As Lisa Thompson glances around the property that houses the Mercer Island Saddle Club and the Sunnybeam School, the memories come flooding back. She vividly remembers riding horses in the area in the 1970s and notes that the land remains a special place for her and others in the community.
Andy Lorig echoes Thompson’s sentiment, enthusiastically explaining that she moved to the Island in May of 1970 and began running the Saddle Club within three months of her arrival.
The duo and a host of others gathered at the property at 8635 SE 68th St. on May 6 to discuss the restoration of the old Lakeview Schoolhouse’s teacher’s cottage, which was built on the grounds in 1918 — along with the school — and caught fire in 2018. The building, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, has remained uninhabitable since the blaze. Coming to the rescue is a “Care for the Cottage” campaign to raise the $200,000 needed for restoration of the building, which will house a caretaker to look after the historic school and barn.
Leading the way with the campaign are Pioneer Park Youth Club, Mercer Island Saddle Club, Children’s Dance Conservatory, Sunnybeam School and the newly formed Mercer Island Pony Club, all of whom operate on the grounds. For donation information, visit www.misaddleclub.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thompson, president of the board of directors for Pioneer Park Youth Club, noted at the May 6 groundbreaking ceremony: “It’s just part of our upbringing, but I think more importantly, there isn’t much left in the whole Seattle area from 1918, let alone buildings that are being used. That schoolhouse has been used ongoing since 1918, which is crazy. To me, it’s just keeping these old buildings alive, in use, appreciated and standing at that age.”
Lorig said the options for horse riding have been shrinking in the area, and she’s glad the Saddle Club is still up and running. During her time back on the grounds, she took a stroll around the cottage with Gary Redman, project contractor of Redman Construction, Inc.
“Part of the delight is to see that this has prospered, it’s gone on, it has people who care about it,” Lorig said about the cottage and the club.
Jennifer Brenes, co-barn manager and Pony Club district commissioner, said that having an adult caretaker on the premises at all times is a vital part of the area’s operations.
“With a property that’s so focused on youth and having youth around, that’s a real big safety factor for our community, for our property. Someone being the eyes and the ears for making sure that it’s in good shape, and it’s being well-maintained,” she said.
Mercer Island Mayor Benson Wong is entrenched in local history as his family has lived in the same house on the Island for the past 35 years. Wong has witnessed changes on the Island over the years and is fascinated by the area’s history.
“This is a great opportunity that this community has to preserve a nationally recognized historic building,” he said at the ceremony. “It’s just kind of mind boggling the idea that 100 years ago, this cottage was being built as part of the original Lakeview School that helped educate some of the youth on the Island.”
City Councilmember Craig Reynolds is inspired by the Island residents who are banding together to help preserve the cottage. He looks forward to seeing the cottage brought to life again.
“It’s part of the heritage that we all share. I’m just very very grateful to you for doing that and I thank you for all your efforts,” he said.
Project architect Suzanne Zahr is an active member of the Saddle Club and her daughter has a pony on the site. She helped with remodeling and walking the building permit application through the city.
She’s glad to help contribute to the community based project.
“This is, I think, a very rewarding opportunity to see a building that would have otherwise, I think, just fallen to nature, and preserve that importance of history,” she said. “It’s both rewarding and it continues the tradition of what the purpose of the building was, which is to teach and to take care of others.”