“These halls, this learning environment, launched the academic careers of tens of thousands of Punahou students.” (Punahou President Jim Scott – speaking at an event at the Mary Persis Winne Elementary Units)
The Mary Persis Winne Elementary Units, built between 1950 and 1955, were designed by the renowned architect Vladimir Ossipoff.
Ossipoff was a prominent architect in the Islands, working between the 1930s and 1990s. He was recognized locally, nationally and internationally for his designs. He is best known for his contribution to the development of the Hawaiian Modern movement.
This style is characterized by the work of architects who “subscribed to the general modernity of the International Style while attempting to integrate the cultural and topographical character of the (Hawaiian) region.” (Sakamoto)
This very frequently included an attempt to integrate the interior of buildings with the outdoors, and minimizing the dividing line between the building and the site.
In 1954, Ossipoff told the Star Bulletin, “Modern facilities comparable to contemporary Mainland school construction can be built for considerably less in Hawai‘i.” He was referring to the construction of the Winne Units.
Back then cost of construction averaged $15 per square foot nationally, the first phase of the Winne Units was built for $8.27 per square foot. In the article, Ossipoff credited the lack of heating and insulation as factors in the lower costs. (Leong, Punahou)
But, there were other cost savings.
According to Shaver F. “Jack” Stubbart who was a teacher of Mechanical Drawing, Industrial Arts (1948-1965) and the Superintendent of Buildings and Grounds (1965-1982.) The Navy offered, and Punahou accepted, surplus heart redwood water tanks that were milled for use in the construction. (Gartley, Punahou74)
The first of three building phases originally contained Damon Library, with its own working fireplace that children could gather around for storytelling, replicating the fireside tales of centuries past. Then-Junior School Principal Donald Reber called it the “living room of the school.”
Reber and his faculty worked closely with Ossipoff to create a complex of elementary school buildings that departed sharply from the idea of the traditional school building (with its self-contained, enclosed environment where seats and desks were often fixed to the floor.)
Two design principles, “unity with the outdoors” and “adaptability to progress,” shaped what the elementary school became: a place that felt safe, where it was hard to say where the classroom stopped and the rest of the world began.
The first phase of this new elementary school inspired a new term: it wasn’t a building or a hall, but a “unit” – the Mary Persis Winne Elementary Units, a name that eventually extended to include the entire complex.
Phases two and three followed, incorporating improvements suggested by the faculty who had taught in the first wings (such as bug-proof lunchbox storage.)
The Winne Units housed 25-classrooms in 9-single story wings that radiate from the main entrance that accommodated 625 students (K through 5.) The units are structure by steel-pipe columns and steel I-beams. (Support facilities/offices were included.) (Sakamoto)
The office became a daily gathering place for teachers in the days before there were phones and computers in every classroom, and the intercom system meant that not only could every classroom hear a speaker in the office, but the office could hear what was going on in the classrooms.
Each class had reversible blackboards, its own lanai with a wall of sliding doors and its own garden. (Lanais were used as classroom extensions for messy or outdoor work, where students practiced art on easels.)
Born in 1876 in Carson City, Nevada, Miss Mary Persis Winne had ties Punahou as the granddaughter of Reverend Asa and Lucy Goodale Thurston.
The Thurstons were in the Pioneer Company of American Protestant missionaries to the Hawaiian Islands, arriving in Kailua-Kona on the Thaddeus in 1820.
Winne came to Punahou as a second grade teacher in 1898, and rose to become the principal of the then newly formed Punahou Elementary School in 1918.
The Winnes lived in the old Mcintosh house on Nuʻuanu near Judd Street. Miss Jane Winne has charge of the chorus singing at Punahou, and Mr. James Winne is with Alexander & Baldwin. (HMCS, 1917)
Miss Winne was the first Punahou faculty member to serve 25 years. By the time she retired in 1941 she had served generations of Punahou students for 42 years.
“At no time did I ever see her overlook the emotional, spiritual or academic needs of individual children. She embraced the best in modern philosophies and practices, giving freely of herself ….”
“Hours meant nothing to her when dealing with both parents and children. In return she received the greatest loyalty from people of all ages or races that I have ever witnessed.”
During her tenure Miss Winne was instrumental in introducing the best of new educational methods. Of particular interest was the implementation of new practices for teaching children to read and write.
Miss Anna Gillingham and Miss Bessie Stillman, recognized experts from New York, were brought to the school to train teachers and provide remedial tutoring to students. It was from these efforts that pioneering contributions were made in the treatment of dyslexia.
Punahou is replacing the Winne Units with new facilities for grades 2-5. Re-use Hawai‘i has been contracted to lead the deconstruction of the Mary Persis Winne Elementary Units where the buildings will be taken apart using hand-tools so that over 70% of the interior and exterior materials can be recovered. Lots of information here is from Punahou, Leong and Gartley.)