You are here

Sumner Square

-A A +A
1871–1872, Sumner School, 1887, Magruder School, Adolph Cluss, Office of the Building Inspector. 1984–1986, office block, Hartman-Cox. 17th and M streets NW
  • Sumner Square (Franz Jantzen)
  • Sumner Square (Richard W. Longstreth)

Sumner Square is a mixed-use project organized around the major landmark, the Charles Sumner School. Completed in 1872 after designs by German-born architect Adolph Cluss, the Sumner School was the first permanent school building in the District of Columbia constructed for black students. On its east side, the William Beans Magruder School of 1887 exemplifies the nineteenth-century method of expanding overcrowded schools in the District—building a detached structure adjacent to the existing school.

The Sumner-Magruder School's decrepit condition led to concerns about its future in the late 1970s, but landmark status and structural fitness allowed it to become the centerpiece of a complex of restored, reconstructed, and contextual new architecture. Sumner School was restored by the Ehrenkrantz Group / Building Conservation Technology, expanded to the north, and adapted for use as a cultural center for the D.C. Public Schools. In order to provide underground space, the Magruder School was dismantled and reconstructed over a concrete basement. To the east and rear, a reticent new office structure sheathed in black glass was built with brick towers. Designed by Hartman-Cox, the new building was intended to harmonize with the schools and with the neighboring Jefferson Hotel.

The centerpiece of the complex, the Sumner School, is situated on a commanding site because street regradings placed the building on a raised terrace. Its main facade facing M Street is marked by a central clock tower that terminates in a steep belfry and by Moorish arches above the principal entrance. Flanking the tower are three bays of double windows, each capped by decorative arches. A stone belt course between the first and second stories and a heavy brick cornice above the third story tie together the elements of the composition. Ornamental slate, dormer windows, and iron cresting make the roof one of the building's outstanding features.

The modest Magruder School is typical of the red brick schoolhouses that were produced in large numbers by the Office of the Building Inspector. Its facades are adorned by projecting central bays and decorated with flat- and round-arch brick window lintels, corbeled brick at the cornice, and brick string-courses.

Writing Credits

Pamela Scott and Antoinette J. Lee


What's Nearby


Pamela Scott and Antoinette J. Lee, "Sumner Square", [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, 222-223.

If SAH Archipedia has been useful to you, please consider supporting it.

SAH Archipedia tells the story of the United States through its buildings, landscapes, and cities. This freely available resource empowers the public with authoritative knowledge that deepens their understanding and appreciation of the built environment. But the Society of Architectural Historians, which created SAH Archipedia with University of Virginia Press, needs your support to maintain the high-caliber research, writing, photography, cartography, editing, design, and programming that make SAH Archipedia a trusted online resource available to all who value the history of place, heritage tourism, and learning.