There’s Madness in Their Method: Education Meets Inspiration

I had long assumed that the Poly High School building

and the Arlington Heights High School building, both of Georgian revival architecture, both built in 1937, were designed by the same architect. Not so. Joseph Pelich designed Poly; Preston Geren designed Heights. I had read that the design of Poly High was influenced by the classical architecture of Virginia’s Colonial Williamsburg, which is a district of original and reconstructed buildings of the colonial era. (George III, third of the four Hanover kings for which Georgian architecture is named, ruled during the colonial period.) Well, I reasoned, if Pelich was inspired by Williamsburg architecture, so, too, Geren must have been. Ergo, the architecture of both schools must owe some debt to Colonial Williamsburg.

So, I began to look at photos of buildings at Colonial Williamsburg to see if I could find the architectural inspiration for these two schools. Indeed, some Williamsburg buildings—the Governor’s Palace, the Capitol, the Courthouse—have an element or two in common with the two high school buildings, but nothing jumped out at me and proclaimed, “This is it, squire. Your search is at an end.”

Until I got to this Colonial Williamsburg building. The flat facade, the faceted cupola with weathervane, the large temple-like gable with oculus over the centered entrance, the ordered spacing of the flanking windows—all are similar to those of the Poly and Arlington Heights buildings.

And if I needed further convincing that this eighteenth-century building inspired the architecture of two twentieth-century high schools, then I found out just what this building was in colonial times.

“And what, pray tell, was that?” I hear you ask in a phony early-American accent.

Built in 1773 (and later reconstructed), this building was ye olde . . . wait for it . . . Public Hospital for Persons of Insane and Disordered Minds.

As a former three-year inmate of the Poly asylum, I rest my case. (Photo from Wikipedia.)

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3 Responses to There’s Madness in Their Method: Education Meets Inspiration

  1. George Davis says:

    They are both beautiful schools, and the Williamsburg buildings are gorgeous too. Wonderful architecture, it’s a shame they don’t build buildings like that anymore…

    • hometown says:

      Poly and Heights are indeed beautiful buildings, and judging from the condition of the Poly building, both will live to see their centennials.

  2. Steve A says:

    Can you be certain there were not influences both ways – in a 1930’s architecture version of the Apple-Samsung spat? Regardless, knowing the two architects were different, it looks like they were trying to make variants off the same set of plans…

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