Phyllis Wheatley Elementary
This is the run-down, weird-looking, beautiful building across the street from Willie Mae’s Scotch House. It is the former Phylllis Wheatley Elementary, and it’s been unoccupied since Katrina. I first noticed it shortly after I moved to New Orleans, and I’ve been back several times to look around. The school was designed in the 1950s by Charles Colbert, a prominent New Orleans architect. The main feature of the design is the cantilevered structure supported by a steel truss system. The cantilever creates a large play area shaded by elevated, cross-ventilated classrooms above.
This award-winning piece of architecture has been approved for demolition after an active campaign to save it, including a feasibility study and design proposal for renovation and reuse of the school. Other options, such as moving the building or reusing some of the components, are being discussed.
Wheatley is falling victim to a failing school system and its own age. This style of architecture is still too young to be considered historic by the majority of the community, especially in a city that focuses (for good reason) so heavily on the older vernacular architecture that drives its identity. Unfortunately New Orleans has relatively few significant modern buildings, so every loss is a big one. This building was designed around our climate, so it also has national significance as a regional example of modern architecture. You can see a few photos of Wheatley in its original state here.
Read more about the building and efforts to save it here: DoCoMoMo
I’ve taken lots of photos of Wheatley since its time is now limited, and I’ll post more as they’re edited. The next batch should be up Thursday morning, 9/23.