Stratford School Designated Local Historic District

Published on June 21, 2016

  • County, APS collaborate for designation

  • First Virginia public school to be integrates

  • Protects building while allowing for school addition, future changes

  • Previously listed in state, national historic registers

The Arlington County Board today designated the Stratford School, which currently houses the H-B Woodlawn Program, as the 38th Arlington Historic District. Designation is the result of an unprecedented collaboration between the County and Arlington Public Schools (APS).

On Feb. 2, 1959, Stratford became the first public school in the Commonwealth to be integrated. Its cultural, historical and architectural value have made it a critically important part of Arlington's history ever since.

"Stratford is perhaps Arlington's most significant local historic designation to date, given its critical role in desegregation in 1959 and its exceptional architecture," County Board Chair Libby Garvey said. "The importance of the partnership between the County and APS to achieve this designation in a way that allows for the school to expand to serve the needs of our growing student population can't be overstated."

School Board Chair Dr. Emma Violand-Sanchez highlighted the building's important role in Arlington's history, saying "Approving Stratford as an historic site was one of the most important votes that the School Board has taken, and acknowledges the courageous students who were the first to integrate schools in Virginia. The community is very proud of this school and its legacy, and shares the School Board's dedication to providing all our children with an excellent education." She added, "We also appreciate the collaboration of the County Board, staff and the Historic Affairs and Landmark Review Board (HALRB), who worked with us to find the best way to commemorate and celebrate this important historical site."

New rules for designating APS properties as local historic districts

The designation required an amendment to the Arlington County Zoning Ordinance that alters how APS properties are designated as local historic districts. With the designation,  exterior renovations to the Stratford School must meet specific design guidelines developed by Historic Preservation Program staff and APS staff. The design guidelines will help manage future changes to the property and will inform the design and construction of a new addition to the school planned for completion by September 2019.

The County Board voted 5 to 0 to approve this designation. To read the staff report on this item, visit the County website. Scroll down to Item No. 43 on the Agenda for the Tuesday, June 21 County Board Meeting.


Four former students of the Stratford School, including Michael Jones, one of the original students to integrate the school in 1959, requested the local historic district designation in March 2015. The property already was listed on the Virginia Landmarks Register (2003) and the National Register of Historic Places (2004).

Through a series of negotiations that advocated both historic preservation interests and APS concerns, the County Board, county manager, School Board, school superintendent, and the HALRB all recognized the extraordinary historical significance of the site. All parties agreed to collaborate and develop a compromise that would allow for the local historic district designation.

The School Board and County Board approved the compromise in separate meetings in December 2015, detailing the following parameters:

1) Amendments to the county's Zoning Ordinance that allow the County Board, rather than the HALRB, sole review of Certificates of Appropriateness requests for any future local historic designations of APS-owned or ground-leased properties and the County Board review and approval of all future local designations of APS properties. The HALRB will serve in an advisory role for both processes and make formal recommendations directly to the County Board.

2) Designation language that emphasizes and honors the school's civil rights-era history; and

3) Concise design guidelines for the historic district that seek to preserve the character-defining features of the original historic school, while allowing for alterations, expansions, and other changes within the district over time that would be reviewed and approved by the County Board or its designee.

About Stratford School

Stratford School is a vital part of Arlington's history both due to its role in ending racial segregation in the public school system and its architectural significance.

On Feb. 2, 1959, four African American seventh-graders -- Michael Jones, Gloria Thompson, Lance Newman and Ronald Deskins -- entered and enrolled at Stratford Junior High School, marking the beginning of the end of the Commonwealth of Virginia's practice of public school segregation. They were the first African American students in Virginia to attend their neighborhood public school rather than a segregated school. On Feb. 2, 2016, three of the four original integrating students returned to Stratford to be honored as part of the "Celebrating Arlington's History Makers" event.

The design and construction of the Stratford School represents a critical moment in the development of Arlington County's public education system in the mid-twentieth century. The building was constructed as a direct response to the County's unprecedented population growth leading up to World War II and in the following decade.

This tremendous increase in the school age population, particularly in the Lee Highway corridor in the neighborhoods of Cherrydale, Maywood, Waverly Hills and Donaldson Run, led to numerous school construction projects including Stratford Junior High School. Similar to other post-war educational facilities throughout the nation, the design of Stratford Junior High School adhered to the ideals of Modernist architecture, allowing for an efficient and economical school building.

The Stratford School Local Historic District encompasses a distinctive and architecturally significant International Style building  The site is the best and most intact Arlington work of prominent regional architect Rhees Burket, Sr., and the building is characterized by the extensive use of stone, glazed brick and tile, and glass block.

The school has undergone two expansions since its initial construction, but both have been minimal in scale and use a similar vocabulary and materials as the existing building.

About the Historic Preservation Program

The County's Historic Preservation Program helps identify, preserve, and protect Arlington's historic resources. Working with the Historical Affairs and Landmark Review Board (HALRB), program staff researches sites for historic designation, surveys buildings and neighborhoods, and promotes preservation efforts and Arlington's heritage throughout the community.

Learn more about Arlington County's Historic Preservation efforts.