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Past Watch Site
PHILLIS WHEATLEY ELEMENTARY SCHOOL
New Orleans, Louisiana, United States
- WMF Program:2010 Watch
Floating above Creole cottages and Victorian shotgun houses of the Tremé/Lafitte neighborhood of New Orleans is the glass-and-steel Phillis Wheatley Elementary School. In 1954, the architect Charles Colbert constructed an elevated cantilevered steel truss structure to provide an expansive shaded playground area, protecting the schoolchildren from the tropical climate. Progressive for a school facility at the time, the building was critically acclaimed and its design was exhibited internationally. The building is a valuable example of regional modernism in a city most noted for its 18th- and 19th-century architecture.
More than 50 years later, the elevated form proved highly effective in protecting the Phillis Wheatley Elementary School from the floods of Hurricane Katrina. Since the hurricane, the Orleans Parish School Board has shuttered the building, and decay and vandalism have taken their toll on this striking statement of modern design. Demolition of the edifice to construct a new school has been proposed, and Docomomo-Louisiana has countered this proposal by suggesting an adaptive reuse of the building as a community center. This alternative to demolition would raise public awareness of an architectural gem unique to New Orleans and encourage community building in an area still recovering from disaster.
In March 2011, WMF learned that the Louisiana Department of Education was seeking bids for the demolition of Phillis Wheatley Elementary School despite a viable adaptive reuse plan proposed by DOCOMOMO-Louisiana. An online petition protesting demolition gathered nearly 2,000 signatures. Despite plans to wait until August 2011 to tear down the structure, the school was razed over a two-week period in June.