In 1941, Fire Chief Les McGaw lived in University Place and moored his 22 foot cabin cruiser in the nearby lagoon. One of his volunteers, Horton Wilcox, lived on Day Island, down by the bridge. In 1949, Horace W. "Red" Mills of the telephone company, who also lived on Day Island, originated the idea of a yacht club. He and Wilcox started the organization but would not let Chief McGaw join because he did not as yet live on the island. However, they eventually decided a few outsiders would be welcome— especially McGaw since he already moored his cruiser in the lagoon.
The founders asked the Day Island Community Club for permission to meet in their hall. At the third meeting, McGaw was asked to draw up bylaws and Leslie Sulgrove oversaw the incorporation process.
At the Community club, they could not hang their burgee (which Mrs. Bringham had just designed) and were restricted in other ways from using the premises as a yacht club. As membership increased, the club began seeking a permanent meeting place. Chief McGaw suggested that money be raised to buy the old Hallen Machine Shop adjoining the 19th Street Bridge. The membership managed to raise $500 and bought the structure, which had been used to build and repair boat engines. The sheet iron building was full of holes that needed to be filled and an oil heater was brought in to warm the interior. All members helped scrub the oil off the floor and generally clean the place. An attic was sealed with plywood and a stairway was built to make the attic accessible as a meeting room. Members continued to improve the downstairs, but a few years later the pilings were found to have deteriorated and replacement would be costly.
McGaw had his eye on another piece of property located west of the railroad tracks. It was covered with squatters’ shacks, trees and brush. After a time, owner John S. Baker agreed to sell the land. Because the club did not have enough money for the purchase, as dues were the clubs only income and were insufficient, the club sold $15 bonds to raise the down payment. Thus, they acquired the property for a clubhouse and moorage. The squatters, some of whom had been living there since mid-depression days, were removed with some difficulty.
All the shacks on the site were destroyed except for one, which the club used as a construction shed. A road was graded and electricity acquired. McGaw bought a couple of reels of rubber-coated number 12 wire and strung the line, part of it through the water, from his home to the site.
To meet the need for a marine railway, some of the members built one with donated materials, anchored it to a large maple tree, and began moving their boats to and from the water.
In the meantime, the club had vacated the machine shop because of the deteriorated pilings, and they held their meetings at the University Place Masonic Hall. No moorage existed yet except for the log in the lagoon.
Another problem was evident. Skippers found it nearly impossible to maneuver a large boat under the Day Island Bridge. Even small boat helmsmen had to be very familiar with the channel. McGaw reported he had only two inches on each side of his boat going through the piling under the bridge. The tide had to be just right.
Hilding Lindberg, a board member at National Bank of Washington, secured a $25,000 loan for clubhouse construction and dredging of the moorage area. Moorages and a bulkhead replaced the old marine railway, which was torn out. City Light strung a line to the site that allowed the temporary wires from McGaw’s home to be disconnected.
Securing a water supply also proved to be a problem. The squatters had been using a contaminated 50-foot well. The board decided a new deep well was needed. Nearby businesses had gone down more than 600 feet to find potable water. The Day Island Yacht Club board worried about the costs of such deep drilling but decided to proceed. At 300 feet, they began sweating over the costs, but at 450 feet, members became very concerned. McGaw figured that since they were already that deep, they might as well proceed. He told other board members that surely there would be water at 600 feet. The worried board members began meeting every night to receive reports. The driller reached 600 feet and still the hole was dry. The board told him to go down five more feet and if he did not hit water, they’d pay him off and take the loss. At 602 feet, the driller yelled, "There she goes!" His drill had finally struck a good stream.
As time went on, the moorages filled. The club purchased a lot south of the bridge and asked that the waterway between their two holdings be vacated. They also bought a lot on the east side of the old Hallen property and then still another lot beyond. These additional purchases assured the club some control over the entrances to both the Hallen and government waterways.
When a second moorage was built, 104 boats could be cared for. Never was a payment missed on the several bank loans. The Day Island Yacht Club was built on a solid foundation, indeed.
Based on an oral report recorded on tape by Les McGaw on July 9, 1971