At the height of the Great Depression jobs were hard to come by, especially for African-Americans who had moved to northern cities. This was worrying for Violet Lewis, a bookkeeper in Indianapolis, Indiana, who was concerned by the number of unemployed black youths she saw in the city. At the time, public and private higher education schools would not accept African American students, so in 1928, Lewis began offering classes in secretarial work at her house. As the school grew, it moved into a storefront, and the Lewis College of Business was founded. To make it through the Great Depression, tuition was set at $2.50 per week for the 20 to 25 students. The program grew in popularity as Lewis became an established figure in the local media and hosted a popular radio show.
In September of 1939, Lewis College opened its second branch in Detroit on West Warren Street, the first business school in the city to accept African American students. After Lewis realized that running both schools simultaneously would be difficult, she closed the Indianapolis location in 1940 to focus on the Detroit branch. As the school expanded to over 300 daily students through the 1940’s and 1950’s, it moved to Ferry Street near Wayne State University. The transition wasn't smooth - white residents living nearby sued to close the school in 1942 on the grounds that it was a business in a residential area, but Lewis converted the college into a nonprofit and the case was dismissed. Lewis Business College offered courses in typewriting, bookkeeping, stenography, penmanship, and office management. Graduates from Lewis found work at General Motors, Ford, Michigan Bell, and the city of Detroit. Another branch was established in Cleveland, Ohio in 1960, again being the first business school in the city to accept African American students.
In 1976 Lewis Business College moved for the last time to the recently vacated Detroit Bible Institute on Meyers Road on the northwest side of the city. The Detroit Bible Institute had been founded in 1945, and built a modern campus on Meyers in 1950. Two additional halls were built in 1958 and 1963, before the institute moved to the suburbs, and sold the campus to Lewis.
The Cleveland and Detroit branches of Lewis College were merged in 1978 to form the Lewis College of Business, becoming a full junior college. Enrollment at the school peaked in the 1980’s at 550 students. In 1987, Lewis College of Business was designated a Historically Black College and University. Though enrollment began to decline, by 2003 over 40,000 students had attended Lewis.
In 2007, the Higher Learning Commission withdrew its accreditation of the school, citing inadequate leadership and lack of a plan to meet future challenges, leaving its future in doubt. Most of the staff of the school left mid-semester after not getting paid, while students complained about the condition of the buildings and broken computers. The loss of accreditation meant that students could no longer use federal financial aid to pay for tuition. Though classes were scheduled to restart in January of 2008, the date was pushed back, and enrollment was very low. It’s unclear exactly when the school closed, but from at least 2009 to 2011 Great Redeemer Christian Church used the campus for its services, and classes in Microsoft Office were being advertised on banners outside.
The school was put up for sale in 2013 for an asking price of $3.2 million dollars. The campus itself was listed for $900,000, while the Historically Black College and University Charter had an asking price of $2.3 million dollars.
For at least a year the campus stood empty an unused. North Hall and the school library were badly damaged in a fire in July of 2014. Scrappers began chipping away at the building, stealing computers and other equipment. Another suspicious fire in August of 2014 caused serious damage to the main building, ripping through the auditorium. Today the buildings that make up the campus are mostly ruined.