The Daniel Webster School, located at 940 H Street, N.W., is sited on a corner lot bounded by 10th Street to the west and H Street to the north. The building occupies lots 108-114 (inclusive) of Square 375 in downtown Washington, D.C. The three-story masonry school building faces west and has a U-shaped plan comprised of three distinct pavilions: a central pavilion flanked by two pavilions stretching farther to the east to form a narrow interior light court. The building is faced in red brick laid in stretcher bond and is nine fenestration bays wide (north to south) and eight fenestration bays deep (east to west). The building is set on a solid raised foundation that is also faced in brick and is visually separated from the upper stories by a stone water table. The building’s structure consists of load-bearing masonry walls with a wood-framed and steel-beam-supported masonry arch floor system.
Constructed between 1881 and 1882 for a cost of $42,013.77, the Daniel Webster School is representative of school buildings constructed under the auspices of the Office of the Building Inspector during the late nineteenth century in Washington, D.C. Appearing as a red brick box from the street, the building’s form and design convey the simplicity, efficiency, and durability that typify school building designs from this period. The building’s design has elements of the Renaissance Revival architectural style (symmetrical façade, centrally located entry, stone belt courses and water table, low-pitched hipped roof, and roofline entablature), as well as elements of the Romanesque Revival architectural style (arched fenestration, polychromatic masonry, decorative stone carvings, and decorative arched entryway). The building’s primary elevation faces west on 10th Street and is given distinction by a symmetrical tripartite vertical composition created by the recession of the central pavilion from the western plane of the two flanking pavilions. The building’s low-pitched, hipped slate roof terminates at a shallow pressed metal cornice, below which is a frieze formed by brick corbelling and a chocolate-colored belt course. The cornice is visually supported by corbelled brick brackets. Two brick boiler stacks with corbelled caps originally penetrated the building’s roof; these stacks have been altered or replaced by shorter masonry stacks with brick coping.
The main entrance to the building, which is centered in the recessed pavilion on the west elevation, has an ornamental arched brick surround with decorative moulded brickwork, brick corbelling, stone rosettes, and a stone-capped entablature. The entrance is accessed by a double entry stair. The entrance door is a multi-paneled, double-leaf wood door that has been sheathed with thin sheets of metal, a treatment that retains the original profile of the door. The door and its arched transom are set within a wood frame with simple moulding. “Webster School” is incised in a stone panel that is centered between the second and third stories above the main entrance. Two secondary entrances are located on the north and south elevations and were originally used as separate entrances for boys and girls. The secondary entrance on the south elevation was in-filled with concrete block and brick in the 1960s. The secondary entrance on the north elevation is flush with the wall and has an arched transom, and its opening has been fitted with a modern metal flush double-leaf door.
The building’s fenestration is composed of five types of multi-light wood windows. Windows located on the first and second stories of the flanking pavilions are 12/12, double-hung, rectangular wood-sash windows with an 8-light arched transom. Windows located on the third story of the flanking pavilions are 12/12, double-hung, arched wood-sash windows. There are also several pairs of 9/9, double-hung, rectangular wood-sash windows with 6-light arched transoms. On the north and south elevations, these paired windows indicate the locations of the stairwells in the fourth fenestration bay from the west and are located on the intermediate levels between the first, second, and third stories. On the west elevation, these paired windows are located in the recessed central pavilion and are in line with the first- and second-story windows. Pairs of 9/9, double-hung, arched wood-sash windows are located on the third story of the recessed central pavilion. Multi-light wood casement windows are located on the basement level, several of which were removed and their openings in-filled with brick in the 1960s. All first-, second-, and third-story windows have segmental brick arches and simple stone sills.
The Daniel Webster School has a twelve-classroom school building plan: on each floor, four large classrooms with individual adjoining cloakrooms are located in the four corners of the building (on the east and west ends of the flanking pavilions) and are connected by a single-loaded U-shaped corridor. The interior side of the corridor is lined with windows that look into the light court. A lounge area is located in the center bay of the center pavilion along the west elevation between the cloakrooms of the northwest and southwest classrooms. The building’s two stairwells correspond to the secondary entrances on the north and south elevations and separate the northeast and northwest classrooms and the southeast and southwest classrooms. All three entrances to the building have a small vestibule created by a glazed partition with double-leaf doors. The building’s basement plan generally reflects the room layout of the upper floors, and the boilers are located in the basement of the central pavilion.
The school’s interior is characterized by simple treatments that are consistent throughout most of the building, including plaster walls and ceilings, tongue and groove bead-board wainscoting, decorative vent grilles, and substantial wood window and door trim with ogee profiles. All rooms have their original wood paneled double-leaf doors, with original multi-light transoms and much of the original hardware. Evidence of the building’s use as a school house, such as chalkboards and coat hooks, are found throughout the classrooms and coatrooms. The stairwells retain their original metal handrails, decorative pressed metal stair risers, and stone stair treads. All wood doors, trim, and wainscoting, as well as the steam radiators, are painted with a consistent blue color with a green hue. All plaster walls are painted a pale yellow, green, or blue color. The floors were originally finished with wood flooring.
The building has had several phases of alterations that reflect the changes in use of the facility throughout the twentieth century. The south entrance and several of the basement-level windows have been in-filled with brick, and the north entrance has been altered with a modern double-leaf door. In an effort to fireproof the building, the primary entrance door and many of the interior doors have been treated with metal and/or asbestos sheathing. In most cases, this treatment retains the original profile of the paneled doors. The most extensive interior alterations occurred in the 1960s, when a majority of the plaster ceilings were removed and replaced with new fire-rated plaster with metal lath, all wood wainscoting in the corridors and hallways was removed, and all wood floors were covered with modern tiles. The building retains a majority of its original wood-sash windows; however, many of the arched transoms were removed in the 1970s to accommodate air conditioning units. These units have since been removed, and the transoms boarded up. Some partitions have been constructed within classrooms and cloakrooms to create restrooms and office spaces.
The building has been vacant since the 1980s. A lack of proper maintenance over the last twenty years has resulted in severe water damage, causing substantial deterioration of the roof structure, floor structure, masonry, and interior finishes. Advanced rot of the wood-framed floor structure resulted in the complete collapse of all three floors of the southeast corner, destroying all interior features in this section of the building. The surrounding masonry walls remain intact and have since been stabilized with interior and exterior shoring.
The Daniel Webster School retains a sufficient level of integrity to convey its significance as a late-nineteenth-century public school building in Washington, D.C. The building retains its integrity of location on the corner of 10th and H streets, N.W., in downtown Washington, D.C. A majority of the low-scale residential development that supported the building’s function as a school in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries has been demolished, and the school is now surrounded by modern developments to the north, south, and east, and by a large parking lot to the north (at the former location of the now-demolished Washington Convention Center). Consequently, the building’s integrity of setting has been compromised. Although alterations and the collapse of the interior structure of the southeast corner have compromised interior fabric, the general character of the original school building’s interior is still conveyed through the original material that remains, including doors, hardware, cabinetry, trim, stair carriages, and wall plaster. Further, the modern floor treatments and the non-original partitions are reversible. The building thus retains a medium level of integrity of material and workmanship. The design and association of the school retain a high level of integrity, as its form, plan, structure, and style strongly convey its use as a late-nineteenth-century public school building and its relationship with the respective phase of school building development in the District under the auspices of the Office of the Building Inspector.