Abandoned school in Detroit

Sidney D. Miller Junior High and High School, Detroit Michigan
Date added: March 02, 2023 Categories: Michigan School Gothic Revival
South (Jay) and west (DuBois) elevations (2008)

Sidney D. Miller Junior High School is a rare survivor of the City of Detroit's Black Bottom neighborhood, almost all of which was razed in the 1950s and 1960s to make way for "urban renewal" projects such as the Walter P. Chrysler Freeway and the residential developments of Lafayette Park and Elmwood Park. By the late 1920s, due to housing discrimination and other forms of de-facto segregation, this neighborhood had become predominantly African American. In addition to its tenure as an intermediate school, Miller served as a high school from 1933 to 1957, and discrimination on the part of the Detroit Board of Education ensured that this school was almost exclusively African American while white students from the area attended high school elsewhere.

Conceived in 1918, Sidney D. Miller Junior High School was initially intended to be named Dubois Junior High School, after the street on which it was located. The planned school was soon renamed after Miller (1831-1904), an attorney and member of the Detroit Board of Education who had also been president of the Detroit Savings Bank and vice president of Eureka Iron and Steel Works. The partially complete building opened in April 1921 to serve 664 students under the city's new platoon system. Construction was delayed as plans were revised several times, and the building was completed in 1921. When the building's eastern wing was completed in 1922, it brought the building's capacity to 1,700. An addition including a girls' gymnasium was completed in 1931 at a cost of $88,651.

While the school opened to a mostly white population, the area soon became predominately African American. A majority of this population had recently come to Detroit in search of jobs in the city's growing manufacturing industry.

Due a rapidly increasing demand for high school education in the city, Miller School was reorganized as a high school in 1933. Although segregation in the state's public schools had been illegal since a Michigan Supreme Court ruling in 1870, discriminatory policies on the part of the Detroit Board of Education established an informal system of discrimination by which Miller's population became almost exclusively African American while the area's white students were able to attend school elsewhere. Also in 1933, the Board of Education enacted policies allowing students and parents living on the city's near east side their choice of the area's high schools. This had the effect of concentrating African American students at Miller High School while white students attended elsewhere.

The building was designated a high school in 1933, and graduated its first class in June 1935. At this time, demand for secondary education was increasing and nearby high schools such as Cass Technical, Northeastern, and Eastern were at capacity. Miller was accredited by the North Central Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools in 1936. The building continued to grow and a swimming pool was added in 1951.

During Detroit's "urban renewal" programs of the 1950s and 1960s, almost all of the buildings in the Black Bottom area on the city's near east side were demolished. Three of the buildings spared were schools: Miller Junior High School, Nellie Leland School, and Duffield School. Miller School served as a high school until 1957, and then was used as a middle school until it was closed and vacated in 2007.

Miller Junior High School was designed by Malcomson & Higginbotham, exclusive architects for the Detroit school system 1893 to 1923. It is a somewhat earlier example of the firm's work in the Collegiate Gothic style, and would be followed by larger and more monumental buildings in that style. It is noteworthy among Malcomson & Higginbotham's work, and among Detroit schools as a whole, for the strong asymmetry of its facade. While many other school buildings lack symmetry due to wings that were planned but never built, or due to alterations to the building beyond its original plan, only Miller School was strongly asymmetrical in its initial design.

Building Description

Sidney D. Miller Junior High School is located about one mile northeast of downtown Detroit. Completed in 1921, Miller School is one of the only remaining buildings associated with the city's Black Bottom neighborhood, in which it occupies a full, rectangular city block. The western two-thirds of this block are occupied by the school building which, with several additions, occupies a rectangular footprint and encloses a central courtyard. The flat-roofed, Collegiate Gothic brick building varies between one and two and a half stories in height. The eastern third of the block, formerly occupied by the building's playfield, now contains a parking lot. The building is vacant, but in good condition and retains a high degree of historic integrity.

Miller Junior High School sits on a site of a little over two and a half acres, bounded by DuBois, Waterloo, Chene, and Jay Streets. The building faces west onto DuBois Street, and is situated close to the street, with a setback of about fifteen to thirty feet. The narrow setback of the school's footprint is a reminder of the building's prior relationship with a densely-populated residential neighborhood which no longer exists.

