God Did It

Photos from January and May 2008.

East Grand Boulevard Methodist Church stands at the major intersection of East Grand Boulevard and Gratiot Avenue, near the Packard Plant and Dueweke Park. For many years I watched the vacant church hoping that a way inside would eventually appear. The wait was much longer than anticipated, so I was extra anxious to check it out.

It was built in 1908, and was originally called the "Aaron C. Fisher Memorial M.E. Church." It closed sometime in the year 2000. During my visit, the church was turning exactly 100 years old. To put it another way, this church was constructed back when the Chicago Cubs won their last World Series.

The church was designed by architect William E.N. Hunter. From this photo you can see several additions were built onto the original church sanctuary over the decades, until the whole complex looked like a walled fortress:

An article in the Detroit Free Press from November of 1928 does a pretty good retelling of the history of the church, which was then celebrating its 35th anniversary. In 1893 it stated, a group of people held a prayer meeting in the home of Peter Bottomley, in what was a newly subdivided corner of the city, not far from where this present edifice now sits, and it was from this original meeting that the church was born.

They met in many places before securing an actual sanctuary of their own, including a store with walls thin enough that they could hear the "clinking of glasses" from the saloon nextdoor. Their first permanent building was a small frame structure at Beafait & Gratiot.

It was not until after the turn of the century that they were able to secure the property at Gratiot & Grand Boulevard to build this brick church. Construction was begun on this structure in 1908, and the cornerstone was laid in a ceremony by Bishop Joseph Berry (who was apparently not the namesake of the nearby Joseph Berry Subdivision?), as well as Rev. Alvin F. Knoblock, Rev. Joseph Ryerson, Mr. Bottomley, and others. Bishop Berry assigned Ryerson as the new church's first pastor (Rev. Knoblock had preceded him as pastor of the previous, temporary structure).

Although I'm sure it was much more attractive in its prime, I was somewhat disappointed by the relative plainness of the sanctuary's interior...based on the exterior, I expected a little more from the interior I guess.

In 1928 the congregation was 1,000 strong, and had already sent 12 young people into the ministry or evangelistic work. A month-long celebration and homecoming was planned for their 35th anniversary, which would feature old pastors of the church, including Alvin F. Knoblock, who left the ministry to become a pioneer in the early Detroit automobile industry. According to a c.1916 issue of the Horseless Age, Rev. Knoblock had been general manager of the Northway Motor & Mfg. Co., whose ruins I wrote about in an older post.

The c.1915 Sanborn map for the area shows the present church labelled as the "Aaron C. Fisher Memorial M.E. Church," with no apparent additions as yet. Looking back further to the c.1910 Sanborn map the same name is listed, but another simple rectangular structure is shown attached to its southernmost corner that was apparently demolished soon after. Plenty of houses already stood on the streets surrounding the church by then.

According to a link I found at findagrave.com (which quotes from The History of Detroit and Michigan by Silas Farmer), the church was named after Aaron Coddington Fisher, who lived from 1820 to 1892 and was president of the Board of Trustees of the Central Methodist Episcopal Church in the 1880s. Apparently there was no relation to the Fisher Brothers of Detroit carriage-building fame.

Sometime in the 1920s it seems the church changed its name to East Grand Boulevard Methodist.

There was lots of colored glass in this church, but no stained glass.

This original-looking chandelier still hung intact from the ceiling, though:

I clipped this interesting little blurb from the August 29, 1931 Detroit Free Press, picturing the current pastor of the church, as well as some words of wisdom and a slice of life from that place and time...

Image from the Detroit Free Press.
...his house at 4463 Field Ave. is no longer standing by the way.

Rev. Harvey G. Pierce (Pearce?) served as as the overseas secretary of the YMCA during World War I before coming to East Grand Boulevard Methodist, the Free Press reported in 1932. Another article from December 1936 said that a new addition to the building containing a chapel for weddings, funerals, baptisms, etc. was recently dedicated, and was "perhaps the only ground-floor chapel amongst Detroit's Protestant churches." The addition of this new wing "realized the dream of current pastor, Rev. Harvey G. Pierce," the article stated. I took a sweet photo of the chapel with a friend's camera, but sadly the photo is lost now.

This next shot shows the empty frame of the stripped pipe organ that once filled this space with sound:

Another significant addition to the church complex was the gymnasium wing, which can be seen at left in this snowy photo:

I assume there was once a school building as part of this church complex, that has perhaps been demolished already.

The combination gymnasium / auditorium strongly resembles the style of auditorium found in most Detroit public schools from this era.

