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West Columbia Elementary School

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1951, Donald Barthelme and Associates. 601 South St., West Columbia
  • (Photograph by Gerald Moorhead)

West Columbia's elementary school for white students was the most celebrated public school building constructed in Texas in the 1950s. It achieved regional, national, and international recognition at the time of its construction for the audacity of its modern architectural design. It is the most celebrated work of its architect, Donald Barthelme of Houston.

The originality of the school was recognized from the time of its completion. Barthelme was not alone among modern architects in Texas in being recognized for his mid-twentieth-century school buildings, but the level of attention focused on this school was exceptional. In 2006 the Columbia-Brazoria Independent School District demolished West Columbia School, leaving only the canopy. Barthelme constructed this nine-bay-long canopy as a series of thin shell concrete vaults; the end vaults incline downward at a forty-five-degree angle to touch the ground. The replacement school by SHW Group of Houston is next door.

Awaiting restoration is the Columbia Rosenwald Colored School of 1922, one of the many wooden schoolhouses constructed for African American students throughout the South with assistance from Chicago philanthropist Julius Rosenwald, chairman of the board of Sears, Roebuck and Company. It was rescued from dereliction and moved to its present site in the 200 block of E. Clay Street by the Columbia Historical Society in 2003.

Writing Credits

Gerald Moorhead et al.


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Gerald Moorhead et al., "West Columbia Elementary School", [West Columbia, Texas], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

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