The water storage tanks that stood at Warren Avenue North and Lee Street were a testament to Seattle’s rapid growth in the early twentieth century; it was a period that saw major infrastructure investment and annexations of surrounding communities. Prior to the turn of the twentieth century, Seattle residents’ water was provided by several privately owned companies whose service was not reliable. Queen Anne experienced frequent droughts in late summer, which continued despite the installation of a pump from Lake Union to a 100,000 gallon wooden reservoir. One such drought in 1899 left Queen Anne residents without water for several weeks.
The newly formed municipal water department selected Queen Anne hill for one of its first three water storage and distribution facilities (the other two were built on Capitol Hill at Volunteer Park and Lincoln Park (now Cal Anderson Park). Construction on the Queen Anne standpipe began in 1899 on eight lots purchased by the city from private owners; and in 1901 the 69-foot, Gothic-inspired Tank No.1 became Seattle’s first steel and concrete standpipe. In 1902 the site was named Observatory Park, and residents were granted access to sweeping views from the top of the tower via an exterior steel spiral staircase.
That same year, streetcar service via the Queen Anne Avenue Counterbalance facilitated development of more housing, schools and businesses on the top of the hill. In 1904 a second standpipe was constructed on the site to increase storage capacity, as seen in this 1929 image; and in 1908 the Warren Avenue Fire station was built on the property. Tennis courts were added in 1934.
Much has changed on the property over the years. The fire station and tennis courts were replaced by 1964, and a communication tower and substation were constructed on the northern portion of the site in the 1950s. But the most obvious change is the absence of the historic standpipes. Despite landmarking efforts in the late 1990s, the old towers were removed and replaced with the current 79-foot-tall tank in 2006. The tennis courts are maintained by the Seattle Parks Department, and that portion of the property is now called Observatory Courts.
Historic image courtesy of Seattle Municipal Archives #3207