A photo of the Rev. Thomas Mulligan, the seminary’s first president, is hung prominently at the bar named after him. A restaurant is in the old dining hall, and the icebox doors cloistered nuns used in their kitchen were built into the preparation area. The hotel rooms, like the rest of the building, have original windows — and the nightly rates in the mid-$300s are roughly the same as yearly tuition was for the students.
The reminders also come in the form of Latin phrases carved in various spots throughout the Romanesque Revival building, including one over an entrance that reads “SPES MESSIS IN SEMINE,” or, “The hope of the harvest is in the seed.”
It’s perhaps a good motto for the building’s new purpose, as The Lodge at Saint Edward State Park, opening this weekend within the eponymous park near Kenmore, on the northeast shore of Lake Washington. The $57 million hotel — among the most expensive of any built in Washington state, according to its developer — has 84 guest rooms, a restaurant, two bars, 9,000 square feet of event space and a history of uncertainty over what would become of the prime location.
“I’m feeling somewhat relief, but also terrified,” said owner and developer Kevin Daniels, of Daniels Real Estate, who signed a 62-year lease with Washington State Parks in 2017. “We’re going to be opening up a hotel at, hopefully the end of COVID, and who knows what is in the future, coming out of this pandemic.”
The opening of the hotel and event center is a new chapter for the building that, despite its picturesque façade, had largely been unused and fallen into disrepair since the Catholic Archdiocese sold the building and land to the state in the 1970s. It’s also the first time the 90,000-square-foot building will be accessible to the public since the seminary, designed by famed Seattle architect John Graham Sr., opened to students in 1931.
Earlier this week, the hotel, which will be managed and operated by Columbia Hospitality, was buzzing with workers doing last-minute setup and organization. With modern electronics, brand-new furniture and luxury suites, the inside is a far cry from the seminary setting, as evidenced by photos exhibited in the hallways of young boys in the dining hall and doing homework in their small, shared dorm rooms.
Other photos on stands throughout the hotel show what the inside looked like when construction began. Communal showers were rotting. Dorms and classrooms were cluttered with abandoned desks and chairs, some marked with names carved by pen, or hiding old pinup magazines. In some areas, the walls were still stained by the nicotine of heavy-smoking priests.
But the building was built “to last 1,000 years,” Daniels said, with stable, salvageable elements.
“Like most large-scale Catholic buildings throughout the world, we had really good bones to work with,” said Daniels, whose projects include Starbucks Center and Stadium Place in Seattle. “That part was the easy part. Trying to make it into a lodge that people would want to stay in, and tell the history and [of] the people who were here before, that was the challenging part.”
Developers, elected leaders, parks officials and neighbors debated for years over what to do with the building, which is listed in the Washington Heritage Register and the National Register of Historic Places and whose interior was so dilapidated that estimated renovation costs climbed to millions of dollars.
Throughout those years, a diverse group of organizations and companies, like Bastyr University, the McMenamins chain of breweries and hotels and a Kirkland-based cybersecurity firm, expressed interest in the property, but plans failed to pan out, often because of high costs or residents’ opposition.
Some also called for the building to be torn down, citing credible allegations that clergy assigned to St. Edward seminary had abused children.
When the deal was finalized in 2017, an organized group also expressed concerns about what they called the commercialization of the 316-acre Saint Edward State Park, increased traffic congestion and a disruption of the accessibility and peacefulness of the area. An online petition garnered 3,000 signatures.
“There were lots of constituents who loved the park and had genuine concerns over how anything that happened with the building would affect park users’ experience,” said Kenmore Assistant City Manager Nancy Ousley. But, she added, she “couldn’t be more excited about the project,” which leaves parkland open to the public.
Under the lease agreement, Daniels purchased 10 acres of undeveloped land, including Lake Washington waterfront, directly north of the park, which was deeded to Washington State Parks.
“We are excited to see this partnership come to fruition,” said Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission Director Peter Mayer, in an email. “It took a lot of hard work and innovation; coming together with our partners, the Legislature and the community to restore this piece of Washington state history for generations to come.”
Chris Moore, executive director of the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation, said the project is a good example of a public-private partnership; it’s fully within a state park, and removed the financial burden faced by state parks.
“It puts a building that had otherwise sat vacant for the past 45 years back into active use, and saving what’s essentially a great historic resource,” Moore said. “That is obviously one of the primary goals of historic preservation. The best way to save a building is to have it in active use.”
In the once-decaying Great Hall, a large clock hangs from the ceiling. The clock stopped working in the 1960s, but Daniels said he found a man in Woodinville in his 80s who had worked on the original clock and was able to repair it. It’s in the same place as it was originally, when the seminary boys’ lives were “ruled by bells,” as one former student said, planned each hour of the day.
“It has modern insides, and it still keeps time like it did before,” Daniels said. “But it doesn’t ring the bell. We took that out.”
Information from The Seattle Times archives was included in this report.