Old Cass Technical High School
Location Name: Old Cass Technical High School (Detroit, Michigan)
Location Type: Abandoned Site (School)
Year Completed: 1922, 1985 Addition; Demolished in 2011
Architect(s): William G. Malcomson and William E. Higginbotham (Constructed by Albert Kahn)
Before the current structure was built, Cass Technical School was formed in 1907 to provide industrial training to students who were expected to find jobs in Detroit’s ever-increasing number of factories. Originally the school met in the Cass Union School building, named for famed local politician Lewis Cass who had donated the land the school was built on. Cass Union School burnt in 1909, forcing the growing Cass Tech to construct a new home. In 1912, Cass Tech opened a new school just south of the present location of Old Cass Tech, right where Interstate 75 is today. With a surging enrollment, the new building was immediately too small for the school’s needs. Detroit’s booming industry and population exceeded the expectations of many city services. The school faced criticism for offering an education that focused on industrial job skills rather than a more classical curriculum. Despite some public disapproval, and the great expense of building yet another school, a new building began construction in 1916 to house the growing student body.
World War I slowed the progress of the new school building. Architects Malcomson and Higginbotham were commissioned to design the building, and Albert Kahn was in charge of the construction. The new building opened on 11 September 1922 at a cost of nearly $4 million. The new building was connected to the 1912 Cass Tech building via a second floor two story gothic bridge. This bridge was built to ease transport between buildings during inclement weather. Named the Victory Memorial Arch, the bridge was dedicated to Detroit’s youth that had given their lives during the Great War.
The massive Cass Tech became notable throughout the education community as one of the finest and largest schools in the nation. Entry into the school was only granted to those who proved their academic worth during their middle school years. Once into Cass Tech, students were put on a track, or career path, helping them to select classes that best served their needs. At one time, the school has a population surpassing 4,000 students.
In the early 1960s, many homes and buildings had to be cleared for the construction of Interstate 75. The 1912 building and the Victory Memorial Arch were victims of that project. In August 1964, both were demolished to make way for the new highway, and Cass Tech stood alone. In 1985, a new addition was completed on the rear of Cass Tech. In addition to more classrooms, it provided a larger, nearly Olympic-sized swimming pool, and a larger gymnasium.
Despite the new addition, the older portion of the building was beginning to show its age in the 2000s. The decision was made to shutter the school and build anew just north of Old Cass. Old Cass will be remembered by Detroiters as a mecca of learning. It was a school that stood on the forefront of education for nearly a century. Alumni of Old Cass include many familiar names such as musicians Diana Ross and Jack White, comedian Lily Tomlin, Compuware CEO Peter Karmanos, Jr., automotive engineer John DeLorean, and infamous former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick. Also of interest, Evangeline Lindburgh, the mother of aviator Charles Lindbergh taught chemistry at Old Cass.
In 2005 New Cass opened, raising questions of what was to become of the old building. Some preservationists suggested a redevelopment of the building, but no feasible plans were ever presented. In the meantime, Old Cass has suffered the demise of many abandoned buildings; fire, theft and vandalism. Old Cass has also made the news lately as an example of the failure of the Detroit Public Schools. Many things of value were left behind when New Cass opened next door. Books, desks, chairs, computers, and school supplies of all sorts litter the hallways of Old Cass, while many operating schools in Detroit are without these necessities.
After being empty for over five years, demolition of the 1985 addition began in March 2011. On 09 June 2011, work crews began the demolition of the historic 1922 building with a giant hole through the west wall. It appears that the end of Old Cass is already upon us and the building will likely be gone by the end of the summer. Plans do exist to save some parts of the building, such as the entryways on Second Avenue, but it looks as though preservationists have once again lost the battle. Plans for the site, once demolished, include athletic fields and additional parking for the adjacent New Cass.Sources