Abandoned elementary school in Detroit MI

Edmund Atkinson School, Detroit Michigan
Date added: September 15, 2023 Categories: Michigan School
North and west elevations (2008)

Edmund Atkinson School was a school accessible to the children of Conant Gardens, a neighborhood built predominantly by African Americans beginning in the 1920s. At the time, most other subdivisions in Detroit had restrictive covenants registered with the property deeds that prevented people of color from purchasing property. It is a handsome example of a Collegiate Gothic school building built in 1927 by McGrath, Dohmen, & Page, architects, that represents a building planned in accordance with the unit plan that was incomplete after two units were built.

Edmund Atkinson School opened its doors to students for the first time in February 1928 with a capacity for 580 pupils. It was completed in June 1927 at a cost of $165,745. Its namesake, Edmund Atkinson, was a Detroit lawyer who served on the Common Council from 1900 to 1904. In 1907, he was appointed to the position of Assistant Corporation Council and acted as a legal advisor to the Detroit Board of Education, to which he brought expert knowledge of municipal affairs and politics. He helped to acquire Atkinson Park, adjacent to the school, and was instrumental in bringing about the west side grade separation with the railroad.

frican American students from Conant Gardens living west of Ryan Road comprised one-quarter of the student population. Courville School was the other elementary school that Conant Gardens children attended. Conant Gardens is an area of northeast Detroit bonded by Seven Mile Road, Ryan Road, Nevada, and Conant Avenues. It was unusual in that there were no restrictive covenants forbidding people of color from purchasing lots in the property deeds. African Americans purchased lots and built new homes there, beginning in the early 1920s. Other students attending Atkinson School were first-generation white immigrants from Eastern European and Middle Eastern countries living east of Ryan.

Mildred Benson Scott, one of the original fifty students enrolled in kindergarten who attended Atkinson through eighth grade (having skipped a couple of grades), reminisced that:

For several years, Atkinson was known to be the most beautiful school in the city, partially because it was a new building with several new innovative features. There was a playroom directly above the gymnasium, which also served as a lunchroom. The long, folding tables with benches attached could be stored in the walls until lunchtime. There was also a dumb waiter, (a small elevator used to transport heavy packages of food or other material between floors) which ran up and down the outside wall - a convenience for food vendors. However, most notable was the well-tended schoolyard with its neatly trimmed shrubs and evergreens framed by beds of pretty flowers. Decorative birdhouses added a rustic beauty to the landscape. Every student had a hand in this outdoor project. It was part of our Nature Study class.

Also according to Ms. Scott, the African American students were verbally directed to follow Stockton Avenue to school, skirting the woodlands and ending up at the school playground where they would then enter through the two main entrances.

Atkinson was designed as a platoon school for grades Kindergarten and one through eight on the Detroit Plan. Its second unit, containing an auditorium, gymnasium, practical arts room, three classrooms, and a combination lunch/playroom was completed in 1931. New homes were built in the neighborhood in the 1940s after the end of World War II, adding to the demand for more classroom space by 1955, when a temporary building with two self-contained classrooms was brought to the site. By 1961, Atkinson School had a capacity for 880 pupils in kindergarten through sixth grades.

Building Description

Edmund Atkinson School is a two-story, orange-brick, and random range ashlar, Collegiate Gothic-style building that has two separate entrances facing north on Hildale Avenue and another entrance facing west on Healy Avenue. It occupies two entire residential blocks between Hildale Avenue on the north, Fenelon Avenue on the east, Stockton Avenue on the south, and Healy Avenue on the west. To the west of Healy Avenue is John Krainz Jr. Memorial Park, a city park, and to the south across Stockton Avenue is the Sojourner Truth Homes housing project.

Atkinson School began with its first unit erected in 1927 and its second unit added in 1931. Both units were designed together by the Detroit architectural firm of McGrath, Dohmen, and Page. The school's exterior appearance is characteristic of other Detroit public schools designed by that firm in the Collegiate Gothic style. They exhibit face brick as the major building material, random range ashlar used for major elements such as towers, and limestone trim around windows, and for water tables and coping.

Atkinson School was built as two major units. The west-facing, five-bay, two-story facade of the 1927 unit facing Healy Avenue is symmetrically arranged. It contains a central, shallow gabled entrance bay with a single-story, projecting entrance vestibule on its first floor, and a pair of openings with transoms grouped above. Entered through a limestone compound Gothic arch below a limestone panel bearing the name of the school, "EDMUND ATKINSON SCHOOL," the spandrels bear the date of the building, "19" in one shield and "27" in the other. The entrance bay is flanked by large openings containing groupings of windows, and a single window opening per floor in its outer bays.

