A Fiery History: The Original Washington High School

The original Washington High

I thought for our inaugural blog post I’d share a little bit about the original Washington High School that was first built on this site.  It was a pretty magnificent building that only stood for 16 years, which is hard to fathom because it looks like an indestructible fortress!  It was constructed in 1906 and is quite a handsome example of the Richardsonian Romanesque style.

Original Washington High School Portland Oregon Burned 1922

The day after the original WHS burned down.

According to a history pamphlet on WHS in the Portland Public Schools archives, “on the night of October 25, 1922, our home was offered up on the altar of Hephaestus–god of fire.”  One of Portland’s firefighters was killed in the blaze.  The building was completely burned out, with only its side walls remaining.  While its brick facade looked so stout and fireproof, the wood post-and-beam structure made the building vulnerable to fire.

When the building burnt in 1922, school districts across the country were already beginning to institute new building technologies after several tragic fires took the lives of many students.  The loss of Washington High School certainly did this for Portland, even though the fire occurred after school hours.

Washington High School Portland Oregon 1925 Historic Photo

A newly-constructed Washington High School, as depicted in the 1925 yearbook.

The building that stands today has no wood in the structure.  It is built entirely of concrete, brick, and clay tile.  For a design that dates to 1923, the interior has a decidedly clean and modern feel compared to other buildings of this era.  It’s a showcase for new thinking about how to make school buildings safe and efficient.  Just another example of the many layers of history that are contained in these old buildings.