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(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.
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!