Eastern High School

This Capitol Hill high school was designed in a Collegiate Gothic style and has been a major landmark along East Capitol Street for a century.

Eastern High School, located in the Capitol Hill neighborhood on the 1700 block of East Capitol Street NE, was constructed between 1921 and 1923 and designed by Municipal Architect Snowden Ashford in the Collegiate Gothic style. Albert Harris, Ashford's successor, supervised the high school's final design and construction.

Eastern High School has a five-part plan and is four-stories tall. It is clad in red brick and limestone. Its most distinctive features are found at its main entrance on East Capitol Street, which includes a two-story porte-cochère, composed of red brick, limestone trim and quoining, lancet arched windows (with limestone tracery and a lattice design), and an entryway through a Gothic arch. Above the main entrance is a sundial, which is flanked by two crenellated towers. There are crenellated parapets above the main entrance and the two bay windows at the west and east ends of the school. These bay windows are also clad in limestone. The school has paired and grouped, three-sash windows (in a nine-by-nine design) with limestone trim and quoining. The horizontality of the building is emphasized through the series of windows and two limestone belt courses.

The original Eastern High School was established in 1890 near Eastern Market. The DC Schoolhouse Commission, established by Congress in 1906, recommended, through its 1908 report, that a new Eastern High School be constructed in accordance with various design principles popular at the time. In the following years, the site on East Capitol Street was chosen for the new high school. In addition to Eastern High School, the report eventaully led to the construction of Central High School (Cardozo Senior High School) (1916), Dunbar High School (1916, demolished in 1977) — with Dunbar constructed for African American students — and McKinley Technical High School (1929).

Snowden Ashford was DC's first Municipal Architect (1909 - 1921). Ashford designed many public school buildings in addition to Eastern, including Dunbar. Ashford often designed in the Collegiate Gothic and Tudor Revival styles, in opposition to the Commission of Fine Arts, which desired Colonial Revival style building designs. Although not designed by Ashford, Central is Elizabethan in design.

Central High School was designed by William B. Ittner, a St. Louis architect hired by Ashford. Ittner's St. Louis high school designs had been well-liked by DC's Schoolhouse Commission — one of these designs being a Collegiate Gothic style high school. This style and its E-shaped floorplan, with single-loaded corridors and dedicated classroom space for specific coursework, were used in the design of Central. Ittner's designs would certainly shape Ashford's designs for Dunbar and Eastern high schools in the coming years.

With its E-shaped floorplan, courtyards, and single-loaded corridors, Eastern High School, constructed between 1921 and 1923, provided plenty of natural light and air circulation — not unlike Central, which had opened in the previous decade.

Courses offered at Eastern included Latin, English, History, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Botany, Math, Freehand Drawing, Music, Physical Education, Journalism, Drama, Sewing, Food Preparation, and Home Care, in addition to other courses. These courses and subjects corresponded with 100 individual classroom, laboratory, and wood/metal/automobile repair shop spaces. Certain coursework and activities were only available to male students (e.g., Cadets), while other courses were meant for female students (e.g., Home Economics).

In addition to the classroom space for up to 1,800 students, Eastern included a modern auditorium for 1,400, a library, two gyms, handball and tennis courts, a lunchroom, greenhouse, rifle range and armory, printing plant, laundry, and bank, as well as a state-of-the-art steam heating system, an elevator, and more than 3,000 lockers. A stadium and field were completed in 1925, and an addition to the school's rear, housing a gym and classroom space, was completed in 1938.

Following Eastern High School's design and construction, no other public school building in the District would be designed in the Collegiate Gothic style.

After opening in the early 1920s, the neighborhood around Eastern High School continued to grow and, despite a capacity of 1,800 students, Eastern had 3,000 students by 1934. To deal with the overcrowding, students east of the Anacostia River were moved to Anacostia High School.

In 1954, in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka and Bolling v. Sharpe, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered that public schools be desegregated. Bolling, a case specific to DC, ruled that racial segregation in the DC public school system was unconstitutional under the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment. This led to new school boundaries. In the fall of 1954, 1.4% of the student population at Eastern High School was African American. African American students were transferred to Eastern from Cardozo (Central) and Spingarn high schools, and within a decade Eastern was 99% African American.

The school underwent renovations in both the 1980s and 2010s. The most recent "modernization" also preserved remaining, historic interior elements — including original marble, wood, and terra cotta — and restored the exterior to its original grandeur. The two rear courtyards were also enclosed.

Eastern was famous for its choir, which travelled internationally, and The Blue and White Marching Machine, a marching band that has played at major events, including presidential inaugurations.

Eastern alumni include Judge Sheila Abdus-Salaam; musicians Gayle Adams, Y'Anna Crawley, and Kevin LeVar; journalist George D. Beveridge; Four-Star General George S. Blanchard; NBA players Jerry Chambers and Jamorko Pickett; Senator Bennett Champ Clark; NFL linebackers Al Chesley, Frank Chesley, and Mike Wilcher; MLB pitcher Vince Colbert; White House Press Secretary Stephen Early; US Army Rabbi Alexander D. Goode, one of the "Four Chaplains," who gave his life when the SS Dorchester was torpedoed in February 1943; nuclear physicist Alvin C. Graves; Admiral Cecil D. Haney; Congressman George Huddleston, Jr.; NFL wide receiver Mike Martin; General Anthony McAuliffe; civil rights activist Franklin McCain; boxer and olympian Charles Mooney (who also taught at Eastern); Judge Edna G. Parker; reporter Eugene Scott; scholar Ibrahim K. Sundiata; DC Councilmember Brandon Todd; and General Earle Wheeler. Actor and comedian Dave Chappelle also attended Eastern High School. DC Councilmember Linda W. Cropp and musician Patrick Lundy taught at Eastern.

The school was first identified as historically and architecturally significant in Public School Buildings of Washington, DC, 1862-1960, a multiple property document.

DC Inventory: August 3, 2023
National Register: October 30, 2023