Lakeside School (Seattle)

  • By Mary T. Henry
  • Posted 9/19/2013
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 10621

Lakeside is an independent school located on a 33-acre New England-style campus in north Seattle. Long known for its reputation for educating children of the elite, this premier independent school of the Pacific Northwest has, through the decades, evolved into one with a much wider and more liberal mission. From an enrollment of 100  boys, all of them white, in the 1920s, it has now (2013) an enrollment of almost 800 students, half of whom are girls. This 5th through 12th grade school has 107 faculty members of which 20.5 percent are people of color as are 51 percent of the students. Some 29 percent of the students receive financial aid. In addition to a rigorous academic curriculum, the school requires credits in a strong athletic program, outdoor education, community service, and the arts.

Early History

In 1914 Frank Moran (1885-1950), son of shipbuilder and former Seattle mayor Robert Moran (1857-1943), established the Moran School for Boys on Bainbridge Island. It was a prep school to educate the minds and develop the character of wealthy Seattle boys. Five years later Moran opened an extension in Seattle. 

Known as the Moran Lakeside School and located on the shore of Lake Washington in the Denny-Blaine neighborhood, it was to become a feeder school for its counterpart on Bainbridge Island.  In 1923 a group of parents led by Reginald Parsons (1873-1955) incorporated the school and changed its name to Lakeside Day School for upper and lower school students.  Charles K. Bliss (1875-1953) was named headmaster and retained that position for seven years.  A year later the school moved from its lakeside location to 405 36th Avenue E, the current site of the Bush School.

By 1929 the space became inadequate and an expert was commissioned to recommend a plan of reorganization and expansion. A plot was purchased in north Seattle and noted architect Carl Gould (1873-1939) was selected to design the campus and buildings. Gould was the founder of the University of Washington architecture department and designer of Suzallo Library, Anderson Hall, and the Henry Art Gallery on the university campus as well as the Seattle Art Museum in Volunteer Park.  

Depression Era Campus

On September 4, 1930, the Lakeside Country Day School opened its new campus on 1st Avenue NE and NE 145th Street, with 100 boys enrolled, 30 of them resident students. Theophilus R. Hyde was named headmaster. On this barren acreage were four buildings: Bliss Hall, named in honor of the first headmaster; the refectory; the dormitory which was later named Moore Hall in honor of the trustee Walter A. Moore; and the gymnasium, which William Boeing (1881-1956) financed.   

This brave mission faced deep depression years. Enrollment dropped and many of the pledges made to pay for the new school were in default, but despite these fiscal challenges the school endured. In 1931 the headmaster’s house was built through the efforts of William Boeing and the school name was changed to The Lakeside School. The sale that year of the 36th Avenue E property to the Helen Bush School was helpful financially. It was sold with the provision that the Bush School would admit only girls so that Lakeside would remain without competition as a boys’ school.

The Bush School is named for Helen Taylor Bush (1879-1948) who opened her school in the playroom of her home on Dorfel Drive E in 1924 and moved into the vacated Lakeside Day School in 1930. It is currently the oldest K-12 independent coeducational day school in Seattle.

In 1934 Robert Simeon Adams arrived on campus to become the new headmaster. He faced $150,000 in debt and low enrollment but slowly began to reduce the debt and increase enrollment. In order to accomplish his goal of growing the student body, he even went to Yakima to enroll one student. Upon his return from that 1950 trip he was exhausted, and died of a heart attack. He had reduced the debt to zero and Lakeside had 170 students. In the late 1930s faculty houses were added to the grounds and the football field was named Parsons Field in honor of the first president of the board. 

On December 8, 1941, the day after Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States declared war on Japan, and the long years of World War II began. Many Lakesiders went off to the battlefield and 14 lost their lives. Three of the buildings on the campus are named in their memory through the gifts of their parents and friends: Theodore Aiken McKay Chapel, George Dodson Fix Memorial Library, and Charles Ralyea McAllister Memorial House. (In 1998, the Pigott Family Arts Center was constructed on the foundation of McAllister House.)

The Strong Years

After the untimely death of Robert Adams in 1950, Jean Lambert took over as interim headmaster for one year. Dexter K. Strong (1907-1985) assumed his role as headmaster in 1951 and served for 18 years. Born in Portland, Oregon, and educated in the West and in the East, he came from a family with deep roots in the Pacific Northwest. His great grandfather, Justice William Strong, was the first justice appointed in 1849 by the President of the United States to serve on the Supreme Court of what was then Oregon Territory.

