Abandoned school in Detroit

Nellie Leland School, Detroit Michigan
Date added: February 13, 2023 Categories: Michigan School
First floor corridor (2001)

The Nellie Leland School for Crippled Children was the first major public school in the city of Detroit and Michigan designed exclusively for physically challenged children, with ramps and elevators connecting the three floors and other special features. It was erected in 1918 by the Detroit Board of Education to replace a few rooms in the Clinton School, the space there having become inadequate to accommodate their needs. The new school was named in honor of Nellie Leland, a trustee of several of Detroit's charitable institutions and a strong advocate for the city's tubercular poor.

Prior to 1919, the city's School for Crippled Children was housed in a few rooms of the Clinton School on Clinton Street between Hastings and Rivard streets. The school had outgrown these small quarters and the Board of Education found it necessary to erect a larger and more modern building that could provide adequate care and education for the city's physically challenged children. On May 25, 1916, the board voted to purchase the former Arbeiter Hall property, located at the northwest corner of Catherine (later Madison, now Antietam) and Russell streets, at a cost of $22,500.

Architects William G. Malcomson and William C. Higginbotham and consulting engineers McColl and Ammerman were placed in charge of the design of the new Leland School. First retained by the Detroit Board of Education in 1891, Malcomson & Higginbotham designed 157 Detroit school buildings over the next thirty years, including the Cass Technical High School and original Central High School (now Old Main at Wayne State University). They were also responsible for many important buildings throughout the city and region, including the Cass Avenue Methodist Episcopal Church and University of Detroit campus on McNichols Road. They were instrumental in bringing fire-resistant and "fireproof" construction to school buildings throughout the city.

Ground was broken for the Nellie Leland School in the early part of 1918 and the building was completed at a cost of $111,495. The new School for Crippled Children was named "Nellie Leland School" in recognition of the charitable services rendered by the late Mrs. Leland and in her memory by her surviving husband, Frank B. Leland.

Frank B. Leland (1860-1926), born in Holly and educated at the University of Michigan, was a lawyer and beginning in 1901 president of the United Savings Bank of Detroit. In 1892 he married Nellie Page (1870-1910) of Hillsdale, Michigan. Mrs. Leland took an early and long-term interest in charitable works and enterprises. She served as treasurer of the Home for the Friendless in Detroit and as a trustee of several other charitable organizations. During the last few years of her life, her main charitable endeavor was in helping to better the conditions of the tubercular poor in Detroit. Her husband assisted her in establishing and directing organizations for the scientific care and treatment of the tubercular and carried on after Nellie's death. He was fundamental in the establishment of the Detroit tuberculosis sanitarium, which opened in 1911. In 1912, at his own expense, Mr. Leland built and equipped the first open-air school in Michigan for children in the first stages of tuberculosis. This outdoor school, built on Vermont Avenue, was donated to the city and named the Nellie Leland School in Mrs. Leland's memory. This building was the first open-air school built in the city of Detroit and one of the first school buildings in the United States designed exclusively as a public open-air school. The Nellie Leland School was so successful that by 1912 the school had a waiting list of children for admission. The 1912-13 annual report of the Nellie Leland School described the need and planning for an additional school.

By 1917 the open-air school was transferred to Marr School on Grand River Avenue and no longer carried the "Nellie Leland" name. In recognition of the Lelands' good works for the city school system, the name was transferred to the new School for Crippled Children that had just been constructed. By 1924, as detailed in City Health, a Detroit Health Department bulletin, the Board of Education operated four schools for children with various disabilities (including the Leland School for Crippled Children), nine open-air schools, and thirteen schools with open window rooms.

Construction of the new Nellie Leland School for Crippled Children was completed in the latter part of 1918 and the first public school designed exclusively for physically challenged children in the city was opened in February of 1919. Miss Isabel Balfour, who had charge of the old School for Crippled Children, became the first principal at Leland. At that time there were eighty-two children enrolled from kindergarten through the eighth grade, with six teachers in charge. The school attracted wide attention because of its unusual features, one of them being the inclined ramps from the main to the third floor.

