Two Ward 5 School Buildings May Become Historic Landmarks

The Historic Preservation Review Board will hold a public hearing on landmark status for two school buildings in Ward 5.

The preservation board will consider placing John Mercer Langston and John Fox Slater elementary schools in the D.C. Inventory of Historic Sites, and their nomination to the National Register of Historic Places, at the public hearing at 10 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 27. The hearing will be held at One Judiciary Square, 441 Fourth St.  N.W., Room 220 South.

“The schools figure prominently in the history of this city and were part of the cluster of the first public schools in Washington to admit students of African descent,” said Bradley A. Thomas, a commissioner for Advisory Neighborhood Commission 5C01.

Langston and Slater are neighboring schools on P Street between First and North Capitol Streets N.W. “Langston (1829-1897) was an abolitionist, founder of Howard University Law School and U.S. congressman from Virginia,” according to Cultural Tourism D.C., a nonprofit organization. “Slater (1814-1884) was a white philanthropist and manufacturer from Slatersville, R.I., who funded industrial education for freedmen.”

Support of Local Residents

Thomas said ANC5C had not taken a position on landmark status for the school buildings. However, many residents “strongly support the action,” he added.

According to Tim Dennee, landmarks coordinator, the board’s hearing is open to all interested parties who would like to testify. Written testimony can also be submitted before the hearing. All filings should be sent to the Historic Preservation Review Board, 1100 Fourth St. S.W., Suite E6S0, Washington DC 20024.

The board guides the government and public on preservation matters. It assists with the implementation of federal preservation programs and the review of federal projects in the District of Columbia.

If the board designates both buildings, they will be included in the D.C. Inventory of Historic Sites . Both schools would also be protected by the D.C. Historic Landmark and Historic District Protection Act of 1978, which safeguards and promotes the use of landmarks and historic districts for the education, pleasure and welfare of the people of the D.C. area.

Significance to Pubic Education

According to the National Register of Historic Places registration form for Langston Elementary, the building, completed in 1902, is eligible for listing under criterion A and C, education and cultural heritage and architecture, respectively.

This means that the building conveys important information regarding the development of the District of Columbia public schools. This includes the evolution of public education for African Americans, the neglect and relief of school overcrowding, and segregation.

The building also conveys information about the style, form, materials, technology and aesthetic development of public school buildings. Its designer was Appleton Clark, called the “dean of Washington architects” by the Washington Post. Some of Clark’s most prominent works include the old Washington Post Building, 1337 E St. N.W. and the Foundry Methodist Church and Roosevelt Hotel, located on 16th Street N.W.

Link to Development of Shaw Community

Slater Elementary School is qualified under both Criteria A and C for similar reasons. Slater Elementary School, completed in 1891, is significant in the evolution of public education for African Americans in the District of Columbia, according to the registration form.

Completed in 1891, the school was built for African-American students in a segregated educational system and was important to the development of the Shaw community. It is virtually identical to a contemporary elementary school built in Georgetown for white students, exemplifying the standard of the times — separate but equal.

Slater Elementary is also part of a large complex of African-American schools clustered along First Street N.W. between L and P Streets.

Both Langston and Slater were constructed in an era marked by rapid growth. In addition, like so much of the District of Columbia, public schools were rigidly segregated by race throughout the 19th and well into the 20th century.