No Weapon That is Formed Against Thee Shall Prevail

Tucked into a quiet corner of Detroit's east side was this old burned up shell of a Victorian-era church that once was home to a German Lutheran congregation. It's covered in crappy vinyl siding now, but beneath that mask of fakey modern junk lies a classic example of old Teutonic craftsmanship...albeit hopelessly decayed.

On the sign it is called "Everybody's Universal Tabernacle Church of Holiness," followed by a quote from Isaiah 54:17. On the Sanborn maps of the city from 1897 this structure is labelled as the "German Lutheran Bethany Church." I had a feeling it was even older than that though, but the c.1884 Sanborn maps don't show this area because it had not yet been annexed into Detroit at that time. Mt. Elliott was the city limits back then.

The Sanborn maps from 1922 label this church as the "Bethany Evangelical Lutheran Church (German)"...just like the "Colored" churches marked on old Sanborn maps, it was apparently important to keep track of what churches were owned by minorities, such as those crafty 'krauts. Jewish establishments were typically annotated this way as well. The original address was 896 Meldrum.

An article from 1889 says that this church was started as the "Bethania Evangelical Lutheran Society," founded in 1886 as a mission chapel of the Historic Trinity Lutheran Church, the mother church of Detroit's German Lutherans. This permanent structure was finished and dedicated on November 10, 1889.

The map marks this church as having an 85-foot tall spire...I'm sure it used to be taller and was reduced, but for this little church to have an 85-foot spire sounds excessive, and especially vainglorious for a church full of efficient, conservative Germans. The c.1897 map shows a "German Lutheran School" across the street, and behind it is another "school."

Okay, so the interior is a little messed up, in a morbidly enchanting sort of way. In fact, it would rank as a top contender for "ruin porn photo spot of the century" if it had burned a little sooner so that the Marchand & Meffre types could have made it in. It is still on the ruin porn flavor of the month tour, locally speaking.

I admit that this is certainly a spectacular disaster.

To give you an idea of how long ago this church was built, there was a toll gate on Gratiot Avenue, just north of here. Imagine having to pay a toll to use Gratiot—on a horse no less! The architects of this church were the D.&H. Griese Co. from Cleveland, but the masonry and carpentry work was done by Lang & Harcus, of Detroit.

The first pastor was Rev. Robert Smukal, a former Detroiter who was stationed up in the Upper Peninsula at Iron Mountain prior to being called back for this assignment. The original congregation embraced about 42 families, with some of their names being Dau, Koch, Tietze, Hauck, Maul, Schroeder, Ahrends, Leverenz, Moench, Nalow, Wassmund, and Bauer.

Oh boy, it looks like the artsy photographer crowd has already made it in here...tattered vintage chairs positioned "ironically" next to a decayed grand piano, and a bouquet of fake flowers nearby was all the evidence I needed to see that this was fap central for 101 overly staged melodramatic shots featuring huge, gaudy watermarks. I could still smell the scent of burning HDR in the air...

Back to the c.1922 map. The "Church of Our Savior Lutheran Mission for the Deaf" was shown located in a separate structure in the alley at the rear of this church, fronting on Pulford Street. Of course that building isn't there anymore, and the Bethany Evangelical Lutheran School was once located across the street from the church.

Also across the street stood the Bethany Evangelical Lutheran Church Hall, which contained a bowling alley and pool room in the basement, a gymnasium and kitchen on the main floor, and a meeting hall on the 2nd floor. Of all three of these ancillary structures, none now remain standing.

Only a block away from here is the First English Evangelical Church (which I explored in an older post), the old Hudson Aerocar Plant, the Pfeiffer Brewery, the Faygo Beverages Plant, as well as several other small early automobile industry plants like Huppmobile and Columbia Motors, including Michigan Stamping Co. Since this area is pretty close to the old Belt Line railroad corridor, it is near many of the east side's important early industrial sites.

Scanning further on the c.1922 Sanborn map, I see that someone three doors down from the church had turned a 10'x15' section of their garage into a pattern shop...sounds just like a German, heh. The shop's address was 3652 1/2 Meldrum, facing the alley. It must have been quite a time to experience the Motor City back then, in those days of tinkering and innovation.

If you recall from a few years ago, I explored another old German Lutheran church like this one on the city's east side that was also built in the Victorian era, St. Petri's Evangelical Lutheran Church.

This area was the foyer near the front entrance of the church.

After the German Lutherans moved on, a new congregation formed here under a woman who was believed to have been the first ordained female bishop in Michigan, according to an old Free Press article. Bishop Theodoshia Hooks, popularly known as Mother Hooks, was a prominent member of Detroit's black community and a pillar of its religious community. Hooks founded Everybody's Tabernacle Church of Holiness in 1940, and brought it here to this location at some point soon after that.

