Touchdown in Bloomfield Hills: The Detroit Lions Come to Cranbrook

As Superbowl season engulfs America and the Detroit Lions’ seemingly endless search for a new head coach comes to a close, we at Cranbrook look fondly back at the days when the Lions were a seasonal presence here on campus.  You might be forgiven for not immediately associating a 100+ year-old arts and education campus with pro football, but get ready to be schooled: the Lions used Cranbrook’s bucolic campus as their training ground for a number of years.

Detroit Lions players and coaching staff arrive at Cranbrook School for training camp. Pontiac Press, date unknown.

Detroit Lions players and coaching staff arrive at Cranbrook School for training camp. Pontiac Press, date unknown.

From 1934 to 1941 and again from 1957 to 1974, the Cranbrook community watched as the Detroit Lions staged their training camp at Cranbrook. They used Cranbrook School’s football oval as their primary site, but as early as 1934 there were sightings of Lions all over campus. A 1934 Crane* article spotted players at the Dining Hall, “eating Miss Bemis out of nearly a semester’s supply of spinach.” In 1957, a Crane writer noting the Lions’ return to Cranbrook provided even more insight: “Over fifty players and six coaches roomed in Marquis and Page halls and ate their meals in the Cranbrook dining hall Monday through Friday.”

Players Charles Bowers and Pat Studstill take a break at Lake Jonah. Date unknown, Detroit News.

Players Charles Bowers and Pat Studstill take a break at Lake Jonah. Detroit News, date unknown.

A 1973 Oakland Press article covered similar ground, remarking that during the eight weeks of training camp, all of the Lions – rookies and veterans alike, along with their coaching staff – lived in Cranbrook School dorms and enjoyed the high quality food cooked by Cranbrook staff. Even the architecture got its due: the newspaper described the campus as full of “gothic coziness.”

Gil Mains, Detroit Lions Tackle, illustrating his form with Cranbrook School's Discus Thrower behind him. August 7, 1960. United Press International photograph, newspaper unknown.

Gil Mains, Detroit Lions Tackle, illustrating his form with Cranbrook School’s Discus Thrower behind him. United Press International photograph, newspaper unknown. August 7, 1960.

The Detroit Lions left Cranbrook and began holding their training camp at Oakland University in 1974, primarily due to the growing size of the team and staff.  Certainly, though, issues of access might have contributed to their departure. By 1965, papers were publishing irritated columns about the parking fiascos caused by the Lions descending upon Bloomfield Hills.  On August 13, 1965, The Daily Tribute (Royal Oak) noted the excess of parking tickets issued due to visitors parking illegally on narrow Bloomfield Hills streets and even on private lawns. One cause of the parking crunch could have been August 11th’s “Free football clinic for the Ladies;” organized by the Detroit Lions and the Detroit Free Press, it promised to explain pesky football terms to confused young women – though, of course “men who are interested can sneak in too.”

"Women Fans Say 'Those Lions are Tigers.' Pontiac Press, August 12, 1965.

“Women Fans Say ‘Those Lions are Tigers.” Pontiac Press, August 12, 1965.

The Lions now have a dedicated practice site in Allen Park and are too big of an operation to host here at Cranbrook for summer training. Athletics form a touchstone for Detroit pride, however, and 25 miles north of Ford Field, Cranbrook is proud to have played a small part in the history of Detroit sports.

For more on this story, be sure to check out Bill Dow’s personal recollection of Cranbrook training camp.

Shoshana Resnikoff, Collections Fellow

*For readers not familiar with the ins-and-outs of high school journalism, the Crane was Cranbrook School’s newspaper. When the Cranbrook and Kingswood Schools combined, the newspaper became the Crane-Clarion.

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