Fort Vancouver National Trust to purchase The Academy

Deal fulfills long-held goal of Clark County nonprofit; tenants to remain

By Tom Vogt, Columbian science, military & history reporter

Published:

 

One of the Northwest’s most venerable structures takes a step in a new direction today when The Academy becomes part of the Fort Vancouver National Trust.

The nonprofit is purchasing the downtown landmark from brothers Monte, Bill and Oliver Hidden, whose family has owned it since 1969.

photoMother Joseph in about 1881. She made some of the pews in the chapel.

Mother Joseph

An earlier generation of the Hidden family provided bricks and lumber when Mother Joseph started construction in the 1870s.

In a news conference at The Academy this morning, the National Trust is scheduled to announce the purchase of what it calls “perhaps the most significant historic building in the region” for $10.6 million.

It caps a dream that started when the National Trust was founded in 1998, said Ed Lynch, co-chairman. And it was part of his verbal to-do list, Lynch said, when he hired Elson Strahan as CEO and president of the trust in 2004.

“One of the first things I told Elson was, ‘We’ve got to get a hold of that building!’”

The Hiddens have had The Academy on the market, but always with the provision that it be preserved, Monte Hidden said.

“Our original intent was to preserve it,” Hidden said, and today’s transaction is the logical conclusion of the family’s 1969 goal.

“The trust is available now,” Hidden said. Earlier, “They weren’t ready to do it.”

As a nonprofit, Hidden said, the trust can do things a business can’t do. That includes applying for preservation and restoration grants.

That also includes a $16 million capital campaign scheduled to be rolled out as part of today’s announcement.

The additional money will help restore the three-story building, and do other work on the 7-acre campus, which is bounded by Interstate 5, C Street, 12th Street and Evergreen Boulevard.

According to trust officials, another purchaser “may not appreciate the historic value of The Academy. A failure to properly restore the building, or to develop the surrounding acreage, may not only jeopardize The Academy’s place on the National Register of Historic Places, but may place the building itself in jeopardy.”

Officials noted that “The Trust greatly appreciates the Hidden family’s generosity in selling the Academy for more than $2 million less than its listing price.”

Third and final owner

They also refer to the National Trust as the building’s third and final owner.

The first was the Sisters of Providence, who arrived here in 1856 from Montreal. Mother Joseph and her nuns set up a Northwest network of schools, hospitals, orphanages and other social-welfare operations. Providence Academy stood above the rest of Mother Joseph’s buildings, said Sister Susanne Hartung, chief mission officer for Providence Health and Services.

“She worked in other cities,” Hartung said, “but not in the magnitude of this structure.”

Mother Joseph even made some of its furnishings. Several of the pews in the chapel — now a wedding venue — are products of Mother Joseph’s handiwork.

“Mother Joseph was something else. What a doer she was,” Lynch said in admiration.

The school closed in 1966, and Robert Hidden and his three sons bought the property in 1969; the sons bought their father out in 1985.

The Academy now is an office building, and that won’t change with new ownership.

“We don’t see any change as a business entity,” Lynch said.

“It’s full. We have 56 tenants, and the trust will make money,” Monte Hidden said.

The Hidden family played a big role in building the landmark in the 1870s, and they’ve owned it for more than 40 years.

“You grow to love it,” Hidden said, so today’s announcement will mark quite a transition.

But it doesn’t have to be a farewell, he said.

“I don’t know if I’m leaving,” Hidden said. “I can volunteer with the trust.”

Tom Vogt:360-735-4558; http://www.twitter.com/col_history;tom.vogt@columbian.com.