On the north-facing facade of this section facing Hildale Avenue are shallow gables over the end walls with large blind limestone niches supported on the corner wall buttresses. At this end's first story level is a metal conservatory resting on the brick foundation wall that follows around the building. The remainder of the Hildale facade of this first unit consists of a nine-bay stretch broken by the seventh bay, which is another entrance bay identical to the entrance bay of the Healy Avenue facade except that it does not have the shallow gable above. Instead, the crenelated parapet wall begins with this bay and continues eastward, continuing over the 1931 addition.

The second unit, added in 1931, begins eastward of the nine bays of the first unit with a two-story, three-sided random ashlar bay rising to a crenelated parapet wall and brick gable sandwiched between two tower-like projections rising up from the narrow wall sections that flank the bay. This bay contains groupings of windows in its center facet and single openings for windows in its angled facets. A projecting one-story entrance vestibule is located on the eastern end of the Hildale facade, identical to the previously mentioned two entrances, but with "19" and "31" in the shields within the spandrels identifying the date of construction. This unit also features the seal of the City of Detroit at the upper part of the entrance bay and the tower section.

Built to house the gymnasium and auditorium, the second unit has a two-story rear elevation facing south on Stockton that drops down a couple of feet to a single tall story before meeting with the two-story classroom section to its north again. The rear elevation, providing a separate entrance to the facilities so that they can be used in the evenings or weekends independent of the rest of the school, has spare Gothic styling.

Common to all entrances and towers throughout the building are the limestone surrounds, quoining, the name panel and corner finials. Pilasters separate bays of windows across the entire facade, including the first and second units. Since the building is vacant, the windows are now covered with security screens throughout the building. Continuous masonry sills below the first-story windows running the length of the visible elevations, the continuous belt course above the second-story windows, and the coping at the top of the walls tie the structure together horizontally. The boiler room is located in a part of the building in the rear, and its matching brick chimney tapers up towards the top and utilizes modest stone banding at its apex. Since Atkinson School was built along the unit plan, it was designed at one time so that it appears as a unified composition. The building appears to have been planned as a three-unit school, since there is space on its site for an eastern addition and its east-facing elevation has a wall that is mostly blank.

Atkinson School has two main entries facing Hildale Avenue to the north, and two additional entries located at the end of the corridors facing west and south. The north and west entries have stairways, while the south entry does not. The original building, facing Hildale Avenue on the north-west side, has predominately classroom and office spaces on the first and second floor flanking either side of a central corridor.

The 1931 addition, located on the east side of the building, houses the kindergarten room, administrative offices and a few classroom spaces facing Hildale Avenue to the north. The kindergarten room is located on the first floor and has a protruding bay window. Below the bay window in the kindergarten room are built-in wood seats. The kindergarten room also has a fireplace framed by wood paneled wainscot, and a fireplace surround with a field of colorful square tile with a rectangular black tile border.

The gymnasium, auditorium, and lunchroom are located at the rear of the 1931 addition. The two-story auditorium, in the south wing of the building, has decorative plaster crown molding and trim around the stage opening. The ceiling beams are similarly decorated with a pattern of diamond and floral relief. Centered between the beams is a round metal air supply aperture, reminiscent of a wheel with the spoke terminating at the outer rim with a three leaf clover. The gymnasium is located across the hall from the auditorium. On the second story, a long narrow hallway with wood trimmed skylights leads past the upper levels of the auditorium and gymnasium and terminates at a lunchroom and adjoining kitchen. Typical bathrooms have marble dividing walls and frames, with wood doors.

Edmund Atkinson School, Detroit Michigan North and west elevations (2008)
North and west elevations (2008)

Edmund Atkinson School, Detroit Michigan South elevation (2008)
South elevation (2008)

Edmund Atkinson School, Detroit Michigan East elevation (2008)
East elevation (2008)

Edmund Atkinson School, Detroit Michigan Auditorium (2008)
Auditorium (2008)

Edmund Atkinson School, Detroit Michigan Fireplace in Kindergarten Classroom (2008)
Fireplace in Kindergarten Classroom (2008)

Edmund Atkinson School, Detroit Michigan Bay window in Kindergarten Classroom (2008)
Bay window in Kindergarten Classroom (2008)

Edmund Atkinson School, Detroit Michigan Skylight (2008)
Skylight (2008)