This school was named after the American historian Francis Parkman (1823-1893). It opened in 1930 in a temporary, portable classroom building located on the present site, and another was added the following year. The first unit of the permanent building, consisting of three classrooms, was completed in 1941. The temporary buildings continued to exist for some time thereafter.
By 1947 the school became quite crowded, with 359 students. To accommodate this growth, a second unit, consisting of seven classrooms and a gymnasium, was added in 1948. Charles J. Sullivan served as supervising architect for this addition. A third unit was constructed in 1954 at a cost of $494,506. It added an auditorium and eleven classrooms, including two science rooms. At this time the school was organized into eighteen sections, with one self-contained class. In 1960 the school was reorganized into fourteen sections with four self-contained rooms.
An entry in the Proceedings of the Board of Education provides a list of supervising architects for all Detroit schools scheduled to be constructed during the 1940-1941 school year. Alfred A. Smith was identified as the contractor for the architectural work. The plans for this building may have been devised by the staff of the Board of Education's Department of Buildings and Grounds with Smith supervising the work.
The name on the blueprints for construction of the building was O'Brien & Williamson Metal Products Company. From the turn of the nineteenth century, school building design in the region was wholly dominated by classical and historical revival styles. More forward-looking, yet still ornate, Art Deco designs began to appear around 1928.
Parkman School, however, marked a sharp break from both of these traditions. With its use of the Streamline Moderne style, Parkman School, with its crisp lines, graceful curves, and minimum of exterior ornamentation, set the stage for the widespread building of International Style school buildings in the postwar years.