“Don’t go up the secret stairway, ‘cause if the seniors catch you, they’ll make you scrub it with a toothbrush!” whispered Roosevelt School underclassmen. A tiny staircase ran through the center of Roosevelt school. It accommodated only one person at time and, because it was a convenient short cut, it was reserved for “seniors only.”
At its opening in 1925, Roosevelt High School, the new laboratory school, housed grades 7-12. The Normal College had opened its first laboratory classes in 1900. That year the Normal High School Program started, with classes for 9th grade only. Student teachers taught in the South wing of the main college building. By the 1920s the high school laboratory program was over-crowded and the school began looking for alternatives. In 1923, the state purchased the Owen property, on the southeast end of campus, for the site of the new high school building. The following year, the state appropriated $708,421 for opening of Roosevelt High School. The school was named after President Theodore Roosevelt, 26th President of the United States, 1901 – 1909.
When the school opened in 1925, it provided instruction for grades 7-12. High school education was becoming more common in the United States. Speaking a conference culminating in the dedication of Roosevelt High School, Dr. Charles Judd stated that, “In 1890 one out of ten American young people were in high school. By 1926 there are one out of three boys and girls in secondary schools.” The enrollment in the laboratory school rose dramatically to 400 students by 1930. Elementary grades were added to the school, and the name changed to Roosevelt School. When it opened, Roosevelt School was exceptionally designed. Like nearby Pease Auditorium, architects designed the exterior of brick and terracotta but they used a modified Georgian Revival idiom.
Inside, the building contained all the amenities of a modern high school. The north wing contained the high school offices, clinic rooms and a library. The first floor of the west wing housed a 430-seat auditorium that included a stage, orchestra pit, projection booth, and restrooms. The ground floor had a swimming pool, shower room, locker rooms, cafeteria, and labs for home economics and natural and physical science departments were located on the ground floor. Upstairs on the second floor, the Junior High School had classrooms, while the Senior High School had classrooms on the third floor.
The library, located in the north wing, opened in 1926. It housed 2,000 volumes and could seat approximately 85 students. The room was furnished with oak tables with “battleship linoleum writing surfaces.” The upper parts of the walls were painted white while the lower walls were of greenish-brown stained woodwork. Roosevelt did not have an easy time remaining open. It was first threatened with closure in 1929, but it weathered the threat and continued to grow for the next two decades.
During the 1950s, however, education trends began to shift away from university maintained laboratory schools. The first of these to close its doors was in 1955, and again in 1961. Roosevelt was again threatened with closure; it survived, but time was running out. In 1966, the Educational Appropriation Act (Public Act 285) passed the state congress. It required that Roosevelt School be completely phased out by June 1969. Roosevelt School’s career had come to an end and so had the tradition of a university laboratory school.
Roosevelt Fast Facts:
Architect : Smith, Hinchman and Grylls, Detroit, MI
Square footage : 61,106
Current use: Classrooms and ROTC