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.

 

RevitalizeWA

For most Lopez School students, the word “endangered” brings to mind species of plants or animals that live in this fragile ecosystem that is the San Juan Islands: disappearing lichen from rocks on Iceberg Point, diminishing populations of sea birds, or hundreds of other species of concern around the Salish Sea. In the past few weeks, we’ve learned about another endangered list: historic properties around Washington State.

In late April I attended a conference in Chelan, called RevitalizeWA, organized by the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation. With my summer history trip around the state approaching, I thought this would be a good way to get a sense of some of the communities I’d be visiting in advance of hitting the road to promote the Washington State Insider app. During the opening reception of the conference, Chris Moore, the executive director for Washington Trust, announced the 2016 Most Endangered Properties List for Washington State – seven at-risk properties that embody the cultural heritage of their respective communities and the region overall. I was surprised to see that the #1 Most Endangered Property is Enloe Dam – a location that Ava, one of our ProjectWA students, had identified to put in the Washington State Insider app!

I learned so much at RevitalizeWA – from strategies to “right size” legacy cities to innovative approaches to preserving communities’ Main Streets – that I had to report back to our students upon my return to Lopez. To my surprise and delight, the students suggested that their final ProjectWA projects (a blog post to be published on this site) should be focused on this year’s Most Endangered Properties List. The idea makes so much sense, and I’m thrilled that this was the students’ idea, not mine.

We immediately took action on this idea. Each student picked one of the properties from the 2016 list, reached out to that property’s champion (usually the local Heritage Society), and created a location entry for the Washington State Insider app. We have a small class of just five students, but we’ve created app entries for each of the seven properties. For their blog posts, Ava picked Enloe Dam, given she was already interested in that place; Anna picked Woodinville Schoolhouse; Shayna picked Providence Heights College, Mallory picked the Dvorak Barn; and Sonnette picked the LaCrosse Rock Houses. Every one of the students’ property contacts replied immediately with enthusiasm – answering questions and providing more background information, maps, photos and videos. The students are now in the process of writing their blog posts.

ProjectWA_class_final_projects

Lopez Island Middle School students work on their final projects, Most Endangered Properties

When Mr. Rovente and I came up with the idea for this semester’s ProjectWA class, we had no idea this is where we’d end up. We started with a good cause: raising awareness of the lesser known aspects of Washington State history while raising money for new text books. We’re ending up with an even bigger objective: helping preserve the places that represent Washington State’s cultural heritage.

RevitalizeWA