Last week we continued our focus on the work of Albert Kahn as we stopped by 266 Lakeland, one of the few remaining works by this prestigious architect. Of the 20 or so projects this nationally renowned designer completed in Grosse Pointe, at least half a dozen of his creations have been demolished.

This week we present the story of one of Albert Kahn’s public buildings, the Vernier school, completed in 1916, originally located at 36 Vernier Road. It was razed in 1994.

We recently covered the history of the Grosse Pointe Shores municipal building. As part of the article, we shared information about how the structure, in the early 1980’s, needed to be renovated and repaired. The city opted to keep and preserve the building as opposed to tearing it town. At the time of completion, a local resident stated, “the tendency has been to tear things down along Lake Shore and we’re happy to have saved our building and renovated it.” Source: Detroit Free Press (September 27, 1984). Given that so many Kahn structures have been razed, it wasn’t just the right decision, but an important one. Sadly, the Vernier school wasn’t so lucky. 

Having completed the Grosse Pointe Shores municipal building (dedicated on December 10, 1915), Albert Kahn designed the Vernier school that was adjacent to the municipal building, facing Vernier Road. The school welcomed its first students in the fall of 1916. Image from the Grosse Pointe Historical Society.

When designing the school Albert Kahn selected to mirror the design of the municipal building, proceeding with a Mediterranean approach - a popular choice of Kahn’s for the projects he completed in Grosse Pointe Shores during this era. The brick structure featured multiple tall, narrow windows; a low-pitched tile roof; large overhanging eaves; a dominant arched entranceway; along with a cupola in the center of the roof. It was a delicate design and quite beautiful. The interior consisted of seven classrooms on two floors. Of the five rooms on the first floor, one was for the kindergarten, while another was designated as a “dental clinic”. In another of the rooms was a Pewabic tile fireplace decorated with figures of rabbits, ducks, roosters, and antelopes. The lower level/basement was the location of the furnace room, janitor’s room, along with the boys’ and girls’ washrooms. There were also two classrooms, labeled on the original plans as rooms for “Manual Training” and “Domestic Science”. Source: The Village of Grosse Pointe Shores by Arthur M. Woodford.

Over the years the school has had an interesting history, transitioning from a significant school building (in the early 1920’s) to a structure that had begun to face an uncertain future as early as 1928. In 1923, it was reported four school buildings were in use by the Grosse Pointe School System – the Cadieux school (used for high school and elementary pupils); the old Robert Trombly school; the Kerby school; and the Vernier school. Source: Detroit Free Press (April 1930).

In September 1924, the Vernier school had 91 pupils. (source, Grosse Pointe Civic News). It was also reported in the Grosse Pointe Civic News (November 1925) that the Superintendent of Schools recommended the Vernier school site be enlarged. However, by June 1928, as part of a $770,000 bond put before the school electors, a proposition was made to include authorization of the sale of the Vernier school site. It was then proposed in August 1931, to close the school. Source: Grosse Pointe Civic News. But, between 1931 and 1938, we understand the building was leased as a private school. It was then returned to the public-school system, ready for when the new term began in September 1938. “Parts of the kindergarten, first, second, third and fourth grade, located at the Stevens T. Mason elementary school, were transferred to the Vernier school.” Source: Detroit Free Press (August 1938).

In 1956, having been a school for 40 years, it was decided to close the Vernier facility. It was reported the building, for ten years, was used as a co-op nursery for village children; by the village for elections; and then as a storage facility. After being empty for several years it was acknowledged the building needed significant restoration. In 1985, the Detroit Free Press reported “the Grosse Pointe Historical Society offered, in exchange for a long-term lease, to spend more than $350,000 to renovate the building for use as its headquarters. The Village manager at the time, Michael Kenyon, said officials would prefer a short lease and were planning to spend $32,000 in the fall to repair the school’s roof and gutters.” Then in July 1986, the Detroit Free Press reported “village officials were to meet with officials from the Grosse Pointe Historical Society who would still love to help Grosse Pointe Shores restore the old Vernier school.”

By 1994, the story of the Vernier school had reached a permanent conclusion. Arthur M. Woodford in his book The Village of Grosse Pointe Shores writes “the village polled its citizens, and almost two thirds responded that it should be demolished rather than spend the $1.5 to $2 million to restore it.” An article in the Detroit Free Press (February 1994) described the school as being “obsolete in terms of modern codes, but not in its basic structural soundness. Albert Kahn built his buildings the old-fashioned way, to last for centuries.” The article also raised the point that “if the school had been more architecturally significant, the village would have made the effort to save it.” However, “unlike the municipal building, the school was not an acknowledged Kahn masterwork”. The Vernier school was razed in 1994. Image courtesy of Detroit Free Press (February 1994).

While the school is now gone, some elements still exist today and can be found in Grosse Pointe Shores. The book by Woodford describes how “the school’s bell was salvaged; it is on display with an accompanying plaque on the former site of the school on Vernier Road adjacent to the municipal building. Also, bricks from the school adorn the welcome signs to the village. The black and white images below are courtesy of The Village of Grosse Pointe Shores/Bentley Historic Collection. The image of the bell and welcome sign are courtesy of the Village of Grosse Pointe Shores (

In total, it is believed Kahn produced an incredible 1,900 projects in Metro Detroit. While some of his designs may not have been deemed “a masterwork” all his work should be considered significant, and his legacy preserved. For the Vernier school, unfortunately it is too late.

*Photos courtesy of the Higbie Maxon Agney archives unless stated.

** Research, information, and data sources are deemed reliable, but accuracy cannot be fully guaranteed.

Written by Katie Doelle
Copyright © 2023 Higbie Maxon Agney & Katie Doelle

If you have a home, building or street you would like us to profile please contact Higbie Maxon Agney – - we will try and feature the property.

Posted by Kay Agney on


Email Send a link to post via Email

Leave A Comment

Please note that your email address is kept private upon posting.