Alice Carlson Applied Learning Center opened in 1992, but its story actually reaches back to the mid-1920s. At that time the Fort Worth school district hired architect Wiley G. Clarkson to design a new school for the Texas Christian University (TCU) neighborhood. Clarkson designed a red brick building in a Spanish Mission style, with red tile roofs matching TCU's structures.
Construction for the new school began in 1926, while neighborhood children attended classes in two rooms in the basement of TCU's Brite College of the Bible. The following school year, on September 15, 1927, Alice E. Carlson Elementary School opened with four classrooms, a principal's office, and a basement cafeteria. The new school, named after the first woman to serve on the Fort Worth School Board, enrolled 133 students in grades K-6.
The original Carlson building (1927).
The TCU neighborhood flourished and Carlson quickly grew, with enrollment nearly doubling in the first two years. By 1934 the school enrolled 390 students, many of them housed in four wooden annexes and in the neighboring University Baptist Church. Consequently, a major addition to the building was planned, and, with funding from the Public Works Administration, construction was soon underway. The 1934-35 expansion added two wings, including an auditorium, a library, a kitchen, a lunchroom, classrooms, patios, and courtyards. This expansion included distinctive workmanship by the Works Progress Administration, seen in such details as decorative wood moldings, tilework, and, especially, an English cottage kindergarten room (classroom 11).
The school was expanded again in 1952, when another wing of classrooms was added because of the post-World War II baby boom. Both the 1934 and 1952 additions maintained the basic architectural style of the original building.
In its heyday, Carlson enrolled nearly 900 students. However, as the neighborhood grew older, enrollment fell. In 1983 the school had fewer than 300 students. That year, the district announced that it planned to close a number of elementary schools, including Alice Carlson, as part of a massive, cost-saving reorganization. Neighborhood residents quickly organized to keep Carlson open and presented the district with strong reasons for doing so. Nevertheless, Carlson, along with seven other elementary schools, was closed.
With the building suddenly listed by the district as surplus property subject to sale, Carlson's friends feared for its future. In a bid to preserve the building, they nominated it for state landmark status and, at a hearing in Austin, successfully petitioned the State Antiquities Committee to designate the school an archaeological landmark. The designation protects the building from destruction and from any changes that alter its architectural significance.
This plaque, installed at Carlson's entrance in 2000, designates the building both an archaelogical and a historic landmark.
In a prophetic statement, neighborhood activist Ben Ann Tomayko, who, with others, had led the battle to save Carlson, told a newspaper reporter, "It's very difficult to get a school back once it's gone, but if we can preserve the structure we think that in this case, eventually, it might be justified."
For nine years the Carlson building was used by the district as office space. Then, in 1992, the school reopened as Alice Carlson Applied Learning Center. Today Carlson enrolls approximately 385 students in grades K-5, with children coming from neighborhoods throughout the district.
In the fall of 2004, the district once again expanded the Carlson building, with a new gymnasium. The gym, on the corner of Cantey and Stadium, is seamlessly integrated into the architecture of the building, consistent with the requirements of its status as a landmark building.
Carlson's gymnasium, completed in 2004.