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Field Report: ASUW Shell House Restoration

The ASUW Shell House was home to the underdogs-turned-Olympic legends of the U.S. men’s rowing team that beat Nazi Germany in the 1936 Olympics–despite enduring the worst of odds. That year, while America was in the throes of the Great Depression, Adolf Hitler hosted the Olympic Games in Berlin to promote Nazi ideals and flaunt fascist supremacy in athletics. Despite rowing being a sport dominated by affluent Ivy League athletes, nine young men from the University of Washington (UW) who came from hard-knock, blue-collar towns of Washington State went on to form the U.S.’ eight-oar Olympic crew. Facing unfavorable circumstances, they were expected to finish last–until an extraordinary shift in the competition catapulted them swiftly from failure to fame. America’s gold medal win challenged the glory of the Third Reich; shocked the fascist elite, and Hitler himself. Their David and Goliath story has since inspired a New York Times bestseller and an upcoming motion picture by George Clooney.

The century-old shell house, though underrated in its current state, served as the training ground for these Olympic rowers, and housed the coveted racing shells made by famous boat builder and rowing mentor George Pocock. Today, as it’s slated for a renovation, Field Report takes a step back into history and a leap forward into the future of the iconic Seattle landmark. Featuring historical and present-day accounts, plus a future reimagined– the piece brings to life, in full-circle, the humble beginnings behind its legacy, and the untold glory beneath its aging layers of timber.