By Ross Schipper
It has been 43 years since Western High School was renamed the Duke Ellington School of the Arts. Now that the renovation is complete, this seems a proper time to remember the history of the historic building that now houses the city's premier arts education facility.
The Western High School was established in 1890. It was originally housed in the Curtis School building on O Street. For its first 24 years, Edith C. Westcott was the Western High School principal. Beginning in 1891 with a handful of students and one teacher, she built up a school of 800 students and a faculty of 25. The first graduation exercises of the school were held in 1893. In 1898, a new building on the southeast corner of today’s Burleith neighborhood was completed to house the Western High School.
Western High School progressed rapidly and increased in size. During 1911 and 1912 north and south wings were added to the building to accommodate a larger student body, and the larger portico with its 10 Ionic columns that we see in today’s building replaced the original four-columned portico. In 1923 a sales brochure by Shannon & Luchs advertising the new Burleith housing development included a picture of Western High School. In 2003 this classic revival building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places; click here for the nomination narrative, which contains interesting information about its past..
The current modernization was completed in August 2017, two years and eight months after its December 19, 2014, groundbreaking. At the August 19 ribbon-cutting by Mayor Muriel Bowser and Chancellor Antwan Williams, BCA vice president Nan Bell welcomed students back to the neighborhood.
More information about Western High School and other aspects of Burleith’s history can be found in the book Burleith, which is is available at the Arcadia Publishing website (type Burleith in Search Books) and at Amazon.com.