Everett Archives: Before the Washington School Became Washington Oakes
Today it’s known as Washington Oakes, but years ago it was called the Washington School or Washington Elementary. The exterior of the brick building looks pretty much the same as it did 110 years ago, with the addition of a few extra wings and a parking lot.
If you’re in the neighborhood, you can’t miss the stately edifice that fills a square block between Rockefeller and Oakes, 17th and 18th streets.
As you may suspect, a building of this vintage has history aplenty, as well as some lessons for today.
The Washington building was constructed in 1908 in the far southeast corner of Everett’s Northwest Neighborhood. The school’s first K-6 classes were held there on August 31, 1908. Early pupils were sons and daughters of millworkers and the students walked to class from throughout the neighborhood.
The original Washington school building was comprised of three stories. The basement held the lower classes, the main floor held the middle classes, and the upper floor held the upper classes. Children ascended through the levels of the building as their school careers progressed.
At the center of the school was the auditorium, which served as a sort of neighborhood community hub. It hosted Boy Scouts meetings, talent shows, and voting booths each fall. This was the era in which voters entered curtains to cast their ballot on a machine.
Lifelong Everett resident Dave Ramstad recalls that Washington was the furthest north school in town until after World War II. His family moved from a home on Alverson to Colby Avenue in 1944 so that young Dave could walk to Washington Elementary.
The school closed in 1972.
The building stood empty for years before a developer saw it as an opportunity in 1982 and bought the property. In 1988 the building opened as a private retirement community known as Washington Oakes. In a curious twist, some of the current residents of Washington Oakes were once students of Washington Elementary: they live their twilight years in the place where they were once spring chickens: full circle.
The story of Washington Elementary is a lesson in the power of civic preservation. Though the school shuttered in ‘72, it was ultimately repurposed as a classy residential property.
There are many old buildings in North Everett that are currently unused. They can be renovated and repurposed instead of being simply torn down. The character of our old buildings is one of the things that makes Everett... Everett.
Let’s learn from Washington Oakes. You can join a local historical society or preservation group, or even just stop to appreciate the cool architecture when and where you see it in your daily travels.
History is all around us in this city, and it can be claimed for today and for the future.
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