Historic Structures

Washington School - New Fifth Ward School, Appleton Wisconsin

Date added: June 14, 2019 Categories: Wisconsin School

As a product of 1890's large-scale school construction, the Washington School is bolder and more elegant, rare expressive of Richardsonian Romanesque period influences than other comparable schools in Appleton. The Lincoln School, Columbus School, and St. Joseph School, all designed in the same decade, are less lively in form and less coloristically rich. Broken into larger parts, the Washington School is more strongly reminiscent of libraries and academic buildings designed by master H. H. Richardson. Its irregular silhouette speaks more forcefully of the late Victorian era. Contrast with later schools, like the "Collegiate Gothic" Roosevelt Jr. High School, strengthens the significance of the Washington School as the preeminent interpretation of Richardsonian form in Appleton.

Frank Shaver Alien lived in Joliet, Illinois, when commissioned to design the school building. His work has been identified throughout the Midwest and southern California, yet the most representative examples of his work are in the Joliet area. Alien's work shows his familiarity with Richardsonian principles. His more representative commissions include the Barber Building, Central High School, and his former residence, all in Joliet. Alien was selected by the school board to design Washington School to replace the original Washington School, which was located adjacent to the site. The original school was considered too small for Appleton's expanding school population. It should be noted that classes were held in the original school up to a week prior to opening of the new school. At that time a fire, believed to be arson, consumed the original school.

Washington School is a single, detached structure, rectangular in plan measuring 80' x 120'. The south facade or main facade, had a single, extended center tower, projecting approximately 4.5 feet from the plane of the mainframe. The tower has been truncated (prior to 1930) from its original 95' spire configuration. Aside from the tower reconfiguration the visual integrity of the school remains as it did upon construction.

Exterior material rests on a squared-hewn Duck Greek limestone. Foundation walls are laid in regular continuous courses that rise nine feet above grade; except over the main entrance where the limestone blocks extend to a height of fifteen feet. The remaining exterior wall material is Menomonie red pressed brick laid in a stretcher bond. Decorative wall design and details include engaged pilasters, three rock-faced limestone belt courses, and stone characters giving the construction date and statement of purpose on the tower.

Parapet gables, two on both the east and west ;sides and one on both the main and northern facades, extend from the medium-hipped roof. Three single stack chimneys pierce the roof. Two of the chimneys are located along the center with one on the front slope and the other on the rear slope. The remaining chimney is offset right on the side slope. The roof trim is closed eaves that do not project over the vertical walls.

The main windows are set in a large two-story segmental opening. The window head is of rock-faced limestone in an arched arrangement with radiating voussoirs. The individual windows within the opening are two sash, double-hung. Four windows, two set in a semi-circular opening with a rock-faced limestone arch with radiating voussoirs, are present in the tower. The main door is located offset right of the main facade. The door is set in a semi-circular opening with an arched head with radiating voussoirs. The original door has been removed and replaced with an unobtrusive double leaf glass door.

Originally, the building had eight class rooms, store rooms, principal's office, dining room, a 1,200-seat auditorium, all on the first two floors. The basement held three large playrooms and two restrooms. The interior of the building has been remodeled several times. The most severe alterations coming in the mid-60's when the school was reopened for a brief period as an experimental learning center. Beyond the basic spatial arrangements of the original plan little remains of the historical integrity of the interior.

The building is the only building on the block and is sited in the center. On surrounding streets facing the school are middle-class single-family residences that date from the school's construction. While the neighborhood has suffered some intrusions, it is basically intact with the Washington School serving as its visual anchor. 6