University of Washington Health Sciences Building is dedicated on October 9, 1949.

  • By Cassandra Tate
  • Posted 12/10/2012
  • Essay 10177

On October 9, 1949, the University of Washington's Health Sciences Building -- new home of the schools of medicine, dentistry, and nursing -- is dedicated on the university's Seattle campus. The eight-wing building is the first unit in a sprawling complex that will expand to include the University Hospital (now the UW Medical Center); the schools of pharmacy and public health; and myriad laboratories, lecture halls, and offices. Renamed the Magnuson Health Sciences Center in 1978 in honor of Senator Warren G. Magnuson (1905-1989), the complex in 2012 consists of more than 20 wings, all connected through a network of interior hallways, with nearly 5.8 million square feet of floor space -- making it one of the largest buildings in the United States.

The Lake People

The huge building dominates the southern end of the UW campus. It is located on an isthmus that divides Union Bay (part of Lake Washington) on the east from Portage Bay (Lake Union) on the west. The site was once a hunting, fishing, and canoe portage area for Native Americans. It was used later for everything from a carnival midway to a golf course to a naval training station and back to a golf course.

The Lakes Duwamish (hah-choo-AHBSH, in their Lushootseed language), lived, hunted, fished, and gathered camas and other roots in the area for centuries before the first non-Native settlers arrived in the early 1850s. The Duwamish established a canoe portage that allowed travel between the two lakes, along a route followed later by the builders of the Lake Washington Ship Canal. The land was relatively level, consisting of grasslands and marshes bordered by tall stands of Douglas firs and cedars. There was a large village, called hikw'al'al ("Big House"), on the southern shore of Union Bay, and a smaller winter village on the north shore, near the site of today's Husky Stadium.

Treaties adopted by the United States government in 1855 called for the removal of all Puget Sound tribes from their homelands to reservations. The Coast Salish people living in Seattle generally resisted relocation efforts but they faced increasing pressure as more settlers moved into the area. In 1865, the newly chartered city of Seattle adopted an ordinance that prohibited Indians from living within the town limits. Indians were restricted to encampments in outlying regions, primarily on muddy tideflats to the south and west. By the 1880s, only a few Lakes Duwamish were still living in the "interlaken" area (so-named because of its location between the two lakes). Among them were the families of "Doctor Jim" Zakuse (also spelled Zackius and Jackuse), on the north shore of Portage Bay; and John Cheshiahud (also spelled Cheslahud or Cheshishon) (d. 1910) on the opposite shore.

Cheshiahud is one of the better known of the Lakes Duwamish people. Whites gave him various nicknames, including Lake Union John, Lake John, Indian John, and Chudups (or Chodups) John. He had been the leader of a village on Lake Union. He  befriended Seattle pioneer David Denny (1832-1903), and in the 1880s, Denny gave him a cabin and a potato patch at the foot of E Shelby Street. Cheshiahud later homesteaded five acres of Lake Union shoreline. Shortly after the death of his second wife, Madeline (Tleboletsa), in 1906, he platted his land, sold it, and moved to the Port Madison Indian Reservation in Suquamish. He died there in 1910. He was buried at Evergreen Washelli Memorial Park beside his first wife, Lucy Annie (Sbeilsdot). Cheshiahud Trail, a six-mile loop around Lake Union, is named in his honor.

Pasture to Pay Streak to Golf

The University of Washington moved from its original location in downtown Seattle to its present site in 1895. Early construction was concentrated in the northern part of the new campus. The lower, southern area was initially used as pastureland. In 1909, it became the site of the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition's "Pay Streak" -- the fair's midway, which featured a lively mix of carnival rides, concessions, souvenir stands, wild animal exhibits, and other popular attractions.

There was little further development on the site until 1912, when students and faculty from the College of Engineering turned it into a nine-hole, 3,100-yard golf course. Remnants of some of the Pay Streak buildings and newly sprouted alder and other brush had to be cleared before the course could be laid out. By that point, a canal called the Montlake Cut had been dug across the isthmus between the two lakes and the Lake Washington Ship Canal was under construction. Parts of the new course, which stretched from 15th Avenue eastward to Union Bay, were within sight of the construction zone.

