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Visit an abandoned Catholic school in Anacostia

Since June 2007, a three-story Catholic school in Historic Anacostia has sat quietly, unused and largely unnoticed. Last week, staff from the Archdiocese of Washington took me on a tour of the abandoned building, last known as the Our Lady of Perpetual Help School, with a small group of architects and contractors.

"Schools [sic] out." All photos by the author unless noted.

The school opened on V Street SE in the first decade of the 20th century for children of the nearby parish of Saint Teresa of Avila. It's one block over from the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site and its cramped visitor's center. With capital, vision, and proper management, this vacant school house could complement the Douglass site as a true visitor's center, capable of capturing out-of-town dollars from the more than 50,000 annual visitors to the neighborhood destination.

The old Saint Teresa School at 1409 V Street SE in Historic Anacostia. Photo courtesy of Library of Congress.

The boarded-up school was last used during the 2006-2007 academic year and awaits a rebirth and reuse.

But until then, let's take a tour of the school as it is today. Perched on a knoll above V Street, the brick exterior of the school is painted white and green and is in good condition.

The vacant multi-purpose room in the rear of the school.

I enter the rear of the school with the group through the multi-purpose room. The basketball backboards remain, without the rims. On a door hangs an activity calendar from March 2006. According to neighborhood sources, the school also served as a community center in the evenings during the 1980s and 1990s.

A dark hallway.

The school still has electricity, but many of the lights are out as I walk into the hallway. To enter the school, a facilities manager had to disarm the alarm. A member of the group remarks, "Kind of eerie."

Other than peeled paint, cracked floor tiles, and bathrooms with destroyed sinks and toilets, the interior of the building is sound, but there is probably a lot of asbestos in the building. Any possible renovation would require removing asbestos or lead-based paint.

"Choppa City" was here.

Inside one of the classrooms, it appears that neighborhood children at some time gained access to the school. Across a blackboard someone wrote "V-BLOCK" with "Choppa City," the name of a local street crew, written in cursive inside of the "O."

Classroom adorned with Warner Brothers characters.

You can see how the classrooms once looked when school was in session. Above one blank chalkboard, Sylvester the Cat, Tweety Bird, Speedy Gonzales, Bugs Bunny, the Roadrunner, and Yosemite Sam with two pistols drawn look out on the spirits of former pupils. Casper the Friendly Ghost adorns the walls of another room. Underneath one of the apparitions is a road sign that reads "Ghost Town." Being a former Catholic school, in this room and other parts of the building are signs and drawings of Jesus.

A plaque in the library.

In the second-floor library, no books remain on the wood shelves that line the perimeter of the room. Three of the room's four windows are boarded up. A plaque on the wall states, "Library Established by Sr. Mary Dolorine 1955 Sponsored By The Mother's Club."

On a chalkboard in a 3rd floor classroom, "Taylor Tucker," remains alongside a note reading, "Schools [sic] out -> So Ugly." In the upper left-hand corner is the date of the last day of school, June 4, 2007. As I pick up a loose piece of chalk to write my name on the board, I hear someone call out, "The roof's open!"

I ascend the stairwell and walk on to the roof. Everyone in my cavalcade has their cell phone out, snapping unobscured panoramic photos of the city's skyline: the Washington Monument and the Capitol Dome the most noticeable, the Washington Cathedral further off in the distance.

A panorama of Washington's skyline from the roof.

Someone points to the Douglass house. "What's that?" They ask.

I respond, "The home of Fred Douglass, resident of Anacostia from fall 1877 to his death in late February 1895." I snap a few photos of Douglass's mansion through the southside canopy.

View of Frederick Douglass's home from the roof.

"This would make a great rooftop restaurant, don't you think?" someone asks.

"Yeah, but they would have to go through zoning and [Historic Preservation Review Board] first," replies another visitor, a contractor. "But it sure would be one of the coolest restaurants in the city. You can look at the Douglass house or you can look at the Capitol."

After ten minutes of marveling at the views, we make our way back through the empty school. Two young architects ask the facilities manager if the school has a basement. It doesn't he replies, it has a boiler room which he shows the two visitors.

Once we are all back out on V Street, we thank the staff of the Archdiocese for the tour and promise to be in touch. In the meanwhile the old Saint Teresa School sits and awaits a rebirth and productive reuse. With recent news that the city wants to get tourists off the National Mall and brand its neighborhood attractions as "cool," the old Saint Teresa School might be the perfect place to launch the campaign.

