This week for Georgetown Time Machine, GM would like to consider a long lost school building. If GM were to try to compile a Georgetown version of James Goode’s “Capital Losses“, he would certainly include near the top of the list the old Curtis School.
This elementary school once stood on O St., basically right where Hyde-Addison’s playground now sits. As GM explored in this video, the Curtis School was the first of the modern municipal schools built in Georgetown (1875):
(There were, of course, school buildings in Georgetown long before the Curtis School. The Lancaster School, for instance, started teaching students in 1811. It still stands as a private home at 3126 O St.)
Curtis school was designed by the great Washington architect Adolph Cluss, who designed Eastern Market and thirteen other DC school buildings, including the historic Franklin School. It was named after William Wallace Curtis, who was president of the Board of Trustees for Georgetown (which ran Georgetown’s public schools when it was its own municipality).
It was quite large, as you can see in the photo above. It was three stories tall, plus an ample mansard roof. The tower rose even higher. And it was built to be more than just a school. It was built to be home to the Peabody Library, a public library funded by a $15,000 donation by George Peabody in 1867. This fund was supplemented by an even larger $50,000 donation from Edward Linthicum (the owner of Dumbarton Oaks). The city of Georgetown kicked in roughly $35,000 more to build the school building with the Peabody Library inside. You can even see the sign for the library on the left side of the building in the photo above.
But even with the library and all the classrooms, Curtis still had room. And the school administrators took up that space. Throughout the last part of the 19th century, Bernard T. Janney ran the fifth school division out of Curtis (Janney School is named after him).
And in 1890, the newly formed Western High School also took up space in Curtis. (If you’re wondering where the elementary school kids fit in, they probably got mostly switched over to the Addison School next door, which opened a few years earlier.) Western High School remained for eight years until its home on 35th St. was opened (the current Duke Ellington School).
Like all the other school buildings in Georgetown, Curtis ran into enrollment challenges in the 20th century. In the 1920s, it was merged with Addison and Hyde. Hyde taught the youngest kids, Addison the middle aged kids, and Curtis was converted into a vocational high school. That didn’t last. Addison was closed for being obsolete in 1944. And two years later Curtis was closed. It was briefly leased out to the Hebrew Academy. But it was torn down in 1951.
It’s such a shame to lose such a lovely and grandiose building. And what really bugs GM is how few pictures of the building he can find! The photo above is a photo of a photo that apparently hangs in DCPS’s archives, which explains its skewed perspective.
But searches through photo and newspaper archives results in only a few examples of this building being capture. And they’re not very good at that:
Here’s a photo from a 1940 article about the history of Western High School:
This picture showed up a bit earlier in 1935, but not terribly clearer (although it does include some of the homes behind on P St.):
And here’s an even worse example from 1928:
Here are some Curtis Students showing off some birdhouses they made in 1927:
(These kids would be about 106 today. They probably are all no longer with us, but it’s mind blowing to think that it’s possible that one could be.)
And that’s it for photos that GM has found, other than a few distant skyline shots. It’s a shame the building’s gone, and another that we have so few images of it before it went.
One response to “Georgetown Time Machine: Curtis School”
It’s a sad commentary on how most Americans do not ‘treasure’ our past. My years in Vienna Austria taught me how the past can be cherished and carefully cared for. I guess I should clarify -historic buildings! Pam
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