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


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