John Muller is an associate librarian, journalist and historian. He has written two books, Frederick Douglass in Washington, DC, Mark Twain in Washington, DC, and also writes at Death and Life of Old Anacostia


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The opportunity to read Mr. Muller's Anacostia posts is the very best reason to keep tabs on what's new on this website

by Kolohe on Sep 26, 2013 12:49 pm • linkreport

Thanks for the look at the school. But what about the real story? Young architects prowling the streets of Anacostia and dreaming up rooftop restaurants. Must every neighborhood become another U Street? Does every building need to be repurposed? Seems like an ideal place for a school to me.

by Anna Kostya on Sep 26, 2013 2:23 pm • linkreport

Great story showing how much wonderful history is hidden in our area. This story on St. Theresa's school reminds us of the true beauty of this neighborhood and how the presence of such a facility which had helped the community grow in SE can now help this same community develop a visionary project. Thanks to the Archdiocese, this property can now be utilized for the whole community and not simple remain as a future eye sore for the neighborhood.

by John Wintermyer on Sep 26, 2013 2:44 pm • linkreport

Great story showing how much wonderful history is hidden in our area. This story on St. Theresa's school reminds us of the true beauty of this neighborhood and how the presence of such a facility which had helped the community grow in SE can now help this same community develop a visionary project. Thanks to the Archdiocese, this property can now be utilized for the whole community and not simply become a future eye sore for the neighborhood.

by John Wintermyer on Sep 26, 2013 2:46 pm • linkreport

I look at the rooftop panorama of Washington, and then I think how that would change if OP were to have its way on the height limit and based on the models put forth. This posting has cemented it -- leave the height limit substantially alone.

by Sally on Sep 26, 2013 4:04 pm • linkreport

Thanks for the tour and updates.

While the building is in decent condition, it is a little ominous since it is a large empty building (and lot) and has a nasty fence. Plus it is absurd that they still have the no parking during school days signs up when it hasn't been an active school in years.

by h st ll on Sep 26, 2013 5:41 pm • linkreport

BTW looked through your Flickr and saw the photo of 2010 14th st se. I have seen several groups (with various "restoration" tags on their vehicles) looking at it. It looked nicer on the inside than you would've thought. Not sure if they are gonna tear it down or renovate it, though.

And work continues on AWS. Can't wait til they finish that!

by h st ll on Sep 26, 2013 5:44 pm • linkreport

Doesn't the Archdiocese of Washington still own the building? In other words, is it "abandoned?" I seem to recall hearing fairly recently that the Archdiocese maybe asking for a lot of $$ for the site. As anyone checked on that recently?

by gayle on Sep 26, 2013 6:38 pm • linkreport

@h st II : why should the archdioese allow parking on their property ? it opens the door for trouble. what if carsparked there are broken into or robbed of catalytic converters or stolen.

by lilkunta on Sep 28, 2013 8:47 pm • linkreport

I was talking bout the on street parking. Any parking near schools is like that. I

by h st ll on Sep 28, 2013 9:21 pm • linkreport

It's nice to see the inside again! I went through 6th grade here at St Teresa's. My mother taught 2nd grade for many years. Back then, 1st and 2nd grade were on the first floor. 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th were on the 2nd floor and the library, 7th grade, the Principle's office (Sister Elisabeth) and her 8th grade classroom on the 3rd floor. It was a wonderful place to be from 1960-1967.

by Beth Freund on Nov 27, 2013 4:50 pm • linkreport

It was great to have taught there from 1969-1986. It was then Our Lady of Perpetual Help Lower School. The two schools merged in the 1972. We had double grades from kindergarten to the fourth grade as many as 35 children in each class.It was sad to hear it was going to close. And the parishioner didn't know about it until it was too late. The Archdiocese didn't give us a chance to try to save it.
It's true the enrollment was very low. it was the saddest day in the life of those of us who went there. As a child I was at OLPH on the hill were the real view of DC is breath taking from 1951-1959

by M C Stew on Apr 10, 2014 10:06 pm • linkreport

I taught at St. Teresa of Avila the school years of 1966-68. Those years were troubling for the community and the school stood by the community. I was the first Black teacher to teach at St. Theresa. The school used to be segregated until Archbishop O'Boyle demanded desegregation of all Catholic schools in 1951. My brother was the first Black male student to attend St. Teresa in 1951. There is a rich historic history connected with this school and it would be a shame to see it used for any purpose other than education. The irony of it sitting just a couple of blocks away from the Frederick Douglas Mansion should be melded into a pathway of knowledge for everyone.

by Sherrill Adams on Apr 11, 2014 8:17 pm • linkreport

So what are they going to do with the building? Is it up for sale? Is the archdiocese willing to reopen OLPH?

by Raymond LaMount Davis on Apr 12, 2014 1:14 am • linkreport

Sherrill Adams,

Thank you for sharing.