Another Detroit Free Press article tells of how Pastor Frank M. Field was injured here in April 1940 while playing some hoops. He suffered head and spinal injuries "from an accident in the church's gymnasium," but apparently he was pretty tough, since he was only scheduled to be out for eight weeks before resuming his duties at the pulpit. Pastor Field was also still listed as pastor in another article from 1941.

An interesting article in Jet magazine from July of 1961 says that Rev. Woodie W. White was named associate pastor of this church, making him the "first Negro minister appointed to a white Methodist church in the city." What the effects of this appointment were exactly, is not said, but clearly the building did not instantly burst into flames or get sucked into the 11th Level of Hell.

The article does however say that a new white pastor was also appointed at the same time, Rev. John Paul Pumphrey, in a "deliberate effort for the Detroit Methodist Conference to integrate a white church."

Thirteen years later, another minister, Rev. William T. Robinson set a similar historical bar by becoming the first black pastor of an all-white church, in Ann Arbor. He got his start here at East Grand Boulevard Methodist however, in 1969, the article stated. The reverend commented to Jet magazine that "Some Black ministers would view heading an all-white church as the zenith of their career..."
...But I don't. It's no real big thing to me, my family or to my new congregation. Ten years ago, it would have been a special honor, but not in today's times, in light of the accomplishments of the Black movement.
I guess somebody better let him know that the "Black movement" hasn't come quite as far as we would like to think, even in 2016.

I'm not sure what the deal is with the "F"s on these seats, and I originally thought they may have been acquired from a movie theater that was closing down at some point, perhaps to replace aging pews that were original to this building. But now I am thinking that the "F" comes from the fact that the church was originally named in honor of Aaron C. Fisher.

This church is mentioned briefly in the book Chisel Me, Lord!: An Exposition on Spiritual Formation, by Jimmie Davis Compton, Jr.

The inscription on the balcony in the next shot reads, "And you shall say God did it"...

According to one business directory website, the East Grand Boulevard Methodist Church was taken over by the Second Unity Full Gospel Baptist Church which incorporated in February of 1994, and dissolved in the year 2000. I imagine that the church has sat abandoned since that time.

Wow, now here we have some hundred-year-old sh*t right here. Believe it or not, many many Detroit homes and buildings are still running old knob & tube wiring, and fuses like these:

This massive hole in the roof (seen in the next shot) does not bode well for the future of this structure...I doubt Mitch Albom will do a repeat performance of his roof-fixing miracle.

Lots of water damage here reveals the wooden lath behind the plaster:

Through the big rosette window you can look up Gratiot Avenue, and see the twin spires of St. Anthony Church:

And if you look closely in this next shot, you can see the corner of the old St. Anthony's School as wel, which was demolished several years ago:

Let's climb out there, shall we?

A view from a parapet shows the row of attractive houses that stand across the street and which typically line all of East Grand Boulevard:

I had to stay low because a lot of the residents were out on their porches and I didn't want to be spotted.

I love how some of these shots came out...there sure was a lot of that good churchly light available:

Wood...and glass...just as windows ought to be:

A Grinnell Bros. piano, made in Detroit:

I featured the Grinnell Building on Woodward Avenue in an older post.

Notice there isn't even a layer of protective plexiglass on the outsides of these decorative windows:

Under a full moon:

My friend Rob Yasinsac visited East Grand Boulevard Methodist in 2010, and got some better photos. Here is a historical photo of the church from the 1950s, courtesy of the Detroit Historical Society.

Sanborn Map for Detroit, Vol. 8, Sheet 3 (1915)
"Boulevard Church is 35 Years Old," Detroit Free Press, November 24, 1928, p. 12
Horseless Age: The Automobile Trade Magazine, Vol. 37 (Feb. 15, 1916), p. 167
"Methodists Name Negro to White Detroit Church," Jet, July 6, 1961, p. 27
"First Black Named Pastor of White Michigan Church," Jet, April 18, 1974, p. 44
Chisel Me, Lord!: An Exposition on Spiritual Formation, by Jimmie Davis Compton, Jr., p. 20
"Memorial Gifts Furnish Chapel," Detroit Free Press, December 12, 1936, p. 11
"To Speak at 'Y'," Detroit Free Press, January 16, 1932, p. 4
"Where Do You Live?" Detroit Free Press, August 29, 1931, p. 12
"Rev. Field, Hurt in Gym, Returns to Pulpit Sunday," Detroit Free Press, April 20, 1940, p. 8
The History of Detroit and Michigan, by Silas Farmer, p. 1145-1146
"Cornerstone of New Fisher Memorial Church," Detroit Free Press, June 28, 1908, p. 9

Racing to the Bottom

January, 2015.

