Description of Historic Place
Lord Tennyson Elementary School is a two-storey (with raised basement) red-brick structure located on a city block in the Kitsilano neighbourhood. Begun in 1909 and designed in a Classical Revival style, Tennyson was laid out in the standard ‘barbell’ plan. The main facade, which faces West 10th Avenue, features a highly decorative central entry. A gymnasium/auditorium, added in 1912-13, extends from the south (rear) elevation. Later additions were made to the gym. A small wood classroom building stands near the gym. The grounds are divided into athletic fields and a number of outdoor ’rooms’ that contain playground equipment.
Lord Tennyson Elementary School has heritage value for its architecture and history. Its construction, in 1909-10, is associated with the tremendous expansion of Vancouver before World War I. Growth in this Kitsilano neighbourhood increased the school-age population. Like many schools by Vancouver School Board architect Norman Leech, Tennyson was built in stages. What distinguishes it from others is that the second stage, which included a gymnasium (an early surviving gymnasium/auditorium) and classrooms, was built soon after the first, in 1912-13.
Attractive and substantial relative to the neighbourhood, the school was designed to enhance the status of public education and promote the good taste and prosperity of Vancouver and its citizens. This is evident in the classically decorated arched main entry, which is a community icon. Much other ornament has been removed. The attention to detail is also reflected in the quality of the interior features, such as the woodwork, finishing details, and the coffered ceiling of the gymnasium.
Lord Tennyson Elementary School has value as well for its many standard features that represented good school design and responded to the changing curriculum and pedagogy of the twentieth century. The wide halls and classrooms lighted with large windows and the separate cloakrooms are examples. Good light and ventilation were closely linked to good health. An early wood building, probably intended for manual arts, remains in use. In the 1960s and 1970s, neighbourhood change led the school to struggle with conflicting parental expectations. ‘Hippies’ favoured loosely structured open-concept classrooms while others wanted structured traditional classrooms. Both kinds of spaces are found in the school today.
This was the first school in Vancouver to adopt the platoon system, in 1924. Devised in the US, the system helped schools deliver an increasingly diverse curriculum by rotating pupils to specialized classrooms for instruction in topics such as music, art, and science. The system also enabled administrators to place more children in the school without building new classrooms, resulting in valued ‘efficiency’. The school initiated, in 1945, Canada’s first kindergarten for hearing-impaired children.
Continuously used as an elementary school, Lord Tennyson Elementary School has heritage value for the collective memory of its past and present staff and pupils. This is exemplified by its archival record, which includes Parent-Teacher Association minutes, scrapbooks, photographs, trophies, and school records.
Source: City of Vancouver Heritage Conservation Program
The character-defining elements of Lord Tennyson Elementary School include:
- tradition of use as a school
- visibility within the neighbourhood
- views towards the North Shore mountains
Building Exterior and Plan
- the conventional ‘barbell’ plan
- rusticated stone walls of the basement and red brick walls of the upper floors
- classically ornamented entry, which includes a large arch and barrel vault with decorative keystone, Doric columns, entablature and dentilled cornice, glazed panelled door, and transom with circular and X-shaped glazing bars
- other exterior details, including the granite stairs to the principal entrance and at the east end; metal handrails; original hexagonal tile entry floor with ‘LORD TENNYSON SCHOOL’ and Greek key motif around the perimeter; and continuous sill course over the basement
- large, wood-sash double-hung windows, many of them 6-over-6
Interior features, including:
- general: intact spatial configuration of interior spaces, high ceilings, wood panelled doors with multi-paned glazing, single-pane transoms and original hardware, clocks and public-announcement speakers, high baseboards, original electric face plates, moulding coving at ceiling level, early signage in a consistent font (such as ‘BABY CLINIC & LUNCH ROOM’), fire doors with high kick plates
- classrooms: original slate blackboards and wood surrounds, four classrooms converted to open learning concept (retaining two cloakrooms), several cloakrooms with separate doors, fixed multi-paned windows, and original millwork and hardware
- gymnasium/auditorium: clerestory windows, standard-issue wall-mounted metal gym equipment, dressing rooms with built-ins and fixtures, original stage with stair access on either side
- stairwells: stairwells at either end with three-level staircase in the middle of the school; original banisters, handrails and newel posts with newel finials on lower floors; curved walls in stairwells; running bevel at dado line; wall of fenestration in stairwell to maximize daylight
- other: designated health service room, poured concrete basement floors, exposed mechanical systems, original boiler room door and hardware, elaborate ceiling in current store room and auditorium, office with row of single-panel textured glass, lunchroom / preschool with built-ins (circa 1950)
Auxiliary Wood Building in Rear (likely built for manual training)
- architectural features, including shiplap siding, cornerboards, gable roof, brick chimney, wood sash multi-paned windows, wood ventilation panels, projecting eaves, and continuous top and bottom wood sills
Landscape features, including:
- games embedded in the concrete
- mature, symmetrical planting of cedar and holly trees flanking main entrance
- covered play areas