Medford's 81-year-old Washington Elementary School has been named to the National Register of Historic Places, the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department announced Tuesday.
"We're so excited," said Washington Elementary Principal Joe Frazier, who said that talks about joining the historic registry began at least six years ago, about the time he started working at Washington.
The registry is run by the National Park Service, which works to preserve historical structures under the authority of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966.
"Our school is special and unique. And it is different," said Frazier.
The school was nominated for the registry by Medford city planner Kathy Helmer and Medford Landmarks and Historic Preservation Commission members Cathy de Wolfe and Diana Marmon.
Frazier said Washington Elementary dates to the 1880s, 50 years before the current school at 610 S. Peach St., was first built.
The first Washington Elementary in the city was built in another location in Medford in 1884 and burned down in a fire, Frazier said.
Remnants saved after the blaze and from two replacement schools built after, including a bell more than 100 years old, are still on display at the school.
Built with Depression Era stimulus money called Works Progress Administration funds in 1931, the current school was constructed around the same time as the old South Medford High School campus — now Central Medford High School on Oakdale Street — and shares many of the same architectural features.
The art deco-style building projects by architect Frank Clark were undertaken in response to Medford's sudden economic growth at the time, which resulted in a need for new schools in southwest Medford, the historic registry nomination said.
The original South Peach Street school was 26,363 square feet and had 15 rooms, including a gymnasium constructed in the then-popular Stripped Classical style, which followed the classical look, but with few ornamentations.
Three additions were added to the school years later, and renovations were made as part of Medford's 2006 bond measure, a voter-approved bond that revamped or rebuilt each of Medford's schools.
The renovations were designed to complement the historical building, and extra efforts were made to preserve original art deco arches, Frazier said.
"It was a lot of attention to detail," he said.
But it was the district's renovations of other schools — notably the demolition and rebuilding of the circa-1911 Jackson and Roosevelt elementary schools — that led to talk of listing Washington Elementary to provide some protection for its historical features.
School district officials initially had some concerns about being restricted in making future changes, but after working with the city dropped their reservations.
There are no restrictions on what property owners can do with nationally registered historic buildings as long as no federal funds go toward paying for the changes, according to the national register's website.
But if the school wants to apply for federal grants for historic preservation and maintenance, the property owner must consult with a historic advisory council before making changes.
Frazier said he has hosted numerous tours for county, state and national officials since the school was nominated for the registry.
The school's rich history and importance go beyond just the age of the building, Frazier said.
"It's really an emotional landmark," said Frazier. "It's not just the building."
A third-generation student and many second-generation students currently attend Washington, even though the school's boundaries extend only about 20 square blocks, he said.
The school is now one of 40 historical Medford properties listed on the National Register.
Reach reporter Teresa Ristow at 541-776-4459 or firstname.lastname@example.org.