The world-famous stained glass windows in the Providence Heights chapel were designed by renowned French artist Gabriel Loire. Photo courtesy of Michael Sladek

City of Issaquah deems Providence Heights campus not worth preserving

City holding public comment period on the property until April 14

The city of Issaquah has determined that the Providence Heights campus is not worthy of being preserved from demolition.

The city has issued a Determination of Non-Significance stating that a proposal by the property’s owner, Plateau Campus, LLC, to tear down the campus — which was built for the Sisters of Providence in 1961 as a college for nuns — would “not have a significant adverse effect on the environment.”

J. Todd Scott, a preservation architect with the King County Historic Preservation Program, said that the word “environment” in the DNS “includes historical and cultural [aspects] as well,” meaning the city does not believe Providence Heights has enough historic value to be preserved.

“Although the structure has been identified by the State as being eligible for listing on National Register, the structure has not been designated as a historically significant structure,” the DNS stated.

Scott said that the King County Historic Preservation Program “does not agree with this determination.”

Plateau Campus, LLC is an arm of The City Church of Kirkland, Scott explained. The City Church bought the property in 2008.

Last summer, the Issaquah School Board voted to move forward with condemning the campus so that a new high school could be built there in the future.

According to the DNS, the campus chapel’s 14 stained-glass windows — which are 30 feet high and were created by the late, world-renowned French artist Gabriel Loire — would be preserved and given back to the Sisters of Providence.

However, Scott said he did not know how this would pan out in reality. Besides the cost and difficulty of removing stained glass windows, he said he did not know what the sisters would do with a set of 30-foot windows.

Loire made the windows especially for the Sisters of Providence using his signature dalle de verre style, setting thick pieces of colored glass in concrete rather than lead. Loire lived in Chartres, France, a city famous for its medieval, stained-glass-filled cathedral. His work can be found in significant places of worship around the world, including the Salisbury Cathedral in Salisbury, England, the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in Berlin, Germany and St. George’s Cathedral in Cape Town, South Africa.

The Sammamish Heritage Society submitted an application for the campus to be preserved as a city of Issaquah historic landmark. However, the society withdrew the application in mid-February of this year due to a fear of legal action by The City Church.

The society stated that it fully intended to resubmit the application after seeking legal counsel.

Though no longer able to hold an official public hearing on whether to save the property as a landmark after the application withdrawal, the city of Issaquah Landmarks Commission still held a public comment session at its late February meeting to take statements from residents as part of the meeting’s minutes.

Every one of the 14 speakers who made a comment begged the commission to preserve the structure. Many of them compared the chapel’s windows to artwork in the cathedrals and palaces they had seen while traveling through Europe.

“Budapest did not tear down its historic parliament building after years of neglect under the communist occupation,” said Diana Kelsey Kutas of Sammamish. “[Providence Heights] is historically, architecturally and artistically significant. I want my children to be able to return to Issaquah and Sammamish … and see and visit the history of the community in which they grew up.”

Jeff Matson of Issaquah called Providence Heights “a treasure we cannot afford to lose.”

The speakers lamented that in comparison to European cities, the West Coast of the U.S. seems to have a mentality that is far less concerned with preserving old buildings.

“We are a waste society,” stated Rosemary Carrel, secretary for the society. “If it can’t be used as it is, we tear it down rather than think of how it can be reused.”

The speakers also referenced the property’s significance as a college for women in an era when females had far fewer educational and occupational opportunities.

“Women’s education is something we can honor,” said Becky Moore Johnson of Issaquah.

Those who do not want to see Providence Heights destroyed have a chance to try to save the property — the city is taking public comment from now until 5 p.m. on Friday, April 14.

“The city will reconsider the Determination of Non-significance (DNS) based on any comments received from the public and public agencies, and may retain, modify, or if significant adverse impacts are likely, withdraw the DNS,” Scott said in an email to those who spoke at the meeting. “Consequently, it is important for anyone interested in this historic resource to provide written comments to the city of Issaquah.”

Public comments may be submitted to Economic Development and Development Services Director Keith Niven at P.O. Box 1307, Issaquah, WA 98027-1307 or at keithn@issaquahwa.gov.

“We need to tell the story about our past … That’s what we need Providence Heights for,” said Eirlys Vanderhoff, who grew up in the United Kingdom among medieval buildings. “It’s a significant impact to Sammamish and Issaquah in the loss of what’s there.”

 

Photo courtesy of Michael Sladek The 30-foot stained glass windows at the Providence Heights chapel depict biblical images.