Just across a shining sea from the Emerald City, up a meandering path through an enchanted forest, sits a castle.
Ages ago, an order of religious men built this castle to train their priests. It had a divine purpose. There they lived and worked.
Decades passed, and almost half a century later, its original purpose waning, a large governing council purchased the fortress and its surrounding land to give to the people for their enjoyment.
But as is the case with many kingdoms whose rulers write more checks than their subjects can cash, funds to maintain the grand old building were sparse.
The castle fell into disrepair. The people flocked to its large lawn and acres of woods and the local wild animals were grateful for the safe haven as much of the rest of their world was being torn apart by development. But inside the great walls, the elements were seeping in to slowly break the building down.
Rescue attempts were formulated and discussed. Councilors and merchants tried their hand at daring plans to salvage the most iconic piece of architecture in the area. But the people could not agree on whether their money should be spent trying to save this landmark or if they should allow the merchants into the enchanted forest to ply their trade.
Here we are. And there she stands, unsteady but proud, water damaged but determined to survive, waiting patiently for a savior.
Ten years ago, I finally gained access to the building during an emergency exercise. As a medical team leader in an earthquake drill similar to the one occurring right now, Cascadia Rising, I was triaging “patients” as all the faults of the building started jumping out me. “Get those people away from the window,” I remember saying, because in a strong earthquake the vintage glass would rain down on the victims.
But there was more. The obvious water issues. The bits and pieces coming loose. The suspicious old pipes beside and above. Strange spots on the ceiling. Peeling paint and creepy radiators. A general state of disrepair despite the resident park rangers doing everything they could with what they had. Most of the building was and still is off limits. They don’t give tours. They say it’s for safety reasons. I like to believe they have a dragon living in the basement.
The castle of which I speak is the St. Edward Seminary in Kenmore, Washington. High on a hill above Lake Washington in the middle of a 300 plus-acre state park, it is one of the most historically significant buildings in the area. Kenmore doesn’t have a lot of notable historic buildings and in an era where quaint old homes with spacious yards are being razed to accommodate soulless oversized boxes, the park is a much-needed refuge.
Throughout the park are trails of varying degrees of difficulty. There are ball fields. There’s an amazing playground and a grotto where weddings are held. It has medieval-looking stone benches and a sort of combination pizza oven/sacred altar. When my cousin’s boyfriend proposed to her there, she started screaming in glee, and two men came running through the woods to rescue her.
Weddings are held there and in the seminary. The city holds summer concerts on the expansive lawn. Cultural and community groups gather for celebrations. Generations of families have played in the park. At night bats and birds, eagles and deer, raccoons and squirrels go to sleep amongst the trees after the humans have left.
Washington State Parks, the state agency the land and building belong to, has been up front that there are no public funds to save the seminary. In a series of public meetings, they’ve solicited community input as to whether private investors should be involved or the building mothballed or torn down. They’ve cited the millions of dollars it would take to restore and retrofit the building. A wall could be left up as a monument, they’ve said, but to remove this iconic piece of architecture would be to rip out the heart and soul of the park.
Citizens have many passionate opinions on whether to save the St. Edward Seminary. A few show up at public meetings with their torches and pitchforks to disrupt, to criticize the government, to be heard, to pontificate. The ever-vigilant Kenmore police chief Cliff Sether has had to intervene at least once at community meetings. But most local residents respectfully voice their legitimate concerns about how a building of this size and age can be best handled in one of the last best wooded pieces of the sprawling Seattle suburbs.
It’s crystal clear that the building cannot be saved without private intervention. McMenamins tried. There was some sort of tech company that got involved. St. Edward’s next door neighbor Bastyr University had an interest for a time. Citizens have brainstormed ideas on how to raise enough money to save the building but keep it in the public’s hands. So far the only idea that sounds halfway logical belongs to Kevin Daniels.
