I think I lived next to the Good Shepherd Center for a good six months before I realized it was not, in fact, a church. As I attempted to direct my grandfather, Bob, to my house, we got in an argument about the purpose of the building when I told him to “park next to the big church on Sunnyside and 50th.” Dedicated to prove Bob wrong, I asked a close friend (Google) to back me up. Google was not on my side, and I ceded the discussion. For this reason, I was determined to learn as much as I could about thee history of the Center when the opportunity arose this quarter, so as to regain my shattered pride.
As it turns out, the Good Shepherd Center has a pretty rad story. The building was initially constructed by the Breitung and Buchinger architectural firm and was completed on July 29th 1907 for the Roman Catholic Sisters of Our Lady of the Good Shepherd, an order dedicated to providing refuge to “wayward girls and children.” The congregation moved from their previous location on First Hill, which was established 1890, so they could have a larger space. It remained a home for troubled girls and young women until 1973, when the building was closed to make room for an 11 story shopping center. Thankfully, the neighborhood rejected that idea and in 1975 was purchased, using residual Forward Thrust and Federal funding, by the City of Seattle, who gave the building to the historic preservation agency Historic Seattle. It was added to the National Registry of Historic Places in May 1978.
Nowadays, the building functions as a community center that houses over 30 non profit organizations and individuals, including the Meridian School, Seattle Tilth, Alliance Française and the Wallingford Senior center. In 2002, low-cost residential artists lofts were added on the buildings top floor. The chapel was also renovated to a performance space. Additionally, it’s hella haunted.
Although hundreds of troubled girls have roamed it’s halls, the architecture of the Good Shepherd Center remains virtually unchanged. The largest structural change to the building was probably the repairs to the damages caused by a fire in 1967. The records concerning this fire were particularly entertaining, due to the discrepancy between the media report and the memory of one of the nuns who was in the building as it burned. According to the Seattle Times on Aug. 8th, 1967, firemen had responded to a fire on the 7th at the Home of the Good Shepherd, safely evacuating the 85 girls and 16 nuns living there at the time. Although the building sustained $30,000 worth of damage (almost $220,000 today), the only significant injury was a paper cut on one of the firemen. The news reports the cause of the fire to be “undetermined.” However, an oral history conducted by Toby Harris provides an alternate story. Sister Valerie Brannon, a nun interviewed by Harris for this history, confesses to know exactly how the fire started. Apparently, a girl got ahold of the attic keys the day before the fire, and then snuck away to light a rack of costumes aflame. According to Sister Brannon, even the firemen knew that this was the cause of the fire, and the guilty party was evicted from the home in less than two days. This is just another glimpse into the complex nature of history and the intricacies of the material record.
Girls after my own heart.