This interesting building is a footnote in Detroit’s rich architectural history. I believe that it is the only church designed by the city’s most accomplished and famous architect, Albert Kahn. He did it while collaborating with two other architects. Albert Kahn, Alexander Trowbridge and George Nettleton were working in the offices of the very well-known Detroit architects George Mason and Zacharias Rice. Trowbridge and Nettleton had formal training as architects but Albert Kahn began as an office boy working for George Mason who recognized his talents and encouraged him to become first a draughtsman and then an architect. Kahn spent 1891 touring Europe to study that continent’s classical architecture. In 1896, Nettleton, Kahn and Trowbridge decided to establish their own firm. Their first major commission was to design a Children’s Hospital on St. Antoine Street supported by Detroit’s most famous distiller, Hiram Walker who produced his whiskey in Windsor. That hospital has been demolished.
The Nettleton, Kahn and Trowbridge firm designed this church for a Presbyterian congregation. It is an attractive but rather modest brick church, quite small is size compared to the huge Catholic churches that were built nearby in the following two decades. Limestone trim complements the brick work. There is an impressive limestone entrance. Perhaps the outstanding feature is the tall bell tower with its crenelated roof line. This may be the only Nettleton, Kahn and Trowbridge design left intact in Detroit.
The firm that designed this church came to an end in 1897 when Trowbridge left to become dean of the architecture program at Cornell University. Trowbridge had an architectural degree from Cornell and taught architecture there for years. Interestingly, his grandson served as Secretary of Commerce during the Lyndon Johnson administration. Kahn and Nettleton worked together until 1900 when Nettleton died. There are quite a few Kahn-Nettleton buildings standing in Detroit. Kahn designed many residences, numerous famous factories, libraries, schools, synagogues, a lighthouse and a flag pole. However, I do not know of any other churches that he designed.
The first Presbyterian congregation in Detroit was organized in 1825 making the Presbyterians the third Protestant denomination in the city. The Episcopalians and Baptists preceded the Presbyterians. Land for the church you see was purchased shortly before it was constructed.
By 1925, plans were underway to erect the marvelous Jefferson Avenue Presbyterian Church designed by Writ Rowland, one of the city’s most impressive religious structures. That congregation purchased the Bethany Memorial Church in 1925 and, I infer, closed the church shortly thereafter. Later in the 1920s, the Presbyterians rented this church to the First Church of the Brethren of Detroit. That congregation purchased the church in 1939. In 1952, they moved away and sold the church to Holy Romanian Orthodox Church. Then, in 1977, it was sold to the current congregation, Zion Progress Baptist Church.
Zion Progress received considerable press attention in the fall of 2013. Bishop Allyson D. Nelson Abrams had served as pastor for five years, the first woman to hold that appointment. She had been married to a man. However, in October, 2013 she announced to her congregation that she had married Diana Williams in Iowa—where same sex marriages were permissible—in May, 2013. Some members of the Zion Progress congregation were not pleased by the second marriage of their pastor. Bishop Abrams either resigned or was forced to resign her appointment at Zion Progress as well as her leadership position with the Council of Baptist Pastors of Detroit and Vicinity.
Sometimes we overlook the innovations of religious leaders. A popular, perhaps charismatic, priest in Washington—George Augustus Stallings—had many disagreements with the hierarchy of his Roman Catholic diocese. In 1989, Father Stallings decided to weaken his ties to the formal Roman Catholic Church. He established an Afro-centric Catholic church with the name Imani Temple. His church is now located on Capitol Hill. His actions are somewhat similar to those of Detroit pastor Reverend Albert Cleage who founded the Afro-Centric Shrine of the Black Madonna denomination now located on Linwood. Ms. Diana Williams holds the title of Bishop Emeritus in the Imani Temple church.
Architects: Alexander B. Nettleton, Albert Kahn and George W. Trowbridge
Date of Completion: 1897
Description of church in report of the Historic District Advisory Board:
City of Detroit Designated Historic District: This church is within the West Village Historic
District designed by the city.
State of Michigan Registry of Historic Sites: Not listed
National Register of Historic Places: Not listed
Photograph: Ren Farley; June 14, 2014
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