Dexter Strong brought new life to the school by organizing skiing and hiking outings and by offering other weekend activities for the boarders. Students and faculty were frequent guests in his home for snacks and the faculty was welcomed for games of bridge and conversation. Credited with recruitment of teachers through "raiding with decorum," scouting, and networking, Strong assembled an impressive faculty, which the school developed and nurtured. The school year was changed from a semester to quarter system and in 1955 one quarter of the graduating class ranked in the top 10 percentile of College Board candidates in the country.  

The McKay Chapel, which once had been the focus of religious life, began secularizing the services. To combat the wide spread between the abilities of the most able and those of the least able, admission policies were changed. Admission was denied to students who probably would find the program too difficult.  

Ethnic inclusion became a concern and in 1965 a new summer program was inaugurated and named LEEP (Lakeside Educational Enrichment Program) in conjunction with five Seattle Public Schools, which sent 60 boys with no expense to them. Out of this project came the first three black students to enroll as students at Lakeside: T. J. Vassar (1950-2012), Fred Mitchell, and Floyd Gosset, all on scholarships. Vassar went on to Harvard, became director of LEEP, and later a member of Lakeside’s faculty.

In 1969 the students voted for informal dress, neat and clean, but informal instead of the slacks, jackets, shirts, and neckties that had been required.  Mr. Strong did not veto this action and felt pleased that the new headmaster would only have to deal with bare feet. The boarding students were being phased out by the late 1950s and by 1971 only day students were enrolled.

Expanding the Legacy

In 1969 Arthur Delancey "Dan" Ayrault Jr. (1935-1990), a graduate of Stanford and Harvard and a two-time Olympic gold medal winner in crew, became the fifth headmaster. He had begun teaching at Lakeside in 1959, became head of the upper school in 1963, and was the first director of LEEP.  In 1971, under his aegis, came the end of boarders, increased enrollment, and the merger with St. Nicholas School.

St. Nicholas School was a Capitol Hill private girls’ school that had its beginnings in 1910 when two women from Baltimore, Fanny and Eda Buddeche, developed it at the encouragement of a group of Seattle parents who wanted a school patterned after the best academies in the East.  The 10th Avenue buildings were designed by Charles Bebb (1856-1942) and Carl Gould in 1925.)

After the merger, lower-school boys from Lakeside attended the Capitol Hill campus with the lower-school girls while upper-school girls joined the boys on Lakeside’s campus. Ayrault also oversaw the major fundraising effort that gave rise to three new buildings, Pigot Memorial Library, St. Nicholas Hall for Humanities and Arts, and a field house.

After Ayrault’s sudden and untimely death in 1990, Frank Maguson took over as interim headmaster until 1992.

A Woman Takes Control

In 1992, Terry Macaluso became the school’s first woman top administrator and the job title was changed from headmaster to head of school. Macaluso believed that part of the job of the school was to make the world a better place. During her seven-year tenure she launched The Lakeside NOW campaign to address the plant and endowment needs of the school, which realized $50 million of which $20 million went for the endowment and $30 million was for infrastructure and new buildings. These included the Pigott Family Arts Center, the Howard Wright Community Center, and the new Middle School.

With input from faculty, alumni, students, and trustees, a new mission statement was created: 

"The mission of Lakeside School is to develop in intellectually capable young people the creative minds, healthy bodies and ethical spirits needed to contribute wisdom, compassion, and leadership to a global society. We provide an academically rigorous, dynamic academic program through which effective educators lead students to take responsibility for learning. We are committed to sustaining a school in which individuals representing diverse cultures and experiences instruct one another in the meaning and value of community and in the joy and importance of lifetime learning."

Lakeside and the World

In 1999, Bernie Noe became head of school and led the school in its Living Our Mission initiative.  Curriculum changes were made in Science, History, English, and Foreign Language along with new elective courses.  Six years later he launched a global citizenship program, the first of which was projected to be joined by 136 students annually for month-long service/learning experiences in the developing world. He is a strong believer in adequately preparing students for a changing world and a supporter of the need to study and work with a broad range of cultures and people. 

Most importantly, he believes that the school itself must look more like the world. "If we want to embrace the diversity of the world," he said, "we need to make our own community reflect that diversity.  The world is changing -- we need to change with it" (Thompson).

