Historic Detroit

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Stephens Elementary

School History

Albert L. Stephens (1857-1926) donated the property for the school to the City of Detroit. Born in Romeo, Michigan in 1857, Stephens joined his father in the lumbering business until 1896, when he concentrated on his business interests in Detroit and elsewhere. Stephens was a friend and neighbor of Governor Hazen S. Pingree, former mayor of Detroit, and became a member of the Mackinac Island Park Commission, Detroit Water Board, and the Michigan Board for Feeble-minded and Epileptics.

Stephens School opened in September 1913 and, subsequently, two units were added. The first in 1917 contained an auditorium and gymnasium; the second in 1919 when enrollment reached its peak at approximately 1300 students. Already by 1930 there were eight vacant rooms because of a declining enrollment.

The second floor of the south wing of the east side unit was then dedicated to a school for deaf students, a center for special needs girls, and an open air unit with a sleeping porch. In 1935, there were approximately 600 students in regular grades one through seven and kindergarten, fifty-five percent of which were American born of German parents, a reflection on the German population of the surrounding neighborhood. Sixty-four children occupied the six rooms of the school for the deaf; the special girls' center held eighty-nine girls and the open air unit had seventy children. Rooms for open air students were added on the third floor with open air sleeping porches. The school for the deaf was replaced with the new Detroit School for the Deaf built on the west side in the early 1960s.

Stephens School was one of a group of schools built by Malcomson & Higginbotham to similar Arts and Crafts inspired designs where the patterns in the brickwork and the use of contrasting white bands of stone creates the decorative scheme. These include Burton School (1912) and Lincoln School (1916), which possess similar decorative features such as bricks with rounded edges and stone tablet-like name plates, but their architecture is primarily expressed in their simply and economically treated repetitive windows and unadorned blank walls. While the school board was concerned with expense, Malcomson & Higginbotham ultimately convinced its members that a pleasant looking school could be commensurate in cost to a plain one.

Excerpted from United States Department of the Interior National Park Service National Register of Historic Places Registration Form (Draft). Stephens, Albert L., School. Goldstein, D., City of Detroit Historic Designation Advisory Board (2009)

The school is on the demolition list for 2023 as part of the city’s "blight to beauty initiative".

Building Evolution

Original Unit (1913): The first school unit was a three-story block including a raised, occupied basement. The building included 14 classrooms, and large kindergarten and library. At some point, another open-air level was built on the roof of the original building.

First Addition (1917) In 1917, the northern wing was extended to add an auditorium and gymnasium. The gym occupied the basement, while the auditorium sat directly above it on the second floor. The adition also included three classrooms.

Second Addition (1921) In 1921, a single-loaded classroom wing was added to the south end of the building. The new wing included nine new classrooms and an auxiliary fan room. The addition also included a 2-story connector corridor linking the north and south wings. This wing also created a completely enclosed central courtyard and blocked off the view from the kindergarten and library.

Last updated 05/08/2023