Location: 825 Capitol Way SE
Schools, Religious Institutions, Women’s History; mid-Century modern

Providence Academy-jeffers-1943Providence Academy, 1943. Jeffers, Susan Parish Photograph Collections, Washington State Archives OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWashington Mutual Building today (2014), Photo by Deb Ross

The following text is excerpted from a history of Providence from their archives website, linked below.

The Sisters of Providence established Providence St. Amable Academy, Olympia, Washington, in 1881, at the request of the Reverend Peter Hylebos, Pastor of the local St. Michael Parish. Within a few years the sisters were able to purchase land on which to build a permanent school, financed through begging tours, bazaars, and the support of a few generous townspeople. Mother Joseph of the Sacred Heart planned and supervised construction of an 80- by 54-feet, two-story, wood frame building, located between Columbia and Main at Ninth. When Providence St. Amable Academy celebrated its 25th anniversary in 1906, enrollment had grown to 103 day pupils and 25 boarders, with 7 sisters on the faculty.

Despite a good reputation and a growing number of students, the Academy continued to struggle financially. In 1926, St. Michael’s new pastor, the Reverend Michael P. O’Dwyer, sought to resolve the problem by assuming administration of the school. Somewhat reluctantly, the sisters sold the property, building and equipment to St. Michael Parish for the sum of $11,000, with which the debt was paid. Although relieved of the financial burden, the sisters also relinquished control over curriculum and the larger school program. Father O’Dwyer suspended the high school and boarding department, and at the end of the term, Providence Academy officially became St. Michael School.

The school building deteriorated during the Depression and was severely damaged by a fire in 1939. Father O’Dwyer launched a fund-raising drive for a new school, but it languished through the war years. The effort took on greater urgency in 1949, when the city condemned the second and third floors of the 1884 building. Seven months later, ground was broken for a new school and convent, about one mile from the original site. [The current St. Michael’s School is on 11th Avenue, adjacent to St. Michael’s Church.]

The building currently on this site, the Washington Mutual Savings Bank Building, was erected in 1968 with a modernist design by local architectural firm Bennett and Johnson and is included in the Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation’s “Nifty from the Last 50” inventory project.

More information:

Washington State Historical Society photos (enter the following catalog numbers in Collections Search box): C1958.2.28,  C1964.

History of Providence St. Amable Academy/St. Michael School, Providence Archives

Olympia Women’s History Walking Tour

Olympia Heritage inventory, Washington Mutual building

Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation mid-Century Walking Tour