Shadows on Campus

Bernie Noe has noted that Lakeside is not a utopia and some events in its history confirm that assessment. Gary Little (1936-1988), graduate of Harvard University and University of Washington Law School, was a volunteer teacher at Lakeside between 1968 and 1971 where he taught Introduction to Law. There were rumors concerning his activities with some of the boys and his position was terminated. He went on to become Seattle Public Schools Attorney and later a King County Superior Judge. When he learned that a newspaper account was soon to be published of his sexual abuse of juveniles as a teacher at Lakeside and as a judge, he took his life on August 19, 1988, outside his chambers in the courthouse.

When, in January 2006, conservative author and commentator Dinesh D’Souza (b. 1961) was dis-invited to speak at the school, a firestorm of outrage pitted parents, alums, and the broader community in heated recrimination and defense. 

Ironically the school’s efforts to promote cultural diversity helped to stir racial controversy. In the aftermath of the Dinesh D’Souza affair, two African American faculty members filed lawsuits in federal court that charged the school with fostering racial discrimination and a hostile work environment.  The two cases were concluded in 2008 with one complaint dismissed and the other settled out of court. 

Alumni and Their Influence in Seattle

Lakeside has graduated countless contributors to the prosperity of Seattle and to makers of its history. 

Journalist O. Casey Corr wrote, "Other Northwest schools have dedicated teachers, impressive science labs or small classes, but none have Lakeside’s enduring chemistry, a blend of social connections, big money talent and a teaching philosophy that promotes independence over conformity, service over selfishness, leadership over flunkeyism" (Corr).

Some of the more renowned alumns, Paul Allen and Bill Gates, founders of Microsoft, and the McCaw brothers, founders of McCaw Cellular have given millions to the school. Former governors of the state have ties to the school, as do owners of the sport teams, newspaper, and TV stations. Their names are linked to nearly all of the downtown projects and the Space Needle is a true Lakeside affair, designed and built by alumni.

Corr continued, "There is no Lakeside secret handshake. No Lakeside network of graduates trying to promote each other into jobs or prominence. No downtown club for the alumni living in Puget Sound" (Corr).

But, according to alumnus Peter Steinbrueck, architect and former Seattle City Council member, "there is a binding social connection. It’s hard to define but it’s strong and continuing" (Corr).


Sources: Dexter Strong, "Footnotes from the Headmaster," Seattle, Lakeside School, 1958; C. L. "Mac" McCluskey, “Lakeside History,” unpublished manuscript, Lakeside School; "Capturing Memories," Lakeside Magazine, Spring-Summer 2009; "Lakeside School Opens New Term," The Seattle Sunday Times, August 21, 1932, p. 20; "Lakeside Country Day School," Ibid., August 24, 1930, p. 14; "Lakeside School to Open Tuesday with 100 pupils," Ibid., September 14, 1930; "Lakeside School Gets $10,000 Grant from Seattle Foundation," Ibid., April 16, 1961; Nina Shapiro, "Good Intentions Turn into Diversity Backlash at Lakeside School,"  Seattle News, April 24, 2007; "Lakeside Head to Step Down," The Seattle Times, April 20, 1998; Bernie Noe, "Head Notes," Lakeside Magazine, Fall-Winter 2012; O. Casey Corr, "Lakeside Legacy -- Graduates Have Exercised a Powerful Hand in Shaping Seattle," The Seattle Times, June 11, 1995; Dee Norton, "Lakeside Gets Big Gift from Gates, Allen, McCaws," Ibid., January 17, 1997; Lynn Thompson, "New Tools for Learning the World -- Lakeside Couples Global Travel, Education," Ibid., July 27, 2005; Jennifer Sullivan, "Gates Gives Lakeside $40 Million -- Help for Needy Students," Ibid., September 24, 2005; Peyton Whitely, Peter Lewis, Eric Nalder, "'‘I Have Chosen to Take My Life' -- Little Death Comes Amid Sex Reports," Ibid., August 19, 1998; "Lakeside School Selects Ayrault as the Headmaster," Ibid., April 21, 1968; "60 Boys Named to Lakeside Study Program in Cooperation with Seattle Public Schools," Ibid., June 2, 1965; "Dexter Strong is New Lakeside Headmaster, Ibid., January 28, 1951; "History of Lakeside’s Upper School Campus Buildings and Landmarks," Lakeside Archives, n.d.; Anne M. Will, "The Bush School --The First 75 Years.” Seattle, Documentary Books, 1999, Phyllis Winfield, "Colleagues Recall With Warmth of Dan Ayrault," The Seattle Times, February 26, 1990;  Mary T. Henry correspondence with Leslie Schuyler, Lakeside Archivist, August 2013.

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