Charles M. Robinson
701 North 37th Street
Since opening in 1929, East End Junior High School has served generations of children from Church Hill, Oakwood, and surrounding districts. It has since been reborn as the Franklin Military Academy, the nation’s first public military school, founded in 1980 (though initially at a different location). High schoolers who study there still participate in a Junior Reserve Officer Training Program in addition to a more conventional course of academic study.
The attractive, if austere, schoolhouse is the work of prolific Richmond architect Charles M. Robinson, who designed more than 400 public schools across the commonwealth. He is responsible for many Richmond public schools, such as Thomas Jefferson High School, and his work for colleges and universities include more than 60 structures for William and Mary. Robinson is often said to be the first architect in Virginia to have become a millionaire from the practice of architecture. The many pleasing and competent designs he has left us indicate these rewards were justified.
The facade of the Franklin Military Academy is composed in a Greek-inflected classical style, though its simple and crisp appearance verges on Art Deco. Robinson employed monumental doric engaged columns at the center, and at each end, of the 13 bay, 220 foot long main facade. The bays at the edge each contain a statue of a female figure holding a scroll, with an American eagle cast in low relief above. The central bay contains a frieze of dancers over the door, surmounted by two griffins guarding a clock. Continuing the Greek motif, small decorative elements known as acroterion stud the cornice above at regular intervals. The facade is rendered in cast concrete block, which became popular as an affordable substitute for limestone around the turn of the 20th century. Like other Robinson school houses, it is amply fenestrated.
The school enjoys a favorable site near the eastern prow of Chimborazo Hill, as the slope falls away to Gillie Creek. A sports field and other equipment occupy the east yard behind the school, while the main west facade fronts onto the Bill Robinson playground. Though the structure dwarfs nearby bungalows and townhouses, its solid and impressive bearing uplifts the surroundings.