishermen’s Headquarters circa 1950.

The Deep Sea Fishermen’s Building Association purchased the building on January 5, 1948, for $35,000.

Established in 1912, the Deep Sea Fishermen’s Union of the Pacific is an independent union and the oldest and sole remaining union of crewmen and skippers in the United States.

The Deep Sea Fishermen’s Union is composed of longliners who primarily fish the Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea and have a working agreement with the Fishing Vessel Owners’ Association.

Problems with forced employment, intolerable living conditions and unpredictable payment practices motivated the creation of the Union. The proper modern professional handling of the boats in the fishing fleet, the equipment/gear and the fish have been predominantly developed by Union fisherman. After the acquisition, the building was remodeled and the Melody Tavern (identified as “fisherman’s headquarters”) was established at the south side of the storefront and a new Union Hall within the northern bay.

Ballard Avenue circa late 1970s - Fishermen’s Building in the background

Ballard Avenue circa late 1970s - Fishermen’s Building in the background

The 1948 remodeling included alterations to both of the historic storefronts and the installation of modern aluminum cladding and terrazzo flooring within the Union Hall. The union hall space and the 13 rooms on the upper floor were all used for Union purposes until around 1972. The tavern space was subsequently known as the International Schooner Tavern and the Tractor Tavern. The Union offices remain housed on the upper floor level.

Now in our 70th year as proud owners and stewards of one of Seattle’s historic buildings - Ballard’s Fishermen’s Building, still the headquarters of our nation’s oldest and sole remaining fishermen’s labor union - the Deep Sea Fishermen’s Union of the Pacific

Now in our 70th year as proud owners and stewards of one of Seattle’s historic buildings - Ballard’s Fishermen’s Building, still the headquarters of our nation’s oldest and sole remaining fishermen’s labor union - the Deep Sea Fishermen’s Union of the Pacific

Information Sources:

Passport to Ballard, Ballard News Tribune, 1988, pg.273.

Property Record Cards (1937-1972). Washington State Regional Archives, Puget Sound Regional Branch, Bellevue, WA.

“Ballard Avenue Historic District” National Register of Historic Places – Nomination Form (Prepared by Elisabeth Walton Potter, OAHP, April 1976.)

Baist’s Real Estate Atlas of Surveys of Seattle, Wash. Philadelphia: W.G. Baist, 1905, 1912.

Sanborn Insurance Maps,1884-1951.Digital versions available via Seattle Public Library -www.spl.org.