This church was destroyed by fire on May 10, 2014.
The Unitarians in Detroit first organized themselves when the First Congregational Unitarian Society was incorporated on October 6, 1850. The church you see is their second house of worship. The first was located at the intersection of Lafayette and Shelby. By the late 1880s, the Unitarians had sufficient resources to build their own church on Detroit's most prestigious street. In retrospect, this was not a good choice with regard to location.
The church you see pictured above is a classic red sandstone rock-faced Romanesque Revival church. This church, more so than other in this stretch of Woodward, was substantially changed when Woodward Avenue was widened to eight full lanes in 1936. Originally, there was an attractive four-bay porch with Romanesque columns on the Woodward face. To the right of that porch was a two-story round tower with an interesting conical, almost dunce cap-like roof. These were truncated and changed, but the square tower to the rear along Edmund Place remains. A picture of the original church designed by Donaldson and Meier appears on page 146 of W. Hawkins Ferry's The Buildings of Detroit (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1968).
You see three arched windows facing Woodward. Originally, they contained stained glass designed by John LaFarge. He was a key figure in the development of stained glass artistry in the United States, although his peer and rival, Louis Tiffany, is much more frequently remembered and discussed. The LaFarge windows represented Faith, Hope and Charity. A fourth window, honoring brotherly love, was designed by LaFarge to commemorate the accomplishments of John Bagley: the Detroit tobacco entrepreneur, Michigan governor and philanthropist. The stained glass windows were removed when Woodward was broadened. Three of them are now on display at the Detroit Institute of Art while the other is held privately.
When you walk around this church, you might compare it to the other church at the corner of Woodward and Edmund Place: First Presbyterian. George Mason and Zachariah Rice designed that church to reflect many of the assets of Henry Hobson Richardson's great accomplishment: Trinity Episcopal Church on Clarendon in Boston. Indeed, Trinity Church in Boston and First Presbyterian here on Woodward are two of the best examples of Richardsonian design as applied to churches.
The Unitarians could not worship at this church once was Woodward was altered. They temporarily held services with Detroit's Universalistic Church of Our Father. The two denominations shared a theology, a tradition and, to a great extent, the same rituals. They merged to form the First Unitarian-Universalistic Church that now holds their services in a church nearby at 4605 Cass.
The First Unitarian congregation sold the church shown above to the Church of Christ. At a later point, that congregation sold the church to the non-denominational Resurrection Promise Church. That congregation also moved away and is now located at 741 West Bethune. The church was a vacant structure when it was destoyed by fire in May, 2014.
Architects: John M. Donaldson
and Henry J. Meier
Date of Construction: 1890
Architectural Style: Romanesque Revival
City of Detroit Designated Historic District: This church was within the Brush Park Historic District.
State of Michigan Registry of Historical Sites: Listed P25,104. This church is also within the Michigan Woodward East
State of Michigan Historical Marker: None visible
National Register of Historic Places: Listed August 3, 1982. This church was also within the federal Woodward East Historic District.
Picture: Ren Farley, March 11, 2009
Description updated: May, 2014