This school on the city's far west side saw thousands of students walk through its halls, but it also saw one of the city's more vile responses to attempts at integration.
This school sits between Sorrento and Ward avenues and Schoolcraft and West Davison.
The Monnier name was tied to schools for more than 100 years. A small school was built in 1834 on the corner of Grand River Avenue and Schaefer, in what was then-Greenfield Township. Around the turn of the century, the school was renamed in honor of a farmer and landowner in the area, Peter C. Monnier (Feb. 23, 1830-Jan. 8, 1922), a resident of Greenfield Township for seven decades who immigrated to the U.S. from France in 1834 or 1847 (news reports differ).
"Mr. Monnier spent his entire life 'on the land,' taking up farming when he came here and remaining at that pursuit until his retirement from active work 30 years ago," the Detroit Free Press wrote the day after his death at age 92. "He had seen Detroit grown from a small village into a city of a million and could relate many interesting tales of the city's early history."
That first school from 1834 was razed in 1907 and replaced with a larger one, also named after Monnier. However, the township continued to grow in population, and by 1920, this five-room Monnier School was too small for Greenfield Township's needs.
Construction on the Peter G. Monnier Elementary School was started in 1923, when the area was still part of Greenfield Township and its school district. The township was annexed by the City of Detroit in 1924 before the school was finished, and the Detroit Board of Education saw the construction through to its finish and opened it in September 1924. At the time, the school had 1,360 students across 34 rooms, including a large gym that doubled as an auditorium. The new school was designed by the firm Verner, Wilhelm & Molby.
The second Monnier School, from 1907, at Grand River and Schaefer, became the Monnier Branch Library.
Despite the pressing need for a larger school, Greenfield Township either slowed growing or the school board overshot its projected enrollment. The new Monnier went for decades dealing with under-enrollment. This led the Detroit school district repeatedly shuffling students from overcrowded schools in the area to Monnier. Until 1960, Monnier was an all-white school, and still had room for more students.
Meanwhile, Black parents of students at the overcrowded and still-growing McKerrow and Brady schools, both of which had mostly Black student bodies, were putting increasing pressure on the Detroit Board of Education to do something.
Therefore, in October 1960, the Detroit Board of Education said it would bus more than 300 third- and fourth-graders from McKerrow and Brady to three almost entirely white ones, Guest, Noble and Monnier. These three schools had shrinking student bodies because their neighborhoods were already experiencing white flight, even before the racial unrest of 1967.
Black parents decried the over-crowded, under-resourced conditions at these schools and demanded a positive change. Thus, the school board's plan to relieve overcrowded conditions for the children at Brady and McKerrow by transferring them to Monnier, Guest and Noble.
This action led to the Northwest Parents Association, white parents who opposed Black students in their kids' schools, held a three-day boycott at Monnier, Guest and Noble. At Monnier, a dozen white protesting parents screamed insults at Black students arriving at the school on Oct. 31, 1960. The racist displays came a little more than three years after the Little Rock Nine tried to integrate Central High School in Little Rock, Ark. One of the mother's of a Black Monnier student said she wondered whether she was "in Little Rock or Detroit."
Despite the racists' efforts to stop it, Monnier was integrated.
Monnier finally fills up - and then empties out
One of the many advantages of integrating Monnier was that it finally reached capacity. A new addition was tacked onto the school's south side in 1973. However, as Detroit's population continued to shrink as white flight accelerated in the ensuing years, Monnier's enrollment dropped again. Less than 20 years after being built, the north addition added in 1973 was demolished, between 1990 and 1992.
Despite reducing the school's footprint and capacity, enrollment continued to decline as the neighborhood saw families move out. The Detroit Public Schools closed Monnier in 2007 amid a wave of school closures. Monnier was but one of 195 public schools closed in Detroit between 2000 and 2015.
In 2015, Monnier was among 57 closed Detroit Public Schools properties given to the City of Detroit in exchange for forgiving millions of dollars in DPS' unpaid electrical bills. The 57,250-square-foot school, and its 3.88 acres was marketed by the City of Detroit for redevelopment. An extensive report commissioned by the City pegged the redevelopment of Monnier at $13 million, though also cited that the neighborhood's real estate market is weak, with widespread abandonment and vacant lots where homes once stood.
In August 2023, Crain's Detroit Business reported that Monnier was among more than 20 former Detroit schools owned by the City that were already put out for bid for demolition. The Duggan administration is planning to use funds from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) that was issued by the federal government to help municipalities recover from the economic downtown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
As of Dec. 1st, the property is all fenced in and the building prepared for demolition.