WETA — the Washington Educational Telecommunications Association — is an iconic public media institution, serving the community in the national capital area for more than a half-century. Though its content explores topics and ideas spanning the globe, the public broadcasting station’s roots are in Arlington, where its headquarters are still located.
This empty lot across from the Village at Shirlington would eventually be home to WETA's headquarters. Pictured here in 1988, the building was completed in 1989 and purchased by WETA in 1995.
Campbell Place, as it is known, has been home to WETA ever since. Pictured here in 2021, it is located at 3939 Campbell Avenue. A second WETA building is located nearby at 3620 South 27th Street. The Campbell Avenue headquarters is currently undergoing a renovation scheduled for completion in late 2023.
The inaugural broadcast of WETA TV 26 took place on October 2, 1961, after an eight-year effort to bring public television to the national capital area. After the FCC reserved television channels for noncommercial educational programming in 1952, local publisher Willard Kiplinger organized and led what was then called the Greater Washington Educational Television Association to develop Channel 26, which had been set aside for the area. In 1956, Elizabeth Pfohl Campbell was brought on and began work as president in 1957. Campbell was a notable local educator; the first female School Board member in Virginia; and an activist who had worked to help desegregate Arlington’s schools. . Campbell served as WETA president until 1971, stepping aside to become vice president for community affairs, a position she held until her death in 2004 at the age of 101.
WETA originally operated out of Yorktown High School, with business offices located in the Campbells’ home. When Yorktown expanded, WETA later moved operations to American University and then Howard University's men's gymnasium in 1965. When Howard began its own broadcasting station in 1972, WETA-TV and WETA-FM operations were scattered at locations throughout the region, including at L’Enfant plaza in the District and at North 19th Road in Arlington.
In 1983, WETA’s Board of Trustees voted to consolidate operations at the 3620 South 27th Street location. The current WETA headquarters was constructed in 1989 and was purchased by WETA in 1995. It remains the company’s headquarters today.
From WETA, the following is one of Elizabeth Campbell’s reflections on education and the WETA mission:
"Education opens doors. A life without education can be one of insularity and emptiness. Our schools and universities are vital resources, but it has been my belief for a very long time that television and radio can be powerful educators as well. However, television and radio are simply broadcast tools — it is the programming that counts. That's why public broadcasting is so important."
In 2007, the Arlington County Board renamed what had been 28th Street South to Campbell Avenue in honor of Elizabeth Campbell and her husband, Edmund Campbell, a prominent local attorney and activist who played an important role in desegregating Virginia’s — and Arlington’s — public schools..