Lafayette Grammar and High School - Lafayette I.D.P. Center, Norfolk Virginia
Although the Constitution of 1869 mandated the creation of a public school system, a system in the modern sense did not emerge until the adoption of the Constitution of 1902, which provided for increased funding for schools in accord with a growing popular demand for public education. Rural Norfolk County, where the Lafayette School would become the largest in its system, faced special problems with a dispersed population and difficult terrain. This rarely permitted anything more than a one-room school.
The City of Norfolk was growing at an unparalleled rate between 1900 and 1910, and expanded into Tanner's Creek District of Norfolk County, which was to become a densely populated streetcar suburb. The Lafayette School was originally called the Tanner's Creek School #8, but was soon renamed after the Lafayette Residence Park, the earliest suburban development in the area. The Park and the School were astride one of the major access routes to the Jamestown Exposition and greatly benefited from the increased attention and improved public services which accompanied the Exposition.
The Lafayette Grammar School was built in 1905-06 and was designed by Norfolk architect Vance Hebard in the Colonial Revival style. Hebard, who practiced architecture in Norfolk between 1902 and 1905, made an effort to revive the architectural traditions of mid-18th century Virginia in his design for the school. The proportions and detailing of houses like Wilton and the George Wythe House appear to have inspired the design.
While the Georgian Revival was one of the most popular styles for schools at that time, in 1900 the term was not limited to a pre-revolutionary architecture, and Hebard's choice of mid-Georgian precedents is unusual as is the intimate scale of the school, which is more residential than institutional.
In 1906, the state legislature required the creation of high schools throughout Virginia, and in 1910 the Norfolk firm of Lee & Deihl designed an eight-room addition to the school. The Lafayette Grammar and High School was then the largest school in the county system, but it did not adequately meet the needs of the growing district for long. In 1919, double sessions were instituted, and in 1923 the school housed 926 students and was growing at a rate of 12 percent a year. It accommodated 50 percent of the entire population of the county as well as being the largest elementary school in the system.
The 1910 addition was more typical of school designs of the period than was the earlier portion of the building. Symmetrical banks of ganged windows flanking a monumental entrance feature became a standard formula which was repeated all over the state.
The county, caught between the increasing demand for public education and the explosive growth of the Tanner's Creek District, never resolved the problems of the school. The area was annexed to the City of Norfolk in 1923 and the city erected a new high school elsewhere. The Lafayette School became a relatively small school in the city system.
It remained the primary focus of the neighborhood. It is the only major public building in the area, a district which lacks monumental churches.
The school was phased out of educational use in the 1970s. It was later converted into apartments.