The Great Depression and the War Years (1931–1947)

Audio version read by Ellie Howard. (Transcript below)


Click to enlarge.


Station 3: The Depression and War Years (1931–947)

Location: Southwest Pillar (the Dedication Stone)

Only ten years after its dedication, the financial problems of the cathedral became overwhelming. In May of 1941 a headline in Time Magazine read: “Cathedral for Rent.” Time reported that the bank had foreclosed on the property a year earlier, and when the congregation could not even pay rent, the bank “at last took the keys.”

The bank had no success in selling the property, and the massive concrete and steel edifice remained standing because it was simply too expensive to demolish. The Cathedral sat abandoned and deteriorating for several years. The building was saved from further deterioration by an unlikely tenant. As Dean Leffler writes, “For about a year in 1943, the U.S. Army leased the Cathedral as a training center for an anti-aircraft contingent - to the joy of the bank and the scandal of the city”

In 1944, then-Bishop S. Arthur Huston convinced the bankers to let the cathedral reopen, pending repayment of its debts.

It was immediately obvious that finding the funds to pay off the bank and regain control of the building would not be by appealing solely to Seattle’s Episcopalians. The cathedral leadership knew they had to make the case to the broadest possible audience that, if it were allowed to reopen, the cathedral building could be an asset for the entire city of Seattle.

The project of raising funds from the broader community was headed up by two particularly powerful and well-connected Seattleites, neither of whom were Episcopalian—brewing magnate and baseball team owner Emil Sick, and head of the Seattle Teamsters Union, Dave Beck. Leffler describes them as “men of direct action.”

In the end, the list of donors who contribution included: “Merchants, bankers, lawyers, manufacturers, distillers, brewers, tavern-keepers, racetrack operators, labor unions, Episcopalians, assorted Protestants, Catholics, Jews and agnostics.”

As a result of this and other fundraising and negotiations with the bank, the community raised enough money to pay off its debts and regain full ownership. In this way, the cathedral owes its continuing existence to the generosity of the entire city of Seattle. Saint Mark’s call to be a sacred gathering place for the broader community remains at the core of its mission to this day.

The next stop on the tour is found in McCaw chapel, behind the glass-and-steel screen at the west end of the building.

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