New Heights for Providence Heights?

By Shayna G., Lopez Island Middle School Student

The 1960s were an important time in history for both women and the Catholic Church. Women were finally beginning to gain more rights and opportunities when it came to their professions. Up until then, women had very few choices of professions to choose from, where as men had seemingly endless choices.

Women of the Catholic Church had even fewer choices than their secular counterparts due to their education. In high school, young women training to be nuns learned about the Catholic Church along with their regular high school curriculum. After graduation, these nuns would only learn about the Catholic Church. In the 1950s and 1960s, this began to change as the Church came to the realization that their nuns in training needed more knowledge than what they learned about Catholicism.

The Sister Foundation came to the conclusion that one solution to this problem would be to build and open a college where women studying to be nuns could take regular college classes such as chemistry, math, and literacy, in addition to their religious studies. The college they opened was called as Providence Heights College in Issaquah, WA.

Providence Heights Campus is located on a beautiful plateau in Issaquah, surrounded by farmland. The Sister Foundation spent 6 million dollars to build the entire campus before is was opened in 1961. They spent extra money for quality building materials and design.

Perhaps the most expensive part of the campus is the center cathedral; which has fourteen 33-foot-tall stained glass windows that weigh approximately one ton each. The windows were the work of Gabriel Lore, a world renowned French stained glass artist. Lore had a very unique art style because he crafted one-inch-thick glass chunks into beautiful, modern designs – instead of imitating classic stained glass windows. Gabriel Lore passed away 20 years ago. There will never again be art pieces exactly like these windows.

After opening, Providence Heights College thrived for about five years. Thousands of women were registering for the college. This began to change as women started to have more rights and job opportunities that they were previously denied. Some women felt they didn’t need to become nuns as other professions became available to them. As more and more women came to this realization, fewer began to sign up for Providence Heights College. Only eight years after the college’s opening, there were so few women attending the college that it didn’t make economic sense to keep the college open. It was shut down in 1969.

Since its closing, the college has remained mostly vacant. It briefly served as an Issaquah preschool and a meeting place for local organizations. Although the campus is currently not being used, many residents of Issaquah believe that the campus would serve wonderfully as either a community center, a school, or a meeting place for different organizations. Because the Sister Foundation spent the extra money on quality building materials, the campus is still intact and in great condition. In fact, the campus is in such great condition that Steve Thues, outreach manager of the Sammamish Heritage Society says: “It’s almost a turn-key school as it is. You could probably go in and start teaching classes here this week.”

Despite the fact that the campus is in such great condition and has never been remodeled, making it a great example of 1960s architecture, there has still been plans filed with the city of Issaquah for the entire campus to be leveled and replaced with 133 modern homes. If these plans come to fruition, not only will a historic, non replaceable cathedral be destroyed, but also part of Issaquah’s history will be lost forever.

Although there are organizations working to have the campus demolished, there are also many people working to preserve the campus. Local city residents and preservation groups such as the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation and the Sammamish Heritage Society, are working to save the historic campus.

An example of a local Issaquah resident working to save the campus is Ella Moore. Moore is the president of the Sammamish Heritage Society and has been a Sammamish resident for fifty years. “This is too unique to be destroyed,” she said. “We need those things up here because it’s development crazy and the children and all peoples need to know that there was history here on the plateau; and this is a prime example.”

Providence Heights Campus represents an important time in history for both women and the Catholic Church. Although the campus is not even a century old, it’s still an important historic site in Washington  State, and it contains an irreplaceable center cathedral with the work of a world famous stained glass artist. If this whole campus is leveled all these things will be lost.

The Washington Trust for Historic Preservation website says that if you want to help take part in the potential preservation of Providence Heights Campus, you can contact the City of Issaquah and ask that city officials require the developer to conduct an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the project. If required, an EIS would compel the developer to consider alternatives to demolition and would provide critical time to identify potential preservation-friendly uses for the site.

To learn more go to http://preservewa.org/news134.aspx or download the Washington State Insider app when it launches in mid-June.

 

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