Who’s Kevin Daniels? If you’ve heard of Starbucks Center, Merrill Place, Union Station, or the Frye Art Museum, you know Kevin Daniels. Kevin is a soft-spoken real estate guru who has a genuine passion for preserving historic buildings. A couple of his projects have been so ambitious that given the requirements and regulations involved you might look at him and say, “dude, you’re crazy.” But Daniels and his team have plans for St. Edward, and while it’s not the absolutely ideal use of the building, right now it’s the only practical way to save it.
Someone asked Daniels recently why he’d want to buy a shuttered Depression-era concrete building with quirks like internal gutters and he offered several solid answers. Most notably, he was married on the grounds. The seminary is exactly the kind of the project that he dives into and wrestles through until every detail is resolved to his (and the government’s) satisfaction. He has faced rampant rumors and open disrespect but remains willing to attend community meetings to address concerns from all sides.
Specifically, Daniels wants to turn the seminary building into a lodge-style hotel and restaurant. The restaurant would be accessible to the general public, and for us public utilities aficionados, yes, he plans to voluntarily install an appropriate grease interceptor to help protect the grounds. This would make the seminary the gathering place it was intended to be when Washington State Parks purchased it all in 1976. The hotel would have its own parking and there would be a cooperative effort to ensure that parks visitors stay in their allotted parking and vice versa.
Citizens have expressed concerns about the increase in visitors to the park and the possibility of drunk people stumbling around where their children play. There are traffic concerns. There will be environmental impacts. There are questions as to how many dump trucks full of debris will be headed down Juanita Drive through Kirkland since Kenmore’s bridges across the Sammamish Slough in the other direction need millions of dollars of help themselves. Kudos to Mayor Dave Baker for his work on the bridge upgrades, by the way. Trump can make a deal? Ha. Baker can.
Daniels assures people that all of this is being studied and they will have numbers to present to the public. The public has also been assured that events can still be held on the grand lawn, like concerts and the Skandia Midsommarfest. While it’s possible there could be a few drunk rowdy people, that’s what law enforcement is for, whether that winds up being the park rangers on the premises or the local police. Leasing out the seminary as a hotel is a leap of faith as far as a business venture, but it is going to allow the building to become a public gathering spot, and you bet park goers will stop for a drink or a bite. Daniels also plans to acquire the 10 acres at the northwest corner of the park that everyone trespasses on now. It will become park land, saving it from becoming more soulless boxes with no yards.
My family has Finn Hill roots– Finn Hill being the name of the 400-foot high half-Kirkland, half-Kenmore mini-mountain St. Edward sits on– and if someone randomly asked me what I thought about making the seminary building a hotel, I’d scoff. As a conservative highly protective of plants and animals, my knee jerk reaction might be, “that’s crazy.” Even after learning of Daniels’ plan, I had my reservations. A hotel in the middle of a state park? Would that just invite trash and bad behavior and elitist out of towners who freak out when they see the woodland creatures many of us are used to?
Then I learned Chris Moore approved of the Daniels Real Estate plan. He and his team have been handing out orange “Save Our Seminary” t-shirts, a great way to raise awareness. That was the tipping point for me. Moore, Executive Director of the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation, is the guy you must know if you care at all about historic buildings in our state.
Moore is the expert I email any time I hear of an issue with an old building because he inevitably is willing to talk to the owner or knows somebody who can facilitate a discussion about how to circle the wagons to save it. Somebody wants to tear down a theater in Everett? Somebody’s renovating the Kirkland Cannery? What’s going on with that historic house the developer might tear down? He has his finger on the pulse of the historic preservation in our region and really knows his business. So for him to have combed through the details of Daniels’ seminary plans and come out with a very public “yes” was exactly what I needed to know.
The government doesn’t have enough of our money to make this happen and has many other matters to attend to right now, namely making our crumbling public infrastructure a priority. My gut tells me the Daniels plan to turn Kenmore’s castle into a hotel and restaurant is its last chance. Is there any other money on the table? Is there another developer out there with this kind of vision? Is there someone else as tolerant and patient as Daniels willing to be put through the wringer for crimes he never committed?
