Grassroots effort puts brakes on Wheatley demolition

Almost 100 people attended Tuesday night’s community meeting of the Historic Wheatley/E.O. Smith Preservation Coalition to hear updates on the fate of the original Wheatley High School, 1700 Gregg St. at Lyons. Demolition of the historic building was temporarily stopped on Tuesday through a grassroots campaign.
During the meeting at First Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church in the Fifth Ward, alumni and community leaders including Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee and Houston Archaeological and Historical Commission member Debra Blacklock-Sloan spoke of the school building as a legacy for their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren and the community at large.
Several speakers also expressed frustration with the manner in which Houston Independent School District handled the events leading up to the start of demolition on Sunday, the day before Labor Day. Community leaders and the alumni group believed they had reached an agreement with the school district on Saturday that could have led to a compromise on the building’s future, but HISD contractors began what the district described as “exploratory activities” by tearing down part of the school the next day. Additional demolition occurred Tuesday until HISD trustee Rhonda Skillern-Jones intervened to stop the work.
The two sides are supposed to meet on Thursday, September 4. If the issue is not resolved, the matter will return to court on September 8.
The original Phillis Wheatley High School was completed in 1929 to serve African-American students in the Fifth Ward, northeast of downtown Houston. The substantial three-story building was designed with Spanish Renaissance detailing by architect Harry D. Payne. The facility was renamed for long-time school principal E.O. Smith after the present location of Wheatley High was built in 1949.
Preservation Houston will continue to follow this issue and keep its members apprised of further developments.