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Trinity Parish Church

Located near the base of First Hill, at the corner of James Street and Eighth Avenue, Trinity Parish Church is one of Seattle's oldest continually meeting congregations and the "Mother Church" of Episcopal mission activities in the city. The first Episcopal service in Seattle was conducted at the Methodist Episcopal "White Church" in July 1855, but a parish was not established for another decade. Formally established in August 1865, a lay vestry organized Trinity Parish, Seattle's first Episcopal parish, as the "unorganized mission" of Trinity Church, which builts its first church at 3rd Avenue and Jefferson Street in 1870. As with other western churches of this time, preachers stayed for only a few years and occasionally years would pass between preachers. During this time of inconsistency, the church was still able to develop into an "organized mission." The Diocese of Olympia assigned Rev. R.W. Summers and then Rev. Charles R. Bonnell to serve the "mission" parish, until 1878, when the vestry then "called" its first permanent Rector, George Herbert Watson. Trinity Parish did not gain full Episcopal Church status until Rev. George Herbert Watson arrived from New Jersey, in 1878. The growing church laid the groundwork for its outreach by establishing five mission churches in the next 10 years. In 1885, the Parish organized Grace Hospital; one of the city's earliest, at the corner of 8th Avenue and James Street. The clinic opened in 1887, and gave Protestants an alternative to the Sisters of Providence Hospital. Grace did not survive beyond 1894. It built a small church at 3rd Avenue and Jefferson Street in 1870, and consecrated in June 1871. Trinity Parish's wooden building was one of many downtown structures consumed in The Great Seattle Fire of June 6, 1889, but the church, optimistic like the city itself, immediately rebuilt. It asked Chicago architect Henry Starbuck to design a church in the English Gothic Revival style as an architectural tribute to their faith's English origins. A new church was constructed at 609 8th Avenue in 1891, but destroyed by fire a decade later. The second Trinity Parish Church was designed by Charles A. Alexander and opened in June 1892. It was severely damaged by fire in January 1902, when another fire swept through the interior, leaving only the building's irregularly coursed rubble masonry walls. Undaunted, Trinity hired a young local architect John Graham Sr., asking him to design a structure modeled on traditional English stone churches while increasing the building's size. Graham reused the exterior walls, but expanded the transept's dimensions and added a tower and a spire. Despite the additions, Graham maintained the English Gothic Revival style while adding German stained glass windows and an altar of Italian marble. Trinity Parish opened its new church in January 1903, and maintained an active ministry to all classes in downtown Seattle. Trinity Parish was designated a National Historic Landmark, in 1976. The building was rendered unusable by seismic damage sustained during the February 2001, Nisqually earthquake but a campaign was launched to restore the building, and members of the congregation had pledged or given more than $2.5 million by February 2003. Its second Rector, Fr. Herbert Gowan, also launched an innovative mission, now known as St. Peter's Parish, to serve Seattle's growing Japanese American community. Trinity Parish made national headlines in March 1909, when Gowan officiated the then controversial "mixed-race marriage" between Gunjiro Aoki and Gladys Emery. At the time, such bonds were illegal in California and Oregon, but not in Washington. Fr. Gowan retired in 1914, and was succeeded by Fr. William H. Bliss, who remained Rector until his death, in 1924. A Parish House designed by John Graham Sr. was added in 1930, and its Rector at the time, Fr. Stanley Mook, pursued an aggressive urban ministry during The Great Depression, but his financial management disturbed the Vestry. Fr. Mook sued when it demanded his resignation, leading to a nasty public spat that was finally settled by his reassignment to Vancouver, in 1934. Fr. Lewis J. Bailey succeeded him at Trinity. Trinity Parish became the "mother church" for regional Episcopalians when lenders foreclosed on St. Mark's Cathedral, in 1940. The Diocese settled its debts in 1944, and took possession of St. Mark's from the Army, which had been using it during World War II. Trinity expanded and diversified its downtown ministry under Rectors John P. Craine, John R. Wyatt, and especially Paul E. Langpaap, who led the congregation for a quarter of a century between 1957 and 1982. Following World War II, the Parish accumulated substantial property through purchases and gifts, including the dilapidated Darrell Hotel, which it converted into a halfway house. Portions of these holdings were sold for construction of the I-5 and Jefferson House senior housing complex, in the 1960s. The Parish was a major supporter of the "Neighbors in Need" food bank program. It maintained this tradition by housing the headquarters of Northwest Harvest and other social outreach efforts. Like many urban parishes, the congregation began to shrink in the 1960s, declining steeply from a peak of about 650 communicants. Trinity did not lessen its urban ministry, however, under the leadership of Fr. Allan Parker and current Rector Paul Collins. Modern highways, offices, and apartments have diminished Trinity's view of downtown, but Trinity Parish is one of Seattle's oldest, continuously operating religious congregations, and its church is the oldest church structure in Seattle.