Seattle Now & Then: National Archives and Records Administration on Sand Point Way, 1960

(click and click again to enlarge photos)

THEN: Behind chain-link fence and west of Sand Point Way from an undeveloped bluff at Northeast 61st Street stands the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) building circa 1960, three years before its dedication. It was built in 1946 as an airplane-parts hangar for nearby Sand Point Naval Air Station. Rising above the structure is the Hawthorne Hills neighborhood. (Courtesy National Archives and Records Administration)
NOW: Standing on a deck across Sand Point Way from NARA Seattle are Peter Jackson (left), son of the late U.S. Sen. Henry Jackson, and KIRO Radio journalist and Columbia magazine editor Feliks Banel, who broke the news about the proposed property sale on Jan. 15. Jackson says, “Let’s hope there’s a happy coda to this story.” (Jean Sherrard)

(Published in the Seattle Times online on March 12, 2020
and in the PacificNW Magazine print edition on March 15, 2020)

If our historical records aren’t here anymore, do they still exist?

“Public access to government records strengthens democracy by allowing Americans to claim their rights of citizenship, hold their government accountable and understand their history.” – from the mission statement of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)

By Clay Eals

If we can’t readily put our hands on something, does it have a purpose?

The question fits the proposed demise of the 1946 federal warehouse that for 57 years has had a sole and distinguished use, as the NARA repository for the Northwest states of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Hawaii and (starting in 2014) Alaska. Our revered former U.S. senators, Warren “Maggie” Magnuson and Henry “Scoop” Jackson, helped dedicate it in 1963.

With a rectangular footprint on 10 acres, the former airplane-parts hangar stands on the farmland of Japanese who were relocated and incarcerated during World War II. It’s tucked along abandoned rail track, now Burke-Gilman Trail, west of Sand Point Way, north of Children’s Hospital and south of the ex-naval air station that is Magnuson Park.

Executing a 2016 law enabling speedy land disposal, the Public Buildings Reform Board last fall targeted the Seattle archive (which is operated by the National Archives and Records Administration) and 11 other sites nationwide to sell off. Why? The parcels are high-value and “underutilized.” Nearly 1,000 people visited NARA Seattle to dig up info last year, which might belie such jargon.

The building is hardly charming, and its deferred maintenance is estimated in the millions of dollars.

What counts is inside – some 800,000 cubic feet of boxed records, 17% of which are permanent and stored in secured, climate-controlled chambers. More significant is what public and agency access to the records would look like if, as proposed, these boxes are shipped at no small expense to federal records centers in Kansas City or Riverside, California (near Los Angeles).

No wonder many historians, news outlets, genealogists, plus eight U.S. senators from four Northwest states, eight of our state’s House members and our state’s attorney general are aghast. Particularly egregious would be the effect on 272 native tribes as well as other non-white groups whose stories are captured in Bureau of Indian Affairs documents and immigration interrogation and photo files.

Notice of the plan was scant at best. It came to light nine days before a supposedly final decision on Jan. 24, but opposition is intensifying. Tellingly, none of the other 11 targeted sale sites is a NARA archive, and none, says Adam Bodner of the Public Buildings Reform Board, is generating dissent.

The situation triggers questions both practical and rhetorical: How many could travel 1,200 or 1,900 miles from Seattle to research their past? Would the NARA sale have gained traction in the days of Scoop and Maggie? Will protests alter the outcome? Is there a question that history cannot answer?

WEB EXTRAS

To see Jean Sherrard‘s 360-degree video of the “Now” prospect and compare it with the “Then” photo, and to hear this column read aloud by Clay Eals, check out our Seattle Now & Then 360 version of the column!

Our automotive informant Bob Carney provides us with the years and makes of the cars in our “Then” photo: In the foreground is a 1956 Ford Fairlane. In the background are (from left) a 1956 Chevrolet, a 1949-1952 Chevrolet sedan delivery, a 1959 Ford station wagon and a 1948-1953 Chevrolet pickup.

Below are 10 links to related articles, an additional photo plus seven clippings from The Seattle Times online archive (available via Seattle Public Library) that, among others, were helpful in the preparation of this column. There’s also a bonus as the bottom. Enjoy!

Advisory panel recommends putting 12 high-value federal properties up for sale

Federal panel recommends closure and sale of Seattle National Archives facility

The latest from the Public Buildings Reform Board

Seattle Times column by Trish Hackett Nicola, Jan. 24, 2020

Seattle Times story by Eric Lacitis, Jan. 25, 2020

Seattle Times follow-up story by Eric Lacitis, Feb. 12, 2020

Seattle Times follow-up story by Eric Lacitis, Feb. 26, 2020

Seattle Times editorial, Jan. 31, 2020

Seattle Times editorial, March 8, 2020

International Examiner story by Chetanya Robinson, Feb. 4, 2020

Here’s an alternate “Now”: Peter Jackson (left), son of the late U.S. Sen. Henry Jackson, and KIRO Radio journalist and Columbia magazine editor Feliks Banel, stand at the entrance to NARA Seattle. (Jean Sherrard)
Protesters at a Feb. 11, 2020, demonstration at NARA Seattle sought retention of Native American records at the Sand Point facility. (Jean Sherrard)
Protesters at a Feb. 11, 2020, demonstration at NARA Seattle sought retention of Native American records at the Sand Point facility. (Jean Sherrard)
Covering the Feb. 11, 2020, demonstration at NARA Seattle was Feliks Banel (extending microphone) of KIRO Radio, who broke the story about the proposed sale of the facility. (Jean Sherrard)
Also covering the Feb. 11, 2020, demonstration at NARA Seattle was (right) historian Knute Berger of Crosscut. (Jean Sherrard)
Aug. 26, 1945, Seattle Times, page 8
May 25, 1958, Seattle Times, page 137
Aug. 24, 1958, Seattle Times, page 78
Sept. 1, 1963, Seattle Times, page 72
Nov. 17, 1963, Seattle Times, page 17
Aug. 31, 1969, Seattle Times, page 89
Aug. 31, 1969, Seattle Times, page 90
Feb. 26, 1980, Seattle Times, page 1
A quote from former President Thomas Jefferson that hangs inside NARA Seattle. (Clay Eals)

5 thoughts on “Seattle Now & Then: National Archives and Records Administration on Sand Point Way, 1960”

  1. Thank you for getting the word out. Preserving our records locally and having access to them is so important. Scoop Jackson use to be a close friend of my parents as I was growing up! Stay healthy and thank you for keeping us informed. Paula Spence

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