Bob Will is one of the last people who remembers what it was like to row out of the ASUW Shell House as part of the UW rowing team.
He visited his old training center Feb. 12 to share some of his memories and learn about future renovation plans that UW Recreation has for the 100-year-old building that ASUW voted in support of last October.
“[I] got out of the service in the summer of ‘45,” Will said. “I don’t know how I found myself down here.”
But somehow, he made it down to the waterfront and found himself in a sport that would eventually lead to him winning a gold medal in the 1948 Summer Olympics.
Will was part of the U.S. Four — the team that won the gold in London during the first Summer Olympics after World War II.
The win was the only race that boat-making mastermind George Pocock officially coached.
“There were rowing machines on the ship over to the Olympics. George said to stay off those things,” Will remembered as he passed two of the metal contraptions.
Will pointed up to an enclosed loft-style area at the back of the Shell House.
“That’s where Pocock made his shells,” Will said. “He was great to talk to. He was a great mentor.”
The training center that Will remembers was first built and used as a seaplane hangar for the U.S. Navy during WWI. Months after the war ended, the UW bought it for just $1.
It was used as the rowing team’s main training center from 1919-1949 while the Conibear Shellhouse was finished. After that it was used to rent canoes, which is why it is sometimes referred to as the “Canoe House,” but it has largely sat inactive in recent years.
It’s mostly used for boat storage now, and not many people come to the historic site.
“Over the years it’s been less of a draw for students,” capital campaign manager Nicole Klein said.
She hopes that the renovation will be a “catalyst for this corner of the campus” and a way to get students to visit the area more.
Most students know about the famous book “The Boys in the Boat” by Daniel James Brown, but Klein thinks the renovation would encourage more people to come see the story in real life.
Klein shared some of the vision for the building: an open space that could hold weddings or other events and an exhibit for the history of rowing in Washington state or even across the nation.
The building is already on the National Register of Historic Places and Klein and her team are in the process of making it a Seattle Landmark. It would be a first for the UW.
Since the building is more than 25 years old, the ASUW Shell House will need to gain the landmark status and go through an extensive permitting process by law.
The UW wants to avoid any legal issues with the ASUW Shell House renovation after its legal battle with the City of Seattle over the Nuclear Reactor Building demolition.
The public hearing about the possible designation is scheduled for March 7 at 3:30 p.m. at Seattle City Hall.
Reach contributing writer Emily Gilbert at email@example.com. Twitter: @EmilyG54321