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AFSC Historical Corner:  NOAA's Sand Point Facility in Seattle

Sand Point  (Seattle)
Montlake  (Seattle)
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Early Pioneers
Research and Mgmt.
Sand Point facility, Seattle
The Alaska Fisheries Science Center building is part of the NOAA Western Regional Center at the Sand Point campus on the shore of Lake Washington in Seattle.  K. McKinney (AFSC), photographer, 2005.

Extending into picturesque Lake Washington, the 400-plus-acre Sand Point peninsula in Seattle, Washington, originally consisted of small farms. The land was acquired in 1920 by the county for the U.S. Navy, which took out a 10-lease lease in 1923 on 268 acres at $1 per year. With its unobstructed access, among other favorable features, Sand Point was a highly desired location for an airfield. During the 1920s, the Navy slowly developed the area creating a runway, control tower, hangars, barracks, and other buildings. Despite the unreliable conditions of the dirt runway brought about by frequent rain, the location offered alternative access by float planes and amphibious craft.

For nearly 50 years, the Sand Point Naval Air Station continued to serve as an airport and aviation training facility. Growing over the years, the base was most heavily used during World War II, when it was occupied by 8,000 personnel and 150 various structures. The airfield closed in 1970.

In 1975, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) received over 100 acres along the north end of Sand Point for building its Western Regional Center (WRC) campus. Some initial preparations and road work started in 1977, however, the major construction was curtailed until 1979 while the local concern over large NOAA ships being in the lake was resolved.

On 28 October 1983, the Center's dedication was held, The 2-day event included local speakers and self-guided tours of the buildings, exhibits, and the shoreline trails. Final construction was complete in 1984 and the last of the new buildings was ready for its occupants. Early that fall, several groups from the Northwest and Alaska Fisheries Center (NWAFC), operating out of the overcrowded Montlake Laboratory nearby, moved into building 4, known as "Research II", or "R2" for short.

The first division to make the move was the National Marine Mammal Laboratory (NMML), which had been operating at Sand Point in an old dusty World War II hanger left over from the air station. This was followed by the relocation to building 4 of the NWAFC's Center Director's Office, Resource Assessment and Conservation Engineering (RACE) Division, Resource Ecology and Fisheries Management (REFM) Division, Marine Mammal Library, and the Office of Fisheries Information Systems (OFIS), along with their Burroughs 7800 mainframe computer.

The new "Research II" building provided over 90,000 square feet of office and laboratory space primarily used by Center staff. NMML scientists were able to utilize a real wet lab for the first time and OFIS benefited from a doubling of working space for their computer equipment and personnel. The building also held a graphics lab, the NMML Library and several conference rooms.

In addition to elements of the National Marine Fisheries Service, other NOAA agencies also established operations at the WRC, such as the Seattle Forecast Office of the National Weather Service, the Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory (PMEL), the NOAA Diving Center, and the Northwest Ocean Service Center. The campus offered employees benefit of the nearby cafeteria and dining area, auditorium, public artworks, and park areas.

Sand Point Naval Air Station history source: website  (last accessed 4-11-13).

Additional reading:

  • NOAA's Development of the Western Regional Center  (NOAA website)

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