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Go inside historic Detroit church built in 1911

'St. Curvy' church lives on in Detroit

DETROIT – The Woodward Avenue Presbyterian Church, known as "St. Curvy," has been closed since 2005 - but it's far from forgotten. 

Given the nickname "St. Curvy" for its curved balcony, the church has lived through Detroit's toughest times.

The church first opened in 1911, located on Woodward Avenue between Pingree Street and Philadelphia Street. Read more about the church's history below from HistoricDetroit.org.

Sidney Rose Badgley, a prominent church architect, designed the church in a modern English Gothic Style.

Its most distinguishing feature is a tall octagonal lantern that rises from the center of the roof that is flanked by twin, low towers that frame the church’s gabled entrance. The lantern-dome-crowned church is Badgley’s calling card, and the Woodward Avenue church is among his finest works and a unique landmark.

In July 1940, the church’s nearly two thousand members unanimously approved the Rev. Herbert Beecher Hudnut as pastor of the church.

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The church’s “congregation was what I’d call upper middle class,” said the Rev. Roy Peterson, a retired Presbyterian minister who served in metro Detroit for nearly three decades starting in the mid-1950s. “Management, professionals, people like that.” Wilber Brucker, a governor of Michigan from 1931-1932 and U.S. secretary of the Army from 1955-1961, was a member of Woodward Avenue.

Into the 1950s, and especially through the 1967 Detroit riots, the city began to lose population.

In 1951, the church had 1,552 members. By 1961, it had 950 – and by 1971, its congregation had dwindled to only 404. More than eighty-five hundred people had been members of the church since it opened.

As the city became more racially integrated, the congregation’s composition changed with it. Hudnut led “very traditional Presbyterian services for that time,” Peterson said. “His style would not have attracted black Presbyterians, so there was no way that church could survive as a neighborhood church. … The only churches that survived were those who relocated or had substantial endowments.” Hudnut left Woodward Avenue in 1965.

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In 1981, two Detroit churches merged, with Rev. Gary M. Douglas Jr. being selected as the first black minister at the church.

The building limped along until Douglas’ death in 2005 and then became locked in court battles over Douglas’ estate and the church and his widow. In the meantime, and holes in the roof started eating away at its wooden floors and the plaster in the sanctuary.

The building also became a victim of theft and vandalism, and its organ pipes were scrapped in the fall of 2009. In November 2009, the Cathedral of Praise Baptist Church acquired the building and plans to renovate the building. Its pastor, Kenneth Brock, said he plans to restore the sanctuary to its original splendor and have its first service in July 2010, though there was still much work to do by that May and the church hasn’t lined up sufficient funds for what will surely be a multimillion-dollar project.

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“We have a vision for this building, and the lord has given us a vision for this building and this neighborhood,” Brock said. Making the renovation financially viable “is going to be by faith.”

Lamented Peterson: “It grieves me to see, not just Woodward Avenue, but to see all these churches that have declined. It’s heartbreaking. But Presbyterians here have been known to be worshippers of their God, not their buildings.”

Read more about the history behind St. Curvy here from HistoricDetroit.org.

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