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Woodrow and Its Beginnings

Woodrow  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 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 many years before another high school was built in Dallas.  Six Dallas high schools were in existence before Woodrow 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, Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts); and
  • Sunset – 1925.

Not only is Woodrow 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.

Woodrow Campus Undergoes Face Lifts


In 1953, after years of boys and girls sharing one gym in the original building, Woodrow’s first major addition to the school was completed with the addition of a separate boy’s gym, locker area, and offices on the northeast side of the school. This would be the boy’s gym until it was raised in 2019 for a new bigger state of the art gym.  In 1971, air conditioning was added to the whole school that resulted in a minor addition to the rear of the school next to the boy’s gym and modifications to the school’s central plant, located in the basement.



In 1979, just in time for the school’s 50th anniversary, a second addition of a single story wing as added that connected the 1953 boy’s gym and lopped around to the south-east side of the original building, thereby connected all areas of the school together.  This addition had a cost of just over $1,000,000 and included a new choir hall, band hall, drama class room, wood & metal shops, and other rooms. It also created a center courtyard that today is classified as the “Senior Courtyard”.



In 2013, the third addition was a new wing constructed to easy the rapid growth of student enrollment due to the success in attracting families to stay in the neighborhood public school system. A groundbreaking ceremony for the new science/ performing arts wing at Woodrow was held on May 23, 2011.  It was completed in January 2013 for $14 million and added 40,000-square-foot with three stories. It houses part of the Performing Arts Academy and three state-of-the-art laboratories for the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Academy which was are part of the school’s redesign into four college prep academies and the new International Baccalaureate program, which began implementation in the fall of 2010.


The new building was designed by Brown Reynolds Watford Architects of Dallas and its Principal Architect was Craig Reynolds who was a Woodrow parent as well.  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 studio is on the first floor and houses the Woodrow Dance Theater and Woodrow Sweethearts.  Three large science labs are on the third floor, additional classrooms, and new restroom facilities.  The building replaced part of the 1979 wing which included the former wood and metal shop; 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; all later would be raised and replaced in into newer facilities in the 2019 fourth addition.


Also included in the 2013 addition were some much-needed restorations to the original historic building. 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 also received its first complete remodel since it opened in September of 1928.  2013 new additions included 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 which more resembles the live style of today’s students. There was 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, not officially a part of Woodrow but yet has been a part in the life of the school since the park’s 1922 establishment, 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 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.  Both Wildcat Baseball and Softball play their home games at the park. The Will’s Place pavilion has several personalized architectural features such as double W’s (for Will Winters and Woodrow, the school he loved).  Gary Griffith ’66, Steve Cargile ’82, and Jesse Moreno, Jr. ’04 also contributed to the Randall Park effort.  Next to the park and school, the nearby Santa Fe railroad tracks that were in place since before the school was built, many a student watched from the windows of Woodrow as train cars rolled in and out of Dallas, 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 and Randall Park are wonderful assets to both the students, families, and the community.



Today we see the school with its fourth major addition of 2019. Costing over $20 million, the newest addition adds nearly 50,000 square feet in classroom and gym space which brings the schools total square footage to about 248,053! Opened in October 2019, it includes a dozen classrooms, new locker rooms and a weight room, and a competition size gymnasium. The gym with its retractable bleachers will allow a variety of sporting events including Woodrow to host home basketball games. The added rooms include traditional classrooms, science & engineering labs for the growing robotics program, art and ceramics studios and a new band/orchestra hall. This new wing takes the place of the 1953 and 1979 additions.

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 programs of international education and rigorous assessment.  These programs 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.


Flickr pictures of History: Click Here

80 Years of Woodrow Video from 2009 on Vimeo (Created by Mike Banes & Kathy Kilmer Moak class 1967): Click Here   
Woodrow Wildcats Alma Mater (song): Click Here
Woodrow Wildcats Fight Song and Go-Big-Red (song): Click Here
Woodrow – 90 Years in Review on YouTube (Created by Dallas ISD Oct 2019): Click Here