Stan Sayres Memorial Park in Seattle

seattle stan sayres memorial park

 

This is the seventh park in my central Seattle Lake Washington parks series. For full info and a list of all the parks see the introduction here.

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Type

Viewpoint

Location

Lakewood (Southeast Seattle)

Special Features

View of Mt. Baker, Cascades, I-90 Bridge
Docks
Sunrises
Mt. Baker Rowing and Sailing Center
Boat Launches

Entrance

Lake Washington Boulevard just east of 43rd Avenue South

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History

When the Olmstead Brothers made their plans for the southeast area of Seattle in 1908 they designated the headland at Westmore Slough to be one of the many parks along Lake Washington Boulevard. Even though the boulevard was completed all the way to Seward Park early on, including a trestle that crossed the mouth of the slough, the park at the headland was not built for another five decades. And I think I can say with some certainty the park is not at all what the Olmstead Brothers had envisioned.

Stan Sayres Memorial Park is located on what’s left of the small peninsula formed by Wetmore Slough. The slough was an inlet that extended more than half a mile inland from Lake Washington. When the water level of the lake dropped in 1916 with completion of Ship Canal the slough was mostly drained.

In 1937 the boulevard trestle was replaced with landfill and by 1943 what was left of the slough in what is now Genesee Park was being used as a garbage dump.

Then along came Seafair and Stan Sayres.

Seafair was originally designed to be an annual event that would begin its run as a celebration of Seattle’s centennial in 1951-1952, but it has its roots in the Golden Potlatch, a Seattle marine festival held from 1911 to 1914 and again from 1935 to 1941. The Golden Potlatch was intended to maintain the spotlight on Seattle after the success of the 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition, but two World Wars and the Great Depression kept interrupting it.

In the 1940s Seattle had no major league sports teams and the Seattle Center did not yet exist. The city was looking for ways to gain national recognition, so in March 1950 prominent business leaders recruited Walter Van Camp, the director of St. Paul, Minnesota’s Winter Carnival, to plan a festival that would showcase marine-themed events and attract tourists.

Van Camp didn’t want to wait for the centennial and planned a ten-day celebration for August of that year. Things happened at a mad pace with such a short lead time, and the 5,500 seat Greenlake Aqua Theater was built in a mere 75 days.

The next year Stan Sayres brought the Unlimited hydroplane boat races to Seattle, and they have been the core Seafair event ever since.

Stan Sayres was born in Dayton, Washington in 1896 and moved to Seattle in 1931. He owned car dealerships and developed an intense interest in boat racing. In 1937 he bought his first hydroplane, the Slo-mo-shun. Stan usually let others pilot his boats, but in 1950 he set the World Unlimited water speed record himself in the Slo-mo-shun IV when he reached 160.323 mph (258.015 kph).

Stan was instrumental in making Seattle a host city for the Unlimited hydroplane races, with the first Seafair Cup taking place during Seafair 1951. Lou Fageol won that first Seafair Cup in Sayres’ Slow-mo-shun V.

Seattle is the third oldest Unlimited race site, but the Seafair Cup is the longest continuously running race on the schedule having never skipped a year from 1951 to the present.

The old marina (no longer exists) at Mt. Baker Park served as the race pits and headquarters the first few years until the purpose-built docks were completed on the old Westmore Slough peninsula in 1957. Stan Sayres died of a heart attack in 1956 and the new park was named after him.

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Preview

Stan S. Sayres Memorial Park (AKA The Sayres Pits) is located on a small point of land that juts north into Lake Washington. The park is basically just a large parking lot ringed by docks, but even so it’s one of my favorite parks in this series.

After you enter the park stay to the right. Traffic is one-way around the parking lot in a counter-clockwise direction. Parking along the outer rim is for regular vehicles. All of these spots have nice views while sitting in your car. Parking in the center is for vehicles with boat trailers.

Immediately on your right as you enter the lot is the motorized boat launch pay station, and on the other side of it is the single picnic table in the main section of the park. Near the table is a paved path along the water that meets up with the continuous paved trail that stretches between Colman and Seward parks.

