Signs lay out history of Murthum, Warren High School site

Interpretive marker will be dedicated to ‘looking back while moving forward’

By: Brian Louwers | Warren Weekly | Published June 6, 2021

  A dedication ceremony for the new interpretative signs will be held at 3 p.m. June 24 at the main entrance on the south side of the Warren Community Center at 5460 Arden.

A dedication ceremony for the new interpretative signs will be held at 3 p.m. June 24 at the main entrance on the south side of the Warren Community Center at 5460 Arden.

Photo provided by Becky Hetchler.

  The Murthum School opened its doors to the children of Warren Township in 1926. It was the township’s first brick K-12 school

The Murthum School opened its doors to the children of Warren Township in 1926. It was the township’s first brick K-12 school

Photo from the Warren Historical & Genealogical Society’s Claeys Collection, reprinted with permission of the family

 In 1949, Warren Consolidated Schools began construction of a “New Warren High School” for about 600 students.Warren High School celebrated its first graduating class in 1951.

In 1949, Warren Consolidated Schools began construction of a “New Warren High School” for about 600 students.Warren High School celebrated its first graduating class in 1951.

This 1952 yearbook photo is the property of Prestige Photography by Lifetouch Royal Oak, reprinted with permission

WARREN — Before the Warren Community Center opened its doors to the public in January 2003, the site was home to Warren High School. Before that, it was the William Murthum School.

Murthum opened its doors to the children of Warren Township in 1926. Jean DeDecker was among them a few years later.

“I really liked it there. It was a great place to go to school,” remembered DeDecker, now 93, of Warren. “One of our neighbors also went to the school with me. She would always come home and tell my mother when I would be put in the corner.

“My mother appreciated it, but I didn’t,” DeDecker said.  

A combined 95 years of local school and community history at the property will be put into focus with new interpretive signs, set to be dedicated at the Warren Community Center on June 24. DeDecker, still a member of the Warren Historical & Genealogical Society, plans to be there with other members of the society and the Warren Historical Commission.

Becky Hetchler, the commission’s treasurer, researched the history of the site as now told on the signs. The information came from compiled records, old books and building plans held by Warren Consolidated Schools and the Warren Historical & Genealogical Society’s Claeys Collection.

The photo of the Murthum School is from the society’s Claeys Collection and is reprinted with permission of the family. The photo of Warren High School is now the property of Prestige Photography by Lifetouch Royal Oak.

“I just wanted to have something that showed the history of where the Warren Community Center came from,” Hetchler said.

Her part-time research on the project, which included locating and securing permission to use the photos, took about two years to complete.

According to the records researched by Hetchler and displayed on the signs, most of the site where the school was built in 1926 was owned by William Murthum. Two acres from William Masch and his son combined to make the property 11 acres. A $75,000 bond issue was passed to finance the school’s construction on the corner of Seventh Avenue and Garden Avenue, which is now Arden.

It was the township’s first brick K-12 school. Warren High School was housed at the school in 1931, and an addition was constructed.

Warren Consolidated Schools was formed in 1941 by combining the Township’s South, East, West, North and Warren school districts.

A cinder block “Victory Wing” was added during World War II to accommodate increased enrollment. By 1945, the Orioles were chosen as the school’s mascot, and black and orange were selected as the school colors.

In 1949, Warren Consolidated Schools purchased the site and began construction of a “New Warren High School” for about 600 students. The school opened in September 1950 at an estimated cost of $614,000, financed by the sale of bonds. In 1951, Warren High School celebrated its first graduating class.

After the high school opened, Murthum housed students in kindergarten through seventh grade until 1958, when Fuhrmann Junior High School opened in Sterling Heights. Murthum then became a kindergarten through sixth grade school prior to its closure in 1978. Parts of the school were demolished over the next 14 years.

Warren High School then housed students in grades nine through 12 before it was closed in 1992 and was used as a recreation center prior to its purchase by the city for $1.3 million in 1999. A sweeping renovation followed, financed by the city’s sale of the former Detroit Arsenal Tank Plant property on Van Dyke Avenue, $13 million in bonds and additional money from Warren’s Downtown Development Authority.

The site is now home to an aquatics center and a community auditorium, a branch library, three gyms, a fitness center, the Warren Historical Gallery, the Hubert Leech Historical Research Center, a cafeteria, a coffee shop, TV Warren’s studios and municipal offices. Outside, the 48.6-acre site features a football field and track, playgrounds, soccer fields, picnic areas, a roller hockey rink and basketball courts.

That’s a far cry from the humble beginnings recalled by DeDecker that were actually big improvements for the township’s students at the time.

DeDecker said she attended the Murthum School for a total of six years, not successively, interspersed with time spent at the area’s parochial schools.

“We were three grades — kindergarten, one and two — all in the same room. We had a huge, built-up table sandbox. As far as I can remember, I spent all my time playing in the sandbox, but I listened to what the teacher was teaching the first graders,” DeDecker said. “I learned to read when I was in kindergarten.”

That was 1932. DeDecker lived on Peck Avenue at the time. The street was named after her mother’s family. Her grandfather and another man owned the land where her subdivision was built.

She said she, of course, walked the short distance to the school.

“I didn’t get a bicycle until I must have been 12 or 13, something like that,” DeDecker said.

She recalled the time she rode the bike to the school and a classmate asked to ride it, promising to let her wear a bracelet in return.

“She got hit by a car right by the school,” DeDecker said.

The bike was broken in half and DeDecker said she had to take it home that way.

“I had to get somebody to wheel it home that night. My father was a little upset,” DeDecker said. “These were still Depression times. Things didn’t come easy or cheap. But eventually we got it replaced.”

She said the girl missed what remained of the school year but that the two have kept in touch all these years.

The dedication ceremony will be held at 3 p.m. June 24 at the main entrance on the south side of the Warren Community Center at 5460 Arden. The public, of course including former alumni of Warren High School, are welcome to attend.