Detroit: Thomas C. Houghten Elementary

Thomas Houghten Elementary was built in 1924 to serve the Old Redford neighborhood.   It had been built for 870 students, but had only 208 the year before it closed.  Like many others in the area, there was no way for the struggling school district to justify the maintenance of a large, antique building for so few students.  Detroit Public Schools stated the following upon the announcement of Houghten’s 2009 closure:

 “All of the major infrastructure system, such as windows, roof, heating and electrical systems, within the 85 year-old building are problematic and in need of significant repair and / or replacement, requiring a potential investment of around $4.3 million.”

DPS, scrambling for funding as the city approached its ultimate bankruptcy and not quite following the city’s upward trajectory today, has closed almost 200 schools in the past 15 years.  As Houghten closed its doors in 2009, the district was relinquished to a series of emergency managers who haven’t been able to help.  Though Detroit is undergoing an incredible rebirth and rise in population, the future of the district remains highly uncertain.


The only information I’ve been able to find about the school’s life is very basic and formal.  If you were a student here, I’d love to hear from you or have a conversation to make this article a little more personal.  Any historic photographs would be helpful as well.  Thank you.

Sources: Houghten Elementary on DetroitUrbex


17 thoughts on “Detroit: Thomas C. Houghten Elementary

  1. It was sad to see the old school in severe disrepair. I attended Houghten form 1969 to 1972 (Kindergarten to part of Second Grade). My Father as well as both my Brothers attended Houghten. As a school it served generations of Redford families, And though the building is gone, the memories will remain!

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    1. Unbelievable that the old school is closed. I attended Kindergarten and the 1st grade here beginning in 1955. Then changed over to St. Christine’s Catholic school for the 2nd grade – that’s gone too. One year at St. Gemma’s School then moved out of Michigan due to the bad economy. I guess you can never go home.


  2. I attended from 1955 through 1964. Mrs. Lemke was principal. Mr. Letcher was Vice Principal. And Mrs. Landino was school secretary. The little kids playground was the one at the south end of the school, and big kids were at the north end. There used to be a school fair every year. I don’t remember much about it except you could buy junk, and there was always a cake walk in the kindergarten classroom.

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    1. I was in the same classes as Julie Campbell, kindergarten in 1955. The gym was also a lunch room with nice tables and benches which the janitor would unlock from the walls and bring down to the floor for all the kids. Milk was 2cents a bottle. There was a rope in the gym which went to the ceiling and we would have to try and climb it. The art room was awesome with big square tables and a teacher with great ideas and supplies. I loved my 2nd grade teacher, Mr. Landsfeld. He was truly a creative and fun person. The library had a huge memorial picture of horses for a student who died. The auditorium was fantastic with real theatre seating and a real stage with curtains and lights and sound system. We would watch movies during that class, or go on stage and perform. I was Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz (probably because I had braids). The annual fair had games in every room and one year pony rides in the playground. Oh yeah, we used to have air raid drills (this was just after WW2) and we would all be ushered into the basement where it was all cement with Disney characters painted on the walls. We’d sit there for 20 min or so while the drill happened. There was a great little store on the corner south of the school. I lived just a block away on Chatham. It was a great neighbourhood to grow up in. So many great times at Houghten. Loved the school, loved the neighbourhood and all the kids. Thanks for the memories.

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      1. Hi Debbie! I don’t remember the picture of the horses in the library, but that made me remember the picture of Van Gogh’s sunflowers on the wall just opposite the gym. Memories.

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    2. Great memories! I had forgotten all about the fair and the cake walk. So much fun!

      I remember Mrs Landino strolling the aisle of the auditorium while singing ‘Second Hand Rose’ for one of the productions there.
      Mrs Webb was my kindergarten teacher and is still my favorite all time teacher.

