The fundraising effort to restore and reinvent the historic ASUW Shell House is in full swing


Press Releases | UW and the community

November 9, 2022

The large sliding doors no longer open. The roof has deteriorated. The paint is peeling.

But his story is deep. His bones are strong. And his legacy deserves to be preserved.

Perched on the southeast corner of the University of Washington campus, where the Montlake Cut meets Union Bay, the ASUW Shell House appears as vulnerable as it is majestic. Over the course of a century, the structure built as a critical wartime outpost then housed a group of rowers who captured the nation’s imagination before becoming an artifact of the nearly forgotten past.

The UW rowing team on the water in 1937.

The UW rowing team on the water in 1937.

Now, propelled by a wave of renewed interest, the 12,000 square foot wooden structure is the subject of an $18.5 million campaign that will restore and renovate the space, with the aim of opening to re-opened as a learning and gathering space for UW students and the wider community.

The fundraising effort was quickly boosted by Microsoft President Brad Smith and Kathy Surace-Smith, Vice President of NanoString, who personally pledged $5 million. Microsoft Philanthropies committed an additional $2 million, while contributions from other top donors including Challenge Seattle, Theresa Gillespie and John Stanton, Bruce and Jeannie Nordstrom, Charles and Lisa Simonyi, and Mark Torrance, as well as a $500 grant $000 “Save America’s Treasures” from the National Park Service – helped bring the fundraising total to $12 million to date.

“When you walk into the Shell House you are immediately struck by the historic nature of it, by the stories that happened here,” Surace-Smith said. “We hope others will see what we are seeing, which is the enormous potential and value of opening up and restoring this iconic space for the community.”

"The boys in the boat": The gold medal winning rowing team at the 1936 Olympics.

“The Boys in the Boat”: The 1936 Olympic gold medal winning rowing team.

Built by the United States Navy as a seaplane hangar in 1918 during World War I, the Shell House is one of only two wooden hangars from the war remaining in the country – and the only one to house seaplanes. The building was adapted after the war to serve as the headquarters of the UW rowing program for several decades. In an upstairs loft, George Pocock built UW and the world’s winning shells, including the “Husky Clipper”, which won gold at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. The journey of the UW rowing team, representing the United States, is described in the book ‘The Boys in the Boat’, which has sold over 3.3 million copies and is being adapted into a film directed by George Clooney.

“This could be a special place where visitors from other states and countries can visit, learn and be moved by what happened here,” said Brad Smith. “But perhaps more importantly, it’s a place where the people who live here can meet and achieve great things like the ‘Boys in the Boat’ did, and that’s what prompted us to move forward.”

The sun shines in the ASUW Shell House.

The sun shines in the ASUW Shell House.

Plans for the space include interactive exhibits about its history, an expanded waterfront event space for students and the community, and a reactivated Pocock Workshop where the sounds and smells of the building will come alive. Wooden Pocock hulls will be on display at various stages of construction and a boat builder will carry out repairs and share their knowledge of the process. The landscape design will also reflect the waterlines of the area before the Montlake Cut connected Lake Washington and Lake Union. The Duwamish people would gather at the site of the Shell House to portage across the narrow isthmus that spanned the water. The Lushootseed name of the spot — stəx̌ʷugʷił (stukh-ug-weelth) — means “carrying a canoe.” Canoeing culture will be taught and celebrated at the Shell House.

“Microsoft can only be as strong as the community around it. And our job is always to create a community — artists, teachers, historians, engineers, public servants — of people from all walks of life coming together and rowing in the right direction,” said Jane Broom, Senior Director of Microsoft Philanthropies in the State of Washington. “And as a metaphor, this building represents all of that. We have an opportunity here to preserve that legacy and ensure that those stories exist for generations to come, in this place where we can all come together and remember that community is the most important thing we build.

The UW rowing team on the water in 1947.

The UW rowing team on the water in 1947.

After a century of wear and tear, the goal of raising enough funds to preserve and bring this iconic building to life, preparing it for the next 100 years, is within reach. But more help is needed.

“We are so grateful to Brad and Kathy, Microsoft Philanthropies, and the many others who have already supported this effort, for their generous contributions that will help restore this iconic piece of UW history and prepare it for the century. next as a gathering. a space for our students and the wider community,” said Denzil Suite, UW Vice President for Student Life. “These incredible donations propel our fundraising effort, but there is plenty of room left in this boat and we hope they will inspire other leaders within our region’s business community to grab an oar and join us. help achieve our goal.”

You can learn more about the ASUW Shell House and its history at

Tag(s): ASUW Shell House • Denzil Suite • Office of Student Life


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