A discussion of the seminary is not complete without addressing some of the feelings community members have about the Catholic church’s victimization of children. It has been discovered that a group of priests who came out of that seminary were responsible for child molestation. They were– and perhaps still are– shameless predators who need to be held fully accountable for the violation of innocents. A few people see the seminary as a monument to pedophilia and believe it should be torn down. Some believe a high degree of penance is in order.
But Washington State Parks is not responsible for that. The City of Kenmore is not responsible for that. Daniels Real Estate is not responsible for that. The St. Edward Seminary is being given a fresh start. It has an opportunity to be reborn. It is being reinvented and repurposed. This is a victory over whatever darkness came out of it before. This is also a prime opportunity for the Archdiocese of Seattle to specifically address what happened and detail what’s being done to bless the survivors. Windows long closed will open. Doors propped shut decades ago can be torn down. It’s time for walls, both literal and metaphorical, to be demolished so that the light can get back in.
Ultimately, this hasn’t been a seminary for a long time and any negative history should not stop revitalization attempts. It should instead encourage them. I understand why people feel so strongly about this, but if what was once used as a curse can be forged into a blessing, let’s seize that opportunity. With proper law enforcement and community cooperation, this building can become a happy place. Besides its recreational use, we never know, in an age of power grid hacking, possible EMPs, and lurking war, what purpose that building might serve in an emergency. I suspect it has a greater importance. In time we will know.
It’s taken 40 years for the right leadership and money to come along to morph this brick beauty into the people-friendly place State Parks intended it to be. While I don’t know if the local clergy would bless a place where alcohol is served, why not invite priests and pastors from local churches to bless the reborn building? This could be done during a grand opening celebration to which the whole community is invited. A grand opening celebration could also be an opportunity to raise funds for survivors or to collect goods or donations for local charities.
If this plan goes sideways, I would likely be among its first critics. I am fiercely protective of local wildlife and yes, staunch conservatives can also be tree huggers. As a coworker of mine pointed out, knowing how I feel about the local environment and how we’re driving the wild animals out, it says something that I can live with this plan. Increasingly locals are complaining about how many small furry mammals there are outside or how inconvenient trees are (they cause yard work). I wonder why they don’t go live in a flat lifeless desert if the Pacific Northwest’s natural environment causes them so much angst. The trees and animals were here first. Some of us Puget Sounders like it that way.
Again, I wish State Parks could make that building into an amazing conference center or something more public, but they can’t, so Daniels seems to have the next best solution. To save Kenmore’s castle, there has to be some give and take. No one’s going to get everything they want. Kevin Daniels has been very open and very fair, plus he’s already chalked up some major successes with similar projects. If you have questions, ask him. If you feel that city council members need to provide facts or figures, email them. If you know of a way to help, speak up. This process and all information must be transparent. With a project this controversial, there is no room for secrets. There can be no surprises.
Once upon a time, a derelict castle on a hill was given new life. The demons of the past were purged. The yellowed tapestries were replaced with new works of art. Its walls were braced, its roof reinforced, its deep places dried out. Leaders dreamed of tomorrow over their meals. Locals and guests strolled in and out, finding a new unity in a central gathering place. Conversations and ideas were born. Coalitions formed to ensure proper protection of the non-human residents on the grounds and that extended into cooperative efforts deeper in the community.
Can you see it?
With a little cooperation, diplomacy, and transparency, the castle can be given a new song.
The heart of the park can beat again.
I call architecture frozen music. -Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Daniels Real Estate’s plans for the seminary can be found here.
Thank you to Daniels Real Estate, the Kenmore City Council, Washington State Parks, Friends of St. Edward’s, The Washington Trust for Historic Preservation, and various community groups for their work to find a mutually beneficial solution.
©2016 H. Hiatt/wildninjablog.com. All articles/posts on this blog are copyrighted original material that may not be reproduced in part or whole in any electronic or printed medium without prior permission from H. Hiatt/wildninjablog.com.