Heritage, Volume 7, Number 4, Fall 1989 Page: 19
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disbanded, or left to the discretion of the
Possibly the most dramatic impact on
the construction of schools came as a result
of the Works Progress Administration
(WPA), one of President Franklin Roosevelt's
New Deal programs. The WPA provided
funds for construction of public
schools across the United States.
Texas certainly had its share of WPA
schools, gymnasiums, libraries, and ball
fields. They were frequently massive and
always distinctive. A reliance on local materials
allowed the structures to blend in
with the environment, and their availability
to the general public made them landmarks
in short order.
The New Deal era schoolhouses were
among the earliest structures to reflect the
concept of the school "plant." By the 1930s
and 1940s, the core I-plan had evolved to
include wings and outbuildings such as
band halls and gymnasiums.
Among the first wings built were those
built for lunchrooms. Though left out of
most early school buildings, they became
common after passage of the National
School Lunch Program in 1946. In the beginning,
many of these lunchroom structures
were simply vacant buildings moved
LEFT: Ernestine Edmunds and her first grade
students in 1921, Alamo Heights Elementary
School, San Antonio. Photo courtesy of the
Ernestine Edmunds Collection, San Antonio Conservation
Society. BELOW: The East Gansel
School in McCullough County. Photo courtesy of
the Institute of Texan Cultures, San Antonio.
onto the school site. In some instances,
surplus military barracks served the purpose.
This led to student complaints that
the food and the cooks were also GI.
Even with the development of the expanded
school plant, much attention was
still given to the central, or main building
which architecturally defined the school
and its role within the community. School
design took on new significance, with a
resulting emphasis on the statement or
expression of the detailing. Historical
influences such as Classicism, the Renaissance
and even the Spanish mission period
were reflected in the new designs. Architecturally,
the local schoolhouse became
part of the world community, with important
ties to the great ideas of the past.
Although some of the school buildings
of the 1930s and 1940s are still in use by
school districts, many others have been
torn down without any major efforts toward
preservation or documentation.
Some, however, have been adapted successfully
as office or retail space, or for use
as community centers. One very successful
method of preservation which allows the
structure to stay within the public domain
as part of the educational system is adaptive
use for administration offices or special
projects such as computer or language labs.
With the passage of the state's 1949
Gilmer-Aiken Law, there was an effort to
consolidate schools to serve educational
needs more effectively and economically.
The law's impact on the state was quite
The more elaborate schools included a
central auditorium, indoor restrooms,
nurse's office, and gymnasium. Outside
there might have been an assembly area
where students gathered each morning to
hear a devotional and pledge allegiance to
Later, when enrollment continued to
increase and items other than flags began
waving proudly from the flagpole, the
morning programs were moved indoors,
Here’s what’s next.
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Volume 7, Number 4, Fall 1989, periodical, Autumn 1989; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45433/m1/19/: accessed May 27, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.