Highland Park firefighters battle blaze at former high school
A school in Highland Park, abandoned for several years, burned down early Wednesday, firefighters confirmed.
In many ways, the abandoned school building that was once the pride of Highland Park is an emblem of the town’s rapid rise in the early 20th century and its gradual decline.
The cause of the fire is under investigation, but a report suggests it was started by homeless people who were in the building and started a fire for warmth.
There are no casualties.
According to detroiturbex.com, a website that chronicles the history of the Detroit metro, including black-and-white photos of the building, this recent fire was not the first fire at the school.
Firefighters provided few details about the blaze on Wednesday, and Highland Park schools officials said they hadn’t owned the property for decades but were unaware of the long history of the blaze. building over 100 years old.
But school officials confirmed that it was originally a public high school and later became a community college.
The fire started around 1 or 2 a.m. on Wednesday, said Hamtramck firefighters, who were assisting the Highland Park Fire Department. They added that as of early afternoon, firefighters were still on the scene.
Charlie Langton, a WWJ-AM (950) reporter who was at the scene, reported that there was more smoke than flames, “so much so that fire crews thought they had extinguished the flames until ‘they come back to life’.
The Free Press left messages for Highland Park firefighters.
According to the detroiturbex.com account, the school got off to an auspicious start.
A $460,000 contract to build the old school at 171 Glendale was awarded in 1914. Architect Wells Butterfield designed the school for about 1,000 students, which at the time was considered a lot.
The exterior was made of gray limestone cut from the quarry. Its east wing had a 1,100-seat auditorium, and the west wing featured a three-story gymnasium. There was also a swimming pool in the basement.
But, even before it opened, Highland Park’s population began to explode as men from all over the world flocked to the town to work for Ford, which was offering $5 a day to work at its new car plant there.
In six years, the city’s population has grown from 4,100 to 28,000, according to detroiturbex.com. The school expanded, with the addition of a girls’ school and a middle school.
In 1920, there were 46,500 residents of Highland Park.
The high school continued to grow. A vocational education building including an automobile repair laboratory and by the late 1930s enrollment was at 3,000. And by the late 1960s it was around 4,500.
But Ford’s move to Dearborn, freeway construction, and flight to the suburbs led to the school’s decline.
In 1975, a fire broke out in the gymnasium, when wrestling mats were burned as a prank and the fire grew out of control, causing the roof and floor to collapse. And after that, the community college took over the property.
The community college, however, also struggled until it closed in 1995.
The school, according to detroiturbex.com, later reopened as Highland Park Career Academy, providing an alternative high school curriculum and vocational training for college students and young adults.
But in 2009, the career academy also closed.
“In the years that followed, scrap metal workers and vandals dismantled the old Highland Park High School,” according to detroiturbex.com. “When the local police department installed two non-functional patrol cars at the back of the building to deter people from entering, the cars were vandalized and removed less than a month later.”
Contact Frank Witsil: 313-222-5022 or [email protected]