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  3. My brother Dennis Harris and I, Deborah (Debbie) Harris, went there in the 50s and early 60s. I experienced the portable buildings and got to enjoy the new extension. I remember the underground rooms (bomb shelters) decorated in Disney characters. Coming out the gym door down the outdoor stairs to play ball. Sitting on the front lawn listening to a teacher read to us. The smell of the soap in the bathrooms. Wood trim everywhere. The Art Class w/the kiln. The library where I found Pat Boone’s book and learned one of his daughters shared my name. I remember the hall announcement boards that kids got to design & decorate. The auditorium where I remember hearing classical music and watched the movie ”Heide” starring Shirley Temple. The Christmas plays. The dance classes in the gym. Sitting on the floor in gym class in a certain space because there were no desks. The school fairs that were held at night. My mom making cakes for the Cake Walk game. The playgrounds were fenced in but had no gates. There were those walk arounds to get in the playground that fascinated me as a little kid. The BIG windows. Loved it when the teacher would open up a window and the breeze would come in. No air conditioning back then. The special needs room downstairs set off from the rest of the classrooms. The window in that door was frosted glass so I never knew what they did in there. The older kids would tell us scary stories about the kids, which was truly cruel to do both to them and to us, both of us were innocents. I remember being nervous each semester trying to find my assigned locker and the rooms I would be going to for individual subjects. The report cards done in yellow stock. The teachers writing the grades in what seemed like very large letters. And the comments under the citizenship column. I remember bringing lilacs from our garden to my homeroom teacher. Bringing special treats, sometimes from Stanley’s Little Store, to share with my classmates. I think that’s enough reminiscing. Praise God for memories. Even though the building is gone it still lives within our hearts. I enjoy watching the movie “‘The Christmas Story”. Helps to keep my memories fresh. Thank you for caring enough to make a record. Kids today have no clue what school can and should be. A place of love & learning & prayer & patriotism.

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    1. Wow, you brought back some wonderful memories. I remember those air raid drills and going into the bomb shelter. I used to like the playground ‘walk arounds’ too. What about climbing those huge ropes that were hanging from the ceiling in gym class. I loved those ropes. Jumping hurdles in the playground was fun too.

      The movies that I remember most in the auditorium are Heidi, Puss and Boots, and the one about the three big stones that would go down to the water and take a drink every hundred years, or something like that😊

      I still have a Dick & Jane workbook from Houghten and a Math workbook with the 2+2=4. all equations solved with a lead pencil.

      I remember Mrs Serwin, Mrs Ireland, Mrs Garpow, Mr Rosen, Mr Costa and my favorite Mrs Webb, my kindergarten teacher.

      Starting each day with The Pledge of Allegiance and ending each day with the sound of the bell, all the kids giggling and running to get out the door. So much fun!

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  4. Thomas Houghten Elementary was my school! I attended thete from 1960 – 1966. I was there for all my Elemtary years! Kindergarten to 6th grade, before moving on to Murphy Junior High! I am now 62 years old. As my memory is fading. I do remember a lot about my years at Houghten. Great memories there! It is soo sad to see it just crumbling down! Now It has been completely turn down. It makes me feel like I have lost a part of my childhood oast! Thete will always still be the memory of this great school in my heart! R.I.P. THOMAS HOUGHTON ELEMENTARY! You were a great old soul!

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  5. There is a Houghten Elemetary Facebook page with lots of pics. I’m one of the Admins.
    I went to houghten from 1983-1988. Best times of my life. I loved my Elementary School Days.
    I was in 4th grade when we were able to vote on the Mascot. The Houghten Hawks. My sister & I were in every talent show, choir, and so much more. I’m still friends with my best friends since kindergarten. I can’t say enough about my upbringing in this school. The teachers actually cared!!!

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  6. I have been doing a little research on both Houghton and Hubert schools
    Both Thomas Houghton and Don Hubert were killed in 1918. I was here looking for a picture of him.


  7. I started kindergarten at Houghton in 1947. It is so sad to see what has happened to my old school. I live in Seattle now, a city that is booming now as Detroit was in the 40’s and 50’s. Never assume that what you have now will last indefinitely.


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