Articles, thoughts, and op-eds written by Eric Hergenreder on historic buildings, all things photography, the art scene, and stories you won't find on the larger news outlets.

A Case For Cooley High

By Eric Hergenreder

Photos by  Eric Hergenreder

An abandoned school on Detroit’s Northwest-side may see new light soon through the work of local grassroots organizers. The Cooley Reuse Project, founded by long-time Detroiters Nicole Pitts and Lamar Williams, is attempting to raise enough money to purchase the closed school and renovate it into a community and business center. The property features a 1,000 seat auditorium, pool, gymnasium, gun range, kitchen, and library. The most notable alumni of the school was the late Mike Ilitch, who had the school added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2011, but many famous athletes also attended Cooley. Rapper Obie Trice and producer Black Milk both attended as well.

Cooley High School was built in 1927. The school is 322,000 square feet and sits on 17 acres. The school was truly a beautiful construction—the attention to detail both on the exterior and in particular inside the auditorium is stupendous, even while vacant.

Walter P. Reuther Library, Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs, Wayne State University

Walter P. Reuther Library, Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs, Wayne State University

Sanborn Fire Insurance Map 1951

Sanborn Fire Insurance Map 1951

Google Maps Aerial View 2017

Google Maps Aerial View 2017

As you can see from the map, Cooley’s gym was once split into two sections—something that was somewhat typical for the time period. One side was for boys and the other for girls. Physical education courses were typically separate when the school was built, but that would change a few decades later. The Cooley sports programs dominated most other city schools throughout most of its history, sending numerous players to the MLB, a few to the NFL and NBA, and even two to the Olympics.

You can also notice by the map how large the auditorium is compared to the rest of the school. The auditorium is definitely one of the highlights Cooley has to offer, as one can see from the photos below. The attention to detail in the molding on the ceiling is spectacular, and even in the pitch dark the stage seems to glow. The two story library is also quite breathtaking.

Photo by  Jon DeBoer

Photo by Jon DeBoer

Photo by  Felicia Fullwood
Photo by  Robert Monaghan

The school has started to be vandalized and scrapped by intruders, but overall the building is in pretty good shape. The organization trying to purchase the building would like to do so as soon as possible, not only to begin refurbishing the building, but to thwart off further attempts to cause damage to the school. So far the group has raised just under $900,000 to purchase the property and renovate it, but they are still a little bit short. They have turned to the community to try and make an effort to raise the appropriate funds, with a goal of $10k by Mothers Day (May 14th). We truly hope that Cooley will continue to, as it has for almost a century, serve the neighborhood it is surrounded by.


More Info:

GoFundMe Page
Cooley Reuse Project Website
Curbed Detroit Article
Notable Alumni of Cooley
Shitty People Ruining the School
Eric Hergenreder