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PART II.

1860-1890

part ii.

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8 Central United Methodist Church 23 East Adams Avenue dedicated November 17, 1867 architect Gordon W. Lloyd architect of 1936 alterations Bruce Werner

Widening of Woodward Avenue in 1936 necessitated moving the church back twenty-five feet (Burton Historical Collection)

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C

entral United Methodist Church organized in 1810 and is considered the birthplace of Protestantism in Michigan. After being located at several small sites closer to the river, this church strategically decided to move to the northeastern rim of Grand Circus Park. The park is now a historic district with forty commercial buildings,

many by noted architects and the major nucleus of the 1807 urban plan of Judge August B. Woodward. Immediately adjacent to the huge parking lot for Comerica Park and Ford Field and across the street from a thriving entertainment district, Central is only a stone’s throw from Saint John’s Episcopal Church and, as such, part of what was known as the first Piety Hill area of churches of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Like many other churches on Woodward, this church was altered in 1936 as a result of the widening of this main boulevard. The church is Gothic Revival in style, with the primary building material of light gray regionally quarried limestone. As with other Detroit churches, Central has dark limestone trim on the doors, windows, finials, turrets, and buttresses. The square four-stage tower with steeple on the corner is quite imposing, along with the large multilancet window that fronts onto Woodward Avenue. The clock in the tower has four faces whose dials measure seven feet in diameter and still chimes every hour and half hour just as it did when the church was first dedicated in 1867. In 1916 when a new fifty-rank Skinner organ was purchased, it completely filled the small chancel. Thus the choir and the organ became the background for the pulpit and altar until the total reconstruction of the building in 1936–37 when the congregation decided to move the church back when Woodward Avenue was widened. During this process the church was closed for ten months, during which time the congregation used the parish house for services. Engineers developed a unique solution in that the narthex and tower were first physically separated from the nave. Then two sections of the nave totaling twenty-eight feet, one at the west end of the nave and one at the east end, were demolished, leaving the central crossing intact. This crossing was then moved to the east against the old chancel and the tower and


Exterior view from across Woodward Avenue

central united methodist church

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Interior view with unusual arches as a result of the move

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central united methodist church

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narthex were rolled up to connect with that portion. In the basement one can see the rails inserted to move the building, but on the exterior it is very difďŹ cult to see any evidence of the relocation. During all of this the chancel was increased by those twenty-eight feet, thus allowing for the altar to be raised and to include carved oak choir stalls, baldachino, reredos, lectern, and pulpit. All the wood carving was done by master carver Alois Lang. The paintings of the twelve apostles on the arch of the altar wall are by Detroit artists and twin brothers Elliott and David Skinner. Because twenty-eight feet were removed from the nave, there were major changes to the interior, although they are not readily apparent. Today the diagonal walls of the transepts and the shortening of the nave translate into an interior space that is nearly octagonal, with a curved balcony that ows around the sanctuary. The multiple angles and different roof levels of each transept are gathered like the folds of a pocket handkerchief and touch the ridge of the nave roof. Overhead in a paneled, coffer-like ceiling are 230 iconographic symbols painted by Detroit artist Thomas di Lorenzo. In 1950 the church decided to replace the original grisaille stained glass windows because of their poor condition. Willet Studios of Philadelphia was selected to design the new windows, each fashioned in a pictorial style contained within medallions of deep blue and brilliant ruby red glass. The great west seven-lancet window, dedicated in 1955, contrasts the evils and virtues of the contemporary world. In 1961 the ďŹ rm of M. P. Moller rebuilt the organ, creating a new four-manual console and adding additional ranks of pipes, enlarging Interior painting by the Skinner brothers

Portion of west stained glass window detail

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Detail of painted ceiling

the organ to 73 ranks. In 1975, the Moller ranks were revoiced to blend with the remaining Skinner ranks. The last major restoration of the organ was in 1991 by Roger Mumbrow, who restored the Bombarde rank, rebuilt and reinstalled the harp, and replaced the swell principal with a larger scale rank. In 2004, a zymbelstern was added to the organ by Renaissance Pipe Organ Company, and this company maintains the instrument to this day. The organ now stands as 4,220 pipes, 73 ranks, and 59 stops. During World War I, responding to the city’s rapid growth and changing needs, the original 1865 chapel just to the east of the church was replaced by a six-story parish house designed by the Detroit architectural firm Smith, Hinchman and Grylls. Here is space for the Sunday school, an auditorium, meeting rooms, offices, and a gym. From an 1802 barn loft in the farming community of River Rouge to circuit riders spreading the word of Methodism to a location in central Detroit, the ministry of Central has not changed over the years. They are committed to “transforming the world from one of war and violence to one of peace and justice” and to sustaining outreach programs in central Detroit. ■

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Detroit's Historic Places of Worship (Excerpt)