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James Buchanan School

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1894–1895, Office of the Building Inspector. 13th and E streets SE
  • (Photo by Andrew Hope)

The James Buchanan School was one of the last public school buildings the Office of the Building Inspector designed before municipal building design was opened to architects in private practice. It can be described as one of the last gasps of the Romanesque Revival in District public school buildings and one of the most robust examples of the style. Its construction near 13th Street for white students signifies the sizeable population that had settled east of Lincoln Park. For many years, black housing in the Capitol Hill neighborhood was concentrated closest to the Capitol, while whites settled in the outer rings in newer housing. The original eight-room school proved too small for the growing population, and in the 1920s, additions were appended to the north.

Many of the red brick schoolhouses of the 1880s and 1890s employed common design features. The Buchanan School was an exception to the common pattern. Its bowed central pavilion creates a towerlike effect, accentuated by a conical roof and a flagpole at the top. The heavy stone lintels give the two double windows in the bow a distinct prominence. The flanking pavilions, measuring two bays each, are made up of double round-arch windows on the first floor and double segmental-arch windows at the second floor. The side entrances are notable for the large, circular-arch entrances; each arch springs from elaborately carved imposts.

To the east of the Buchanan School and its later additions is the Buchanan School playground, a highly sculptural array of concrete, wood, and brick forms intended to serve as a new “play plaza.” Inspired by First Lady Mrs. Lyndon B. Johnson's interest in “beautification,” Mrs. Vincent Astor of New York City hired architect Simon Breines and landscape architect M. Paul Friedberg, both of New York City, to create an innovative recreational area for Capitol Hill children. The park was conceived in 1966 and constructed in early 1968, just before the riots that accompanied the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., swept through the city. At the time of the park's completion, this section of Capitol Hill was viewed as possessing dispiriting ghetto conditions. The playground was “aimed directly at the relief of human despair.”

Writing Credits

Pamela Scott and Antoinette J. Lee


What's Nearby


Pamela Scott and Antoinette J. Lee, "James Buchanan School", [Washington, District of Columbia], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

Print Source

Buildings of the District of Columbia, Pamela Scott and Antoinette J. Lee. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993, 265-266.

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