The 40-acre site was well-adapted for use as a golf course. The nine holes were mostly upland, on slightly rolling terrain, with drives that were clear of the marshes and clay banks along the water's edge. Members of the University Golf Club played for free; guests paid only 50 cents. For more than three decades, with a brief hiatus during World War I, the course gave students, faculty, and staff the chance to "whack the ball around for next to nothing" (Marmor).

A temporary Naval Training Station was constructed on the course during the war. Ground was broken in July 1917; the station opened on August 1. It included housing, dining, and other facilities for up to 1,000 men. Among the hastily built structures was a 12-chair barbershop, offering shaves for five cents and haircuts for ten. "Twenty-two buildings sprang up like magic at the touch of Uncle Sam," the Tyee, the student yearbook, reported in its 1918 edition. "The ridges which made the golf course so beautiful were soon covered with picturesque white tents, which darkened with the weather as time went on."

More than 5,000 men went through naval or naval aviation training at the station by the time it closed, in 1919. The facilities were dismantled then and the property reclaimed for use as a golf course, a purpose it served until being supplanted by the burgeoning Health Sciences Building.

New Use for Old Ground

Planning for a Health Sciences Building began right after the end of World War II. The golf course was chosen as the site because it was the last large tract of open land left on the university grounds. Only that site, covering some 40 acres, was large enough to accommodate the newly created schools of medicine and dentistry, the nursing school (established in 1922), and a teaching hospital -- as well as provide room for their probable expansion.

There was resistance from some local physicians, who feared that the medical school would produce a surplus of physicians and thus lead to more competition for patients. Efforts to limit the school to just 50 students a year failed. In 1946, the legislature appropriated an initial $3.75 million for the building (final costs amounted to more than $9 million). The first contract -- $1.869 million for the construction of the first three wings (A, B, and C) -- was awarded in February 1947 to J.C. Boespflug Construction Company.

A groundbreaking ceremony took place on March 5, 1947. Construction activities soon ate up most of the holes on the old course, but a few remained, and golfers continued to tee off against a backdrop of steel girders until the early 1950s.

Dedication Ceremonies

The original eight-wing building was hailed as "one of the foremost medical-education structures in the country" (Bigelow). Among its innovations was a 600-seat auditorium equipped with "television apparatus" to allow students and doctors to watch televised images of operations. Seats in the auditorium offered "the latest in design and convenience." Each was equipped with a small folding "arm" that could be used as a desk for note taking and stored under the seat when not in use. Modern classrooms, laboratories, and other facilities promised to make it "one of the finest medical training centers in America" (Columns, Winter 1947-48).

Several thousand people attended the dedication ceremonies, held outside the east end of the building on October 9, 1949. Members of the Medical School's faculty hosted public tours of the building. A band played; speakers (including Dr. Donald G. Anderson of Chicago, secretary of the American Medical Association's council on medical education and hospitals) spoke.

Governor Arthur B. Langlie (1900-1966) laid a ceremonial cornerstone. Inside was a lead box containing articles representing each of the four major health sciences (medicine, dentistry, nursing, and pharmacy): a stethoscope; a set of false teeth; a nurse's cap, and a mortar and pestle. (The School of Pharmacy, established in 1894 -- decades before any of the other schools related to health sciences at the UW -- had lobbied for space in the new building but didn't get in until the 1990s.)

Steady Expansion

The first major addition to the Health Sciences Building was University Hospital, an eight-story, $10 million structure that opened on May 4, 1959. The hospital included 291 beds (reduced from an initial target of 500), a nursery, and extensive research facilities. "Although the hospital appears similar to most community hospitals from the outside, its design and function is considerably different because it has a different job to do," the UW alumni magazine, Columns, reported. "Each floor contains special facilities for students, interns and residents participating in the care of patients. The hospital will be a training center not only for medical students, but for 14 allied heath-care professions" (Spring 1959).

