This is the oldest remaining School Building in Detroit


Clay School Building, Detroit Michigan
Date added: February 23, 2024 Categories: Michigan School
North/West elevation (1981)

The Clay School was built in 1888 by the Detroit Board of Education and is the oldest school building still standing in Detroit. The building was designed by architect J. B. Tarleton. Built as a neighborhood school, this masonry structure replaced an 1873 frame school building on this site.

When Clay School was built in 1888, the street was known as Pitcher Street, then Stimson, then Myrtle Avenue, and today as Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard. A frame school building was erected on this site in 1873 and was relocated to the northwest side of Detroit to make way for this substantial structure providing additional classrooms.

The relocated frame school was renamed Hickey School and has since been demolished.

Architect J. B. Tarleton worked as a draughtsman for Mortimer L. Smith from 1880-1884. Mortimer L. Smith was the son and successor of Sheldon Smith, the founder of Smith Hinchman and Grylls. Tarleton served as an architect for the Detroit Board of Education from 1884 to 1890. During that period he designed 10 schools, of which only the Clay School is still standing. Tarleton is listed in the 1890 city directory as having moved to Tacoma, Washington.

The Clay School was used as an elementary school until 1923 and from 1923 to 1931 was used as a special education center for discipline-problem boys. The building subsequently housed a vocational study headquarters and administrative offices for the Practical Nursing Center. The building was sold by the Detroit Board of Education in 1981 and plans are currently underway to rehabilitate the building for office use using the benefits of the Economic Recovery Tax Act of 1981.

Building Description

The Clay School is a two-story, rectangular-plan, brick building constructed in 1888. The building is located on the south side of Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard, formerly known as Myrtle Avenue, between Cass Avenue and Second Avenue approximately halfway between Detroit's cultural center and central business district. The building rises from a high basement, demarcated with a stone watertable, and is capped with a flat decked hipped roof. The street facade of the building contains a central pavilion highlighted by a round-arched main entry embellished with stone and topped with a masonry tower and frame cupola. The brick has been painted and the frame cupola was removed in the late 1970s; otherwise the building is unaltered.

All windows are double-hung sash with segmental-arched windows with stone sills on the first floor and flat-arched windows with stone lintels and sills on the second floor. There are round-arched entries on the north, west, and east facades with round-arched windows above each on the second floor.

The building plan is approximately 72 feet by 80 feet with the first and second floors each containing four classrooms with adjoining coat rooms. The lower level, which is half below finish grade, contains the boiler rooms and toilet rooms. The interior trim includes paneled doors with operable transoms, beaded wainscoting in the hallways, molded window and door trim, decorative newel posts, high baseboards, and hardwood floors.

The building is in excellent condition with the only alteration being the removal of the deteriorated frame cupola and the brick infill of three windows. Plans are being formulated to rehabilitate the building for office use.

Clay School Building, Detroit Michigan East/North elevation (1981)
East/North elevation (1981)

Clay School Building, Detroit Michigan North/West elevation (1981)
North/West elevation (1981)

Clay School Building, Detroit Michigan North (front) elevation with cupola (1981)
North (front) elevation with cupola (1981)

Clay School Building, Detroit Michigan Facade Detail. North Elevation (1981)
Facade Detail. North Elevation (1981)

Clay School Building, Detroit Michigan Rear (south) elevation (1981)
Rear (south) elevation (1981)

Clay School Building, Detroit Michigan Side (east) elevation (1981)
Side (east) elevation (1981)

Clay School Building, Detroit Michigan Side (west) elevation (1981)
Side (west) elevation (1981)

Clay School Building, Detroit Michigan Vestibule entry doors (1981)
Vestibule entry doors (1981)

Clay School Building, Detroit Michigan Vestibule lobby doors (1981)
Vestibule lobby doors (1981)

Clay School Building, Detroit Michigan Lobby north elevation (1981)
Lobby north elevation (1981)

Clay School Building, Detroit Michigan Stair detail (1981)
Stair detail (1981)

Clay School Building, Detroit Michigan Classroom interior (104) (1981)
Classroom interior (104) (1981)