Harry B. Hutchins Intermediate School, located on the north side of Detroit, was part of a new wave of education in the city when it opened in 1922.
Up until the late 1910's, upper grades were not mandatory in the state of Michigan, so the city's few junior high (intermediate) and high schools were usually converted elementary schools, and not especially well-suited to higher education. In 1919, the board of education laid out plans for a new type of school, purpose-built for older students with expanded facilities for physical education and vocational training. Three new school buildings opened in 1922 would serve as prototypes for the new plan: Southwestern High School in the neighborhood of Delray, Levi Barbour Intermediate on the city's west side, and Harry Hutchins Intermediate.
Planning for an intermediate school on Woodrow Wilson Street on the north side of Detroit began in 1920, with the firm Malcomson & Higginbotham as lead architects. It was decided to name the school after Dr. Harry Burns Hutchins, the former president of the University of Michigan. Construction lasted through most of 1921 and early 1922, and finished in early February.
Hutchins and Barbour schools were basically identical in layout (though Barbour faces the east and Hutchins faces the west, so the floor plans are reversed). In the center were a two-story auditorium and library, community rooms, and the school office. Across the hall was the physical education wing, consisting of locker rooms, individual gymnasiums and swimming pools for boys and girls, and the boiler room. Large classroom wings extended off to the north and south, giving the entire complex an "E" shape footprint when viewed from above.
Hutchins Intermediate opened on March 6th, 1922. Mary Mumford, son of school board member Samuel C. Mumford, unlocked the front door, and Louise Cody, daughter of superintendent Frank Cody, pressed the button for the opening bell. Though the school had a capacity of 1,500, only 900 students were enrolled, as the school initially had seventh and eighth grade programs. The first principal was Mercy J. Hayes.
On it's opening, The Detroit Free Press marveled at the amenities of the new school, calling Hutchins "the last word in equipment." The vocational wing boasted shops for woodworking, machinery, printing, electricity, and gas engine repair. The school was built of white brick and stone on steel, with corridor floors of battleship linoleum with a terrazzo base. Classrooms and the gymnasiums had floors of hard maple. A rarity when it was built, the school had an automatic telephone system which allowed any part of the school to make or receive calls.
Formal dedication of the school came on October 26th, 1922 in a ceremony hosted by the University of Michigan honoring its namesake, Harry B. Hutchins.
Through the 1920's and 30's the neighborhood around Hutchins saw an influx of Jewish residents, who were moving out of the slums closer to downtown. This close knit community began moving to the edge of the city in the 1940's, opening the way for black residents to settle in the area. The lower social and economic status of the community led to a deterioration in housing and city services, and by 1960 Hutchins was located in the middle of a slum. Racial tensions came to a head in 1967, when a police raid on an after-hours bar on Clairmount Street just two blocks away from Hutchins sparked a riot that would rage for three days and destroy large parts of nearby 12th Street. The school was used to house National Guard troops as order was gradually restored, but the damage to the social fabric had been done.
From a high of over 2,000 students in the mid 60's, enrollment started to fall in 1968. While the school district had originally anticipated 1,950 students, only 1,800 were enrolled at the start of the school year, prompting officials to reassign seven teachers from Hutchins to other nearby schools. 1,500 students staged a walk-out in September to protest the transfer of teachers. In October, amidst a strike by school district building tradesmen, the main supply line for heat to the school broke down. Facing frigid temperatures inside and outside, students and teachers walked out until portable heaters were brought in. The situation became so dire that at one point parents offered to try to fix the heating system themselves.
The pattern of dis-investment and declining enrollment continued through the 1970's and 80's. A bond proposal to fund repairs to the city's schools in 1994 allocated $5.1 million dollars to Hutchins, mostly renovations to the special education wing. By 2002, enrollment had fallen to 684, but the quality of the educational program had dramatically increased. Hutchins students placed high at the 2003 National Academic Games and other events, beating other students from across the country. A new program brought chess into the classroom, with some students joining associations and taking part in competitions. In 2006, AOL announces it is creating the "Detroit Academy for Science, Mathematics and Technology AOL Computer Lab at Hutchins Middle School," a classroom with 30 computers designed by teachers and students. Tom Arnold, who was in town for the Super Bowl, makes the announcement at Hutchins.
Despite the strong academic performance of the school, enrollment continued to decline. In 2007, the Hutchins program and its 372 students were moved to the newer McMichael School on McGraw and 16th Streets, about 20 blocks southwest. Many parents decided to switch schools rather than have their children walking such a long distance through dilapidated neighborhoods. The Hutchins building became the new home for the Crosman Alternative School, which moved out of their old building a few blocks away. The program started out with 309 students in 2007, but had fallen to 229 students by 2009. Crosman at Hutchins closed that year. Two years later in 2011, the once successful Hutchins at McMichael program closed as well.
Scrappers found their way into the building in the summer of 2013, and within a few months had stripped it clean of most of its metal.