I'm currently working on a history of the neighborhood for a forthcoming book. It would be great to speak with you / interview you and include some of your experiences and insights.

Look forward to being in touch.

John Muller

by John Muller on Apr 12, 2014 3:47 am • linkreport

Mr. Muller OLPH has an alumni page on Facebook just full of stories and love for this school. I attended the school from 79-88 and confirm how much of a difference that school made in a lot of a lives. Kickball at recess with kids all over the front playground until the sound of the bell...#OLPH

by Fleetwood on May 6, 2014 7:35 am • linkreport

I taught Kindergarten here in the late 70'S. It was one of the most wonderful experiences I've had: energetic kids, a real community of parents, truly passionate teachers. I wonder if any of the mural done by our artist-in-residence survived.
I'm working in a Catholic school in NYC now, but it makes me terribly sad to see one more of our schools that truly served the community closed.

by Kathy Hotaling-Bollinger on Jun 15, 2014 8:11 pm • linkreport

GREAT to see the inside of my grade school! I had Mrs. Freund in second grade, she was s really good teacher. So nice to read her daughter's comment.

by Anne Herrity on Jun 19, 2014 10:19 pm • linkreport

Please don't destroy that school. Some folks did grow up in Anacostia and attended that school. I am one of them!
Once I cross the "Anacostia" bridge, I already don't recognize my city anymore. It's as if my whole childhood is being destroyed. Why not use it for a school. WE COULD SURE USE A FEW MORE SCHOOLS THAN RESTUARANTS, DON'T YOU THINK.???

by Gayle on Aug 26, 2014 12:18 pm • linkreport

To Sherrill Adams

I lived right next door to St Theresa's and graduated in 1957. Your brother Nathan was in my class. We were taught by nuns and only an occasional non-religious teacher would be hired to teach there. Anacostia was a wonderful, multi-ethnic neighborhood. So many good memories of growing up there. What a wonderful gift it would be to return the property to a learning facility. It would be good for the community and offer children of the neighborhood an opportunity to experience some of what are now our (me and my brothers and sisters) fondest memories.

by Joy Owens on Oct 7, 2014 8:43 am • linkreport

Can you get the information who owns the builting I want to look in getting it oneday its around the coner where I am from and stand for I love dc and want to give back big time

by jalony l gomillion on Dec 26, 2014 12:08 am • linkreport

Interesting story, I came across this as I just happened to be searching the web on what happened to the school I attended (OLPH as we called it back then) when I was a child in 1977. So sorry to hear about it's demise, I have great memories of my time there attending school in our blue plaid uniforms.

by o Jackson on Feb 6, 2015 2:12 pm • linkreport

The year was 1962.

Transfered from St Margaret's in Seat Pleasant, Md due to dad's divorce. 5th grade. Represented St Teresa's in spelling bee that year at F. Xavier on Penn. Ave near fire House. Mispelled 'anxious' in 1st round.Nerves I guess.Forgot the 'x'...

In the pic (white school building) the right in front of old sign was the playground,at the other end (out of sight was a basketball pole/ the right of that basketball pole the Convent/administration building. Spent many a Saturday there shooting by myself. Morning to sundown. Never tired of it. Don't ever recall anyone but me.Would walk to a small mom and pop store a few blocks away and grab a tall Royal Crown Cola after basketball. It was my routine. Different time back then. No computers,smartphones,etc....Kids went outside and loved it.

Our classroom coat closet at St Teresa's was huge!...had 2 doors!

Topps baseball cards were 5 cents a 12 cards in a pack too. Mantle, Mays, Musial and the Washington Senators!

Recall our class walking about a block to the church for Good Friday services. Lived on W St and walked to school. Transfered back to St Margaret's when my dad moved again for 6th grade. Pres. Kennedy would be killed 6 months later.

Short but memorable time at St Teresa's.That was 52 years ago. I still have very fond memories of the place.

I appreciate historians who devote their time to record the past so that folks like me can relive our memories. Checked out your 'Death and Life of old Anacostia' page.

Great stuff!

