Southwestern High School was built in 1915, with large additions in 1922 and 1967, and was located at 6921 West Fort Street between Waterman Street and Post Street, on Detroit’s south west side. Southwestern High School was originally built as Nordstrom High School, but when a large addition was built in 1922, the school became Southwestern High School. Southwestern High School was a long, three-story structure designed by noted-school architects Malcomson and Higginbotham in a Renaissance Revival architectural style.
Southwestern High School was a large building, that was actually built in three separate phases. The central wing was flanked by the eastern wing to the left and the western wing to the right. The exterior of Southwestern High School had a light, brown-brick exterior with stone details throughout the entire façade. The main entrance, located in the central wing, was a three-story, all-glass wall, with concrete arches at the top of the wing. The western wing was the most prominent feature of Southwestern High School as it had two-stories of stone, arched windows that ran horizontal along the front of the façade and ended at two towers, one located at each end of the wing. Each of the towers also featured stone bordering and details, arched windows, and a towering, triangular, rooftop peak. On the façade of the western wing, in between each floor of arched windows, there was also stone-blocks that featured small, brick, diamond-shaped designs that served as each block’s centerpiece. The eastern wing of Southwestern High School featured two-floors, each with a row of rectangular, stone-bordered windows that ran horizontal along the entire façade of the wing. The horizontal rows of windows ran into two large, towers that were similar in design to that of the western wing towers. Each of the towers of the eastern wing featured stone-bordered windows and triangular, rooftop peaks. Up on top of the rooftop, the eastern wing also featured tall, brick, Tudor-style chimneys.
Southwestern High School had an “E-shaped” floor plan that consisted of administration offices, classrooms, laboratories, a library, a shooting range (for ROTC), and an auditorium. Attached to the floor plan, in the back, a “O-shaped” addition consisted of the swimming pool, cafeteria, music classrooms, art classrooms, and the gymnasium. Throughout the years, Southwestern High School served an average of nearly 2,000 students from ninth grade through twelfth grade. Alumni and former students of Southwestern High School were known as the “Southwestern Prospectors,” as their school mascot was a prospector (miner). Southwestern High School was a property of the Detroit Public Schools system.
Southwestern High School was “flagged” for closure by Detroit Public Schools due to low enrollment and low functioning. Southwestern High School had always had a steady enrollment, but by the 2000’s the number dropped down to just 600 students. Southwestern High School also had trouble keeping standardized test scores for their students. With Southwestern High School using only approximately 50% of the school’s capacity, it became apparent that something needed to be done. With the drastic decrease in enrollment and combination of low performance, it was evident that Southwestern High School was in deep trouble. In 2012, Southwestern High School was forced to close its doors for good.
When Southwestern High School closed in 2012, it was chosen by Detroit Public School to receive the latest form of security measures, which consisted of motion-censored video cameras. The cameras, known as Videofied, were relatively small cameras that would hang on the walls inside the vacant school. When somebody would enter the school, the cameras would be turned on by sensing motion and they would begin recording. The video clips were then sent to Detroit Public Schools Police, who would respond to the proper scene. Videofied was responsible for arresting hundreds of scrappers, trespassers, vandals, and even the occasional urban explorer. The Videofied system was Detroit Public School’s response to the Vacant Property Security (VPS) dilemma. By 2009, it seemed that the metal VPS sheets were disappearing on many of the vacant schools because the scrappers had figured out how to remove them. As of late 2009, the newly vacant schools would now get Videofied instead of VPS. Some of the vacant schools that had already closed and already had VPS would also now get the Videofied as well. Southwestern High School was chosen to get the Videofied installed. The Videofied system worked for a little while and helped limit the damage done by scrappers and vandals.
As of 2015, Southwestern High School is still abandoned. The Detroit Public Schools police keep a very close eye on the school and will prosecute anyone that is caught trespassing on the property. India-based Sakthi Automotive has recently purchased Southwestern High School and will be converting the former school into a training center. We at Detroit-ish are always happy to see building get a second chance at life.
Southwestern High School in 2012:
Southwestern High School in 2013: