Preservation Arlington celebrates the return to the school year with a four-day series looking at one of the most important building types in our community — the school house. Today, we close out the first week of school by examining how the community prepares for the future and what impact that might have on two important school buildings. (Click here for parts 1, 2, and 3 in our series.)
The school building in Arlington has evolved as our community has grown and changed. Small neighborhood schools were closed for larger more efficient buildings. New schools were built with popular design features of the day. And, many buildings were repurposed for other community needs. Our series only scratched the surface on the topic of school design, civic placement, community engagement, building naming protocols and other aspects of education in Arlington. Each building we profiled is worth a full story unto itself.
What we hoped to do is guide people towards a better understanding of our schools, their design and role in the community. School buildings are a commitment by a community to its future – the children and their education. Good design — site placement, materials, architectural style — sends a message to the children that they and their education are important to the community. We hope these stories have helped people think more broadly about the school building and the role it plays in our community.
This brings us to two of our favorite buildings in Arlington – the Wilson School (1601 Wilson Boulevard) and the Arlington Education Center (1426 North Quincy Street). Each building represents a great story, great design and a great physical presence in our community. The style, placement and materials of these buildings make them important and provide a sense of place and function.
The Wilson School, along with its open space, the Fire Station and the Queens Court apartments, is currently part of a complex community study — the West Rosslyn Area Planning Study (WRAPS). The Wilson School is eligible for preservation, but its designation as a local historic landmark was withdrawn by the County Board at the last minute, out of courtesy to the School Board. The mission of the WRAPS was amended to include consideration of incorporating design elements of the Wilson School into the overall development.
Preservation Arlington feels that historic preservation should not be addressed by simply incorporating design elements of the Wilson School into the new site, but rather by incorporating the school building itself into the future site plan.
Originally named the Fort Myer Heights School, and opened in 1910, it is one of the oldest extant school buildings in the County. Designed by prominent Richmond, Virginia, architect Charles Morrison Robinson, it was renamed for President Woodrow Wilson in the late 1920s. Preservation Arlington has found correspondence between Arlington County and Mrs. Wilson humbly requesting her approval that the school be named in honor of President Wilson. (Click on the image below to zoom in.)
Another great Arlington educational landmark is the Arlington Education Center, which is the headquarters for Arlington Public Schools. A very modern architectural design vocabulary was used on this building with straight vertical lines, heavy window treatment and the top floor jutting out over the lower floors. It is also a remarkable building for its innovative construction techniques, illustrated in a two-page advertisement heralding the cost savings of steel. The advertisement also sums it up by remarking that “The new headquarters building reflects Arlington County’s pride in its educational system.”
Built in 1970, this building and the David Brown Planetarium are great examples of architecture from this period. As this building turns 45 and the school system evaluates their headquarters needs, it is hoped that this iconic modern building can be renovated and retrofitted in a way that continues to show pride in our educational system.
Preservation Arlington enjoyed its first week back at school. The school house has been an important part of our unique character and civic culture both yesterday, today and into the future.