Both the Health Sciences Building and the adjoining University Hospital were designed by the Seattle architecture firm of Naramore, Bain, Brady, and Johanson (later NBBJ). The health science wings were denoted A through G. Wings in the hospital were given double letters: AA, BB, CC, and so forth. Subsequent additions to both structures have followed the same pattern: single letters for health sciences; double for the hospital units.

The health sciences complex has undergone numerous expansions since the initial stages of construction in the 1940s and 1950s, including a seven-story addition to the hospital in 1986; a large new wing on the Health Sciences Center in 1995; a 174,200-square foot "Surgery Pavilion" in 2003; and a five-story, 163,000-square foot addition to the Medical Center in 2012.

The complex was only about a third of its current size in 1978 when it was christened the Magnuson Health Sciences Center, honoring Washington's powerful senator -- a man who used his political skills and seniority to influence national health policy for more than half a century. A standing-room-only crowd attended the re-dedication ceremony, held on November 3, 1978. At that point, the complex covered some two  million square feet of the onetime golf course. "Who wouldn't be overwhelmed," Magnuson wondered, "particularly when 40 years ago we played scrubby golf on this very ground?" (Dieffenbach).

Sources: "University of Washington, Medicine, Health Sciences Center," Pacific Coast Architecture Database, University of Washington website accessed September 4, 2012 (; Washington State Department of Transportation, "Cultural Resources Assessment Discipline Report," Final Environmental Impact Statement, SR 520 Bridge Replacement and HOV Program, May 2011; "Lake John," Duwamish Tribe website accessed September 4, 2012 (; SR 520, I-5 to Medina: Bridge Replacement and HOV Project Final Environmental Impact Statement and Final Section 4(f) and 6(f) Evaluations, "Cultural Resources Assessment Discipline Report," Washington State Department of Transportation website accessed September 4, 2012  (; Astrida R. Blukis Onat and Roger A. Kiers, "Ethnohistoric and Geoarchaeological Study of the SR 520 Corridor," submitted to WSDOT June 2007, Section 106, Vol. 1, appendix B; Jon Marmor, "Fore Fathers," Columns, March 1999 (; "University Hospital Opens Its Doors," Ibid., Spring 1959; "Vets Crowd Every Corner of Campus, Building Boom Begins," Ibid., Winter 1947-48; "Navy Training Station," Tyee, 1918, p. 153 (available online at; Hazel Randolph, "Golf Links Enhance Natural Beauty of University Campus," The Seattle Sunday Times, October 20, 1912, p. 21; "U.W. Building Contract Is Let," The Seattle Times, February 28, 1947, p. 11; John Bigelow, "U Medical Building Takes Shape," Ibid., May 23, 1948, p. 3; "Strolling Around the Town," Ibid., June 1, 1949, p. 25; "U.W. Dedicates Buildings," Ibid., October 10, 1949, p. 18; Al Dieffenbach, "Center at U.W. Named for Magnuson," Ibid., November 4, 1978, p. E-6: "Events that Shaped the Character of UW Medicine," University of Washington School of Medicine website accessed September 4, 2012 (; "A Glimpse of History," University of Washington School of Medicine website accessed September 4, 2012 (

Licensing: This essay is licensed under a Creative Commons license that encourages reproduction with attribution. Credit should be given to both and to the author, and sources must be included with any reproduction. Click the icon for more info. Please note that this Creative Commons license applies to text only, and not to images. For more information regarding individual photos or images, please contact the source noted in the image credit.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License
Major Support for Provided By: The State of Washington | Patsy Bullitt Collins | Paul G. Allen Family Foundation | Museum Of History & Industry | 4Culture (King County Lodging Tax Revenue) | City of Seattle | City of Bellevue | City of Tacoma | King County | The Peach Foundation | Microsoft Corporation, Other Public and Private Sponsors and Visitors Like You