Main Campus Center
Art happens downtown, and so does Cornish since it opened the Main Campus Center (MCC) in the Denny Triangle-South Lake Union section of Seattle. As its name implies, the MCC is the centerpiece for a group of eight buildings in the neighborhood that now make up the Cornish Main Campus.
The MCC is a large structure containing seven floors in all. It houses the offices of the departments of Theater, Performance Production, Art, Design, and Film + Media. All these departments hold classes in the building while making use of the other structures in the Main Campus. The MCC, the former Volker Building, is on the National Register of Historic Places as a fine example of art deco architecture in 1928. Classic on the outside and thoroughly modern on the inside, the MCC’s large windows look out on Seattle’s cityscape, including the Space Needle in nearby Seattle Center.
The Cornish Main Gallery is on the 1st Floor, along with Theater Department studios and the sculpture studio.
The 2nd floor entry opens into Nellie’s Café, an important gathering spot for students and faculty. Also on the second floor are the Cornish Library and additional theater studios. The beautiful 3rd floor entry on Lenora Street provides ample proof as to why the MCC is on the register of historic places. It doubles as the Alumni Gallery, and works are hung here throughout the year.
Studio Floors 4-6
The main studios of the visually oriented departments of Art, Design, Film + Media, and Performance Production are on floors 4, 5, and 6 of the MCC. Light, airy and spacious, the studios are ideal for the visual arts. Also on these floors are the print shop, the photographic studio, and the costume shop.
As the nerve center of the College, the MCC contains its administrative offices, these centered on its 3rd and 7th floors. On the 3rd floor are the offices of Admission, Registration, Student Life and Security. The top floor of the MCC contains the Office of the President and the offices of the Provost, Advancement, Communications, Finance, and Human Resources. Also on the 7th floor is the President’s Gallery and two large meeting rooms with sweeping views of the city.
The Main Campus and the MCC are in the middle of a quickly changing neighborhood that is the scene of the development of an enormous Amazon.com campus and multiple construction projects for other high-tech and medical research companies. Until the turn of this century, the Denny Triangle section was zoned commercial and was home to a number of textile- and furniture-oriented companies. Among these was the William Volker Company.
“The William Volker Company was a Kansas City-based manufacturer and wholesaler of furniture and window shades,” states the nominating document for the National Register of Historical Places. “The company occupied this building until the late 1970s.” After that time, it continued to be used as a furniture showroom and accompanying warehousing. The Volker building was designed by prominent Seattle architects and constructed in 1928. The nomination was accepted, and the building was added to the national registry.
“The William Volker Building is significant as a well-preserved and early example of Art Deco design in the City of Seattle,” the document of 1983 continues. “The structure was designed by the prominent architect Henry Bittman and his associate Harold Adams. In this project, the architectural team was able to use both its considerable skills in engineering and its talent in architectural design. They produced a strong utilitarian building that is graced with prominent Art Deco details.”
Cornish purchased the building in the early 2000s as the plan to move the main campus downtown from Capitol Hill took shape. The Volke Building, since most of it was open warehouse space, was ideal to convert for the College’s use as a thoroughly modern MCC while keeping its Art Deco character intact.
Raisbeck Performance Hall
Raisbeck Performance Hall, with its Ned & Kayla Skinner Theater, is the principal performance venue at Cornish’s Main Campus in downtown Seattle. It is used primarily for Theater Department productions. Displaying the charm and craftsmanship of a bygone era, Raisbeck is an ideal setting for smaller scale productions. At the intersection of Boren and Fairview avenues, the hall is about 25 yards from the Main Campus Center.
In 1914, while Nellie Cornish was a mile-and-a-half away founding the Cornish School, the Sons and Daughters of Norway were building Norway Hall on Boren Avenue. Designed by architect Sonke Englehart Sonnichsen in the traditional Norwegian style, the building is an amazing confection of carved ornamentation, turned columns, sawn balustrades topped with a gabled roof. As its former name implies, the hall was intended for Seattle’s Norwegian community and their cultural and fraternal organizations. Finished in 1915, Norway Hall served its function till the 1970s, when the organization moved to the Ballard district on Salmon Bay.
The original Cornish School building built by Nellie Cornish in 1921, today's Kerry Hall houses the Dance and Music departments. Off the tree-shaded courtyard on the east side of Kerry is the entrance to the 200-seat PONCHO Concert Hall. Rehearsal rooms and departmental office are sprinkled through Kerry, and the building’s top floor includes some spectacular dance studios. Named for Mrs. A. S. Kerry co-founder of the Music and Art Foundation that saved the Cornish School and ran it as a non-profit, Kerry Hall is a linchpin of the Capitol Hill’s Harvard-Belmont Historic District.
By 1919, the Cornish School has vastly outgrown its rented rooms in the Booth Building on the south end of Capitol Hill and was renting space down Pine Street in the Oddfellows Hall. Nellie Cornish and her backers decided it was time for a purpose-built school building. Ground was broken for Cornish School early in 1921 at the opposite end of the hill near Broadway and Roy Street. Designed in the Spanish Colonial Revival style by leading Seattle architect A. H. Albertson, the Cornish School was ready for the start of the 1921-22 school year. Significant not only for it’s beauty, Kerry Hall is the first example of a structure built for the allied arts.
The Annex sits next to Raisbeck Performance Hall, and houses classrooms and deisgn studios for the Performance Production Department.
One of the many industrial buildings constructed in the Denny Triangle portion of South Lake Union in the 1920s, the Annex began its life as the “Office and Loft for Phillip McBride.” Nothing more than this is currently known about Mr. McBride, and history is unsure about the buildings construction. Listed as having been built in 1929, roughly the same time as Cornish’s Main Campus Center (the Volker Building) and Notion Building, it resembles the architural designs of W. R. Grant and the firm of Stuart and Wheatley.
