Foss Waterway Seaport was founded in 1996 as the Commencement Bay Maritime Association to carry on the work begun in the early 1990s by “Life on the Sound” founders Phyllis Harrison and Mike Vlahovich to create community space to celebrate the art, culture, crafts and skills of Puget Sound’s maritime community. Later the project became known as the Working Waterfront Maritime Museum. The name Foss Waterway Seaport was adopted in 2005 when the vision for the project grew beyond a heritage museum.
The centerpiece of our home is a century-old wheat transfer facility, known as the Balfour Dock building. It is one of two remaining wooden warehouses originally built as a mile-long complex in 1900 (shown above). These warehouses, known as the “mile-long wheat warehouse,” were built to accommodate cargo-carrying, square-rigged ships that frequented the port during the early years of Tacoma’s history. The wharves hosted many beautiful sailing vessels, as well as steam- and diesel-powered cargo traders well into the 20th century.
The Balfour Dock building was last commercially active in the 1970s. The building sat fallow for nearly three decades, rotting away while in use as a city storage facility. 1996, when it was “rediscovered” by boating and history buffs who recognized what profound value the building could add to Tacoma’s rebirth. These visionaries saw Balfour Dock Building as a key understanding the region’s history and environment. Since 2003, the Foss Waterway Seaport organization has been aggressively moving forward to create the perfect venue for long-term community educational and recreational use.
Although the building is owned by the Foss Waterway Development Authority on behalf of the City of Tacoma, it is leased to the Seaport organization for $1/year. This arrangement allows Seaport partners to raise and invest resources in a sustainable community-use project at a prime downtown location.