Seattle Now & Then: Firland Sanatorium, 1934

(click and click again to enlarge photos)

THEN: This Feb. 14, 1934, view looks northwest at 19 workers paving the entrance to Firland Sanatorium. The image is from an album of 93 New Deal-era prints of local sites purchased decades ago at a thrift store and recently loaned to this column for scanning — itself a gift of love for our region. (Courtesy Marvin Holappa family)
NOW: Standing before CRISTA’s Mike Martin Administration Building beside sanitation workers are (from left) Aaron Bard, great-grandnephew of author and former Firland Sanatorium patient Betty MacDonald; Paula Becker, author of an acclaimed 2016 MacDonald biography; Vicki Stiles, executive director of Shoreline Historical Museum, home of a Firland exhibit in 2007; Jan Screen, receptionist affiliated with CRISTA since 1957; and Kyle Roquet, facilities VP. (Jean Sherrard)

(Published in the Seattle Times online on Feb. 18, 2021
and in PacificNW Magazine of the print Times on Feb. 21, 2021)

Inside and out, a stately, cross-topped edifice nurtures acts of love
By Clay Eals

We at “Now & Then” heartily proclaim that Valentine’s Day is worth not just 24 hours’ attention but rather a season — nay, a full year. So while the holiday fell last Sunday, we still can celebrate that our “Then” photo, taken 87 years ago on Feb. 14, represents the largess of love.

Most obvious is its esteem for jobless Americans during the Great Depression. Nineteen men are shown paving the road to the City of Seattle’s 44-acre Firland Sanatorium, west of Highway 99 in today’s Shoreline. The labor was funded by the federal Emergency Relief Administration (ERA), a New Deal relief program.

Also potent is the devotion inherent in the sanatorium, whose stately 1913 Administration Building was topped by the two-barred Cross of Lorraine, longtime logo for the National Association for the Study and Prevention of Tuberculosis, later the American Lung Association.

In our coronavirus era, the word “sanatorium” seems obscure, but before the mid-20th-century discovery and distribution of antibiotics to combat TB, it denoted an institution for isolated treatment of the notoriously contagious and deadly lung infection.

In Firland’s heyday, those admitted for one of its 250 openings endured 24-hour bed rest, nonstop fresh air and other strict regimens and surgeries for months or years. Patients who beat the disease emerged deeply grateful for a new chapter of life.

“The Plague and I” book cover, 1948.

Its most famous survivor, author of the multi-million-selling farm chronicle “The Egg and I” and four Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle children’s books, was Seattle’s beloved Betty MacDonald. In 1938-39, amid her own New Deal administrative employment, she spent nine months at Firland. A decade later, she wrote a second memoir echoing the title of her first: “The Plague and I.”

While etching droll portraits of fellow patients and staff, the thankful MacDonald also rendered the darkness of her experience. Life there, she wrote irreverently, would “make dying seem like a lot of fun.” A paean to public health, “Plague” became her favorite of four books she penned for adults. Ovarian cancer claimed her in 1958 at age 50.

Today, the Administration Building bears a single-barred cross under the private auspices of CRISTA (first called King’s Garden), which since 1949 has housed and cared for seniors and served students among its ministries based at the now-56-acre campus.  Of its own volition, CRISTA has preserved the edifice lovingly.

At its door in early days, a prescient plaque placed a heart on the building’s figurative sleeve: “Generosity and a liberal spirit make men to be humane and genial, open-hearted, frank and sincere, earnest to do good, easy and contented and well-wishers of mankind.”


To see Jean Sherrard‘s 360-degree video of the “Now” prospect and compare it with the “Then” photo, and to hear this column read aloud by Clay Eals, check out our Seattle Now & Then 360 version of the column!

Below are three more book covers, a movie poster, five additional photos and, in chronological order, 14 historical clippings from The Seattle Times and Seattle Post-Intelligencer online archives (available via Seattle Public Library) and other online newspaper sources that were helpful in the preparation of this column.

Special thanks to Rex Holappa, Paula Becker and Vicki Stiles for their assistance with this column!

“The Egg and I” book cover, 1945.
“Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle” book cover, 1947.
“Looking for Betty MacDonald” book cover, 2016.
“The Egg and I” movie poster, 1947.
Plaque depicted in 1937 Firland book assembled by patients. (Courtesy Paula Becker)
Firland Sanatorium founder Horace Henry, depicted in woodcut from 1937 Firland book assembled by patients. (Courtesy Paula Becker)
Aerial sketch of Firland Sanatorium depicted in 1937 Firland book assembled by patients. (Courtesy Paula Becker)
The path from Seattle to Firland, depicted in front-endpaper woodcut from 1937 Firland book assembled by patients. (Courtesy Paula Becker)
The path from Firland back to Seattle, depicted in back-endpaper woodcut from 1937 Firland book assembled by patients. (Courtesy Paula Becker)
Aug. 13, 1913, Seattle Times, page 4.
March 13, 1915, Seattle Times, page 3.
Dec. 27, 1925, Seattle Times, page 12.
Sept. 19, 1926, Seattle Times, page 9.
April 9, 1927, Seattle Times, page 5.
Feb. 2, 1931, Seattle Times, page 1.
Feb. 14, 1931, Seattle Times, page 6.
Nov. 14, 1937, Seattle Times, page 39.
Oct. 4, 1939, Seattle Times, page 26.
May 18, 1943, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 11.
May 22, 1945, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 18.
March 1, 1947, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 10.
June 14, 1953, Seattle Times, page 72.
April 21, 1979, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 8.

One thought on “Seattle Now & Then: Firland Sanatorium, 1934”

  1. Lovely Now and Then. Glad to see that you included “The Plague and I”, which I read a couple of years ago. That led me to discover Monica Sone (good friend of Betty MadDonald and featured in her book) and her memoir -“Nisei Daughter” – a fascinating story and a great first-hand description of growing up in the ID, Firland and being send off to Internment. Also interesting to compare her and Betty’s descriptions of each other and of Firland.

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