Andrew Jackson Intermediate School

Detroit, Michigan (Map)

Winter 2013-14


It was a couple of years ago now that Donnie, Steve & I were over in Detroit, with the two of them wanting to go find that corner store where they filmed a scene in Gran Torino.

Driving along on Jefferson Ave, it's a half-hour's long haul over to the east side, past Connor Industrial's Jefferson North Chrysler Assembly Plant, but not quite into Grosse Pointe Park. This is the far eastern reaches of the city, where if you go a bit more to the east, you'll find wealth and population density in the Grosse Pointe suburbs, while the area before Grosse Pointe is rough and empty.

After finding the Gran Torino storefront, we also noticed some dudes hanging about, which made us think twice about setting up Don's tripod while making a grand scene. Instead, we parked on the corner of Canfield and Philip, Steve & Donnie waiting it out, while I went for a wander about the adjacent streets.

Philip Street runs along the back of Andrew Jackson Intermediate School, with the school's address listed on Marlborough Street.

The school was still open as I walked these streets in 2008, unwilling to go take pictures of a school while it was in session. Regardless of having photographic record, I was happy to behold this extraordinary Romanesque Revival structure, which was unbeknownst to me before randomly pulling into this neighborhood off Mack on that summer's day.

Andrew Jackson was an impressive, sizable school though, the kind where you worry about declining enrollment and operating costs, learning from experiences with the Detroit Public School (DPS) Board in the past.

As this was back around those times when the school board was greatly consolidated, with school building closures of 30+ in back-to-back years, it was within one of those announcements that I found Andrew Jackson listed for closure. The building was to be clad in VPS protective screens and the students sent elsewhere by the end of the school year.

In the aerial image of Andrew Jackson Intermediate above, you might notice the density of houses off to the right in the Morningside neighborhood.

More importantly, notice that the immediate area around Andrew Jackson is made up of those Detroit streets where you know that houses used to exist 10 feet from each other, but nowadays a noteworthy block has 10 houses standing.

It is with this, in a city where you don't need an intermediate school to be this big anymore, that a building like Andrew Jackson Intermediate poses a problem. If there aren't enough students to require the school board to fill this building, then DPS is going to save money and send the few lingering youths of this neighborhood to a cheaper, smaller school.

It seemed like Andrew Jackson might have caught a break though, in that suddenly a year later, Finney High School was listed at the Marlborough St address. A high school could utilize this building and deal with overcrowding problems, but this would sadly only be a temporary solution.

Finney High School had moved here while they demolished their own building to build a brand new, state of the art, $45 million dollar campus. This might have been because of the heating costs of their old building, or it might have been because they say they need to make sure kids have all of the amenities of students in Staten Island, Beverly Hills or whatever other place has an immense tax base.

Now I'm not saying that Detroit kids shouldn't have great infrastructure and supplies, I'm simply having trouble understanding how a school board that has asked students to ask their parents for toilet paper and light bulbs, can also demolish a standing, in-use building, to build a $45 million dollar campus.

And no I'm not writing this because I like Finney. It's a drab, post-WWII thing, that I've passed maybe 3 times in my life.

Like so many other Detroit school buildings, it was time to start worrying about Andrew Jackson. While it seemed to stay secure and watched, I held out hope that maybe they would care a little more than they would with a less stunning building. The lingering conundrum remained though, in what could ever occupy this large building in such a rough neighborhood.

It would only take about a year before pictures started to circulate of the wide open school, with gaping holes indicating that the valuable window scraps were already picked clean. By late 2013, it was so bad that they had tv's Local4 Defenders down there catching brazen scrappers, with DPS saying that in the last 14 months, they had made 30 visits to the building because of scrapping phone calls, with 14 resulting arrests.

After a while, with resources lost and fires started, the fight isn't worth it anymore.

For Nailhed and I, our visit was on the day after coming home from Port Huron, where we had stopped for a bonfire on the east side, before hitting a cool neighbourhood bar, then Super Coney, then awakening a bit later than usual.

We had already stopped at one place over on the west side, before I made sure that it was okay to drive all the way across the city, in order to see this school I desperately wanted to visit before someone set it ablaze.

The aforementioned lack of houses meant that we didn't have to pay much attention to where we parked. In addition, although it was a sunny day, it was cold enough where people weren't meandering about outside without a purpose.

It didn't take very long to pop into a few classrooms and remind myself of so many other Detroit schools in this same state of decay, with their aged cabinets likely lingering from when the school was constructed.

The first school to come to mind in similarity was Mackenzie High.

The library's opulence was also reminiscent of other Detroit schools of this size. While everything of value at ground level was long gone, the library's masterpiece of rich wood and glass, remained dangling from the center of the ceiling, bordered by beautiful, contrasting plaster reliefs.

I laid on the floor to get a full picture of the incredible ceiling, pushing the camera deep into my eye socket as I tried to fit in all sides of the object. A scrapper would walk by during this time, taking a look inside the library at us, but continuing on about his own business of picking over whatever scraps were left.

He may have been walking away from the theatre since there weren't any seating scraps to be had; the only evidence left behind being the tiny metal nubbins which would trip you up, as you gawked at the beautiful plasterwork and smooth balcony lines of this middle school auditorium.

I could imagine a middle school ("intermediate school") squeezing into this space, but the thought of Finney High later occupying it, lead me to envision staggered presentations and concerts, where the students would be split up into manageable groups.

It also led me to picture those who were displaced from the more recent Finney High School, who came here and suddenly found themselves in a 1920s auditorium for a year or two of their high school life.

We eventually found our way to the gym, where on a day where I was already taking mediocre pictures, I couldn't manage much of anything worthwhile.

I'll blame it on the bright windows. (...even in the face of poorly composed pictures).

Hopefully Nailhed is too lazy to ever post anything from here and show me up, haha.

Done with the library, gym and auditorium, many of the other rooms resembled similar schools in one way or another. Even the weird rooms that look like they were squeezed in as an afterthought, looked like similar rooms in other Detroit schools.

Of course my favourite thing might have been once we went up to the lighthouse-like dual cupolas on the roof. Even with lingering neighborhood houses around and the school only being four stories, I couldn't help but carelessly move from cupola to cupola, along with over to the previously pictured urns and balustrades as well.

(As for the cupolas, there wasn't anything on the floor before me as I took this picture, seemingly showing that they were strictly ornamental.)

I could have stayed up in the cupolas for hours, especially if it was a bit warmer or a bit later in the day where the sun was setting; but alas, it was time to get down and head home.

In January of 2014, Detroit Public Schools traded 77 of their vacant school properties to the City of Detroit, in exchange for them forgiving $11.6 million in back taxes. The worrying part about this could be that Andrew Jackson is one of those properties, one of 27 that they have listed as "Vacant Unsecured/Open".

Now this deal is being heralded as a great thing for the city, since the city has access to Michigan State Housing Development Authority funds to demolish commercial or school buildings. Therefore, the plan is to identify the 10-12 worst school buildings in this trade and use these set funds to demolish them.

If one is to look at the list and drive by the "Vacant Unsecured/Open" schools, they see a collection of 27, where many are wide open and more rundown than Andrew Jackson, due to being open to a few more Michigan winters.

Sadly though, Andrew Jackson remains in a desolate neighborhood with little hope for feasible reuse. We shall see if it can rank higher than 10-12 other schools, since the city plans to secure the remaining 15 "vacant unsecured/opens." Thus giving Andrew Jackson a better outlook, versus continuing to sit open under the management of Detroit Public Schools.


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