History of Franklin Building


Since September of 2008 the Franklin building has been shuttered with no real prospect of being made available for community use. However, the building has a long history of housing services for the public.

The Franklin building started as the Franklin School in 1869. Its fourteen classrooms served as a model for the city’s new public school system. It also housed the offices of the Superintendent and the Board of Trustees, as well as the first high school and first Normal School for white students.

The exterior of Franklin was restored in 1992.  It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places and has been designated as a National Historic Landmark.

In August 2002, when the building had been boarded up for 20 years, a coalition for the homeless called Mayday DC occupied the Franklin School to advocate for its opening as an emergency hypothermia shelter. This effort was successful, and the School was opened as a shelter.  The shelter was extended through the spring and early summer due to the desperate need by the homeless in Ward 2. The city then closed the Franklin School entirely and intended to sell it to private condominium developers, leaving more than 160 people with no shelter or housing at all.

In July 2003, Mayday DC, T.R.I.B.E., and the Gray Panthers of Metropolitan Washington again occupied the building to oppose the sale and promote community use of the building. As a result of the direct actions, Mayor Anthony Williams announced that the Franklin School would again be used as an emergency hypothermia shelter with 160 beds for families. 

On September 16, 2008, the D.C. Council passed emergency legislation requiring the Mayor to certify to the Council that no fewer than 300 men had been placed into housing before the closure of Franklin Shelter could take place.  Until that happened, the Council mandated that Franklin continue its operations as a 300 person shelter. The legislation also required to provide the Council "with a report on any proposed closing of the Franklin Shelter that includes a description of the current capacity, current availability, and location of replacement shelter space, and the ability to seasonally increase capacity to reduce incidences of hypothermia among the homeless population prior to closing the Franklin Shelter."

During this period, the DC Council also unanimously agreed that adequate shelter capacity is a priority for D.C. and expressed a growing mistrust of the Administration's lack of transparency in implementing its Housing First program and closing the last low-barrier downtown shelter.

In spite of all this, Mayor Adrian Fenty moved rapidly to close Franklin Shelter ahead of schedule, ignoring the requirements of the City Council's emergency legislation and leaving over 100 former residents with nowhere to go. Since then, the building has sat fallow.