This is a good park to leave your car at if you want to go for a scenic walk, jog, or bike ride. Looking to the east you’ll see a view bench on a smaller point in the distance. That’s a good spot to head for if you like to walk, but aren’t up to covering longer distances.

Just past the picnic table are the boat launches on your right, along with three docks.

At the north end of the point is a grassy area with a single view bench. From here you get a nice view up the lake which includes Mt. Baker when it’s clear. This can be a wild spot if you love wind and waves on stormy days.

On the west side of the point are several short docks and a narrow grass strip facing a small bay where water fowl enjoy congregating in the winter months.

At the southwest corner of the lot are two buildings. One is the Mt. Baker Rowing and Sailing Center. The Center offers lessons to the public in rowing, sailing, standup paddle boarding, kayaking, and wind surfing. In the summer children’s boating camps are held. The various programs offer scholarships and sliding scale fees to make them affordable for as many people as possible.

On the west side of the Sailing Center there are floating docks. They are open to the public for launching hand carry watercraft as long as no class is in session.

On the south side of the Center is a light green building where the public restrooms are housed in the lower level. They look nice from the outside, so it’s disappointing to go in only to discover they’re as unappealing as the vast majority of Seattle park bathrooms.

There is another picnic table located on the lawn at the end of the bay outside of the main park, a bit west of the park entrance.

Stan Sayres Park undergoes one of the most amazing transformations I’ve seen at a Seattle park on summer weekends. For most of the year it’s a quiet and laid back park. But when the sun comes out and the temps warm up it becomes a popular neighborhood destination despite the park being mostly one big parking lot.

My second visit was on a sunny Saturday at the beginning of June. The parking lot was almost completely full and the west side of the point had become a big tailgate party. Lots of people were gathered with coolers, BBQs, and chairs in abundance. The same was true when I briefly drove through later in the month on a Sunday.

Stan Sayres Park is a great spot to enjoy the view and lake any time of year, though the winter months are best if you want to watch ducks and see snow on the mountains. Consider avoiding on summer weekends if you dislike hordes of fun-loving BBQers.

This park is an especially good place to go if you enjoy stormy weather or sunrises. Occasionally you can also see spectacular sunsets here if the clouds are just right to catch color. I’ve seen some gorgeous photos online. The one I took (in the slideshow below) was on a night I was in the area and hoped that would happen, but the clouds were a bit too low in altitude and the colors never fully manifested.

Even with the very limited seating, this is the most accessible park on Lake Washington if you want to be close to the water with no effort. You can always set up your camp chair if the table or bench are already occupied.

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Things to Know

Hours

6 am to 10 pm.

Overnight parking is allowed with a boat launch permit, but the gate is locked at 10 pm.

Seating

One picnic table near entrance.
One bench at the tip of the point.
One bench a distance east of the park and one picnic table a bit west of the main park section.

Bathrooms

In the lower level of the light green building that is on the south side of the boating center.

Parking

Large lot with view spaces all around the outer rim. Traffic through the lot is one-way going counter-clockwise.

Parking spaces in the center are for vehicles with boat trailers.

Handicap spaces in two or three different places, including the spots closest to the bathrooms.

There are almost always cars in the lot, but in the cooler months parking is easy to come by. On summer weekends the park is very busy and the lot does sometimes fill up.

Usage

Stan Sayres Park is heavily used, but the type of usage varies by season. In cooler months a few people will linger in the park, many of them sitting in their cars to enjoy the view. But a lot of people just use it as a place to park before heading out on the paved lakeshore trail.

In the summer, especially on nice weekends, the park fills with boaters and locals hosting tailgate parties. Others spread out on the lawns east and west of the park setting up day camps for sunbathing, picnics, and fishing.

Special Note

During the week of the Seafair hydroplane races at the beginning of August Stan Sayres Park serves as the race pits. Access to the park is restricted and a special pass is required for admittance.

Photo Ops

Docks, birds, mountains, clouds, sunrises, sunsets.

Best light: Sunrise, afternoon, occasionally sunset.

Combo Outing

Other central Lake Washington Parks.

Web Resources

Map location

Mt. Baker Rowing and Sailing Center

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This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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2017 aerial view courtesy of King County iMap.

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