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Cornish celebrates 100 years of arts education on — and beyond — Capitol Hill

Cornish at Broadway and Pine, 1920 (Image: Webster & Stevens; PEMCO Webster & Stevens Collection, Museum of History & Industry, Seattle)

Cornish at Broadway and Pine, 1920 (Image: Webster & Stevens; PEMCO Webster & Stevens Collection, Museum of History & Industry, Seattle)

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Nellie Centennial Cornish (Image: Cornish College of the Arts, with permission to CHS)

On November 14th, 1914, so the story goes, Nellie Cornish stepped off a boat in Elliott Bay, walked up Capitol Hill, and opened a small music school in an office building at Broadway and Pine.

One hundred years later, Cornish’s school maintains its Capitol Hill presence, although significantly expanded and re-centered off the Hill across I-5. This week, Cornish College of the Arts will celebrate 100 years of providing arts education in Seattle. (Oddly enough, Cornish’s middle name was Centennial because she was born in 1876, the centennial anniversary of U.S. independence).

After opening in Broadway’s Booth Building (which continues to be used by Seattle Central College), Cornish quickly set her sites on expanding. Her school was so popular she had to hold classes in Odd Fellows Hall. Eventually, Cornish was able to raise enough money to build Kerry Hall in 1921 on the corner of Roy and Boylston. Today, the Mission-revival building is still used for music and dance instruction, as well as live performances in the small Poncho Theater.

A full schedule of Cornish centennial events can be found here. Capitol Hill should take note of the November 12th master class in Kerry Hall, which is free and open to the public. In fact, Cornish offers such classes year-round.

Since 1914, the college has expanded to offer a full range of nationally accredited arts education programs, including theater, visual arts, and design. Cornish communication director Rosemary Jones said Nellie Cornish had always envisioned her school as a place to expose students to as many disciplines as possible.

“Early on she had the idea that training musicians wasn’t just about music instruction, but that they should be familiar with all the arts,” Jones said.

In the early 2000’s Cornish sold several houses along E Harvard St. that were being used for administrative buildings, leaving Kerry Hall as Cornish’s sole building on Capitol Hill. Many of the school’s 800 students and 100 faculty are now concentrated in South Lake Union, where much of the school’s operations moved in 2003.

Architecture firm Ankrom Moisan's rendering of the new residence hall

Architecture firm Ankrom Moisan’s rendering of the new residence hall

Cornish’s presence on Capitol Hill does extend beyond Kerry Hall — Jones said Capitol Hill probably has the highest concentration of student apartments in the city. That may start to diminish in the coming years as Cornish plans to construct a 20-story dorm in South Lake Union in 2015.

As the City of Seattle gets ready to launch its first arts district to promote performance venues, galleries and creative spaces in the neighborhood, Jones said the college itself has no plans to end its presence on Capitol Hill. Kerry Hall’s stucco arcade and well landscaped property, where artists sip Joe Bar coffee amid sounds of practicing musicians, remains one of the more charming blocks in the city.

“Capitol Hill has always been (the school’s) spiritual neighborhood,” Jones said. “That energy attracts people to Cornish.”

Learn more about the Cornish centennial celebration at

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4 thoughts on “Cornish celebrates 100 years of arts education on — and beyond — Capitol Hill

  1. Just a small correction to your interesting report. The houses which were sold were along Harvard Ave E just north of Kerry Hall, and they were eventually demolished. A very-high end condo now occupies those spaces.