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At least one more year of music and dancing at Capitol Hill’s Kerry Hall

Inside Kerry Hall (Image: Cornish College of the Arts)

(Image: Cornish College of the Arts)

There will be dancing and music in Kerry Hall this fall, but what happens in 2022 is still an open question. The Spanish-revival building located on E Roy just off northern Broadway is operated by Cornish College of the Arts and houses the school’s dance and music programs.

Worries have grown that the school plans to close the building after the 2021-22 school year, but no formal decisions have been made, said Raymond Tymas-Jones, president of Cornish.

Most of the rest of the school’s programs are based in South Lake Union, and they also have a presence at the Seattle Center. The school’s Board of Trustees has a long stated goal of unifying the school into a single campus, which would mean the South Lake Union location. When it does happen, it would mark the end of a more than 100-year relationship between Cornish and Capitol Hill.

While the long term decision means the closure is likely to happen eventually, actions have been a long time in coming.


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(Image: Cornish College of the Arts)

“They (the Board of Trustees) made a decision about what they want, but they made that decision seven years ago,” Tymas-Jones said.

Currently, Tymas-Jones characterized the building’s status as up for debate, and even that debate is in early stages. “There are conversations to look at options,” he said, “but they are nowhere near making a decision.”

Should the school leave, it mark the end of a century-old relationship between Cornish and the neighborhood. The school was founded in 1914 in a building at the corner of Broadway and Pine (that building was recently rejected for Seattle landmark status). Kerry Hall, when it opened in 1921, was originally called The Cornish Building. It is the last remaining part of the school on Capitol Hill.

The possible closure is rooted in a number of factors. In a practical sense, Tymas-Jones noted Kerry Hall does not have access to campus facilities, such as a cafeteria, and the school does not operate a shuttle, which can make it a challenge for students who need to go back and forth during the day. Complicating the decision, the dance studios in the South Lake Union campus are not as good as terms of size and lighting as those at Kerry Hall.

But school is suffering from a steep drop in enrollment, which Tymas-Jones blamed largely on the COVID-19 crisis. Total enrollment dropped from 591 students to 479 – nearly 19%. This is causing a round of belt-tightening, which has led to the school eliminating a couple areas of study.

“We’re counting our pennies,” Tymas-Jones said.

That counting involves taking a hard look at the building. It’s largely been unused during the pandemic, like many schools across the country.

Looking ahead, the school owns more square footage than they use, Tymas-Jones said, which is obviously inefficient and costly. And with a stated goal of unifying the campus, it seems days are likely numbered for Kerry Hall as a part of Cornish.

Should Cornish decide to part with the building, options vary. The building is nearly 32,000 square feet, and has an appraised value of about $5 million, according to county tax records.

The school has made no official announcements about any plans for redeveloping, selling, or doing anything with the property. It is in a Low Rise 3 zone, which generally allows for multifamily housing.

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

Any kind of development would echo plans forming for another large institution in northern Capitol Hill. CHS has reported on ongoing planning around possible redevelopment that would create new housing where the St. Nicholas building stands on the St. Mark’s Cathedral campus. The church, by the way, purchased the St. Nicholas building from the Cornish College of Arts in 2003.

Back at Kerry Hall, redevelopment or an adaptive reuse overhaul of the building would also have a nearby precedent. The old home of the Harvard Exit Theater was overhauled and reopened in 2018 to serve thousands every year as the new home of the Consulate of Mexico in Seattle.

While the classic building could certainly be a hotly pursued redevelopment target, changes across the street at Kerry Hall will be complicated by the building’s historic status. The 1921 building has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1977, though that does not necessarily protect it from changes. However, it also sits within the Harvard-Belmont Landmark District, a city designation, which could offer it protection in the form of specific requirements surrounding any changes to the building and extra levels of review before almost anything could be done.

Meanwhile, Capitol Hill’s dance arts scene is fading. Late last year, Velocity Dance announced it was leaving its 12th Ave home and searching for a new location, bringing a 24-year run in the neighborhood to an end.


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Caphiller
Caphiller
20 days ago

Interesting! Thank you for educating us on the history and current situation of the building and school. The building is such a handsome presence in the neighborhood.

Faith
Faith
20 days ago

Though Velocity has left their space, Exit Space is reopening it as a studio and theater. The scene on Capitol Hill isn’t fading. Though it would if Cornish persists in its ridiculous goal to “unify the campus”. Why? NYU considers it an asset to be open across the city. So should Cornish.

d.c.
d.c.
20 days ago

Love this beautiful building and hope that Cornish keeps it in the family. It seems well protected against development but I do wonder what would happen if another organization took over. It doesn’t really seem suited for any other use.

genevieve
genevieve
20 days ago

I’m sure the city will find a way to work with developers to either ignore the historic designations entirely and it will become another forgettable box of overpriced shoeboxes, or it will be redesigned into historic-modern luxury apartments (with a few floors added somehow).

What a shame that Cornish and Velocity could not come up with some sort of mutually-beneficial arrangement when Velocity had to release their 12th Avenue space. For years Cornish rented extra space from Velocity when Kerry Hall was not enough for their student programming – there could have been some interesting virtual programming uses there while school classes were not in person.

I know that would not have been a long-term solution. I’m just feeling the loss of Capitol Hill’s dance community very deeply, sigh. Fingers crossed for Century Ballroom to hang in there.

Luba T.
Luba T.
20 days ago

Such a beautiful building! So much talking about minorities right now. Why not to open dance academy, on serious level, for those who are talented, but can’t afford any dance classes. If I could, I would open a school for children, with the top professionals, for the children from low-income families for free. Seattle can afford this, instead of putting money at some art projects, which most here will disapprove.