Historic Detroit

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Central United Methodist Church

The Central United Methodist Church is located on the northeast corner of Adams and Woodward Avenues. The church property is composed of two buildings: the church building on the corner and an annex on the east side of the church along Adams.

The architect, Gordon W. Lloyd, designed the church in the Gothic Revival style and it was built in 1867. The annex designed by the firm of Smith, Hinchman & Grylls in the Tudor Revival style with Gothic elements incorporated in the design was built in 1915.

This church is constructed of gray limestone ashlar blocks, and the annex is constructed of a similar gray stone. The most prominent feature of the church building is the corner tower which rises four stories and is topped by a broach spire with clocks on each face. The tower contains a Tudor arched entrance on the first floor of the south elevation and a window on the west elevation. The upper three stories also contain windows on the third, and arched windows with a trefoil in the fourth.

The west, gabled elevation is symmetrical and contains the main double door entrance flanked by arched windows. A large stained glass arched window which measures 18 feet wide by 28 feet tall is located over the door. The south elevation of the intersecting gabled wing is also symmetrically arranged and features two Tudor arched windows on the first and second floors.

A small window is within the gable peak.

The church and annex are connected by a thin, two-story section with a double entrance on the first floor and a series of arched windows on the second. The annex to the church is a five-story symmetrically arranged building with an ashlar face granite façade. The façade is divided into six bays on the first three floors. The first floor, containing commercial storefronts underwent a renovation which applied polished granite facing, stainless steel awnings and large plate glass windows. The second and third floors contain a triple window in each bay. The spandrel between the second and third floors contains three panels, each with a stone shield in the center.

The two outer bays on the east and west of the annex rise into gables which contain two double windows on the fourth floor and a small double window on the fifth. Two dormer windows with Gothic detailing are located over the central bays and project from the side facing gable roof.

The Central United Methodist Church, located on the northeast corner of Woodward and Adams Avenues, was constructed in 1867, however, its parish dates back to 1810 when it was founded with seven members. It was incorporated on March 21, 1822. Talk of constructing a new church began after the parish church, then called the Congress Street Society, burned down in 1863.

The Congress Street Society united with the First Church in 1864. The two parishes combined their resources to build a stone edifice on the site already owned by the Congress Street Society at Woodward and Adams. The location included five lots and was purchased for $8,600. The decision to move to the new location was controversial because the site was considered to be too far north of the urban core. Later the area became known as Piety Hill, clustered with churches from a variety of faiths.

The first building erected on the site was wood frame chapel. The cornerstone of the Central United Methodist Church building was laid on July 3, 1866 and the completed building was dedicated on November 17, 1867. Spanning 100 feet on Woodward Avenue and fronting 190 feet on Adams, the church and chapel cost $136,000.

Gordon W. Lloyd was allowed a great opportunity for originality in the design of Central United Methodist. Unlike other faiths, Methodists were not bound to a traditional architectural concept. Advantageous for both seating and lighting are the broad semi-octagonal transepts. Large gables on the faces of the transepts serve to break up the external mass of the building. An interesting three-dimensional quality was achieved in the structure's design and a strong vertical accept was provided by a corner tower with a broach spire.

The 180-foot spire houses a 4,600-pound bell and cost $3,200 (about $55,000 today, when adjusted for inflation) to build. There is a clock in the tower that has a seven foot diameter dial. The church seated a body of 1,140 people. In an example of Detroit hustle, the church's pews were made from the trees that were cut down on the site.

Central United Methodist was considered an architectural gem of its day and it was praised by the Northwestern Christian Advocate of Chicago. In 1883 the church erected a parsonage on two Adams Avenue lots and in 1892 work continued on the church building itself. The chapel was enlarged and an extensive remodeling and redecorating of the interior was completed. At this time, the church was one of the most prominent in the Detroit area, drawing an average of 600 people every Sunday.

However, Central Church's position in the community changed greatly. When it began at the Woodward and Adams location, it was considered to be on the outskirts of town. Within three decades, it became a downtown church as members of its parish moved to suburban areas such as Brush Park. The church adopted a position that if it were to remain an influence in the community, it would have to adapt to the human needs of the time.

The church's mission was to assist in the social life of Detroit's new arrivals. To fill this need, plans for an expanded church began in 1912. On the site immediately adjacent to the church on the east was erected a six- story building. Designed by Smith, Hinchman & Grylls, it supplied the site of the varied social, philanthropic and religious activities that were an important part of the church's program.

Extensive remodeling of the Central Church annex has taken place over the years. When the addition was completed and dedicated in 1916, there were six retail stores on the ground floor that provided an income used to reduce the indebtedness of the building. The second and third floors were devoted to a Sunday school auditorium that, with its balcony, could seat 2,000 people. Open from the auditorium were various rooms for prayer meetings, class meetings, and motion picture equipment. The fourth floor was divided into classrooms, club rooms, kitchen and pantries. The banquet hall was capable of accommodating more than 500 for dinner. The fifth floor of the Central Church building was devoted to a gymnasium, showers, lockers,bowling alley, hand ball courts, and living space for a custodian.

A grand-scale renovation came to the church in the 1930's. The City decided to widen Woodward Avenue from Adams northward, only affecting buildings on Woodward's east-side, including Central United Methodist Church and St. John's Episcopal Church. The west-side of the street, comprised mostly of theaters, was left intact. Central Church's administration decided it would not be necessary to demolish the building,but that a 30-foot section between the transept and the front of the church could be removed.

The courts awarded the church a settlement of $514,650 in 1932 with which it could accomplish this feat. The exact amount of the property to be removed was 28.4 feet. In newspaper reports of the time, moving of the 183-foot spire and front segment was called an engineering feat unparalleled in the city's history. The 100 by 27-foot section of the church was estimated to weigh more than 2000 tons. The project was believed so perilous that no insurance company in the United States would accept a risk on its success. Finally, Lloyd's of London consented to underwrite the job and the move was a success.

Central United Methodist Church was a leader in demonstrations in support of peace and against war, the arms race, nuclear weapons, and universal military training. These activities, coupled with a church policy that allowed rental of the church hall to any group not seeking to over through the government by force, brought protests to the doors. The church, however, prides itself in adapting to the physical and sociological needs of the City through the years.

In 1977, it was designated a Michigan state historic site and joined the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.

In 2000, the church became a reconciling church, which welcomes all people, regardless of their sexual orientation.

Last updated 30/04/2023