Woodrow Wilson High School and Its Beginnings

Woodrow Wilson opened its doors for the first time on September 14, 1928 at a grand opening which was heralded in city newspapers.  The Dallas Morning News reported:

“Dallas’ newest and finest school building—perhaps the finest in Texas—the Woodrow Wilson High School, was inspected by about 5,000 persons at a housewarming which opened the institution….  Hundreds of automobiles were parked about the structure, which, fully equipped, cost about $7,000,000, and the campus and corridors of the building swarmed with admiring people….  Although the skies were threatening, with light flashing repeatedly, a great part of the crowd seemed in no hurry to get home until thoroughly inspecting the structure….  With light flooding from its multitude of windows, the three-story huge building presented a rare spectacle from afar.”

Woodrow Wilson High School was completed during a period of tremendous prosperity in Dallas and in the nation.  The “Roaring Twenties” had ushered in a decade of style and extravagance that was unprecedented in the United States.  Within Woodrow’s first year of operation, this would suddenly change, when the stock market collapsed in late 1929.  For this reason, Woodrow’s classic architecture represents the end of an era.  It would be almost two decades before another high school was built in Dallas.  Six Dallas high schools were in existence before Woodrow Wilson became the seventh in 1928.  Those six were:

  • Dallas – 1910 (later, Bryan St. and Crozier Tech);
  • Oak Cliff – 1916 (later, Adamson);
  • Forest Avenue – 1917 (later, Madison);
  • North Dallas – 1921,
  • Booker T. Washington – 1923 (later, Arts); and
  • Sunset – 1925.

Not only is Woodrow Wilson High School on the register of Dallas Historical Landmarks, in 1989 it was recorded as a “Texas Historic Landmark” by the State Historical Commission.  The bronze plaque reads:

Built in 1927-28 to serve the growing population in East Dallas, this was the seventh high school in the city.  An important example of the period revivals which characterized architecture of the 1920s, this structure reflects the Jacobean Revival style.  Outstanding features include prominent entry bays and stone detailing.  Many of the school’s graduates have enjoyed successful careers in business, politics, science, sports, and the arts.

Dallas’ dramatic growth in the early twentieth century had created a need for more schools.  The Dallas Board of Education recognized this need and determined to build the new high school.  The Board readily accepted the name of Woodrow Wilson, which was suggested by Board Vice-President A Spence.  In 1924, seven acres of land were purchased for $21,000 from the heirs of the W.G. Randall estate and the architects began planning for the building itself.  Architects for the school were Roscoe P. DeWitt and Mark Lemmon.  During their partnership, which lasted from 1918 to 1927, DeWitt and Lemmon were commissioned to design several significant buildings in Dallas, including the Sunset High School, Highland Park Methodist Church, and many buildings at Southern Methodist University.  After their partnership, Lemmon went on to design the Cotton Bowl and buildings for the 1936 Texas Centennial Exposition at Fair Park.  DeWitt worked in Washington, D.C., where he was responsible for the Library of Congress, the east front expansion of the Capitol, and the James Madison Memorial.

WWHS Achieves International Baccalaureate Status

The International Baccalaureate (or IB) aims to develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect.  To this end, the IB organization works with schools, governments and international organizations to develop challenging programmes of international education and rigorous assessment.  These programmes encourage students across the world to become active, compassionate and lifelong learners who understand that other people, with their differences can also be valid.  International Baccalaureate is offered in over 4,000 schools in 137 countries.

An IB Diploma automatically earns a student 24 college credit hours in Texas and in many universities in the United States and other countries.  Some colleges offer even more credit for the degree.  IB requires a capstone course with an extensive Theory of Knowledge essay similar to a dissertation, along with many community service hours.

Woodrow’s journey to become an IB World School began with an application to the program in Spring 2009 after it petitioned the DISD board to sanction and support the action to become the first Dallas school to offer IB.  It was approved as a candidate school that fall.  Rigorous teacher training began shortly afterwards and the IBO in Geneva, Switzerland sent a site inspection committee to the school in the fall of 2010.  The school began an intense campaign to ready itself for the visit, including an entire month of cleaning, painting, landscaping and repairs.

Dallas Superintendent Michael Hinojosa and all the top DISD brass were on hand, along with alums such as former school board president Brad Lapsley ’44, Dallas Asian and Japanese society official Philip Shinoda ’62, SMU international religions professor H.  Neill McFarland ’41, former parent and head of the SMU French Department Dr. Maurice Elton, and former Woodrow parent, DISD board member and state legislator Dr. Harryette Ehrhardt.

Woodrow passed the site visit with flying colors and was fully accredited as an IB World School in March 2011.  A flag raising, open house and dedication ceremony were held on March 30.

Woodrow now offers IB, AP, & dual-credit classes.  Students in IB have made trips to China, Spain, Costa Rica, London and Paris.  International speakers have come to the school and it is now an official stop in the US State Department Lecture series.

Since earning certification for the IB Diploma Programme, Woodrow applied and was selected as one of a handful of schools in the country to offer IBCC, or the IB Career Certificate.  A student may complete and pass two IB courses and exams in addition to completing the NAF-accredited BEF or STEM academies at the school to earn the certificate.  This opens International Baccalaureate up to a wide spectrum of the school.

Since becoming an IB school, Woodrow’s enrollment has increased to levels not seen since the 1950s.  It went from the 1,300s to 1,700-plus.  Some transfers by application are allowed for IB and the other college prep academies.

Woodrow Campus Undergoes First Face lift

In 2008, Woodrow principal Ruth Allen Vail (1991 graduate and daughter of the late Dr. Edward Allen ’65), along with her staff, the PTA, the school’s site-based decision management board, alumni and community supporters began exploring ways to improve Woodrow to meet the needs of the students of the 21st century.