In August 1920 an addition was recommended to eliminate the waiting list of children seeking admittance. The new unit, costing $290,356, was ready for the opening of school in September 1921. It contained five classrooms, a room for physically challenged children who were also considered retarded, a large cot room, shower room, tub baths, art room, auditorium, and a roof playground. An elevator was also installed, making Leland School one of the first schools in the city of Detroit to have one. The building could now provide adequately for three hundred children.

The Nellie Leland School continued operating as a school for the physically challenged until its closing in 1981. The property was purchased in the mid-1980s by Stroh Properties, Inc. In 2000 the school was purchased by the developer Joel Landy, who will be renovating it for use as a charter school.

A bronze tablet, now gone, once hung on the school's outside wall. Placed there in 1925 by the Daughters of the G. A. R., it marked the site as the former location of Detroit Barracks from 1830 to 1866. Lieutenant U. S. Grant commanded the post from 1849 to 1851 and it served as a military recruiting station during the Civil War.

Building Description

The Leland School is a two and three-story brick public school building constructed in a reserved Arts and Crafts influenced style that contains references to Tudor architecture and Neoclassicism. The building is L-shaped with a flat roof and a partial third floor over the southeast section. The southeast (front) and northeast elevations are constructed with walls of glazed red brick, the remaining walls of common red brick.

The building is located on a curve of Antietam Street that lies between Rivard Street and Sherman Street. It lies approximately one-mile northeast of the heart of downtown Detroit and one-half mile south of Eastern Market. It sits directly adjacent on the north to the Mies van der Rohe Residential District in Lafayette Park. It is also located within a few blocks of the Antietam Street/Grand Trunk Railroad Bridge and St. Joseph's Catholic Parish Complex.

The overall footprint of the building measures 193 feet on the southeast, 153 feet on the northeast, 201 feet on the northwest, and 160 feet on the southwest. The building is two stories in height with a partial basement and a partial third floor. A parking lot sits directly behind the school and a small one-time playground is located adjacent on the one-and-one-half-acre site. The building has three main entrances, two on the front (southeast) elevation and one on the northeast elevation. The entrances are through buttressed portals, each with a gable that extends upward above the second floor. Each of the three entrance gables has an empty limestone niche. The double entrance doors are of wood with glass in the upper panel. Above each set of double doors is a seven-pane transom window. The entrance portals on the south elevation were slightly altered when steel canopies were added at a later date. The auditorium is located in the southwest end of the southeast (front) facade. The auditorium entrance is a simple doorway with garage-type wood double doors.

The front facade of the building displays a rhythmic fenestration of broad banks of windows, with clusters of four windows in the center section and paired windows on the two ends. The banks of windows are separated by the projecting entry portals. The clusters of windows are divided by single antae on the two end sections and by double antae in the center section. The windows are double-hung and of wood. Their design varies in different parts of the building between two-over-one and three-over-one. The windows on the second floor have transoms that vary between two and three panes.

The building at one time had cornices above the second and third floors but these have been removed. The name of the school is carved in limestone in the center section of the front facade and between the two south entrances: AD NELLIE LELAND SCHOOL 1917 The interior of the school has typical large classrooms and long hallways with lockers. The first-floor layout included a dining room, arts and crafts room, and a wood shop. The arts and crafts room has a large brick fireplace. The auditorium is located on the first floor in the southwest corner of the building. The stage still exists but the seats have been removed. The second floor included a clinic, library, and a playroof in the back. Many of the classrooms still have the original slate blackboards, wood cabinets, and trim. The school has long sloping ramps from the first to the third floor for use by students in wheelchairs, with doors that opened to the roof to allow fresh air circulation and access to the playroof. The ramps are located in the center inner elbow of the building. The third floor had a cot room where students could nap.