I bookmarked these pages for future visits

Thank You,

by A Miller on Feb 12, 2015 4:22 am • linkreport

The building exterior in 1962 was all white. What year was that swath of green added?

Anyone know when the building was painted all white?

by A Miller on Feb 12, 2015 6:31 pm • linkreport

The St. Teresa's and Our Lady of Perpetual Help merged in the early 70's. Our Lady's school colors were green and white. So I'm thinking around that time period.

by Maureen Stewart on Feb 12, 2015 10:16 pm • linkreport

This building has historically set here and ppl use it to hide drugs And to smoke enough is enough

by Jalony L Gomillion on Feb 12, 2015 10:22 pm • linkreport

I would love to visit the building. The school was used my last year there before leaving. Omg the first picture is from mr drake class with my old class mates Taylors hand writing then the after care. We took field trips to Douglass house so many memories!!!

by Jordan clark on Feb 14, 2015 2:08 am • linkreport

I graduated from St. Theresa's in 1952. Lived in Anacostia for many years and it was a great place to grow up and a great school. I remember the playgrounds were separated, girls on one side of the school and boys on the other. For many years the nuns lived on the third floor, until the convent was built. I am still friends with classmates from that time. We had a 49 and a 50 year reunion with one of our nuns attending. Lucky to have been able to attend school there. Have many good memories.

by Beverly on Mar 9, 2015 8:51 pm • linkreport

Seeing the photos and reading the comments brought back a lot of memories.

My family lived in Skyland until 1954 at which time my mother, sister and I (after my father died) moved to San Francisco.

I loved St. Teresa's and received an excellent education, especially in poetry and geography.

However, as a child I really did not understand what a segregated society I lived in.

I remember sitting in 5th grade gazing out the window. I asked the sister what the big building was up on the hill. She said she did not know. Well, many years later when I was teaching High School Civics and History in SF, and reading Ebony magazine I learned that the building in question was the Frederick Douglas House. I don't know if the sister really did not know (nuns didn't get out much in those days) or just did not want to say. Years later I returned to DC with students a part of Project Closeup. On our free day another teacher and I rented a car and drove to the Douglas House where we met Ms. Gladys Parham who had been the unpaid caretaker for the house and was now an Nat'l Parks employee.

The years I attended St. Teresa's (1948-1954) were very difficult times. Racism permeated DC. My father had a very wonderful appreciation for the equality of all people and I benefited from his teachings.

I often wonder how my classmates developed. Did they become civil rights and civil liberties activists after what they lived with in DC....I would like to think so

by PAULINE SLOAN on Apr 28, 2015 6:17 pm • linkreport

I attended this school from 1966-1970, and lived in the neighborhood. We walked to school back then unsupervised (almost unheard of these days,) past the Frederick Douglas estate (where one could go sledding in the winter.) When I started, the nuns wore full habits and mass was in latin-by the time we moved from the area, the nuns were showing hair and knees, and the priest played guitar during mass! Lots of social change took place during those years.

I must say that the education and experiences I had during my years there definitely helped prepare me to achieve a modicum of success in life as a physician. The nuns would mete out discipline with a ruler to the open palms, and i certainly got-and deserved-my share.

Thank you, St. Teresa. Would be great to see another school rise from the ashes.

by Craig Settle on Apr 29, 2015 3:21 am • linkreport

I attended OLPH FROM 1979-1987 My Organization "Ray-Ali Inc" is trying to raise money to buy or do lease purchase of the property to build a Youth Dream Center. We had another obligation "Project" that is concluding in Yonkers NY . Once school lets out and my Executive Director Mr. Harv OOstdky comes back to Washington D.C. we are making this Vision our top priority!

by Raymond L Davis on Apr 29, 2015 5:21 am • linkreport

I also attended Saint Teresa elementary school from 1966 to 1970, as well as regularly attending the church one block away. That is my brother, Craig Settle. We both became doctors. My brother, Carl Settle, translates Spanish in the Los Angeles courts. He owns an apartment complex in West Hollywood. My sister Juanita Settle Ivey, is a registered nurse, a successful real estate agent, and an entrepreneur. My youngest brother, Clyde Settle III, was the first beneficiary of the Head Start program and is now a pilot for Delta Airlines. All of us received bachelors degrees and two of us received advanced degrees. My Confirmation was at the church and, as is traditional, I was allowed to pick my own name to celebrate the Confirmation ceremony. Naturally, I picked "Teresa." My brothers were altar boys in the church and I played the organ for two Masses on Christmas day in December 1969. My mother was so proud that she said her family was taking over the church. Sadly, my last day setting foot in that church was in July, 1970, when my mother's funeral was held there. I am grateful for the sacrifices she made to send all of us to Catholic school to get a superior education at St. Teresa's. Mom, you did great!

