text and photos by Theresa Welsh


Detroit once had nearly two million people, with very nice schools, built to last for generations, attractive facilities with indoor gyms and outdoor playgrounds. Today's reality is that Detroit's shrinking population and high student drop-out rate means the city has surplus schools that are targets of vandals and strippers.

The photo at right is Thomas School, located on Concord Street across from the abandoned Packard plant complex. Like the empty factory buildings, this school building too fell into ruins. Finally, it was demolished in 2013.

The school in the photo below is located in the Brightmoor district of Detroit on the far West Side, where residents are fighting blight by painting colorful images and messages on empty buildings like this former elementary school.


  Wilbur Wright School

Wilbur Wright School is located on Rosa Parks Blvd, just off Grand River Avenue, not far from downtown.

The urban artists have been at work on the empty school building, painting pictures and messages both inside and outside. All the glass is gone from the windows, and the building is open to the elements. Its sturdy construction has helped it survive the ravages of weather and vandals. The building still bears its orange "Fallout Shelter" sign, and a sign in front of the school says "Drug Free School Zone," but the graffiti indicates otherwise.

Since I posted these photos, the school has been demolished. Where this school stood, there is just an empty field.



St Rita Catholic Church and School

It's not just public schools that have been abandoned because of population loss. Detroit once had many Catholic parishes with grade schools and high schools. St Rita's, located on State Fair St. on the Northeast Side, was one of these. Today the school is no longer in use and the church is being used by a Baptist congregation. The surrounding streets have many unoccupied homes.

St. Rita takes up an entire city block, with its school and church buildings and playground. The buildings are solidly built, and still in relatively good condition, with far less vandalism than many other Detroit empty school buildings. This once active Catholic parish is less than two miles from the suburbs.


Grayling School

Grayling School is a large building, with two stories of classrooms and a large playground. The building is standing open, with all windows broken. Inside, the hallways and classrooms are littered with the remains of a once busy school, with books, papers, boxes and assorted items scattered everywhere. The blackboards are full of writing, the bulletin boards still hold notices for teachers who once worked here.

But there are no students and the building is too far gone to be reclaimed. Parts of the hallways are filled with the acrid smell of burned and hosed-down wood, no doubt the result of small fires probably started by the usual arsonists and vandals that plague Detroit's abandoned buildings.

NOTE: In June 2013 Grayling School was demolished and the site where this beautiful, substantial brick building stood is now a field with bits of rubble showing through the new growth of weeds and grass. Even the concrete of the former parking lot is gone. One more memory of a Detroit that is gone forever.


Below is Bright Center, an abandoned Adult Education building in Highland Park. I drove by the site in summer 2014 and it was gone. Another empty field.

Greenfield Park School (shown below) on Brush Street in Detroit is in an area that was once a neighborhood, now mostly vacant lots.


 By Theresa Welsh

  • My Story  Detroit: From Industrial Giant to Empty Landscape
      It's July, 1967 and my wedding party was a riot.
  • Revisiting the Site of the 1967 Riot
  • Detroit: Remembering My Days as a Welfare Worker
       And How a Once-Bustling Neighborhood Turned into Empty Countryside
  • Detroit History: Its Segregation Past
  • Abandoned Detroit: Empty Houses That Used to be Homes
      thousands of abandoned homes throughout the city
  • Detroit's Auto Industry History:
       Abandoned Packard Plant
  • Detroit's Auto Industry History:
       Abandoned Fisher Body Plant
  • See MORE PICTURES of sights along Woodward Avenue.
  • Detroit's Abandoned Neighborhoods
  • Touring the D: All kinds of Abandonment
  • See Abandoned Schools in Detroit
  • See The Heidelberg Project
       Detroit Discards Become Unique Urban Art

      Read My Reviews of these:

     Autobiography of Mayor Coleman Young

     Arc of Justice by Kevin Boyle

     Detroit: An American Autopsy by Charlie LeDuff

     The Algiers Motel Incident by John Hersey

     Made in Detroit by Paul Clemens

    Detroit's Spectacular Ruin: The Packard Plant

    Detroit's Most Spectacular Ruin!
    240 Captioned Photos

    eBook for Kindle and Other eReaders

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    A Guide to Post-Industrial Detroit: Unconventional Tours of an Urban Landscape

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