Historic Detroit

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McKerrow School

Helen W. McKerrow School opened in September, 1927. It was named after Helen W. McKerrow (1858-1925), a Scottish immigrant who worked for many years as a Detroit teacher and principal. The building was located on land costing $164,530, and was constructed at a cost of $372,310. McKerrow was completed in a single phase. The fact that such a large building was built all at once rather than incrementally suggests that the surrounding neighborhood was already well-established by the mid 1920s.

The school opened in 1927 to an enrollment of 1,750 students in kindergarten through eighth grade until the opening of Tappan and Durfee Intermediate Schools, at which time the seventh and eighth grades were transferred there.

The school's enrollment declined to about 800 in 1950, but by 1961 increased to 1,845. Until 1931, this building served as a Detroit Teachers College training school.

In 2004 the school was converted to a special education facility for young adults ages 20 to 26 called the John Deiter Center. A few years later program was renamed the Detroit Transition Center West.

McKerrow School was designed in 1926 by Verner, Wilhelm & Molby. William F. Verner resided in Ann Arbor, and partnered with Eugene B. Wilhelm in 1920. Frank Molby, formerly with Albert Kahn, Inc., later joined the firm, which then became Verner, Wilhelm and Molby. Molby began the practice of architecture in Washington, D.C. in 1892 where, for sixteen years, he was in the office of the supervising architect of the Treasury before arriving in Detroit.

The other Detroit schools by Verner, Wilhelm and Molby are Foch and Washington Schools (1924) and Coolidge School (1925). The Redford Theater (1927), listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1985, and St. Matthias Episcopal Church are two other buildings in Detroit by the firm.

McKerrow School is almost square in plan. At its Collingwood Avenue façade, an ample front yard, approximately eighty feet deep, is interrupted by a pair of curved walkways that meet at the central portico, entered at grade. In the circular area between the walkways is more grass turf and a flagpole. The school building occupies almost all of the width of its lot; the side yards contain shallow grass lawns.

McKerrow School is two stories tall, is covered with a flat roof with tile coping, and is faced with Flemish bond brick and Indiana limestone trim. Its front façade is symmetrical; the entrance tower and the end bays project from the four bays of regularly arranged triple window groupings per floor. Ornament is focused on the entrance tower, its entrance opening consisting of a brick compound archway with stone surrounds and stone tympanum bearing the Seal of the State of Michigan.

Below is an inscription panel containing the words, “HELEN W MCKERROW” and “AD SCHOOL 1926". Impost blocks with reliefs of open books and floral detail of rosettes and vines surround the entrance opening.

At second story level of the entrance tower is a grouping of three elongated windows separated by two columns, one with a stylized spiral pattern and the other with a stylized chevron pattern, with smooth piers at the sides of the grouping, all with acanthus and rosette embellished capitals. Reliefs in the two outer tympanums bear depictions of a lamp of knowledge, that in the middle is a sphere. The wall surface above is embellished with basketweave brickwork and arcading.

Above the roofline on three sides of the tower, sandwiched between a leaf-molded course and an egg-and-dart cornice, are three framed, masonry panels, the outer two filled with curvilinear forms overlaid with a diamond form, and the center one filled with a diamond with a depiction of an open book. The tower rises to small brackets beneath the overhang of the copper gutters, culminating in a pyramidal roof. The zigzag or chevron course beginning at the level of the second story arches on the tower bay continues as a lintel course throughout the rest of the façade.

More blind arcading ornaments the blank walls of the end bays of the front façade. The articulation of the side elevations is very similar to the front, but simpler.

Last updated 02/05/2023