The abandoned Woodward Avenue Presbyterian Church is one of the most architecturally significant buildings in Detroit …

 
 
 
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The Woodward Avenue Presbyterian Church is a church located at 8501 Woodward Avenue in Detroit, Michigan. It was built in 1911 in the Gothic revival style by the  architect Sidney Badgley. The structure is of a rock-faced, brownstone with smooth, contrasting, limestone trim and carved Gothic-framed windows. It was used for some time as the Abyssinia Church of God in Christ. The building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982. The structure is now abandoned and falling in to ruin.

“This splendid building… stands as one of the most handsomest churches in the country,” wrote the Detroit Times on June 10th of 1911.

The church today, as seen from north Woodward Avenue.
The church today, as seen from north Woodward Avenue. Source

 

An English Gothic-style church
An English Gothic-style church. Source: Rick Harris/Flickr

 

Woodward Presbyterian was built in 1911 by architect Sidney Badgley
It was built in 1911 by architect Sidney Badgley. Source: Rick Harris/Flickr

By 1908, the Presbyterians in Detroit recognized the need for a church to serve congregants located in what was then the “north” Woodward area. Meetings were held and the congregation was organized by the presbytery on March 17, 1908. At that time, the church had 163 members. By January of 1909, the membership of the church had grown to 325, holding services in different rented spaces as the congregation gained members. As the cornerstone for the new church as laid in a ceremony on January 1st, 1910, the church numbered 742 members and membership surpassed 2200 by 1921. However, by the 1950s, many members were leaving Detroit for the northern suburbs. Woodward Avenue Presbyterian Church began to struggle, with fewer than 1000 members in 1961 and only 404 in 1971.

The main sanctuary of the Woodward Avenue Presbyterian Church, view from east balcony, highlighting the curved pews and pipe organ.
The main sanctuary of the Woodward Avenue Presbyterian Church, view from east balcony, highlighting the curved pews and pipe organ. Source

 

Auxiliary sanctuary of the Woodward Presbyterian Church, separated from the main sanctuary by a sliding wood panel.
Auxiliary sanctuary of the Woodward Presbyterian Church, separated from the main sanctuary by a sliding wood panel. Source

Rev. Sherman L. Divine was installed as the congregation’s first minister, and he embarked on an ambitious building project, envisioning a sanctuary that would cost about $100,000. The church enlisted new members and new funding.

The land on which the church was built and the pipe organ were donated by Mrs. Tracy McGregor. Tracy and Katherine McGregor donated a lot along Woodward, and the cornerstone for the church was laid on January 1, 1910. Construction began, based on a design by Sidney Rose Badgley. The church was dedicated on June 23 of the next year.

Detail of pipe organ. The building became a victim of theft and vandalism, and its organ pipes were scrapped in the fall of 2009.
Detail of pipe organ. The building became a victim of theft and vandalism, and its organ pipes were scrapped in the fall of 2009. Source

In 1937, the church embarked on a fundraising effort to support repair work on the church exterior. The repairs also extended to the inside of the building, repairing the sanctuary, altar, and pipe organ.

In 1981, Woodward Avenue Presbyterian merged with Covenant Church. The combined churches still had fewer than 500 members, and by 1991, there were only 210. In 1993, the congregation split from the Presbyterian church, eventually becoming the Abyssinia Interdenominational Church. The church closed on the death of the pastor in 2005.

As of 2013, it seems as if the church is still lying beautifully alone. Source: Rick Harris/Flickr

In 2009, the building was purchased by Cathedral of Praise Baptist Church, but the cost of restoring the building proved to be too high. Until the spring of 2010, Woodward Avenue Presbyterian was abandoned and has fallen into disrepair. More recently the property has been purchased by a group looking to convert the building into a homeless shelter.

The main sanctuary of the Woodward Avenue Presbyterian Church, view from balcony.
The main sanctuary of the Woodward Avenue Presbyterian Church – view from the balcony. Source

 

In 1982, the building was listed under the National Register of Historic Places.
In 1982, the building was listed under the National Register of Historic Places. Source: Rick Harris/Flickr

The design and layout of the church was something new at the time. It is an English Gothic-style church, trimmed in limestone with a surface of a rough rock, it has a large carved-stone entrance façade and measuring 184 feet long by 104 feet wide. The Woodward Avenue façade boasts a massive carved-stone entrance with a traceried stained glass window set above; two square towers flank the center entrance.