In a remarkable example of being in the right place at the right time, we had a unique opportunity to visit the former St. David Catholic school with one of its teachers.
From DetroitUrbex and the Michigan Historic Preservation Register:
“The Saint David School and Convent are Lombard Romanesque-style, red-brick structures, constructed in the 1920s. The school is a broad-fronted, two-story, flat-roof structure with a symmetrical facade consisting largely of double-decker pairs of windows set into shallow, arch-head recesses. The entranceways toward either end are capped at the roofline with low gable treatments. The former convent in a two-story, hipped-roof structure with a dormered, clay tile roof and main entrance set into an archway trimmed with Romanesque detailing executed in terra cotta. The Saint David School and Convent is significant as a work of the Detroit architectural firm of Donaldson and Meier and as a fine example of Lombard Romanesque architecture in Detroit.”
Assuming he was a protective neighbor, we approached him outside, where he was standing in the alley behind the building looking up into the school. “I used to teach here,” he said after we exchanged greetings. We asked if he was going in, and he said he would if we did, so we all walked in together.
He’d been a teacher there in his 20’s, from the mid-1970s into the 80s. The last he’d seen of the school’s condition were photographs from a former student of his who had visited a few years before, when it was in better shape. Since the photos had been taken, more of the roof had fallen in, and the rotten, warped wooden floor was blanketed in several inches of ice. The branches of landscaped trees had been dumped into first floor classrooms through open windows. The extent of the damage was not easy to take in.
We started in the gym, where unfaded, teal striped curtains wafted in the gentle wind through the broken panes. “It used to be so clean,” he sighed.
It had once been a church, which explains the unconventional layout of the gym and its curved spectator balconies. Jim said students would run along the balconies, down the stairs and across the stage and back up, to run their laps.
On the floor below, he’d started a typing class in a room he painted and decorated himself.
“I was there when those lights were new,” he fondly reminisced, looking up at some of the still-polished institutional fixtures. “They were the kind that flickered and took a while to turn on.”
The windows were originally stained glass when the building was new, but most of it was gone and a few had been bricked over by the time he started teaching there.
He fondly remembered a basketball game of which he still has a video. We encouraged him to post it on Youtube (and Jim, if you see this…we still really want to see it).
This segmented second-story hallway would’ve once led into the church’s balcony.
There were quite a few old books, many of which were still readable in spite of 27 years of exposure elements. Downstairs near Jim’s typing classroom, there was a closet stuffed with ruined, moldy textbooks. It appeared some had been brought upstairs rather recently.
The classrooms descended by age in this direction down the hallway, all the way to kindergarten.
Down the same hallway in the other direction was Jim’s classroom and at the end, one half of the 2-part library.
The second floor has cascading paint drips from an anonymous artist, particularly prevalent in the bathrooms of this school. They decorated a few otherwise unharmed antique porcelain fixtures.
Even before the dripped paint, though, the classrooms were bright and colorfully painted. Years of color choices fade into each other beneath the slate blackboards, and the floors in the classrooms and gym had a warm pink hue.
Finally, this was Jim’s classroom, which had an interior window to fill it with as much light as was possible from a time before institutional fluorescent fixtures. Just past this room was the school’s first computer lab Jim helped start, which featured the Commodore 64.
Delicately balancing along the icy hallways, we returned to the gym, where we said goodbye and he left us to our cameras. “This may be my last visit,” he had remarked somewhere along the way.
Thank you, Jim, it was an honor to be there.
For more Rust Belt schools and other historic locations,
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