Over A Dozen Ticketed at Fisher Body 21 in Wake of Cooley High School Arson

By Eric Hergenreder - 


Photo by Robert Monaghan
Cooley High School Auditorium Friday evening/Saturday morning

Cooley High School Auditorium Friday evening/Saturday morning

It was a busy weekend for Detroit police and first responders. Late Friday night into Saturday morning a fire broke out in the auditorium of Cooley High School, a property that is on the National Register of Historic Places and has been vacant for almost a decade. Photos taken by Detroit Fire Fighters show the entirety of the seated areas in flames, smoke billowing through the high gold painted ceilings of the massive auditorium. It is suspected that the cause of the fire was arson, as there hasn’t been power in the building for a number of years. Although the photos do look grim, it is possible that most of the damage is just cosmetic, with the seats being destroyed and smoke damaging the walls and ceiling.

Over the past couple of years Nicole Pitts and Lamar Williams were raising money to purchase the building and turn it into a community center, but last month they were informed that the building is no longer for sale and the city had other plans for the property. The couple was ready to immediately secure the property after the sale, which may have saved this historic auditorium. The property as of late had become a haven for scrappers, vandals, and urban explorers.

Fisher Body 21 after it was buffed. Photo by Tom Poeschel

Fisher Body 21 after it was buffed. Photo by Tom Poeschel

Due to what happened at this historic site Friday night, police must have already been on edge when they received a call to investigate people in the Fisher Body plant Saturday evening. Around 40 people met inside the abandoned General Motors factory to take photos and light-paint. Light-painting is the process by which photographers take photos while spinning lights, fireworks, and steel wool to create splashes of light. Although the end result may be stunning, the process is quite dangerous, especially in old and abandoned structures with lots of tinder scattered around. In 2016 an iconic shipwreck in Point Reyes was burned to the ground due to spinning steel wool, and a few months later a historic 1920s building in a US National Preserve met the same fate. Given all the known danger of this kind of photography and the fact that a historic Detroit high school burned down due to arson the previous night, it was no surprise Detroit Police weren’t happy to be called into the long-vacant factory in the Piquette Avenue Historic District. Police came in with large flashlights and their guns drawn, unknowing what exactly they were walking into. After seeing the photographers on one of the upper floors, the search began. After over an hour of questioning, searches, and writing citations, the photographers were finally free to leave and the police left the property. 

According to our reports, a number of the photographers were from out of town. Coming all the way from New York, New Jersey, Canada, Indianapolis, and northern-Michigan, these photographers were not exactly met with open arms. Perhaps this strong stance by the Detroit Police beckons in a new era. Detroit is no longer a place for photographers to visit and wallow in ruin porn. Whatever the case, thanks to DPD another building was saved from potential arson.