Seattle Public Schools, 1862-2000: Warren Avenue School

  • Posted 9/12/2013
  • Essay 10604

This People's History of Warren Avenue School is taken from Building for Learning: Seattle Public School Histories, 1862-2000 by Nile Thompson and Carolyn J. Marr. That book, published in 2002 by Seattle Public Schools, compiled profiles of all the public school buildings that had been used by the school district since its formation around 1862. The profiles from the book are being made available as People's Histories on courtesy of Seattle Public Schools. It should be noted that these essays are from 2000. Some of the buildings profiled are historic, some of recent vintage, and many no longer exist (new names and buildings not included in these profiles from 2000 have been added), but each plays or has played an important role in the education of Seattle's youth.

Warren Avenue School

The Warren Avenue School was built when Seattle's school enrollment is said to have been increasing by 2,000 children annually. The school opened in 1903 with 350 students to relieve overcrowding at the nearby Mercer and Denny schools. The building was designed with a classical arched-front entry that featured four detached columns and four built-in columns supporting a railed roof. It was situated on lower Queen Anne Hill on a portion of David Denny's 1852 land claim. The street on which the school fronted is said to have been named for Major-General Joseph Warren (1741-75), "the first great martyr" of the Revolutionary War, having been killed at Bunker Hill.

When the site was purchased in 1902, it stood across from the Industrial School, which operated at 2nd Avenue and Republican Street from 1901-04 (see Burbank). This neighborhood heritage was perpetuated in 1914 when the Industrial-Special School was installed at the Warren Avenue School with the construction of an eight-room annex building, also at 2nd and Republican. A portable was added as a gymnasium. The addition to Warren was probably made in anticipation of the closure of Denny School for a regrade project.

Enrollment at Warren Avenue peaked in 1929 when 734 pupils attended. As industry and commerce spread northward, residences near the school were torn down and enrollment declined. This paved the way for the use of Warren Avenue School for special education where exceptional children, if not too handicapped, could participate in regular classes.

One of the pioneering programs at Warren Avenue School provided education for children with cerebral palsy. The program grew out of the Washington Spastic School that was begun in donated space at the Gethsemane Lutheran Church (911 Stewart Street) in fall 1942 by parents and physicians who believed that these children were capable of learning. Tired of transforming the parish house from a Sunday School venue to a classroom every week, John Nelson (later superintendent of Seattle City Light) went to Roy Howard (then district head of Home Instruction) and asked him to supply a teacher and furniture for the program beginning with the September 1943 term. The argument must have been convincing because, in January 1944, the children and staff were transferred to Warren Avenue School. There they found a portable that had been adapted for wheelchair access. The portable had served as a play center during the war years. Eventually the cerebral palsy unit expanded to five classrooms, serving students through 9th grade. Seattle was one of the first cities on the West Coast to have such a program in a public school and it attracted international attention.

Other programs for blind and sight-impaired children began in the same decade. Room signs in Braille and special equipment for writing and figuring arithmetic in Braille helped these pupils with their lessons. The last special education program added to the school was for hearing-impaired children, who had a classroom equipped with a microphone and racks of headphones.

In 1957, Seattle voters approved a proposal for the development of a Civic Center and a World's Fair. Warren Avenue School was in the area chosen for the future center, the site already having the Civic Auditorium, Ice Arena, National Guard Armory, Shrine Temple, and the district's High School Memorial Stadium. By the 1958-59 school year, enrollment had dropped to 250 students, steadily declining as families moved away because of impending clearance of the neighborhood for the World's Fair grounds. The school district sold the site after the State Supreme Court ruled that the state could condemn the property.

On May 15, 1959, former teachers, students and staff gathered to say farewell to the 57-year old building. For the following school year, students were transferred to West Queen Anne or John Hay, with the cerebral palsy group going to Holgate, the blind children to John Hay, the sight-saving to Coe, and the hearing-impaired to Green Lake. When the Century 21 Exposition opened in April 1962, the former school site was subsumed by the Washington State Coliseum, which housed international exhibits. It is now the site of Key Arena.


Name: Warren Avenue School
Location: Warren Avenue and Harrison Street
Building: 12-room, 3-story wood
Architect: Albert Wickersham
Site: 2.12 acres
1903: Opened on February 16; renamed Edwards on March 7; returned to Warren Avenue on September 1
1914: Additional building (n.a.)
1959: Sold to State of Washington; closed in spring; demolished on August 27

Use of Warren Avenue School site in 2000
Key Arena in Seattle Center


Nile Thompson and Carolyn J. Marr, Building for Learning: Seattle Public School Histories, 1862-2000 (Seattle: Seattle Public Schools, 2002).

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