The Good Shepherd Center doesn’t appear on the five o’clock news, and it’s not a tourist destination. If you tell your friends about it, only a few will know the name. The Good Shepherd Center is quiet. It’s quiet in the same way Ella Baker was quiet, and Harry Hay was quiet, and David Brower was quiet.
That’s Ella Baker, behind-the-scenes organizer of the NAACP and of Martin Luther King Jr.’s Southern Leadership Conference.
Harry Hay, founder of our country’s first successful gay liberation group.
David Brower, a lesser-known environmentalist and an unsung founder of the Sierra Club.
Most people forgot about those 20th century reformers, or they never knew about them in the first place. But we benefit from their legacy all the same, because their reforms shaped the world for the better. And the Good Shepard Center is doing the same.
The center started as a Catholic school for wayward girls. From 1906 to 1973, nuns provided “troubled teens” with shelter and education. The center grew its own fruit and vegetables, raised its own cows and chickens, and accepted girls of all faiths—a progressive institution, even by today’s standards. But it closed in 1973, due in large part to lack of funding.
If you walk into the Good Shepherd Center now, you’ll still find locally grown food, needlework lessons, and dormitories (of a kind). After the center closed, the Wallingford neighborhood voted against a money-minded plan to turn the building into a shopping mall, and instead, Historic Seattle transformed it into a multi-use community center. The nuns have left, but the commitment to social reform remains.
The Good Shepherd Center now houses a range of nonprofits behind its stained glass windows, including:
Snow Leopard Trust: conserving the endangered snow leopard and the biological diversity of the snow leopard’s wilderness habitat in central Asia
King County Nurses’ Association: improving health standards and the availability of health care; and fostering and promoting high standards of nursing through education
iLeap: inspiring and renewing social leaders and global citizens through integrated leadership programs that ignite hope and transformation in the world
Meridian School: promoting a balance of academics, character education, and social responsibility in a strong community setting; providing students with small class sizes, exceptional teachers, a rich curriculum, and a historic setting that all make learning more challenging and meaningful.
Other nonprofits in the Good Shepherd Center offer physical therapy, addiction counseling, and senior support. Others are more eclectic. One supports Washington water trails; another, the ideas of psychiatrist Carl Gustav Jung; a third, the French language; and a fourth, needle arts in the Pacific Northwest.
The Good Shepherd Center also improves the world through art. In the rooms where nuns once taught dance classes, artists now produce paintings, poetry, needlepoints, cabaret, and theatrical masks. The center has six live/work apartments, each 580 to 650 sq. feet, where handpicked local artists hone their craft. The center’s renovated chapel also acts as a performance space with room for an audience of 150. With wood columns and recessed panel woodworking, it’s a place where a kindergarten rendition of Peter Pan would look like an opera.
The Good Shepherd Center does all this with a commitment to locally grown food. It has the first Seattle Tilth garden, planted in 1978 to fill the need for an urban agricultural center. Volunteers filled the center’s old swimming pool and tore up the old play courts, and in their place, they planted a garden. The center also boasts a children’s garden with accompanying education programs, as well as a P-Patch well known in the Wallingford neighborhood.
In addition to the other non-profits, the Good Shepherd center houses:
Cascade Harvest Coalition: a non-profit organization working to build a sustainable local food system by supporting farmers, supporting consumers, and building healthy communities.
Seattle Tilth: a non-profit volunteer organization of gardeners interested in environmentally sound ways of growing edible and ornamental plants.
Tilth Producers of Washington: a 40-year old statewide organic and sustainable farming association made up of Washington’s organic farmers, researchers, educators and businesses.
If you find yourself in Wallingford with a few free minutes, the Good Shepherd Center deserves a visit. The wood strip floors, glass doorknobs, original 1906 stairways, and stained glass windows show that this is a place with more than a hundred years of history. Even the shape of the building catches you off guard—a long structure with more height than depth, like a giant shovel stuck halfway in the ground. But the real value lies in the Good Shepherd Center’s social reforms. It might be a quiet place, as far as publicity goes, but Ella Baker, Harry Hay, and David Brower were quiet, too.
More Real Estate Gals information about the Wallingford neighborhood