Located on the southeast corner of Seattle's Lake Union, the company was originally founded by Otis Cutting and J. L. McLean in 1919 as a small boat yard under the name Lake Union Drydock and Machine Works. Harry B. Jones, son of a prominent Washington State Senator, was their legal counsel and secretary. This was shortly after the Lake Washington Ship Canal and Locks had been completed linking Lake Washington with Puget Sound. The intermediate body of water, Lake Union, made an ideal location for shipbuilding and business prospered. During the late 1920s and early 1930s the yard employed between 200 and 300 workers. In 1929 the yard had five dry docks ranging in size up to 3500 tons lifting capacity.
The National Historic Register steam-powered snag boat, W.T. PRESTON, was built for the Corps of Engineers by the yard in 1922. The first of many large tuna clippers to be built on Puget Sound, ESPIRITO SANTO, was launched at the yard in 1931. During this period the yard also built large Coast Guard Cutters, including the ATALANTA, ARIADNE, and CYANE. During Prohibition, the yard also built fifteen 75 foot revenue cutters.
Lake Union Drydock Company is well known for the many exemplary motor-yachts constructed in the yard during the 1920s. Leslie Edward Geary designed many of these luxurious vessels after he broke off his business allegiance with Norman J. Blanchard and his yard in 1923. Among Geary commissions completed by Lake Union Drydock and Machine Works were the twin yachts CANIM and ELECTRA, PRINCIPIA, BLUE PETER, and in 1938, the 135 foot STRANGER. The R-Class sloop, PIRATE, also designed by Geary and constructed by the yard in 1926, established a distinguished racing career. Other notable yachts constructed in these pre-war years by the yard include CIRCE, and CANCO.
The yard is also known for its role in the development for a class of smaller production yachts generally known as "Lake Union Dreamboats." The company produced approximately two dozen 42 foot motor-cruisers of this type during the 1920s.
In 1941 the company went into a joint venture with Puget Sound Bridge and Dredge and operated as Associated Shipbuilders. The Lake Union yard built approximately 16 wooden mine sweepers and employment peaked at approximately 1000 during this period.
The company was again reorganized in 1947, becoming the Lake Union Drydock Company under the new ownership of Harry B. Jones and George Hobert (Hobbie) Stebbins. Stebbins had been the yard's wartime general manager. The company remains under the same family membership today with a stable workforce of around 100. The company now specializes in ship maintenance and restoration, retaining many of the tools used and craftsmen skilled in wooden vessel construction. The National Historic Landmark vessel, Virginia V, is currently under restoration at the yard.
Henry Gordon, "Lake Union Drydock, from Dreamboats to Mine Sweepers," Waterlines, February 1987, pp. 28-3 1.
Bill Rudolph, "Home of the Dreamboats," ?, pp. 51-53
Mary Stiles Kline, "Lake Union Dry Dock Co," Nor'westing, pp. 38, 39, 41, 43, 45.
Jim Francis, letter of information about Lake Union Drydock Company, April 28, 1991, revised January 2000.