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Terminal 91

Changing with the Times | Battle of Smith Cove | Name Change | Buy Back | Cars by the Acre | Chilling | Beautification | Bye-bye Cars - Hello Fish | Cruising |  

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Changing with the Times

Of all the Port properties, Smith Cove Terminal, today’s Terminal 91, may have the most storied past, rivaled only by a century of commercial fishing heritage at Fishermen’s Terminal and Terminal 46 with its Hooverville roots.

This property’s history dates back almost as far as the Port itself. The Port purchased the Smith Cove property from the Great Northern Railroad in 1912.

Smith Cove, 1914.

Smith Cove, 1914. Courtesy Washington State Archives, Puget Sound Branch.

The original piers were part of the initial “Comprehensive Scheme of Harbor Developments,” a plan that required the Port to develop facilities to meet community needs and take full advantage of the deep water port, perfect for waterborne commerce.

Loading exports for Asia.

Loading exports for Asia. Courtesy Washington State Archives, Puget Sound Branch.

The first pier at Smith Cove, built in 1913, was known as “Pier A”, (today, Pier 90). The second pier, “Pier B,” was completed in 1920. Both piers were recognized as the longest earthen piers of their type in the nation and were equipped with a traveling gantry crane, tractors, five miles of on-dock railroad track, a shear leg derrick, locomotive cranes, and lights for around-the-clock operations.

Locomotive Crane at Smith Cove, 1914.

Locomotive Crane at Smith Cove, 1914. Courtesy Washington State Archives, Puget Sound Branch.

Silk, soybean oil, and lumber were among the top imports and exports. By 1919, the Port was ranked second in the nation for the value of its imports and exports. Much of that success was due to raw silk from Japan. Once on Seattle shores, the imported silk was sent on to the Midwest and East Coast by fast trains.

Unloading silk.

Unloading silk. Courtesy Washington State Archives, Puget Sound Branch.

Battle of Smith Covetop of page

The Great Depression gripped the nation with unemployment and hunger. Seattle was no exception. Adding to the difficulty of finding work, relations between unions and shippers was poor. Terminal 91 was the site of a particularly gruesome event  - the Great Maritime Strike of 1934. The strike paralyzed West Coast ports, including Seattle, from May 9 to July 31. Seven strikers were killed in the West. In Seattle, 1,400 longshoremen gathered on the waterfront, blocking shipments through the Port.



Seattle Mayor Charles L. Smith demanded the port reopen, but strikers wouldn’t budge. An attempt by the mayor and police to break the strike, results in the June 20th “Battle of Smith Cove”. Two hundred and twenty-five police men used beatings, tear gas and guns to intimidate strikers, while 150 strike-breakers unloaded vessels. But the cargo doesn’t get far; the strikers hold their ground and block any movement. At the end of it all, several strikers and policemen are injured, one striker is killed at Smith Cove, and at Point Wells, Seattle International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA) leader Shelvy Daffron is shot and killed by police.

Read more about the Great Maritime Strike of 1934 on HistoryLink.org and on the University of Washington's Waterfront Workers History project site.

Name Change  top of page

Within a few years, Piers A and B were re-numbered 40 and 41, only to undergo another renumbering in 1944.

Stacks of soybean oil at Smith Cove.

Stacks of soybean oil at Smith. Courtesy Washington State Archives, Puget Sound Branch.                                                                                                      

Smith Cove Terminal rode the wave of boom and bust through the Roaring 20s and the Great Depression. When World War II broke out, the U.S. Navy bought up many properties on Seattle’s waterfront and took over all shipping. The Navy purchased Piers 40 and 41 in 1942, and the Army began operating piers 36, 37, 38 and 39, which became the Port of Embarkation for the many supplies and troops.

Pier 91, 1944.

Pier 91, 1944. Courtesy Coast Guard Museum.

In 1944, the military instituted a name change for all piers on the waterfront and Smith Cove Piers 40 and 41 became Piers 90 and 91. The property altogether became known as Terminal 91, and included much of what we know of as Terminal 91 today.

Terminal 91, 1960s.

Terminal 91, 1960s

Buy Backtop of page

Even after the war, the Navy continued to own and operate the two piers as a naval supply depot. But in 1970 the Port signed a lease to operate the piers, and over the next few years negotiated terms for a purchase. The deal was sealed in 1976. The Port used Pier 36, which it owned throughout the war, as a down payment, and the Coast Guard moved its operations there.

Terminal 91, 1970.

Terminal 91, 1970

Terminal 91, 1982.

Terminal 91, 1982

Terminal 91, 1970s.

Terminal 91, 1970s

Cars by the Acretop of page

Beginning in the 1970s, Terminal 91 literally became covered in cars. Auto Processing, Inc. set up shop on the property, handling tens of thousands of imported cars every year.

Terminal 91, 1979.

Terminal 91, 1979

Chillingtop of page

Fruit and fish cold storage made a comeback. The Port built extensive cold storage facilities to handle two of Washington’s most famous exports —apples and salmon. Mechanical capabilities changed dramatically since the 1920s. While the Port concentrated much of its development efforts on massive container cargo terminals in the 1960s and 1970, it reserved Terminal 91 to handle break-bulk cargo, general cargo and cold storage.

Beautificationtop of page

During redevelopment of Terminal 91 in the 1970s, the Port recognized the need to provide public access at this prime location.

Smith Cove Park, 2003.

Smith Cove Park, 2003. Port of Seattle photo by Don Wilson.

Smith Cove Park at Terminal 91 was built in 1979 and provided shoreline access and benches with stunning views of Elliott Bay and the Seattle skyline. Terminal 91 Bike Path was built in 1991, adding two acres of landscaping and nearly 4,000 feet to the bike path at Elliott Bay Park and Seattle’s Myrtle Edwards Park.

Terminal 91, 1979.

Terminal 91, 1979

The new, large warehouses, open lots and cold storage proved a great asset. In 1989, 3.5 million cartons of fruit moved through Terminal 91, and cold storage capacity grew to two million cubic feet.

Terminal 91, 2009.

Terminal 91, 2009. Port of Seattle photo by Don Wilson.

Bye-bye Cars – Hello Fishtop of page

Demand for cold storage grew and so the Port built even more facilities and eventually got out of the import car business altogether. Today several fish processing ships call on Terminal 91.

Cruise ships, 2009.

Cruise ships, 2009. Port of Seattle photo by Don Wilson.

Cruising top of page

Phenomenal growth in the cruise industry brought more ships into the Alaska cruise market, creating new opportunities for Seattle. In 2009, a cruise terminal was added to the long list of features at this storied terminal. In 2010, the cruise business brought more than 900,000 passengers and $425 million in business revenue to the region. Each cruise ship call delivers about $1.9 million in business to the local economy.

Smith Cove Cruise Terminal.

Smith Cove Cruise Terminal. Port of Seattle photo by Don Wilson.

Read about the history of cruise in Seattle.

The sheer length of the piers, with 17 berths, multiple storage options and cruise ship shore power, make Terminal 91 one of the finest and most diverse marine terminals on the West Coast.

Smith Cove Park, 2007.

Smith Cove Park, 2007. Port of Seattle photo by Don Wilson.


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