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Photo: The interior of the Bryan School, courtesy Lance Horsley
If you look carefully, you’ll notice a peculiar trend in D.C.: there are school buildings everywhere. Some are still operating in their original mode, while others now serve different functions. Take, for example, Joshua R. Giddings Elementary School—-or as people call it these days “Results: The Gym” at 315 G St, Southeast. Or Franklin Pierce Elementary School, which is now an apartment building and occasional event venue.
Both sites are featured in “Capitol Hill Converted,” a new coffee table book by first-time author Kristen A. Dennis, a neighborhood resident. Dennis became interested in the transformation of various old educational facilities when she began looking for a public school for her young daughter. She couldn’t afford the private school options, and the area’s charter and public schools were either inaccessible or not up to her standards. Dennis ended up sending her daughter to Thomson Elementary at 1200 L Street, Northwest. But, over the course of her search, she became interested in the abundance of old converted DCPS buildings scattered throughout her neighborhood. (More pictures below.)
“Capitol Hill Converted,” which is self-published, features images and historical background on 12 different schools in the neighborhood. Here, Dennis talks about her book:
Were these buildings sold directly after they stopped housing schools? Or did they have other tenants before private owners purchased them?
It seems like a lot of them went through a succession of interim uses. They all had different leases. Some did sit vacant for excessive periods, like (Bryan Elementary School.) I came across an article where the developer Jim Abdo came across trees growing in the school. There were pigeons, rats, squatters. And in some cases there were drug labs. They were in general misuse and gross neglect. And the school system had abandoned them.
Were any of these conversions met with protests?
I do think there were some protests. I think Lovejoy in particular sticks out in my mind as having some protests.
The book cites a rather astonishing fact: “In 1997, approximately seventy school properties were placed on the surplus properties list and proposed for sale or lease.” I’ve also always been struck by the proximity of schools, and the number of school facilities.
The reason the schools are in such close proximity is because of the segregation—one white and black. And a lot of them have duel entrances for boys and girls. It’s sad because it seems like the schools that were intended for white students were more ornate.
With this year’s school closures,there are going to be a lot more vacant educational buildings in the city. Do you have any personal feelings about what they should be used for?
Well, I hope they continue to revitalize the schools in existence. If they keep closing them, there won’t be any. That’s been somewhat controversial. (Hine Junior High School) was the site of the first school on Capitol Hill. There’s a lot of speculation that they’re doing it for the tax revenue and property values. I find myself torn. I love the neighborhood. I love the excitement of the change. But having a small child, you want to figure out where they’re going to school. So, we do feel a bit displaced. You don’t feel like you’re in your neighborhood school.
Old interior of the Bryan School, photo courtesy of The Sumner School Museum and Archives
Exterior of the Lovejoy Lofts, photo courtesy of Kristen Dennis
Interior of Lovejoy Lofts, photo courtesy of Lance Horsley
To purchase the book, visit capitolhillconverted.com