As I contemplate living in Washington another year, my sixth, I can’t help but think about ideas of history and place.
The house I currently live in was constructed in 1908. Throughout the 1920s and into the early 60s, it served as a dormitory for Catholic nuns trained as nurses who tended the sick and infirm at St. Peter’s Hospital, located across the street. The original St Peter’s hospital was founded in 1887 by Mother Joseph of The Sacred Heart, one of the many Catholic funded hospitals and schools she founded that helped settle and establish the west. In 1919, however, the original hospital was forced to relocate to make way for the new Capitol Campus. St Peter’s was rebuilt with state of the art technology and again opened its doors to the people of Olympia in 1927. St. Pete’s served as a bastion of hope through the dark days of the Great Depression, both World Wars and the turmoil of Vietnam. In the mid-70s, the hospital was incorporated into one of the first and largest state-wide health collectives in the nation, Group Health, and opened a new facility on the outlying eastern border of the city, where I receive the majority of my health care as an employee of the state. The old St Pete’s building across the street now houses a multitude of efficiency apartments.
My house, the nuns’ dormitory, was purchased in the late 70s by a group of young, visionary radicals anxious to partake in co-housing social experiments of the time; it has existed as a collective since: The Alexander Berkman Collective, or the ABC House. In the infinite wisdom of the generations of hippies, eco-terrorists, musicians, artists, anarchists and political organizers whom lived under this roof over the years (or hid in the basement), the original floral pattern wallpaper throughout the house was not allowed to be painted over. The wallpaper is hand screen-printed, a technique that went out of fashion in the 1940s. Although the paper is yellowed with age, scuffed, cracked and stained, I know this pattern of large, colorful flowers I look at every morning and every night is the same embellished bouquet that has been gazed upon every morning and every night for at least the last 70 years. There’s a certain kind of comfort there, found in the intersection of history, place and one’s small contribution to each in the appreciation of details.