Seattle Public Schools, 1862-2000: Brighton Elementary School

  • Posted 8/27/2013
  • Essay 10466
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This People's History of Brighton Elementary School is taken from Building for Learning: Seattle Public School Histories, 1862-2000 by Nile Thompson and Carolyn J. Marr. That book, published in 2002 by Seattle Public Schools, compiled profiles of all the public school buildings that had been used by the school district since its formation around 1862. The profiles from the book are being made available as People's Histories on courtesy of Seattle Public Schools. It should be noted that these essays are from 2000. Some of the buildings profiled are historic, some of recent vintage, and many no longer exist (new names and buildings not included in these profiles from 2000 have been added), but each plays or has played an important role in the education of Seattle's youth.

Brighton Elementary School

In 1890, settler Everett Smith platted 40 acres along the shores of Lake Washington and named the area Brighton Beach after a popular English seaside resort south of London. Smith and other landowners helped build an electric railway to connect their settlement with Seattle. This railway ran down what later became Rainier Avenue.

The first building to be named Brighton School was built in 1901 at 51st and Graham Streets, near the top of Graham Hill (see Graham Hill). The first school in Brighton Beach was a temporary facility in the basement of a church. It opened in fall 1903 as an annex to Columbia School.

This one-room structure closed when a new Brighton School opened in 1904 or 1905 on Holly Street at the site of the present school. The new Brighton was surrounded by a wooden fence used to keep out the cows that roamed the area. In late August 1906, the board of Columbia School District No. 18 voted to discontinue high school classes at Brighton and to pay tuition for those students at Seattle High School.

The older building on Graham Street, then called Brighton Beach, was used as an annex from fall 1907 until early 1909 when a second story was added at the Holly Street facility. The expanded building had a total of eight classrooms.

Shortly after World War I, from 1918 to 1922, the Graham Street building, by then called Brighton Annex, housed an overflow of students. A separate one-story brick structure at the rear of the main building was built in response to the overflow in 1922. The new building contained six classrooms and an auditorium/lunchroom. The enlarged Brighton had an enrollment of 440 students in grades 1-8.

After World War II, Brighton was again crowded. During 1945-46, the 6th and 7th grades were sent to two vacant rooms at Whitworth. On the evening of September 22, 1946, an arson fire swept through the frame portion of Brighton School, destroying about 65 percent of the structure. As a result of the fire, almost 300 students were left without classrooms. They were placed in portables or sent to neighboring schools until September 9, 1949, when a newly renovated Brighton opened its doors.

The building was extensively remodeled and included six more classrooms, a gymnasium, and administrative offices. On opening day, construction workers raced to complete their work, maneuvering wheelbarrows of mortar around groups of children, but the confusion soon settled down, and Brighton staff and students enjoyed their new school equipped with modern blonde furniture, inlaid linoleum, and a sink in every room.

Enrollment at Brighton reached 715 in 1952-53 and an addition of eight classrooms was necessary. The post-war boom continued until 1956-57, when Brighton's enrollment reached 1,032. The following year the Graham Street site held portables and was called East Brighton. The opening of Graham Hill School on that site in 1961 reduced Brighton's enrollment to less than 800.

In 1971, Wing Luke and Dearborn Park opened nearby and Brighton's enrollment further decreased to 490. In 1972, Brighton was designated a basic skills center where programs would be developed on a demonstration basis. One of these programs brought students from throughout Rainier Valley for instruction aimed at overcoming language learning disabilities.

In September 1978, Brighton formed a triad relationship with West Queen Anne and Hay for the purpose of desegregation. A total of 35 students participated that first year and, in 1980, over half of the students at Brighton came by bus from the two Queen Anne school areas.

Brighton underwent a facelift in 1989-90. A new fence enclosure was installed to circle the playground areas " to make sure that our children feel safe." With assistance from a City of Seattle grant, the PTA installed new play equipment, and a garden and benches were also added to the grounds. Today the garden has become a focus of learning activity; students plant flower bulbs in the fall, and some classes grow flowers from seed in their classrooms to be transplanted to the garden in the spring.

Current programs at Brighton include a school-wide theme selected each year and a Future Science and Engineers of America program. Nine classrooms are partnered with crew members on a Coast Guard ice breaker for e-mail correspondence. Students wear uniforms and a daycare center is housed in the building.


Name: Brighton School
Location: 4425 S Holly Street
Building: 1-room, 2-story wood
Architect: James Stephen
Site: 1.9 acres
1904 or 1905: Opened by Columbia School District
1907: Annexed into Seattle School District
1909: Addition (James Stephen)
1917: Site expanded to 3.77 acres
1948: Damaged by fire
1949: Brick addition (Young & Richardson)
1953: Addition (J. Lister Holmes, McClure, Adkinson & MacDonald)

Name: Brighton School
Location: 4425 S Holly Street
Building: 7-room, 1-story brick
Architect: n.a.
1922: Opened
1949: Attached to other structure to form single building

Brighton Elementary School in 2000
Enrollment: 308
Address: 4425 S Holly Street
Nickname: Dragons
Configuration: K-5
Colors: Navy blue and white


Nile Thompson and Carolyn J. Marr, Building for Learning: Seattle Public School Histories, 1862-2000 (Seattle: Seattle Public Schools, 2002).

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