At Large in Ballard: This is big
By Peggy Sturdivant
“This is big,” I thought when I finally got a look at the old Webster School boiler. Then I heard the same message an hour later from the Treasurer of the Nordic Heritage Museum Board.
There are years I haven’t set foot in the old Webster School, and then there are weeks when I’ve been there almost every day. Ever since last year’s “Scissors for a Brush” exhibit I’ve been a member. (Member discount in the gift shop has really increased my attendance).
I was in the old school auditorium last Saturday for the reception following the memorial for Anne Marie Frodesen Murphy Steiner. One wall was lined with photographs, starting with her mother Inga’s childhood in Norway all the way through Anne Marie’s 77 years as a member of the Daughters of Norway. The room was filled with old friends but also lots and lot of cousins. Each of Anne Marie’s six children had attended grade school in the very building where Norse Home catering spread a smorgasbord for the reception.
It was obvious from the obituary, the photographs, the memories being shared that Anne Marie had lived a big life.
Meanwhile the Nordic Heritage Museum has quietly been growing its collections, its Capital Campaign, its dreams for the future. Since the first design for its new site the museum has acquired additional property at the southeast corner of Market Street and 28th Avenue Northwest, which has allowed it to revise its footprint somewhat.
Three days after the memorial reception I was back in the Nordic Heritage Museum as part of a member’s event, being shown neatly archived materials not currently on display. The special acid-free archive boxes are on shelves that housed school supplies and in rolling units that use every inch of the old closets. I could see the pipes and valves leading back to the boiler, which is clearly the origin for phrase “belly of the beast.” Slipping away from the curators and museologists, at the entrance to The Dream of America there was a small door ajar. I finally saw the beast itself. That boiler is where it belongs, in a museum.
But for how much longer? After my glimpse of the boiler I joined the audience of museum members gathered for the Nordic Heritage Museum’s Annual Meeting. Board President Irma Goertzen started her remarks by saying, “The wait is over.” Everybody knew she was talking about the new museum.
For at least ten years there has been talk of a new building; property for the site was acquired in 2008, on Market Street. Since 1980 the Nordic Heritage Museum has rented the old Webster School from the Seattle School District. At one point they tried to purchase the building but the school district declined to sell. NHM has been planning for a new home ever since, with a fundraising goal of $45 million to design, build, move, occupy and staff the new site.
The recession slowed their progress but didn’t stop it. On February 18, 2014 the big news of the Annual Meeting was that revenues have increased, funding has been strong, and with just $14-15 million short of the goal, the project is ready to go forward.
These members are devoted. Most are also volunteers who have put in 20,000 hours over the last year. Many of them are major donors, including retiring Board Member Floyd Jones, who pledged another million in the last year, and supporters such as former Lockhaven owners Earl and Denise Ecklund who have pledged $250,000 towards the new museum.
There has been so much talk about the new site that I’ve met folks over the years that assumed the Nordic Heritage Museum was closed. To the contrary new exhibits and events are attracting record numbers (and that’s before the arrival of “Arne & Carlos” Knitting Exhibit).
The CEO and the Board members are thrilled to reveal a project timeline; completed design review by September 2015, “shovel to dirt” in November 2015 and occupancy by May 2017. After learning patience, three years suddenly seems very soon.
Meanwhile there is a possible new sense of urgency. After all this time, the Seattle School District may be interested in reclaiming the old building after all. In the last two weeks they have ended their 28-year lease to Northwest Center for Kids at the old Queen Anne School. As of last July General Counsel for Seattle Public Schools Ron English had said they had no plans for the building after the Nordic Heritage Museum moved out; Webster’s status may have changed.
I have been worried about what would happen to Webster after the museum moved. When fundraising was lagging it seemed too distant to tackle. Now I will have to start worrying about the artists who are in the old Fenpro building; invisible elves creating with mysterious tools.
Taking my cue from the boiler, from the storied life of Anne Marie Frodesen Murphy Steiner and the benevolent spirit of longtime teacher Mrs. Bertha Davis I can only say about the future of the new Nordic Heritage Museum and old Webster School, this could be big.