The Notion Building contains the offices of the Humanities & Sciences Department, the Main Campus’ principal lecture hall, and a large studio. With two undeveloped floors of 7200 square feet a piece, Notion represents a major part of Cornish’s expansion at the Main Campus. Completed in 1930, a year after the historic Volker Building—now the Cornish Main Campus Center, the Notion Building is its stylistic bookend. Both are in the period’s Art Deco style.
The structure was created to be the store building for the Puget Sound Notion Company. It was designed by architect Louis Svarz and engineered by the firm of Hall and Stevenson. As was Cornish’s Volker Building (the MCC) and Beebe Building, Notion was one of a cluster of structures for companies selling fabric and furnishings.
The building’s interior was redesigned in the late 1970s to be the home of Alpha Cine Labs, a company specializing in post-production work on film. Among the films processed in the Notion Building were the first two installments of Star Wars. It was purchased, along with several of the College’s other buildings in the Main Campus, in the early 2000s.
9th Avenue Studios
The 9th Avenue Studios are in a building leased by Cornish about half a mile from the Main Campus. The studios will be home to several rehearsal rooms and a performance venue through the end of the 2014-15 academic year. After that time, the property is slated for redevelopment, and other campus buildings, including the new student center, will take over its functions.
On the same Main Campus block as Raisbeck Hall and the Annex, the Centennial Lab contains Art Department facilities, including senior studios, the L-Gallery and a smaller student-curated gallery. The Centennial Lab is the focus of a capital campaign to renovate the facility.
The Scene Shop, one block away from the Cornish Playhouse at Seattle Center, represents 9,000 square feet dedicated to performance production. It includes a full wood shop and metal shop along with a paint shop, prop area, and loading dock. The facility is large enough and complete enough to fabricate settings and properties for the 450-seat Playhouse and its Studio theater.
Like the Cornish Playhouse, the building that contains the Cornish Scene Shop is part of the Seattle Center. Along with the shop, the building houses Center facilities management offices.
The Cornish Playhouse at Seattle Center is a vibrant theatrical and educational facility, a landmark of modern architecture built for the World’s Fair of 1962. Operated by Cornish College of the Arts as its most high-profile venue, the playhouse presents to the public a full range of professional and student performing arts productions. In its 440-seat main auditorium, its black-box theater and its generous forecourt and lobby, Cornish and its professional partners offer rich experiences not only in theater but also in dance, music and the visual arts. In keeping with the College’s mission, the Cornish Playhouse provides students aspiring to become practicing artists with educational opportunities of the highest possible quality, preparing them to contribute to society as artists, citizens and innovators.
With the signing of a long-term lease on the Playhouse, the College has fulfilled Nellie Cornish's vision, to have a performance venue placed in the city's theater district.
Built with epic rapidity for the Seattle World’s Fair of 1962 as the “Century 21 Playhouse,” the auditorium originally was nevertheless an enduring structure, a classic of the spare, Modern style. A contemporary architectural reviewer stated, "For me, the element of the [World’s] fair likely to emerge as the most admirable after all the tumult and hosannas for the more 'spectacular' structures have died down, is the complex designed by Kirk, Wallace & McKinley to house the playhouse, exhibition center, and remodeled opera house and arena.” The reviewer called the design of the Playhouse “beautifully restrained” with a “delightful series of exterior and interior spaces …” One of these delightful, exterior spaces is the courtyard with its illuminated fountain with four-piece bronze sculpture James Fitzgerald.
The Playhouse was originally designed to seat 895 patrons in an end-stage configuration. As such, it became home to the newly christened Seattle Repertory Theatre the year after the fair, in 1963. When the Rep built its Bagley Wright Theatre next door to the Playhouse in 1982, its original home was abandoned. In 1987, the Playhouse was extensively remodeled to become the home of Intiman Theatre Company. The seating was halved to around 440 (with some variation) with a thrust stage and twin vomitoria for under-the-audience access to the stage. The redesigned Playhouse featured far better acoustics, and, with its curved audience seating, a much improved experience for patrons. Though the auditorium was reduced in size, the Playhouse still features a full fly tower and backstage area, and a voluminous lobby.
In 2013, Cornish assumed a long-term lease on the Playhouse freeing Intiman from its obligation to upkeep on the structure. Intiman remains a valued partner at the Playhouse, with a three-play summer season.
The Cornish Commons was recently remodeled to hold a spacious movement studio on its ground floor and a computer lab and offices on its second floor.
A practical commercial structure like the Beebe Building next door, the origins of the construction of the Cornish Commons is likewise a bit hazy. It is known that it was built in 1928, part of the flurry of development in the late 1920s and early ’30s that produced many of the Main Campus buildings. It has been extensively and repeatedly renovated inside and out over the years.
The Beebe Building is used for movement classes, meetings, and exhibitions. The College has access to the ground floor of the building, a pleasing, open space with a high ceiling and polished wood floors.
Another of the commercial buildings of the Denny Triangle specializing in fabric and furnishings, the building, whose full name is the “Beebe and Runyan Furniture Building,” was constructed in 1910. As with many eminently practical buildings of the age, not a lot is known about its designer or original owner.
Cornish College of the Arts' campus is located in the three vibrant Seattle neighborhoods: South Lake Union/Denny Regrade, Capitol Hill, and Seattle Center/Queen Anne.
The Cornish campus locations are surrounded by dozens of theaters, museums, music venues, and galleries; iconic Seattle landmarks like the Space Needle; the national headquarters for some of the country's fast-expanding tech corporations; and, of course, many coffeehouses.