Image from

Bishop Hooks was also one of the founding members of the historic Little Rock Baptist Church on Woodward in 1936, and she lived at 1314 E. Willis Street.

In 1957 Sister Hooks was invited by her friend Rev. C.L. Franklin (the famous civil rights leader and father of Aretha Franklin) to lead services at the 11th anniversary celebration of his leadership of the historic New Bethel Church on Linwood. According to an excerpt from a book by author Nick Salvatore, this was considered to be an unusual move, both because Bishop Hooks was a woman, and because she was a Pentecostal. Having a woman in the pulpit was considered offensive to some traditionalists, not to mention many Baptists disdained the Pentecostal sect, according to Salvatore. Nonetheless, Sister Hooks preached at the event.

Bishop Hooks had a radio ministry that was on the air for 25 years, and introduced "a wealth of gospel talent" to the area, including Sam Cooke, Mahalia Jackson, the Soul Stirrers, and the Flying Clouds. Hooks had quite a reputation as a humanitarian, and as an open person that anyone could go to for help; she took in so many wayward kids in her life that her friends later claimed that she personally "reared at least three generations from infancy to adulthood." She was even once honored by President Franklin Roosevelt as bishop of the year.

When she passed away at age 83, her funeral service took place here in this church on June 22nd, 1981.

Everybody's Tabernacle Church of Holiness used this building for at least 50 years, which is about the same amount of time as the original German Lutherans used it. I saw a "donations wanted" ad in the November 1990 Free Press talking about how they needed a PA system and an organ for the church at the time.

I've come across a lot of abandoned pipe organs in a lot of abandoned churches; this ranks as one of the more impressive.

The organ pipes were all probably stolen for scrap; if they had been purchased by a pipe organ restorer, then I imagine the wooden ones would be gone too, but they are all still in there, falling all over the place:

I originally surmised that the cause of the fire was arson, as it looked to my untrained eye like there were ignition points in three separate corners of the building and that the fire climbed inside the outer walls to the attic. The unofficial story however is that it was ignited by an ember landing on the roof from a house fire that the DFD was already fighting one block away.

video on Youtube shows professional footage of the firemen responding to the church fire. In the description it says that when they arrived they attempted an interior attack, but could not get to the center of the fire in the attic in time. The chief pulled the men out and called for a second alarm. As the roof collapsed the firemen resorted to the "surround & drown" tactic, opting to focus on saving the occupied house next-door instead of the vacant church.

Speaking of the neighbors, how would you like to live in the house next to this wreck and have the view from your bedroom window be the inside of this charred church?

Considering the rapidity with which these old wooden Victorian buildings burn up, it's amazing that there's anything left of the place at all. Just goes to show how fast and how well the DFD responded.

I decided to make a trip up into the steeple.

This decorative wooden bannister was singed, but still intact.

Look at this massive timber framing! I love these old Victorian structures because they were built back then with gigantic wooden beams—practically whole tree trunks—instead of relying on steel:

This kind of lumber is just not around anymore, not since the great old-growth forests of Michigan were chopped down (incidentally right around the time this church was built). Today's lumber is young, green, warped, and of skimpy dimensions. Having bought and restored a Victorian house of my own, I now appreciate what real carpentry is all about.

The view from the top was not bad at all; looking east, I can see the old Pfeiffer Brewery a couple blocks away:

The totally singed rafters in the belfry, still holding together somehow:

Back down in the sanctuary my colleagues were still working on their tripod shots, so I decided to venture into the basement.

I discovered that the church only had a partial basement, and that the foundation was brick, on top of field stone:

This reinforced my hunch about this church being older than the c.1897 Sanborn mapping of this area. I'd say that anything built on a fieldstone foundation in the city could certainly be older than 1897, and this church, as well as some of the houses around it, could have been built in the 1880s or 1870s before this area was annexed into the city of Detroit. Of course, having done more research, I now know that this church was built in 1889.

Part of the altar still remains, toppled against the rosette window behind it.

In a bathroom was the only other place i was able to find much of the surviving original windows:

This place must still have been in use after September 2013, since the Bible passage quoted on the sign out front at the time was from Proverbs, 30:5, and it was changed to Isaiah 54:17 at some point after that, so it could only have been vacant a couple years before the fire.

"...And every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn."

Sanborn Maps for Detroit, Vol. 2 (1884)
Sanborn Maps for Detroit, Vol. 4, Sheet 91 (1897)
Sanborn Maps for Detroit, Vol. 4, Sheet 99 (1922)
"Their New Church," Detroit Free Press, November 10, 1889, p. 5
"Mother Hooks, Believed to be First Ordained Woman Bishop in State," Detroit Free Press, June 22, 1981, p. 3C
"A Very Special Catalogue for Giving," Detroit Free Press, November 23, 1990, p. 4E
Singing in a Strange Land: C. L. Franklin, the Black Church, and the Transformation of America, by Nick Salvatore, p. 200

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