A fond farewell to Alexander Wilson School

Alexander Wilson Public School on Woodland Avenue in West Philadelphia. The school is set to be demolished and replaced with a six-story building that will house student housing, classrooms and two retail spaces.

SEATED ON HER front porch, Lucille Fletcher looked across 46th Street at Alexander Wilson School, where her eight children - six boys and two girls - once learned and played, then pointed to the murals on the wall.

"That's me there in the green dress," she said. "I'm the one on the steps of the Art Museum."

"That was a great school," said Fletcher, 81.

"The teachers were good, the principals were good. I was in and out of that school for many years. Not because my children were bad, but because I was always involved in the school."

In fact, Wilson was so great, Fletcher said, that not only did her children go there, but many of her 100 or so grandchildren and great-grandchildren followed suit.

Next Saturday, Fletcher will join alumni and former parents, teachers, and principals in the schoolyard to celebrate their memories of Wilson, closed in 2013 by the School Reform Commission as part of a cost-saving measure.

The University of the Sciences, which purchased Wilson from developers who bought it from the School District, has sent out invitations to a "Celebration of the History of the Alexander Wilson Elementary School."

The university plans to demolish the school, on 46th Street at Woodland Avenue, early next year and build a six-story building for student housing; classrooms and offices; and two retail spaces.

"It was clear to us that the school meant a lot to a lot of people," said David L. Forde Jr., director of community and government relations at USciences.

"We thought it was important that before we put up the new building, that we should have a respectful goodbye to the building that is going away."

Forde said the new building, expected to be completed by the fall of 2018, will also feature a courtyard where the schoolyard is now.

"It's going to be an open courtyard with seating that is open to everyone," he said.

At the celebration, from 1 to 5 p.m., former students and teachers will share their memories of Wilson, and the university will unveil a time capsule from 1958. University president Paul Katz is considering whether to install a new time capsule.

The university also is working with the Mural Arts Program to replicate some of the murals at Wilson on the new building, Forde said.

"We recognize that we are in a neighborhood and we are part of the neighborhood," he said. "As a good neighbor, we thought it was important to respect the history of that space."

Theodore Hughes, who lives a few houses from Fletcher, said he has lived in the neighborhood for 40 years, and said Wilson had a good reputation.

"We didn't know why the School District didn't close the other school [Lea School, where Wilson students were sent] and bring those kids here instead of closing Wilson," Hughes said.

While a reporter talked with Fletcher recently, one of her grandsons, who did not attend Wilson, approached with two friends who had attended the school.

"It was fun [going to Wilson] because you knew everyone there," said Kamani Holmes, 18, a senior at John Bartram High School. "The whole neighborhood went there. It was a lot of kids."

The memory of Wilson that most excited alum Frank Smith, 17, was playing basketball in the Police Athletic League (PAL) Center that used to be in the school's gym. Now a senior at Overbrook High,Smith said the police officer who worked at the PAL Center helped Wilson students go to hockey games and play basketball against teams from other PAL centers.

He and Holmes reeled off the names of favorite teachers, including a Mr. Houston, who taught computer science. Both teens said their mothers had gone to Wilson, too.

"It's sad," Holmes said of the loss to the community. "I grew up in that [school]."

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