Ah, it’s fall—a time to take in the changing of the leaves, discretely do away with the leftover Halloween candy, and, of course, settle into a new school year. Recently I was fortunate to be able to work on a box in the Documenting Detroit Collection marked “Burton International,” my elementary and middle school alma mater. While Burton’s name is currently attached to a school on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, it was the one on the corner of Cass and Peterboro where I spent a large chunk of my youth. Within the box I was delighted to find a series of photos shot in 1983 by Steve Shaw from the Center for Creative Studies (now the College for Creative Studies.) The first was an exterior, taken just a year or so before that giant mural of the children climbing the tree was painted on the building’s Cass face. I could almost smell the eggrolls from Chung’s Restaurant, the roof of which I’ll wager Shaw was perched atop for this shot.
Another shot was of the playground alongside Peterboro, and a large group of students lining up around the gate at its perimeter. At its center was the old playground equipment, torn out during one of my final years there. Unfortunately this picture was taken on one of those days which I, as a wee one, always dreaded—when the sandbox was flooded after a rain.
Two classroom photos were also included: one of lunch time in what looks like the downstairs kindergarten room, and the other a dim picture in one of the second floor classrooms which is pretty representative of my mood during those French tests I used to take up there.
Bizarrely, a few years back, the building reopened as the Burton Theatre, a one-screen art house cinema, set up in the old school auditorium. While this location closed down earlier this year, the Burton Theatre name survives attached to screenings held at different locations around town, while new efforts to again run a theater out of the school proceed.
And yes, local history buffs, the namesake of this school is indeed Clarence M. Burton, donor of the Burton Historical Collection to the Detroit Public Library. Burton, born in 1853, moved to Detroit immediately after earning a law degree from the University of Michigan. Unfortunately he arrived at the tender age of 21, which at that time was below the required age to vote or practice law. In addition to eventually becoming a lawyer, he also branched into the realm of real estate, establishing the Burton Abstract and Title Company in 1884. Although a successful lawyer and business man, he’s most remembered for his other pursuits. His library was the result of a habit of buying a book each day. He was also officially acknowledged as the city historian, writing several works on Cadillac and the city’s infancy. And most apropos to a post about Burton International, Clarence Burton served on the Detroit Board of Education for 8 years.
In the comments, feel free to share any Detroit school memories.
(Credit for Burton International photos: Steve Shaw)