Ever forward

Pulling together to preserve the historic ASUW Shell House, once home to the famed 'Boys in the Boat.'

This has been a place to gather since time immemorial. Long before Lake Washington and Lake Union were connected by the Montlake Cut, the Lakes Duwamish people would come together here to portage across the narrow isthmus that spanned the water. The spot’s Lushootseed name — stəx̌ʷugʷił (stukh-ug-weelth) — means “carry a canoe.”

In the final weeks of World War I, the U.S. Navy built a seaplane hangar here; it’s one of only two such wooden hangars still standing.

The structure, dubbed the Associated Students of UW (ASUW) Shell House, then became the workshop of legendary boatmaker George Pocock — and was home to a UW rowing program that won eight national championships in just under 30 years and inspired Daniel James Brown’s bestselling book “The Boys in the Boat,” about the team’s journey to winning gold at the 1936 Olympics.

For several more decades the building was known as the Canoe House, the UW hub for canoeing, sailing and other water recreation. And then it was used mostly for storage, fading into obscurity. Until now.

Thanks to a $5 million catalyzing donation from Brad Smith and Kathy Surace-Smith — and the support of an ever-growing group of generous donors — the Shell House will soon be renovated and restored to glory. Smith and Surace-Smith made their gift with a vision of the facility’s potential as a communal centerpiece.

This building is about much more than the past — it is about the present and the future. It’s a place for the people who live here to meet and accomplish great things the way the ‘Boys in the Boat’ did.
Brad Smith

The ASUW Shell House, with its spectacular wooden rafters, was the first UW building to be placed on the National Register of Historic Places (1975, as "Canoe House/Shell House"), and the first UW building to become a Seattle Landmark (2018).

The Shell House will feature prominently in the upcoming George Clooney film adaptation of “The Boys in the Boat,” but it’s on the cusp of an even greater starring role. The completed facility will celebrate the UW’s legacy of connection to the water and the Pacific Northwest, hosting thematic programs, courses and events. It will once again be a place to gather on the water’s edge, where the campus and community can reflect on our past as we move ever forward, together.

Says Surace-Smith, “We hope others see what we see: the tremendous potential and value of opening and restoring this iconic space for the community.”

Making an impact

When donors come together as a team with a shared goal in sight, the possibilities are limitless. So far, the Shell House project has raised $11.5 million of its $18.5 million goal, thanks to early key investments from:

  • Brad Smith & Kathy Surace-Smith
  • Challenge Seattle
  • Theresa Gillespie & John Stanton
  • Microsoft Corporation
  • Bruce & Jeannie Nordstrom
  • Charles & Lisa Simonyi
  • Mark Torrance

Learn more about how you can support the ASUW Shell House at giving.uw.edu/asuw-shell-house.

Nicole Klein, Director, ASUW Shell House Campaign

Originally published September 2022

What you care about can change the world

When you give to support the ASUW Shell House, you're helping restore an important part of the UW legacy and creating a gathering place to enrich the whole community.