As part of GM’s continuing series surveying the historic school buildings in Georgetown he turns today to another condofied school: The Phillips School.
Wendell Phillips School
2735 Olive St.
Current Owner: Private Residences
The Phillips school was built in 1890 to serve east Georgetown’s large African-American population. It was named after the abolitionist Wendell Phillips.
Starting in 1866, the Black population of Georgetown was served by the Chamberlain School which stood on 26th St. between P and Q Streets. This part of the neighborhood was the center of Georgetown’s African-American population and was referred to as Herring Hill.
Almost immediately, the Chamberlain School was overcrowded. A survey taken by the District police department under orders of Congress-this was Reconstruction, and Congress was concerned that Black schools were not receiving adequate funding to meet their needs-found that Chamberlain was attended by 400 students. This overcrowding lead to the construction in 1885 of the Wormley School in west Georgetown.
Just five years later the Phillips School was constructed. Plans were floated by the school board to shift all of Wormley’s students over to the newly opened Phillips School. Despite its convenience to the Black student population of Herring Hill, many objected to the move due to fears of mosquitoes and malaria from Rock Creek. While the move never took place, the two schools were administratively merged around 1930 due to declining student enrollment.
As enrollment continued to decline, Phillips was closed around 1950. The building continued to be used as an administrative building by the schools for some time afterwards. Around 1961, the District supervisors got a little annoyed that the school system was using the school’s playground for a parking lot. They figured the playground could be subdivided into 15 lots worth $20,000 each (ironically the playground was built in 1923 when the city bought and demolished 10 rowhouses). While the school board got its way on the parking lot for about another ten years, the supervisors ultimately got their way when the whole school was sold to the Washington International School in 1970 for $500,000.
WIS used the Phillips School building until 1998 when they moved their campus. The building was then sold for $2.1 million to a real estate developer who converted the property into condos in 2002. The District supervisors were prescient; the playground was eventually cut up into 14 lots. Unsurprisingly, they kept the rest of the parking lot.