Charles Houston Recreation Center History

The Charles Houston Recreation Center is located on the original site of Virginia’s legendary Parker-Gray School. This historic property within the Uptown/Parker-Gray Historic District of Alexandria dates back to the 18th century. Before residences developed in the areas, the military used the vacant land for various purposes. During the period of 1790 through the end of the Civil War, the military established on the site a military-run bakery, a gun mill (or magazine), a parade ground, encampments, hospitals, and stables.


In 1920 the City of Alexandria consolidated two existing African American schools – Hallowell School for Girls and the Snowden School for Boys, and erected the Parker-Gray School at 901 Wythe Street. Students from the two schools were enrolled in the new school. The City purchased a portion of land from the Henry Daingerfield estate to build Parker-Gray School, so named to honor the two well-respected African American educators John Parker (Snowden School principal) and Sarah Gray (Hallowell School principal). The school eventually housed both elementary and high school students.

In 1950, a new Parker-Gray High School was opened at 1201 Madison Street. The old school was renamed in honor of Charles Hamilton Houston, the civil rights lawyer and Howard University Law School Dean who was triumphant in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education U.S. Supreme Court case. This court ruling paved the way to desegregate all schools across the nation. During the desegregation years of the 1970s, Charles Houston Elementary School was closed and the children were transferred to Jefferson Houston Elementary School. In the early 1970s, the vacant Charles Houston Elementary School was destroyed by fire. In 1976, a recreation center was built on the site of the former Parker-Gray High School and Charles Houston Elementary School site. The recreation center was torn down in 2007. And the new state-of-the-art Charles Houston Recreation Center opened on this historic site in 2009.

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Inside the new U-shaped, 35,000-square-foot center is a gymnasium with fitness equipment and a weight room, a dance studio, and rooms for boxing, games and the center’s administrative personnel. A section for seniors, which is intentionally separated from the more active areas, is equipped with a commercial kitchen, several multipurpose rooms and areas for pre-schoolers. An outdoor swimming pool and a “tot lot” fill the central area of the U. As part of Alexandria’s Eco-City Initiative, the center was built with materials made with recycled content, and includes energy efficient cooling and heating systems and lighting, water saving fixtures and a “green” roof.

The new Charles Houston Recreation Center has become the centerpiece of the area, along with the nearby Black History Museum and the Watson Reading Room, which focuses on African-American history and culture.  For more information about the Charles Houston Recreation Center and the Alexandria African American Hall of Fame, please find it here.


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