Driving down Gratiot Avenue in Detroit, Michigan late night in the summer of 2011, I came across the former Eastern Catholic High School. The obviousness of its abandonment, with its blown out windows and the hulking structure contrasting to the vast, empty lots surrounding it, made the four-level school all the more interesting to enter and photograph.
But the state of the school was not always so dim. From its closure in 2005 to 2010, the building was minimally maintained, enough that the windows remained intact and the interior in decent condition, probably with the intent of reopening the building for a charter school or for another use. But costs of maintaining the building, constructed in 1926, dogged the diocese, and the church stopped all maintenance. Within weeks, all of the windows, which were fairly new, were busted out and the building stripped of anything of value.
The first trip inside was nothing short of a shock. Books from various classrooms lined the hallways, some giving instruction on computers, others on English literature. Test tubes and other chemistry equipment were unbroken and in good condition in a storage room. And the library was fully stocked, the materials neatly lining the bookshelves awaiting for the next guest to come check out some publication. The floors were relatively clean, sans some debris left over from scrappers, and it appeared that the building was salvageable for reuse.
I eventually entered the 1923 auditorium and was enamored at the quality of construction. Cast iron decorative pillars, some of which had completely rusted away, adorned the plaster walls. Some detail work along the ceiling was still intact, along with the retro lighting. It seemed that the auditorium had not been used for quite a while and based on reports from some alumni, had been used for storage for the past few decades.
The history of the school was linked invariably to that of St. Anthony Catholic Church. The first school was built in 1865 and expanded in 1882. A grade school was started in a building near the church in 1896, followed by the completion of the first high school in 1918 at the corner of Field and Frederick Streets. An auditorium, pictured above, was constructed across the street in 1923, with classes held in the basement and first floor. Three years later, a larger high school structure was completed as an extension of the auditorium, adding 13 classrooms and laboratories.
A gymnasium was later built in the 1950s.
Enrollment peaked in 1927 at 1,040. Despite the school’s great academic and athletic record, the number of pupils continued to decline, hitting a low of 125 in 2005 – the same year that the diocese pulled the plug on Eastern Catholic.
More interesting is the nice folks who were setting foot into the school when I arrived on my last trip to the complex. The group, some from Los Angles and San Francisco, California, had come to Detroit to investigate various historic properties to purchase. Their desire was to create an artist work-live environment, but unfortunately, the school was too far gone to be saved and had already been abated in preparation for demolition. L. Rooney, Adrienne and others pose for a photograph below (lost some names).
I gave them a brief tour of the school before I encountered another group – alumni from 1971! D. Spoutz, Linda and C. Lorenzetti pose for a photograph below.
All in all, it was a great and fitting ending to my final trip into Eastern Catholic.