S. James Herman / Mae Jemison School

As the Second World War began Detroit was facing an acute housing shortage due to an influx of workers to the city’s defense plants. The solution was federally-funded housing projects that were quickly built across the city. One of the largest located on the west side. Herman Gardens, named for S. James Herman, a doctor and advocate for better housing. Construction began in 1942 on 2,000 living units.

Students living at Herman Gardens attended school in temporary buildings until Herman School was built on the southeast corner of the development. A single story building was started in 1943. While construction was underway, a second story was added as projected enrollment doubled from 800 to 1,600 students. Even with the added capacity Herman was overcrowded when it opened in September of 1944. Additions to the building in 1948 and 1955 included more classrooms, an auditorium and a gymnasium. Enrollment would eventually peak in the late 1950’s at over 2,500 students until the construction of news schools relieved the pressure.

Like other public housing projects in Detroit, Herman Gardens suffered from lack of investment and high crime rates. Starting in the 1980’s the project was reduced in size through demolition until it was completely gone by 2002.The loss of residents meant that enrollment at nearby schools including Herman plummeted.

In 2005 Mae C. Jemison school was merged into Herman and renamed. Jemison, a K-8 program. Jemison closed in 2013 due to low enrollment. The vacant building was bought by Total Life Change Ministries, a church founded by Michael Beasley. Beasley was a former prison guard who had a successful ministry in the suburbs, but felt drawn to the city. He viewed the school, which needed signifigant repairs as an opportunity to provide community services and vocational training for at-risk youth.

Unfortunately, securing and maintaining the building proved difficult for the small ministry. Like many other buildings in the city, metal theieves began targeting the school in 2015, stripping copper wiring and pipes. By 2018 the congregation numbered just 9 members, and was spending tens of thousands of dollars to repair the damage that was done. By 2019 the church was forced to close and the building was abandoned.

A series of fires caused signifigant damage to the school in 2020 and 2021.