First Presbyterian Church, Detroit c. 1891 (3)
architecture is masonry construction.
In its most familiar form, rugged stone is used, often a granite or
sandstone exterior with brick inner walls.
The resultant durability gives Richardsonian Romanesque buildings
the ability to survive neglect. The
danger to their continued existence is usually financial.
Sometimes there is no function to fund the building’s use.
Sometimes there is a use for the property that funds the
replacement of the Romanesque building.
Therefore, the declining neighborhood and the thriving neighborhood
can both be a threat.
Entrance (3) and detail of patterned stonework (4)
A very resilient
Similar porches at First Presbyterian, Detroit (1) and Shadyside Presbyterian
The red sandstone
structure was massive and well proportioned, displaying that prized
Richardsonian trait: repose. Like
Early interior views of First Presbyterian, Detroit (1) and Shadyside Presbyterian
The interior of First
Presbyterian was strikingly similar to Shadyside’s 1890 sanctuary.
The four great arches in both worship spaces were sprung from a
relatively low height, approximating the effect of a Syrian arch.
The pews on the main floor curved around a worship platform where
the pulpit was placed. In both
sanctuaries, the communion table sat in front of the platform with
presbyter’s chairs to either side. Early
photos of Shadyside do not reveal the location of the baptismal font,
while it is clearly visible on the congregation’s right at First
Vibrant color of Detroit lantern interior (1)
Early proposals from
Shadyside’s architects held out the possibility of galleries in the
transepts. Pictures of First
Presbyterian show how that could actually be accomplished.
At some point, the
galleries were interconnected and joined to the deck above the organ
console. Both worship spaces
were decorated with stenciled walls. In
View of First Presbyterian showing galleries joined and preaching platform (1)
As the importance of
Entrance being moved to accommodate widening of Woodward Avenue (2)
A second threat came to
First Presbyterian more gradually. While
The neighborhood (1)
The new use found for
First Presbyterian of Detroit was perhaps as compatible with its original
purpose as any adaptation could be: a
seminary. The building is now
home to the Ecumenical Theological
Seminary, founded in 1980 in response
to the need for seminary education in metropolitan
It is a happy
circumstance when a historic building survives threats related to economic
decline or economic growth. It
is a happier circumstance when it finds a productive new purpose.
Happiest of all, some buildings’ new purpose directly supports
its original program.
Ecumenical Theological Seminary today (4)
(1) Photos courtesy of Johnathan Roach, Director of Library Service,
Ecumenical Theological Seminary
(1) Photos courtesy of Johnathan Roach, Director of Library Service, Ecumenical Theological Seminary
(2) Wayne State University, Virtual Motor City Project (This source and the one below were kindly brought to the author's attention by Mr. George Launchbaugh)
(3) Detroit Public Library, Burton Historical Collection
(4) Photos courtesy of Anthony Lockhart pinehurst19475