The construction of The Grosse Pointe High School in 1928 marked an important transition in the history of this area along the shores of Lake St. Clair. Grosse Pointe’s move away from its farming roots began after the American Civil War, when wealthy Detroit businessmen purchased much of the lakefront property for summer homes. By 1900, year-round mansions were rapidly replacing seasonal residences, and a sense of community began to form.
Reflecting many citizens’ growing perception that Grosse Pointe was a real town, the need for a high school became a topic of debate in 1910. After a five-year battle with landowners reluctant to have their land condemned, the school district began construction of the area’s first public high school in 1927. Many residents saw the construction as a symbol that Grosse Pointe completed its transition from resort to town and thus were willing to pay for one of the finest public school buildings in Michigan.
Grosse Pointe High School is designed in the Georgian revival colonial style with a 134-foot (41 m)-tall clock tower that dominates the facade. The interior is similarly impressive with the original structure containing five libraries, two gyms, an auditorium, and a swimming pool, amenities some thought too luxurious. Tennessee marble and Pewabic tiles were used extensively. During the Great Depression, the interior received a beautiful series of WPA-funded murals and the area’s growing population led to additions in the 1940s and 1950s.
In 1930, student enrollment hit 1,340, just 35 less than capacity. Some of the 1,300 students had to stand along the walls in order to fit the entire student body into the boys’ gym for an assembly. Since it was designed to hold 1,100, 1,340 taxed the gym’s facilities.
To make room for students, board of education offices returned to Cadieux Elementary School where they remain today. Student and faculty sizes have varied, but the building always ranged from packed to comfortably full.
During construction, the over 10-story tall, 107-foot (33 m)-high boiler room smokestack was the tallest structure in Grosse Pointe. The 134-foot (41 m)-tall clock tower that has become the symbol of Grosse Pointe High was finished three months after the smokestack.
World War II’s colossal expansion of America’s industries triggered the 1942 addition of a three-story industrial arts building.
In April 1953, the main gym, that included a stage for large assemblies, was completed. For the students’ evening dedication ceremonies, Board of Education member and travel agent Chet Sampson achieved a public relations coup when he arranged the appearance of newly-married, romantic idols of America, Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher.
The rear wing of the school was filled with ninth graders in the fall of 1955. The annex was linked to the main building with a roofed-only walkway that was called the breezeway or freezeway depending upon the weather.
In February 1961, work began to add a third floor to the industrial arts building. In March, the board of education also authorized construction of a second-story bridge to the main building to give easier access to the new third floor. In the fall of 1961, just nine months after construction began, students were crossing the bridge and attending math classes in the new third floor.
The octagonal Wicking Library was completed and occupied for school during the fall of 1964, ending Cleminson Hall’s reign as the school’s reference site. A brick and steel breezeway that joined the main building to the annex crossed its front.