Woodward Avenue Presbyterian Church is located on Woodward Avenue in Detroit, Michigan and was open to worshippers from 1911 to 2004. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.


History

The move to establish a church in the “north end” of Detroit began at a trustees meeting of the Presbyterian Alliance that was held in the Westminster Presbyterian Church on March 11, 1907.6 A committee was appointed to canvas an area bounded by Grand Boulevard, Hamilton Boulevard, Oakland Avenue and the northern city limits to see how many potential worshippers and families lived in the area. The committee consisted of Richard Owen, Emil W. Snyder and Robert McKinnell.

A committee to organize the church was headed by Richard Owen, L.C. Stanley, Irwin Fullerton, Dr. George H. Lau and D.H.F. Wills.6 The first meeting of the “North Woodward Presbyterian Committee” was held in the home of Richard Owen on June 25, 1907, where Owen was elected chairman and Lau as secretary.  It was determined that there were over 260 families and 1,000 potential worshippers with many more being added each year and that a church would be needed sooner than later. After a survey was mailed with the majority in favor of a church in the “north end, the committee began to look at property along Woodward Avenue which averaged between $55 and $75 per square foot.

In early October, meetings were held to narrow down the potential locations for the new church, and on October 18, the committee met at Owen’s office and an option was taken on the property at the northwest corner of Woodward and Grummond (Blaine) Avenue at $65 per front foot.6

On October 28, a meeting was held at the home of Fullerton where Stanley presented articles of association for the organization of the church, which were adopted and signed off.6 It was also decided upon that, pending their approval, a temporary church would be located at the Christian Church at Woodward and Joephine Avenues. In addition, $4,000 was pledged towards the Building Fund for a permanent structure.

The first worship of the new Presbyterian church was held in the auditorium at the Christian Church on November 3 with 150 in attendance.5 6 On November 15, a joint meeting of the committee and the Board of Trustees led to the committee being given full power to purchase the building lot.6 The civil organization was completed on December 10, where the committee voted to be for the church to be named the Woodward Avenue Presbyterian Church. On February 14, 1908, petitioned the Presbytery of Detroit to organize, receiving their blessing on March 17.5 6 In April, the congregation moved into Milburn Hall at 1517 Woodward Avenue and on April 5, it was voted upon to begin Sunday School beginning on the following Sunday. The first Communion service was held on May 10, where 25 were received by letter and four on confession of faith.

Church patron Katherine McGregor, daughter of lumber baron David Whitney, donated a corner lot at Woodward Avenue and Philadelphia Street in September.1 4 5 6 Nearly $100,000 was set aside for the design and construction of a new church building.5 6 By January 1909, membership of the church had grown to 325, but it was decided to seek other temporary quarters.6 The meeting on April 8 was held in the Odd Fellows Temple at Bethune Avenue and Brush Street but it was decided that the Thomas Normal Training School on West Grand Boulevard would serve as a temporary church on the other occasions.

By the time the cornerstone was laid for the new building at 2:30 PM on January 1, 1910,1 3 there were 742 worshippers. The cornerstone laying ceremony included numerous addresses and the deposit of a Holy Bible, a copy of the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church in the USA, a copy of the church member, prospectus of the new building, a program of the cornerstone ceremony, copies of the Northminster Tidings, copies of the local newspapers and coins into the a vault in the cornerstone.6

Sidney Rose Badgley and William Nicklas of the Cleveland, Ohio firm Nicklas & Badgley designed the new church in the Gothic Revival style, which was a descendent of a Badgley-designed Methodist Church in Washington Courthouse.2 3 The exterior was crafted of brownstone quarried in Polk County, Pennsylvania that contrasted with the white limestone trim, with a roof consisting of fireproof red tile with copper cornices.3 5 6 It was the second building in the nation to be built of brownstone.6 Inside was a distinct arched sanctuary with curved wood pews and a large pipe organ, crafted by the Stevens Organ Company in Marietta, Ohio, that was donated by McGregor.4 The interior conformed to the Akron Plan auditorium type, with fixed seating arranged in a semi-circle, lit by an open lantern in the center of the vaulted ceiling.3 4 5 The auditorium plan allowed for obstructed views. The sanctuary and choir featured Byzantine mosaics. Besides worshipping space, the church included a basketball court, a bowling alley, banquet hall and classroom space.

The congregation began meeting in the unfinished church on January 3, 1911,6 which was dedicated on June 25.1 3 5 6 Just prior to its dedication, however, McGregor announced that she had acquired lots to the north of the church for a park and playground and the purchase of an organ for the church.6

By March 1912, membership had swelled to 1,000, 1,500 by 1913 and 2,300 by 1921.5 6 Times were changing by the middle of the 20th century, however, with suburban expansion occurring at a rapid rate that drained Detroit of its upper and middle income families that the church depended upon. A 1958 count had 1,250 active members listed.6 In response, Woodward Avenue Presbyterian Church acquired land at 12 Mile Road and Bermuda Lane for a second facility and began services in the gymnasium of Northbrook School on September 29, 1957.5 But a division in the church by 1960 left the congregation to vote upon staying in Detroit, with the Northbrook congregation splitting off to form a new church that was eventually built in Beverly Hills.

 


Decline

By 1958, the number who attended regular service had dwindled to 1,100 and and down to just 404 by 1971.5 On July 19, 1981, Woodward Avenue Presbyterian Church merged with The Church of The Covenant, another struggling Presbyterian church at East Grand Boulevard and Preston Street, who relocated all services to the Woodward Avenue facility.5 Reverend Gary Douglas, pastor of the Covenant, led the merged organization that was renamed Woodward Avenue Presbyterian Church of the Covenant. But the bleed of worshippers continued, with 247 members in 1985 and just 210 in its last year of operation in 1991.

Woodward Avenue Presbyterian Church had hit a low point, with its repair bills mounting and Douglas’ desire to split from the Presbyterian church.5 The congregation voted in early 1993 to close, and the building was turned over to Douglas on a quitclaim deed. Douglas renounced the Presbyterian church and reformed it as the Abyssinia Interdenominational Church which lasted until Doulgas’ death in January 2004.

A court battle over the estate of Douglas left the church vacant and open to the elements. The pipe organs and other metals were scrapped in 2009 before the building was purchased by the Cathedral of Praise Baptist Church who had hopes of restoring the structure.5 But facing mounting costs to start work, the church was once again abandoned.

Further Reading
Sources