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Cherry Street Mosque and Wa Na Wari raising funds to preserve neighborhood centers in the Central District

The Cherry Street Mosque has a history of housing Jewish and Muslim communities over the years. With a new fundraising effort, the emerging Cherry Street Village hopes to repair the roof and water damage to the upper floor of the building. (Image courtesy: Samia El-Moslimany)

In its current state, the Cherry Street Mosque at 720 25th Ave between Cherry and Columbia streets is in need of significant repairs, mainly to fix the roof and water damage to some of the upper level classrooms. With a fundraiser, collective members of Cherry Street Village are raising funds to raise the roof, ushering in a new era for the building as a center for the faith-based and secular arts groups that form the collective. The future home of CSV will include Al-taqwa Mosque, Cherry Street Mosque, Dunya Productions, Kadima Jewish Reconstructionist Community, the Salaam Cultural Museum and the Middle East Peace Camp. So far CSV has raised over 42k of their 150k goal needed to repair and restore the building.

The two-story stone and brick building with a terracotta tiled roof was built in 1930, originally as the Seattle Talmud Torah School by Benjamin Marcus Priteca, a noted architect who designed some of Seattle’s earliest sites of grandeur, including the Coliseum Theater (now downtown’s Banana Republic), the Paramount Theater, Temple De Hirsch Sinai on E Pike, and many other movie theaters on the west coast.

Working on a pay-as-you-go basis with Olive Construction, CSV was able to start roof repairs in mid-February, installing a composite roof, but is awaiting additional funding to restore the terracotta tiles and repair water-damaged classrooms.

“We have come together under the shared mission of saving this historic building for all of our communities,” said Jonathan Rosenblum of the Kadima. “We’ve got to put the roof on right so the building stops leaking. Then we’ve got lots of repair work that needs to be done inside the building.”

The building has over a 90 year history of housing Seattle faith communities, beginning with the Talmud Torah School. In 1980 it changed hands to become the Islamic School of Seattle, a school founded by five women including Dr. Ann El-Moslimany. the school offered a unique progressive education as an Islamic Montessori and Arabic immersion program. Laila Kabani, a current Cherry Street Mosque board member, joined the school as a teacher in 2006 and say it had an innate sense of social and racial justice, and a strong core of BIPOC teachers. “There was a beautiful integration of secular and religious education,” she said. “Very quickly I understood that we were really teaching anti-racist education. A social justice aspect was very, very strong in our curriculum.”

In the school’s later years, Samia El-Moslimany, board president of Cherry Street Mosque and daughter of Dr. Ann El-Moslimany, admitted that the school never got enough community support to sustain it. The school closed in 2012. Dr. Ann El-Moslimany, the “last woman standing” of the original five that started ISS, wanted to start a progressive faith community that was inclusive for everyone, “even to people who were not Muslim,” Samia said. What followed was the creation of the Cherry Street Mosque, a community that centered around Friday prayer. Men and women were not separated during prayer, and positions of leadership were open to all genders. Cherry Street Mosque shared the building with another congregation, Masjid Al-taqwa. A few years ago, Rosenblum reached out to the El-Moslimanys, starting a conversation about potentially sharing their space with Kadima, who were outgrowing their current home at the Madrona Presbyterian Church. Around the same time, Salaam was also looking for a permanent home, and the idea of a collective village began to form.

Partnering with faith-based congregations, as well as arts and cultural groups aligned in their missions of anti-racism and combating gentrification, CSV hopes sharing the building is a way of combining and sharing resources in one of Seattle’s fastest-gentrifying neighborhoods. Even though Ann El-Moslimany passed away in January, her vision of an inter-faith and arts center lives on. “This is [my mother’s] vision—we can share resources,” Samia said. “We’ll come together to celebrate each other’s holidays and cultural events and join together at different times, but there’s no need to duplicate resources.”

The CSV vision extends even further. In a collective statement signed by El-Moslimany, Kabani, and Rosenblum, they said:

Cherry Street Village aims to keep the building as a welcoming center for diverse faiths and traditions, in keeping with its historic role in the neighborhood for the last 90 years. Currently, among other uses the building houses Al-Taqwa Mosque, a congregation of mostly immigrant community members including from East Africa.

We also envision the future potential—with financial support—of developing the parking lot into affordable housing and space to be shared with the larger community. In line with other recent social housing projects in the area, we would aim to develop this affordable housing with an eye toward supporting Black families and others to return to the neighborhood of their historic roots.

For more about CSV’s fundraising campaign to repair the roof, and to donate, check out their GoFundMe here.

It’s the collective model that just might be one way of preserving the neighborhood. Wa Na Wari, a home for Black art, culture, and events, in the Central District is only two blocks away on 24th and Marion. Opened in 2019 by four artists, including Inye Wokoma, whose grandmother owned the house since the 1950s, Wa Na Wari is creating an opportunity for Black homeownership and belonging through the arts. Some of their goals include building collective power for arts-based solutions to Black displacement and economic vulnerability, and prioritizing Black belonging.

Wa Na Wari kicked off the first phase of their Capital Campaign on March 16. The goal is to raise $600k for a downpayment on the house, with the long term goal of raising $2.2 million to purchase the home, and make ADA improvements, and adding a studio for artist residencies. At the time of this article they have raised $520k.

For more details on the Wa Na Wari Capital Campaign, and how you can donate, visit their Building Fund page here.

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Ryan A.
Ryan A.
27 days ago

Thanks for the story. There always seems to be something going on over at the Cherry Street Mosque. Fun to hear about CSV, particularly their idea to redevelop the parking lot into affordable housing for our displaced community. Seeing the success of the Liberty Bank Building and other local projects makes me optimistic that this could work.