Webster School, Washington, DC

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.

The Daniel Webster School is designated a local landmark in the District of Columbia Inventory of Historic Sites under Criteria A as: (1) a good representative example of the larger red brick public schools designed by the Office of the Building Inspector during the late nineteenth century: (2) the home of the Americanization School during that institution’s most significant period; and (3) one of the last public schools remaining in downtown Washington, providing physical evidence of the residential neighborhoods and ethnic groups that were once an important part of the downtown community.

The Daniel Webster School (also known as Webster School), located on the southeast corner of 10th and H street, N.W., in Washington, D.C., was constructed in 1881 as a public school building for white students who lived close to the downtown area. The school was named in honor of Daniel Webster, who served as both Senator from Massachusetts and as Secretary of State in the cabinet of President Millard Fillmore. The form, plan, style, and materials of the Webster School associate the building with the phase of school building construction that was completed under the auspices of the Office of the Building Inspector during the last two decades of the nineteenth century.

The construction of Webster School corresponds to the third phase of public school building development in the city, as defined in the “Multiple Property Document for Public School Buildings of Washington, D.C.” The third phase represents those years from 1874 to 1900 after the territorial government was abolished and replaced with a board of commissioners. This period also reflects the merging of the school systems of Washington City, Georgetown, Washington County, and the black schools of Washington into a single entity. For most of this period, design and construction of municipal public buildings, including school buildings, was supervised by the Inspector of Buildings, a position created in 1878.
Architect of the Capitol Edward Clark (1822-1902), who was associated with municipal architecture during this time as both a designer and an inspector, signed the drawings for Webster School, indicating that he either had designed the building or that the drawings had passed his inspection. Clark, son of a prominent Philadelphia architect, received his architectural training from Thomas U. Walter, who held the position of Architect of the Capitol from 1851 to 1865. Clark began his training in Walter’s Philadelphia office and became Walter’s chief assistant during the extension of the United States Capitol Building. Clark was also the superintendent of construction on the Patent Office and the Post Office extensions under Walter. After Walter’s resignation in 1865, President Andrew Johnson appointed Edward Clark as Architect of the Capitol, a position that he held until his death in 1902. During his tenure, Clark introduced many improvements to the United States Capitol Building, including electricity, steam heat, and elevators, and was responsible for commissioning Frederick Law Olmsted as the landscape architect for the enlargement and improvement of the Capitol grounds. Clark was also responsible for many other federally-commissioned buildings in Washington, D.C., including several prominent buildings at the United States Soldiers’ Home and the extension of the government printing office.

This third phase of school building construction in the late nineteenth century represents the desire of the newly formed school board to continue the success of the post-Civil War years, which resulted in the construction of a distinctive group of major school buildings “so convenient in location and so well adapted to their purpose in nearly all conceivable particulars, as to win the admiring commendations of judicious visitors familiar with the most renowned buildings of like nature.” This period of construction is typified by eight- or twelve-classroom red brick school buildings placed every few blocks and serving a limited population of students. The floor plan usually consisted of four rooms with adjoining cloakrooms arranged around a central hallway. Most had two staircases, one for boys and the other for girls. Although some buildings were arranged with asymmetrical massing, most of them were designed with balanced massing, usually consisting of a central pavilion flanked by identical sections. Regardless of size and massing, these red brick school buildings shared common characteristics of style conveyed through various combinations of embellishments, including stone banding, corbelled and moulded brickwork, pressed metal cornices, and stone trim. Webster School, constructed between 1881 and 1882, incorporates all of these stylistic details into a symmetrical, three-story, twelve-classroom, red brick school building. Thus this building’s form, style, and plan are consistent with the typical school building constructed during this period and collectively represent this phase of development in the public school system of the District of Columbia.

The Webster School is also significant for its association with the Americanization School, which occupied the building between 1924 and 1949. The Americanization School was established as part of the D.C. Public School system in 1918 and operated free of charge to residents of the District seeking United States citizenship. The school also provided other social services through its allied programs, including aid to pupils in filing for citizenship with the Immigration and Naturalization Service, as well as instruction in reading and writing to American-born and foreign-born pupils with a limited educational background. The Americanization School was a significant institution in the city’s social history and is a unique component of the D.C. Public School system that reflects the desire to institutionalize the assimilation of foreign-born residents after World War I. Webster School’s use as the Americanization School for 25 years made the building a center for civic activity for foreign-born residents and their families. Webster School continued to represent the city’s commitment to meeting the changing needs of its residents through the twentieth century. After serving as an administrative annex for the D.C. Public Schools between 1950 and 1963, the school became the first home for the city’s newly-organized Girls’ Rehabilitation Program. A model of its kind, the program was directed to provide a holistic approach to the education and medical care for students who were pregnant or single mothers. After the Girls’ School was phased out, Webster School housed special education classes and administrative office of the D.C. Public Schools special education program. Thus, Webster School’s use from 1924 to the late twentieth century represents the diversification of innovative educational programs in the city.

Year
Start
Year
End
Description Architect
1881 1882 Webster School, Washington, DC Improvement Edward Clark
1905 1905 Plumbing Alterations and new bathrooms in basement
1914 1914 New heating plant
1938 Lighting improvements
1949 1951 Mixc. alterations and repairs
1963 1963 Alterations and Electrical modernization
1969 1969 Alterations and Boiler replacement
1972 1972 Air Conditioning added
Last Reviewed: 2017-08-13