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There are two types of spaces that can be found in every school in this study: classrooms (of course!) and gymnasiums. But you might be surprised to learn that large school gyms were not a standard feature until relatively recently. Many of Detroit's historic school buildings, especially small ones, were originally built without gyms. Larger, fancier schools built in the 1920s (like Courville, Crockett, and Guyton) did have large gyms; but many smaller schools of this era had only small playrooms—or students just played outside. By the 1950s, however, modern gyms had been built at almost every school.

Click a photo in the gallery to link to that school's profile. Or, click here to read more about gym types.

Gyms: About
Standard Gym

The majority of schools included in this study were elementary schools, which commonly feature a 40x60’ gym—large enough to accommodate a 2/3-size basketball court (approximately 55x33'). Design details vary: 1920s-era gyms are typically brick with large, often arched windows, while 1950s-era gyms are CMU construction, often with glass block clerestory windows.

Large Gym

Gyms at Crockett, Burbank, and New schools are large enough to fit a standard junior high basketball court (74x42'). Burbank and New both have pull-out bleachers, while Crockett has small mezzanine area for spectators. Bethune has a large gym, but due to its square proportions, it is only long enough to fit a 2/3-size elementary school court.


Many of the gyms built from the 1940s on are combination gym/cafeterias: typically the standard 40x60’ space with a small attached kitchen and  a small serving window. Another common feature is a system of metal tables and benches that fold down from the gym walls. This change appears to coincide with the rise of government-supported school lunch programs during the 1930s and 40s, culminating with the 1946 National School Lunch Act.

Locker Rooms

Locker rooms are a less common gym addition. Full-size gyms like those found at Crockett H.S. and Burbank feature large boys’ and girls’ locker rooms with showers and restrooms. Smaller schools often have just one small boys’ locker room which may be little more than a space for changing and storage.

Gym Access

Many gyms feature dedicated exterior access, enabling them to be used by the public while the rest of the school is closed. While auditoriums may have a more formal entrance with a dedicated vestibule facing the street, gym entrances tend to be a nondescript door to the side or rear parking lot. Another approach was to locate the gym door inside, near a main school entrance that can be gated off to allow public access to just the auditorium.


Vacant schools with auditoriums that can function semi-independently from the rest of the school building may offer more flexible approaches to rehabilitation, occupation, and operation.

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