The area immediately surrounding Miller School has changed drastically since the building was constructed in the years 1919 to 1921. Originally, Miller School shared its block with Johnson School, an elementary school, as well as several detached homes on the eastern third of the block. The block was surrounded on all sides by a neighborhood of single-family and two-family homes. The other buildings on Miller School's block were razed in the 1920s to allow for additions to the building and the creation of a school playfield. During the "urban renewal" of the 1950s, homes on all sides of the building were razed to allow the creation of the municipal St. Aubin Waterloo playfield to the south and west, less-dense residential townhomes to the north and east, and a widened Chene Street. Presently, Jay, DuBois, and Waterloo streets are vacated and no longer maintained for vehicle use. Waterloo Street retains its brick paving, while the other streets are paved with asphalt. The school's former playfield is now paved with a patchwork of asphalt, concrete, and gravel.

The Miller School building, completed in 1921, originally occupied an L-shaped footprint. The building is two stories tall, sitting on a high, windowed basement, and features a flat roof over a majority of its area. It is clad in brown common-bond brickwork with masonry trim. Its facade (west elevation) is asymmetrical, articulated into nine bays. Much of the facade is pierced with evenly spaced bays of four windows each. All of the building's windows are recent aluminum replacements, and are not visible from the exterior due to a covering of protective steel panels. At the north end of the facade is a prominent front-gabled auditorium, gymnasium, and dining room wing, which projects slightly and extends to the east. Its tall first floor, featuring a two-story auditorium space, is lit by a projecting, flat-roofed bay window, while its upper level, housing a dining room, is lit by a large Gothic-arched window. Paired buttresses anchor the sides of this projecting section, while a triangular parapet extends upwards. The building's main entrance, located slightly south of center, sits within a Gothic-arched, buttressed, stone surround. The words "SIDNEY D MILLER JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL" are displayed above the entrance in raised bronze lettering. Directly south of the entrance is a three-sided, projecting, quoined bay. Gothic-arched side entrances exist on the north and south elevations of the building's original, 1921 portion.

A 1931 addition expanded the building further east, adding a gable-roofed gymnasium directly east of the building's auditorium, and expanding the building's south elevation with additional classrooms. A secondary, south facade created by this addition features a two-story, asymmetrical, projecting entrance pavilion, featuring an off-center Gothic-arched doorway and masonry details including quoins, tabbed window surrounds, and a stone panel featuring a shield decoration on the upper story. A parapet wall above features blocks of stone interspersed with brick, creating a checkerboard pattern. A small, single-story addition, added in 1951, completes the building and encloses a central courtyard.

Sidney Miller School has two main entries at the center of the building and the south-west corner of the building facing Antietam Avenue to the south. Each main entry corridor has a stair accessing all three levels of the building. Six additional stairs are located at the end of the two main corridors, at the center of the west building facade, and at the north facade near the auditorium lobby. Classroom spaces are primarily located in the original L shaped building, on the south and west side of the building, flanking either side of the central corridor. The typical classrooms have built-in wood storage units consisting of a wood paneled teacher's closet, and shelves with glass doors and wooden drawers below. At the center of the building is an interior courtyard. Administrative offices are located on the first floor, facing the interior courtyard. At the basement level, on the east side of the building, is a pool with a lounge area that ramps down below the parking on grade. As noted above, a two-story girls' gymnasium and one-story boys' gymnasium are located on the north side of the building. The girls' gymnasium has exposed masonry walls, suspended light fixtures, and a vaulted ceiling supported by steel trusses. The boys' gymnasium has a dropped ceiling with surface mounted fixtures. Above the boys' gymnasium is an auditorium and on the second floor is the lunchroom. The auditorium has suspended light fixtures and decorative plaster molding around the stage opening. On either side of the stage are a set of stairs and doors leading back stage. At present, Sidney Miller School retains the integrity of its original floor plan and additions.

Sidney D. Miller Junior High and High School, Detroit Michigan South (Jay) and west (DuBois) elevations (2008)
South (Jay) and west (DuBois) elevations (2008)

Sidney D. Miller Junior High and High School, Detroit Michigan West elevation (2008)
West elevation (2008)

Sidney D. Miller Junior High and High School, Detroit Michigan Original main entrance on west elevation (2008)
Original main entrance on west elevation (2008)

Sidney D. Miller Junior High and High School, Detroit Michigan North (Waterloo) elevation (2008)
North (Waterloo) elevation (2008)

Sidney D. Miller Junior High and High School, Detroit Michigan South elevation (2008)
South elevation (2008)

Sidney D. Miller Junior High and High School, Detroit Michigan Girls gymnasium (2009)
Girls gymnasium (2009)

Sidney D. Miller Junior High and High School, Detroit Michigan Auditorium (2009)
Auditorium (2009)