By Steve Wilen, CYA Life Member
[Excerpted from September 2011 Classic Yachting newsletter.]
There was a time when Seattle's Lake Union was not the au courant place it has become in the 21st century. Oh, you could find a lakeside eatery, perhaps with a neon sign that read "Eats," where you could "do lunch" for 35 cents – though no one back then would have known what "do lunch" meant. Houseboats were floating (at least partially) contraptions frequently inhabited by folks who could not afford a real house with a yard, and who didn't mind the smell of industrial effluence, rather than today's variety of "architecturally designed" multi-story floating palaces for techworld millionaires. It was a gritty, industrial place in a less complicated time when people were unmindful of a need to care for the environment; pollution from manufacturers that lined the lake was unchecked. But it was in these days that a number of boat building operations ringing Lake Union turned out some of the finest vessels built in the Pacific Northwest, many of which today are in the roster of the Classic Yacht Association – firms such as Grandy Boat Company, Shain Manufacturing Company, Schertzer Boat & Machine, Vic Franck's Boat Company, Blanchard Boat Company, Lake Union Dry Dock Company – and if you ventured a bit east into Portage Bay there was Jensen Motor Boat Company. With the exception of Jensen and LUDDCO, neither of which any longer builds boats, but are actively engaged in all types of repair, all of these yards are gone, most for decades.
A number of these firms started elsewhere. Lewis Grandy began in Tacoma in 1903, teaming up with Charlie Taylor in 1908 and opening Taylor-Grandy in Burton (Vashon Island). In 1911, Taylor-Grandy built Lawana to a design of Otis Cutting, the prototype of what would 15 years later become known as the Lake Union Dreamboat. (Lawana's centennial was observed at 2011's CYA Bell Street Classic Rendezvous in June.) Another Taylor-Grandy collaboration is PNW member Glorybe.
After the Hiram Chittenden Locks (formerly Government Locks) were opened in 1917, connecting Puget Sound with Lakes Union and Washington, Lewis' son, Earl Grandy, moved the operation to the west shore of Lake Union in 1922. Grandy began turning out pleasure boats, a number of which were designed by Ed Monk, Sr., who for a time had an office at the Grandy yard. 1937 Flying Cloud, PNW member, is an excellent example of this collaboration. Through the 1950s, the yard continued to turn out production pleasure craft. The Grandy marque ended in 1967, when a fire destroyed the plant.
Like the Grandys, N. J. Blanchard also began elsewhere, forming Johnson Bros. & Blanchard in 1905, located on the former oxbow of the Duwamish River. In 1911, the yard turned out the 100-foot, Ted Geary-designed canoe stern motor yacht Helori for O. O. Denny, at that time the largest motor yacht built on the west coast. In 1915, Johnson Bros. & Blanchard went broke. The Johnsons, having fled north to Canada, N. J. went to work for the huge Skinner & Eddy yard. In 1919, Skinner & Eddy loaned N. J. to the Tregoning yard on Ballard Beach, to supervise the building of the Geary-designed 84-foot motor yacht Sueja (formerly in the USA Fleet as Princess Mary, current fate unknown) for Capt. James Griffiths. With earnings from that job, N. J. was able to open his own yard at the foot of Wallingford Avenue on the north shore of Lake Union in 1919. Like the Grandy yard, the Blanchard yard burned in 1922, and N. J. relocated to Fairview Avenue on the east shore of Lake Union. When N. J. died in 1954, his son, the late Norman Blanchard Boat Company, Fairview Avenue C. Blanchard, became head of the firm until closing it in 1969.
Perhaps the most commonly thought of motor yachts turned out by the Blanchard yard are the mostly 36-foot stock raised-deck cruisers of the 1920s, designed by Leigh Coolidge, a number of which are CYA members – such as Mer-Na in the USA Fleet, Arlene and Faun in the PNW Fleet, and Blanche in the SC Fleet – but the yard turned out some large motor yachts, such as the 90-foot Wanda, in the NC Fleet, and the 100- foot Malibu in the PNW Fleet, to designs of Ted Geary, and the Monk-designed 62-foot Silver King, formerly of the SC and USA Fleets.
Between 1902 and 1917, the Schertzer Brothers, William and Frank, operated a boat house in the area of Madrona Park on Lake Washington. The opening of the Montlake Cut in 1916, connecting Lake Washington with Portage Bay/Lake Union, resulted in a lowering of Lake Washington; likely that contributed to the Schertzers moving their operation to the north shore of Lake Union near the foot of Stoneway Avenue, naming it Schertzer Boat & Machine, where they continued to turn out boats until 1937. The plant, which was next door to the Vic Franck yard, later became the first location of Edison Tech's (now Seattle Central Community College) boat building school. Norm Blanchard recalled that the Schertzers worked for his dad, and moonlighted on their own. During what period this might have been is unknown, but certainly could have occurred after they shuttered their own operation.
Arguably, the most beautiful of the Schertzer-built motor yachts is the Leigh Coolidge-designed Kiyi of 1926, a stunning 50-foot fantail and long time member of the PNW Fleet. Other CYA Schertzers, both members of the PNW Fleet, include the Monk-designed and beautifully restored Shearwater of 1933, and Rumrunner of 1930, with its “Scuffy the Tugboat” pilot house windows