The old East Seattle School and Boys and Girls Club building is set to be demolished, according to a permit on file with the city of Mercer Island. Future development may include 14 single family homes. Katie Metzger/staff photo

Owner submits demolition permit for Mercer Island’s historic East Seattle School

A permit has been submitted for the demolition of the old East Seattle School, a fixture in the community since 1914.

The building served as a school until the mid-1970s, when it became the home of the Boys and Girls Club.

The 2.87-acre property on West Mercer Way was sold for $6 million to Islanders Michael and Billi Jo O’Brien in 2007. The auto group owners said they would hold on to the land for 10 years, and at the time, had planned to convert it into ball fields, according to Reporter archives.

The request for SEPA review on file with the city is “associated with the demolition of a commercial structure,” including the removal of two buildings, approximately 22,000 square feet of gym and school/office space and about 25 parking spaces.

Future activity may include subdivision and construction of about 14 new single family homes, according to the permit.

Senior planner Robin Proebsting said that the city of Mercer Island is now in its review process. The notice of application kicks off a 30-day comment period. Residents are invited to provide input.

“Depending on what we hear, we might issue a determination, or ask the applicant for more information,” Proebsting said.

The school is a landmark, but past its useful life, according to the Mercer Island Historical Society. The late Island historian Phil Flash led a fight to save the building when it was sold 10 years ago, as the Boys and Girls Club planned a move to the new PEAK facility.

“It is with regret that we realize that the useful years of the East Seattle School are over,” said Mercer Island Historical Society President Susan Blake. “The building has served the community well for more than 100 years, in many different capacities, almost all centered on our children. It was a school for nearly 70 years, the Boys and Girl Club for nearly 30 years, a polling place and the heart of the East Seattle community.”

The Historical Society would like to see a small portion of the building – the steps or the front archway – preserved as a monument to East Seattle School for future generations, Blake said.

Flash’s daughter Cynthia Flash Hemphill said she was part of the last fifth grade class at East Seattle when it closed as an elementary school in 1972. She and her classmates were moved to Mercerview or West Mercer. In 1984, the Mercer Island School District donated the land to the Boys and Girls Club.

The building had been considered as a potential site for Youth Theatre Northwest (YTN), as it has been essentially unused as of 2013, according to Jane Meyer Brahm’s book, “Mercer Island History: From Haunted Wilderness to Coveted Community.”

“Aside from the gym on south side, which is relatively new, the floor plan is funky and not easily adaptable to other uses, unfortunately,” Brahm told the Reporter.

Brahm, a former council member, served on the task force that searched for a potential future home for YTN, and settled on the northwest corner of Mercerdale Park.

In her book, Brahm writes that the East Seattle School served 81 pupils in nine grades when it opened in September 1914. It was the center of education until 1950, when the first of the “modern” schools was built at Mercer Crest, at Southeast 40th Street and 86th Avenue Southeast.

East Seattle was not the first school on Mercer Island, but it is one of the oldest remaining. Lakeview School, currently Sunnybeam School, was built in 1918 for the children who lived on the south end of the Island. The original building still stands today.

Flash Hemphill said that “school districts notoriously do not preserve old schools,” though her father fought to save several educational buildings in Seattle, including his alma mater of Broadway High School. She said that for organizations like school districts and the Boys and Girls Club, “their mission is to serve children and youth, not preserve buildings.”

Still, she said she would like to see a reunion for East Seattle School alumni to occur before demolition, a sentiment echoed by the Historical Society.

For more information, see www.mercerislandhistory.org.

East Seattle School students pose for a picture in 1937. Photo courtesy of the Mercer Island Historical Society

The first East Seattle School, called the “little white schoolhouse,” was built in 1890 on the site of what is now Secret Park. The building burned down in 1914. Photo courtesy of the Mercer Island Historical Society

The East Seattle School has four classrooms and a play space. The main entrance to the school, built in 1914, was originally on the west side, as shown above. Photo courtesy of the Museum of History and Industry

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