by René Settle on Apr 30, 2015 4:57 pm • linkreport

Attended St.T's from 1940 to 1948. All nuns and they lived on the 3rd floor. Wonderful teachers and fond memories. Anacostia was a great community to grow up in. Our CYO football team won the championship in '47!

by Bill Barrett on Jun 6, 2015 4:40 pm • linkreport

I went to this school in 1997 and just finding out its closed down . I used to looooove this school . The pictures are bringing back so many memories . When I was there , I remember being on the 2nd or 3rd floor (I don't remember which room) but looking out the window at the Fred Douglas house (before they rebuilt it) . We actually took a field trip there ! Oh how I miss the days . It shouldn't be a restaurant. That just wouldn't be right .

by Jasmine on Jun 11, 2015 6:45 pm • linkreport

Miss France's so sweet this school is VERY ingrained in family hostory
Will help in any way
Family names: O'Donnell
Thank you for doing this

by I attended and Miss Frances was my 1st grade teacher. My family lived at 1234 V. St and cousins Joni & Flo lived at 2228 Nichols Ave. The mother, grandmother, aunts, cousins also attend and were married Eunice also there on Aug 9, 2015 9:19 am • linkreport

Really cool to see these pictures and read the memories of former St. Teresa's
Pupils and S.E. Anacostia residents. The school pictures were a SERIOUS "flashback" ! Lived all of my childhood (until age 15 yrs. old) in the neighborhood at 1122 "W" St. and after at 1243 "V" St. , directly across the street from St. Teresa's church. My phone # was LU(Ludlow)'s that for "recall"!? GREAT MEMORIES ! Thanks.
Tommy Panella

by Tommy Panella on Sep 29, 2015 10:03 am • linkreport

Seeing those photos (especially the large white building) brought back so many wonderful memories! I attended St. Teresa's from 1959-1966 and remember it very fondly. Anacostia really was a melting pot and a great place to grow up. Hi, Tommy P., I still remember my phone # too:
(LU)dlow 42442! Can't remember what I ate yesterday, but remember that!!

by Judy (O'Dell) Hanson on Sep 30, 2015 3:17 pm • linkreport

I went to this school for all 8 grades, I started in 1957. I met my best friend there in 2nd grade and still have her, Judy O'Dell (Hanson). I think this building was built for children and should be used for children again. Why not an interactive educational center. You can still have your restaurant but make it all child friendly. We need more options for our future leaders, why not give them a place to grow as we did. Love to all who went to this lovely school.

by Joan Birchfield on Sep 30, 2015 6:51 pm • linkreport

I attended St Theresa's as did my mother and grandmother. We lived at 1234 V st. Walked home for lunch each day. Played in the churchyard til 11 pm on weekends. The majority of my family lived at 2228 Nichols Ave (MLK) starting approx. 1910-1968. The Big Dig Proj destroyed that house & its rich historical value. My brother, Michael, cousins Joni & Flo O'Donnell, best friend Frances Harrington and I attend the school from 1961-1965? Anyone remember Father John? It was an ideal childhood as far as I was concerned. I see real estate prices there now and just drop my jaw! I've lost track of my cousins, the O'Donnell's, Gentiles and Millers. We do have a fantastic picture taken at Great Falls just before all my great uncles & aunts started to die. We moved to Marlow Heights & finally Vienna, Va. My son (I moved to Texas 1974) eventually worked at the base for a short while in about 2011. I 'made' him drive me to 2228 Nichols Ave., showed him how to get to the alley behind it, jumped out and pulled some ivy to bring home. My son, being law enforcement, acted like we were about to be attacked! I had no fear. I was home.

by Kathy Goings Jones Robertson on Jun 5, 2016 11:48 am • linkreport

I graduated from St. Teresa's in 1965. I only attended 6th 7th and 8th grade there. I was May Queen during my 8th grade year which included A procession procession down the streets of Anacostia from the school to the church. One of my happiest memories was that I could slide down the banister by the stairs outside leading to the playground all the way from the top to the bottom sitting upright without falling off. So sad to see it closed. I remember one of my friends was Karen Michaud. And also a Kathleen Droney. My name is Karen Boyer married name Lepanto

by Karen Boyer on Sep 24, 2016 10:43 pm • linkreport

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