One of my exploring partners is a Windsor-area native who has since moved to Newfoundland and become homesick, so when he comes back to visit during x-mas, he always wants to go on some cockamamie roadtrip, which I am always more than happy to oblige. This time around Navi and I were headed back to Saginaw, despite some atrocious winter weather beginning to unfurl.

Out of sheer laziness I am going to jump directly onto Navi's coattails for the research on this one, since he already put together a well-done blog post about our day in Saginaw. Normally researchers get pretty cranky about this kind of blatant copy-catting, but I happen to know that Navi is easily bought-off, and his searing-hot Canadian wrath easily assuaged with just a couple 40oz beers.

I hadn't realized that this horse raceway at the Saginaw County Fairgrounds was formerly a baseball stadium that had been partially demolished; I was merely going on a tip from Rattler, a Bay City friend of mine who said that it was here and worth checking out.

According to Navi's research, it also had its origin as a dirt oval track that was built in the early 1900s by the Saginaw Car Club. The auto enthusiasts built a wooden grandstand to accompany their track, and the property was soon rented by the Saginaw County Fair starting in 1913. The original grandstand was demolished and rebuilt in 1920, then replaced in 1941 with the current structure we see here.

This desolate street was almost covered in snow, and the whipping winds made us seek shelter inside the big grandstand building. Neither one of us had had our morning coffee yet as I recall, so this was a pretty harsh way to begin an early Saturday morning on the road.

Following years saw this venue's use as a minor league baseball stadium for various teams. Among them were the Saginaw Athletics of the Michigan State League, who called this field home in 1940. The Saginaw White Sox of the c.1900 International League or the Saginaw Aces of the c.1919-1925 Michigan-Ontario League may have also played here at this venue Navi postulates, but he wasn't able to find any confirmation online.

Navi says that the Michigan State League ended up folding during WWII due to wartime shortages of men and disposable income on the homefront. By war's end however baseball was coming back to Saginaw in full force, and it required the construction of a separate stadium, leaving this property to become the permanent county fairgrounds, which was so well established that it even bragged that it was the "best attended county fair east of the Mississippi," with an attendance of 350,000 over the course of the seven-day event.

Here at the main entrance, I noticed restroom doors that were your old wooden five-panel style, which was a quaint throwback:

The Rust Belt decline of Saginaw also drove the decline of the Saginaw County Fair, which only drew 6,000 attendees in 2001, its last year on these grounds before moving to Chesaning. Even at its new location in Chesaning, the attendance figures only get to about 26,000, perhaps showing that county fairs just aren't as big of a thing as they were back in the old days.

In 1980 the Saginaw Harness Raceway reopened this venue for use as a horse track, although it closed down again in 2005 when the question of allowing "racinos" (gambling on televised races) failed to pass in the Michigan legislature.

Many of the old sheds and other outbuildings associated with the old county fairgrounds have been demolished, and the property is owned by the Saginaw Housing Commission, who are apparently trying to find a use or a market for the parcel. The ideas so far have ranged from selling it to private developers, building low-income housing, or making it a park.

So far it doesn't sound like there is any intent to keep this place around as a venue with a grandstand or racetrack.

Navi says that most of the internet hits regarding this site are oriented toward its history as the county fairgrounds, and that there are many people who miss the fair being here rather than the race track.

Of course I climbed up to the catwalk that led into the press box...

It was a weird, floating sensation being up here.

The rooms were mostly empty, but it was clear that they had been used for broadcasting and other media uses.

It was in this room, housed in the shelving bracket seen here, that I believe the "photo finish" camera was housed:

That would of course be the special camera that was used to determine the results of very close races.

Out to the right you can see that the curved, banked track had become quite overgrown:

This was probably the last standing stables:

Out in the infield, the long scoreboard building can be seen, and what I think is a public housing tower in the distance:

A horseshoe, perhaps a lucky one, that had fallen from its place above a door:

Another media suite:

There was a lot of cable and film developing apparatus still strewn around.

Down next to the grandstand was an area dedicated to the placing of bets and the acquiring of adult beverages...

Inside was sort of a combination of old decor and a fancy modern paint job.

"Gentlemen, place your bets..."

"Gentlemen, hang your coats..."

Results board:

We decided to walk out to the infield, to check out the building that housed the scoreboard.

It was right about here that I was really wishing we had managed to get coffee before trying all this snow-trudgery.


After departing the old fairgrounds, we took a tour through a section of downtown Saginaw that I had not really examined before.

Several fancy old brick buildings stood vacant, but due to the declining weather situation and the fact that we had business to attend to in Midland County, I decided to pass up messing with any of these for now, since everything seemed well sealed.

This was a part of Saginaw that I hadn't really spent any time in before...I wasn't sure how I had missed it.

Deserted streets, in the face of the impending snowstorm...