Then and Now: Marycliff High School

Feb. 11—Marycliff High School was an all-girls Catholic school on Spokane's South Hill that opened in 1929. The name was a combination of the name Mary with the word Undercliff, the property's historic name.

The school opened with 55 freshmen and four nuns from the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration as teachers. Bishop Charles D. White, of Spokane, at the time said, "A religious education is necessary for every girl who is to take her rightful place in society."

The nuns would eventually live in the 1898 Austin Corbin mansion next door, which Corbin's widow donated to the church in 1945 and was remodeled as a convent.

The school property was the home of Burgess and Raphaelita Gordon, who donated it for the school around 1925. The stately mansion was first built for mining tycoon F. Lewis Clark in 1896, on a steep hillside above West Seventh Avenue. Gordon had arrived in Spokane in 1890 and went into the wholesale grocery business, starting the B.L. Gordon & Company. He built a large warehouse on Division Street north of the river. The building became a Pier 1 Imports store. Pier 1 shutdown nationwide in 2020.

The Gordons were devout in their Catholic faith and served in lay ministry positions for many years.

Mr. Gordon died in 1935.

Marycliff held classes in the Gordon home, but a three-story brick school building with a tall octagonal tower was completed in 1931. In 1962, McCauley Hall, with more classrooms and a library, was added.

There would be three Catholic high schools in the city with Marycliff and Holy Names Academy for girls, Gonzaga Preparatory for boys. A 1962 Spokane Chronicle story lists Marycliff's student body at 581, Gonzaga Prep at 801 and Holy Names with 497.

After a peak of 625 students in 1964, Marycliff had only 121 students enrolled in 1979 when Bishop Lawrence H. Welsh announced the school's closure. Gonzaga Prep had become co-ed in 1975 when Holy Names closed and Marycliff girls were invited there, too. Welsh acknowledged that "social attitudes toward a single-sex school have evolved rather rapidly in the past few years. The enrollment at Marycliff has reflected that changing attitude."

After closing in 1979, a group of investors, which included developer Jim Frank of Greenstone Homes, bought the campus and split it into parcels. Greenstone rents out the Marycliff classroom building as offices. McCauley Hall is filled with professional offices and owned by a condominium association. The 1898 Austin Corbin mansion is used as an event venue and is for sale.