Mid-Century Modern Public Schools: City-Wide; early to late 1950's
Phillis Wheatley Elementary School, George Washington Carver Junior-Senior High School, McDonogh No. 39/ Avery Alexander Elementary School, Thomy Lafon Elementary School
The Recovery School District is in the process of finalizing the School Facilities Master Plan for Orleans Parish, which could effectively erase mid-century modern school facilities from the City of New Orleans. In A Guide to the Architecture of New Orleans 1699-1959, Samuel Wilson, Jr. cites 25 of the thirty public schools which were built in the 1950s for architectural distinction. Of these, ten have been demolished or are slated for demolition. Of the remaining 15, 14 were assessed for “complete replacement” as part of the School Facilities Master Plan. While the Recovery School District is indeed recovering, that is not an excuse for the wholesale demolition of mid-century modern school architecture in the City of New Orleans. These schools were designed with respect for the city’s environment and the structures are ripe for sustainable rehabilitation and reuse. The four we’ve selected are those with the highest architectural merit. The Phillis Wheatley School (1955, Charles Colbert) was recognized and published by Progressive Architecture. The Thomy Lafon School (1954, Curtis & Davis) received the AIA Honor Award. George Washington Carver (1958, Curtis & Davis) received Progressive Architecture’s highest honor, the First Design Award. McDonough No. 39/Avery Alexander (1952, Goldstein, Parham and Labouisse; Freret and Wolf; Curtis & Davis) was the first modern school built in New Orleans. These buildings are solidly engineered, designed in sympathy with our climate, and have become part of our cultural and historic fabric. The renovation a modernist school that was built in a moment of sheer optimism can serve as a symbol for the City’s rebirth. We can recover the future from the past, demonstrate environmental stewardship, save neighborhood anchors, and move forward in a positive way.