The Dallas school district was at that time starting a pilot program to “redesign” high schools into smaller learning communities within each school.  Woodrow was at the vanguard of expressing interest in this process.

Through a series of many meetings and brainstorming sessions, it was decided that Woodrow would indeed go this route.  While Woodrow already was nationally ranked for participation in AP (Advanced Placement) by Newsweek and The Washington Post, it then decided to pursue accreditation with the International Baccalaureate Organization to offer the IB Diploma Programme.

The final redesign plan formulated four college-preparatory academies to build on the school’s strengths and attempt new challenges.  The academies are: Business, Entrepreneurship and Finance (BEF); Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM); Creative and Performing Arts; and the aforementioned International Baccalaureate.  The plan was submitted to and approved by DISD’s superintendent and the school board.

In 2010-11, the academies began a four-year rollout with the freshman class.  A student chooses an academy and then proceeds to “major” in that area of study while also enjoying the full range of artistic, sporting and other extracurricular activities of a comprehensive high school.   Along the way, BEF and STEM have become accredited with the National Academy Foundation.  NAF supplies support in the form of curriculum and financial enhancements.


A groundbreaking ceremony for the new science/ performing arts wing at Woodrow was held on May 23, 2011.  It was completed in January 2013.  The $14 million, 40,000-square-foot structure was authorized in a 2008 DISD bond election.

It was only the third extension of the school in its near 85-year history.  A boys’ gym was added in 1953 and another addition was opened in 1979 in time for the school’s 50th anniversary.

The addition is three-stories and located at the rear of the 7-acre campus near “Downtown Lakewood.” It houses the Performing Arts Academy and three state-of-the-art laboratories for the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Academy.  They are part of the school’s redesign into four college prep academies, which began implementation in the fall of 2010 as a four-year rollout.

The new building was designed by Brown Reynolds Watford Architects, who operate offices in Dallas, Houston, College Station and San Francisco.  Principal Architect Craig Reynolds is a Woodrow parent.  The wing features two-story separate choir and drama rooms.  The choir room has practice rooms and the drama room features black-box theater, costume shop and prop facilities.  A large dance rehearsal hall is on the first floor and houses the Woodrow Dance Theater.  Three large science labs are on the third floor, along with new restroom facilities.  The building replaced part of the 1979 wing, which cost $1 million.  The areas replaced are former wood and metal shops—no longer needed with the school’s new college-prep curriculum.  The rest of that addition was remodeled into a larger band hall and athletic facilities, including a new varsity locker room and extensive weight training facility.  There is room for a future competition-size gymnasium to connect to this area.


Woodrow’s main 1928 building has had its original windows restored and HVAC replaced, including new air exchangers in the auditorium courtyards.  The front first-floor hallway ceiling was restored to its original height and light fixtures similar to the originals were installed.  Outdoor ornamental lanterns and porch fixtures originally fashioned by Potter Metal Art in 1927 and 1928 were restored by the same company at a cost of $100,000.  The grandson of the founder supervised.  The first-floor restrooms were restored to historic marble and wood and the second and third level facilities were gutted and replaced with modern fixtures.  Electrical fixtures and computer lines throughout the campus were brought up to current standards.  Drainage and landscaping were included in the construction, along with resurfacing of the parking lots and the Davey O’Brien-Tim Brown Track.


The cafeteria at Woodrow Wilson High School has received its first complete remodel since it opened in September of 1928.  New additions include food stations that offer healthier choices and quicker transactions, a spot for students to purchase food and leave the cafeteria quickly, all new tables, chairs, counter seating and booths.

There is a new color scheme and graphics detailing the history of the school.  Wildcat logos and the traditional “Keep Thy Heart” school shield are featured.

When the cafeteria opened, The Dallas Morning News boasted that it was “the largest eating place in Dallas.” Built with Roaring 20s money, the lunchroom featured multiple skylights, fans, Italian terrazzo floors, white ceramic tile and Thorne bentwood chairs.  It was the first school in Dallas to have a cafeteria on the top (third) floor.  Prior buildings had the facilities located in the basement.  A freight elevator was included, another “first,” which later provided endless fascination for students and started the tradition of selling freshmen false “elevator tickets.”

The cafeteria renovation was paid for by DISD food services, and is above and beyond the $14 million renovation and Science/Performing Arts wing, both funded by 2008 bond money.


Randall Park got a multi-million-dollar face lift from the Dallas Parks Department, DISD, and the family of Will Winters, a Woodrow student.  Will’s Place at Randall Park is a memorial to the young athlete whose life was cut short in 2005 due to surgical complications.  Improvements at Randall Park include new facilities for baseball, soccer, and girls softball, as well as a new plaza, shade structure, concession stand, restrooms, parking, and a new ornamental Randall Park gate that complements Woodrow’s architecture.  The Will’s Place pavilion has several personalized architectural features such as double W’s (for Will Winters and Woodrow Wilson, the school he loved).  Gary Griffith ’66, Steve Cargile ’82, and Jesse Moreno, Jr. ’04 also contributed  to the Randall Park effort.  The nearby Santa Fe railroad tracks have been removed and converted to the Santa Fe Trail that runs from White Rock Lake to Deep Ellum/Downtown Dallas.  Monty Watson ’83 founded the support organization for the Santa Fe project.  The Santa Fe Trail is utilized by the Woodrow Wilson Cross Country team, as is the Davey O’Brien-Tim Brown Athletic Track encircling the practice field behind the school.  The O’Brien-Brown Track also has been resurfaced.

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