Historic Structures

George Washington Junior High School, Tampa Florida

Date added: May 2, 2022 Categories: Florida School

George Washington Junior High School, which was built between 1914 and 1915, consisted of forty-one rooms. In 1949 a physical education building was added on the southeast corner of the schoolyard. The school was remodeled in 1923 at a cost of $100,000. The 1923 remodeling of the school consisted of a one story addition attached to the west elevation of the school and interior alterations. Several decorative "Star of David" medallions located at the roofline of the stairwell bays were removed from the exterior of the building ca. 1940. Physical evidence suggests that window air-conditioning units were installed, exterior doors were replaced, and the windows were boarded over in the 1970s. In 1971 it was converted to offices for the Velasco Student Services Center. It was demolished in 2003.

The George Washington Junior High School was built between 1914 and 1915 when Tampa was growing and transitioning from a rural agricultural to a booming industrial economy. The central and southern portions of Florida remained a wilderness and predominantly unsettled until the end of the 1800s.

During this period, new railroad construction aided the economic development of Tampa. With the possibility of new settlement and transportation improvements, many large landowners transferred their interests from agriculture to land development. As a result, workers and their families moved to neighborhoods. In turn, institutions including schools were built to meet the resident's needs.

One person who was very important in the transformation of the Tampa area was Henry Bradley Plant. He was responsible for the rapidly expanding interstate rail system throughout Florida. The existence of a reliable rail transportation system provided the agricultural and industrial communities with access to northern markets and brought new settlers and tourists to the area. Consequently, his port and railroad brought new industries to Tampa. One industry located in the proximity of George Washington Junior High School was cigar manufacturing, which had relocated from Cuba. This industry brought a rich cultural mix of people to Ybor City and West Tampa that had a deep understanding of the value of public education as a way of creating a better life. The importance placed on education added to an urgency already being felt at this time for more schools.

As the economy diversified with Plant's shipping, phosphate, and banking industries, businessmen and workers began taking their families from the urban core to the deeply shaded suburban communities that were being carved out of former farms. Tampa Heights and Seminole Heights are examples of such suburban communities. George Washington Junior High School was one of several schools constructed to receive the students of families that settled in these new developments. The school is located on the southeastern edge of the Tampa Heights neighborhood just west of Ybor City.

The number of residents was also growing east of the river, which began developing after Tampa built the first bridge in 1888 to serve Henry B. Plant's hotel. New upscale properties in Hyde Park and along Bayshore Boulevard were built from the late 1880s to the 1930s. The Hillsborough County Board of Public Instruction, as it was the called, had to keep pace with these multiple migrations by providing grammar and secondary schools in each neighborhood.

The growing population in Tampa during this period not only increased the amount of homes and businesses constructed, but there was also a dramatic increase in the construction of quality schools. Prior of 1903, Hillsborough County schools were constructed of wood. Unfortunately wood frame schools had very short life spans due to the climate and insects in Florida. In 1903, Tampa began constructing brick schools, instead of using wood construction. As buildings developed on palmetto scrub and sandspur lots, developers, designers, homeowners and school boards built in the varied regional architectural styles. They often applied the details that recalled traditional English Colonial forms or the more romantic and evocative Spanish Colonial and Mediterranean Revival styles that flourished in the first two decades of the twentieth century. Mediterranean Revival was the predominant architectural style of many of the schools built in Tampa during the 1910s-1920s. Although often clad in traditional red brick instead of stucco, these schools exhibit arches, shaped parapets, brackets, pendants, contrasting brickwork, and other details associated with Mediterranean Revival. George Washington Junior High School shares these traits and is a good example of the style.

The George Washington Junior High School, like many schools constructed during the early part of the twentieth century, still stands today. It is one of fifty-eight Hillsborough County historic schools that survives from these early decades of growth that cut a section through the agricultural past - the cattle ranching, citrus groves and truck farming- all facilitated by Henry B. Plant's west Florida railroad and port development. The period between 1911-1929 proved to be an exceptional period for Hillsborough County Schools. In 1914, the district gained national attention by constructing the first junior high schools in the nation. Both Woodrow Wilson Junior High and George Washington Junior High would change the organizational structure of schools throughout the United States.

George Washington Junior High School is an outstanding example of an early twentieth century public school. In addition, it exemplifies the Mediterranean Revival style as adapted to academic architecture in Tampa. An architectural style most intimately linked with Florida's 1920s Land Boom, this style was adapted to many early Tampa schools built during the 1910s and 1920s. Although George Washington Junior High is clad in traditional red brick, it exhibits arches, shaped parapets, brackets, pendants, contrasting brickwork, and other details associated with the Mediterranean Revival style.

The "E" building plan, 147'-3" x 165'-7", consists of a principle large central block with lateral classroom wings at each end and the three projections that form the E plan. The principal block, two lateral classroom wings, and two outer projections stand three-stories high. The middle section of the projection, formerly the auditorium, stands two-stories high. The primary elevation faces north. It is symmetrical and is divided into a five bay arrangement, with the middle section projecting north slightly and the two end sections projecting north still further. The middle section has large brick piers at either end.