Woodward Presbyterian Church, or rather St. Curvy, has a story like many churches that once thrived in the American mid-west. Founded in 1908 with a membership of 163, it was tasked to serve the north part of the city. With the Reverend Sherman L. Divine at the helm, the church began to seek money and land to build their church. The land the church still sits on today was donated by Mrs. Tracy McGregor. The firm of Sidney Rose Badgley & William Nicklas was hired to design the church. Construction began late in 1908, and by the time the cornerstone was laid on the 1st of January, 1910 the membership had expanded to 742.
Designed in the English Gothic Style, the church was unique even today, the sanctuary was octagonal, the pews curved as was the second floor balcony, and rising up to a lantern-style dome. The front entrance flanked by two square towers, and a two story Sunday School wing at the rear. The sanctuary also housed a massive pipe organ constructed by the Stevens Organ Co. from Marietta, OH. The Church was dedicated on the 25th of June, 1911.
The church soon became a focal point in the community, staying open seven days a week. It was known as a safe place for the local children to come, meet, play sports, and learn. Reverend Divine’s preaching became widely admired, and membership ballooned to 1,500 by 1913. However Divine would not last the year, and stepped down after rumors of an illicit affair with a married choir member forced him out. But the church survived, serving their country through the first world war.
Following the War the church expanded it’s mission both locally and abroad, and by 1931 had a membership of 2,000. But then things started to go wrong. By 1937 extensive repair work was needed to both the exterior and interior of the church, while the work was completed and the money raised the effort was difficult. The Second World War took its toll as well. By the 1950s the cultural and ethnic makeup of the city changed, as the white flight began sweeping through the city, the new black families that moved in just weren’t used to the stuffy style of worship practiced, and by ’58 membership had dropped to 1,100.
By 1971 the numbers had dropped to only 404, and thoughts of closing the church came to the surface, but in a last ditch effort in 1981 the congregation of The Church of the Convent (another struggling Presbyterian congregation) was merged into Woodward, and their pastor, Reverend Gary M. Douglas was installed as the minister. As Douglas continued, his style of preaching began to lean more towards the Baptist style and in 1993 he petitioned the Presbytery of Detroit to split off from the Presbyterian Church. His petition was granted and he took charge of his new church, Abyssina Interdenominational Church. Despite this shift, the congregation never stabilized or grew, and when Douglas died in 2005, the church shut down also. Today the church still suffers from this loss, in a state of limbo, passing from owner to owner, no one able to foot the restoration bill for this 100 year old building that has been targeted by scrappers and vandals since 2009. It was featured in the film Alex Cross in 2011 and an attempt to secure the building was made following the filming, with little effect.
Special Thanks to DetroitUrbex for the background on the church!
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