Situated in the heart of Lansing, Michigan is an abandoned gem called the Walter French Academy, or more formally called the Walter French Academy of Business and Technology. With three stories and approximately over 125,000 square feet of building, located on the corner of South Cedar Street and Mt. Hope Avenue, this location is absolutely massive. It is definitely one of the biggest places The Forgotten Existence has ever been to.
The Walter French Academy began construction under the supervision of local architect Judson N. Churchill in late 1924, and was completed in time for classes in 1925. A beautiful description of this facility is laid out in the National Register of Historic Places, of which the Walter French Academy is recognized as a member:
"The Walter H. French Junior High School is a three-story, steel-frame brick building constructed in a Tudor style with a flat roof and large window bays. The exterior features elaborate stone door surrounds and intricate polychromatic brickwork in red, yellow, and brown shades. Another wing projects to the rear; this wing was enlarged with additions in 1957 and in the 1970s. A limestone base rises to the sill level of the first floor windows, and there is a stone belt course between the first and second stories. The main building has two wings, meeting at a right angle with a three-bay angled façade at the intersection. The formal entry is at this intersection, through an elliptical arch. A secondary entrance is at one end of one of the wings." (Schumaker, 2014)
After it's construction had completed in 1925, it had ample space for grades seven through nine, and additional space for grades one through six. In 1950, operations for the school had converted it to be completely a junior high, and in 1957 a new wing was added. However, falling enrollment and financial issues caused the school to be closed in 1981. In 1983 the Eyde company purchased the school building. The school sat dormant from 1981 until 1996, which is when the building re-opened as a charter school: the Walter French Academy of Business and Technology. This new school included a middle and high school. About four years later, sometime between 1999 and 2000, it added a K-12 program to become the first local public school to offer kindergarten through twelfth grade under one roof. In 2004, the school lost ties to its authorizer, Central Michigan University, and was ultimately shut down that year due to financial problems. From 2004 until the present, the school has sat dormant, quiet, and in a state of disrepair.
This brings us to today. We first arrived in a room that was still recognizable as a classroom, but looked like a tornado had stormed through. The unmistakable smell of wet drywall, floating insulation particulates and asbestos was extremely evident in this facility, prompting us to quickly equip our P100 respirators to filter out any of these dangerous materials. After looking around the classroom we had entered through for a little bit, we were ready to explore the hallways.
The hallways of this facility had stereotypical Silent Hill vibes. They were dark, cold, and creepy. Paint was peeling off the walls, electrical wires were dangling from the ceilings, exit signs and door labels were falling off their mounts, and there were abundant holes in the drywall. After walking through these desolate halls for some time, we hit an intersection.
The intersection of these two hallways was just as eerie and creepy as the previous singular hallway, but more expansive. It included multiple stairways that led to the first and the third floor, as we were on the second floor. There were student's desks that littered the margins of the hallways, as well as debris and chips of drywall on the floors.
Multiple various signs were littered throughout the walls, ceilings, and floors of the entire facility. Above are some of the pictures that we snapped of these various signs, of which include: "Off limits to students", "This fire door must be kept closed at all times", "Central office", and a larger sign that read "Walter French Center, Institute of Merchandising and Design, Michigan Capital Girl Scout Council".
Off to the right of another intersection, we found a massive open room that had multiple large tables, chairs, and cooking equipment scattered in the back. This was the cafeteria. It is crazy to think that hundreds, perhaps even thousands of students would have gathered here to eat, converse, and to have fun decades ago.
After seeing the cafeteria, we ventured down the stairs to the first floor. The layout of this floor was almost identical to the one above it, but the walls were painted a different color. On this floor, adjacent to another hallway intersection, similar to how we found the cafeteria, we saw something amazing.
In an overwhelmingly expansive room, were hundreds of chairs, neatly lined up in rows. We had reached the auditorium. Each chair had pieces of drywall that had fallen from the ceiling in it, and the carpets of the floor were all torn up. The stage, however, was surprising. There was still a kitchen scene displayed, as if a theatrical play were about to happen the night after the school had shut down in 2004. The back of the stage was still complete with curtains, electrical equipment, and props.
Continuing on down the hallways, we came across the gymnasium. The first thing we noticed when entering the gym was all of the tiles that were scattered across the floor. These tiles had fallen from the ceiling. Student desks were piled up in the corners, complete with tennis balls on the bottoms of each leg. Debris, broken gym equipment, and shattered basketball hoops were abundant in this area of the school.
After hours of exploration, we finally found the locker rooms that were designated for the pool. There were multiple different locker rooms, separated by gender presumably, and they were all color coded accordingly. Some of the lockers still had stickers and notes written in sharpie that were left by former students. Their memory lives on in these lockers.
After passing through the locker rooms, we had reached the pool. Something was wrong with this pool, however. It was black, charred, and smelled like the day after a campfire. There was arson here. The floorboards were weak, charred, and ashy. This didn't take away from one of the most peculiar sights we saw, though. The pool had been filled with student desks, not in a neat and organized manner, but in more of a hurry. They were scattered and thrown everywhere, sometimes not even making it into the pool. The tennis balls that were fixed to the bottoms of each of the legs on each desk were poking out in every which way, making for a very interesting contrast in the picture above.
After we were done exploring the pool, we decided that we had been there long enough, and that it was time to leave. We headed back up through the locker rooms, past the auditorium and cafeteria, and finally upstairs to the second floor. The Forgotten Existence hadn't explored the entire facility, as there was still the third floor which was left undocumented by us. We still got some amazing shots, and learned some in-depth history of this location, which is still a good thing in our books. Hopefully we will have the opportunity to return sometime, and bring more historical preservation and photographic documentation to document here on this website. But until then, we encourage you to do your own independent research and share anything you have learned in the comments section of this post.