Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church

Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church
Local Historic District

4305 Military between Michigan and Buchanan in southwest Detroit

This local historic district consists of the Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church at 4305 Military near Buchanan.

The first Missouri Synod Lutheran church founded in Detroit was St. Trinity's in 1850. Fifteen years later, Evangelical Lutheran Immanuel Church was organized as the second Missouri Synod Lutheran congregation. That was the parent church for Zion Evangelical Lutheran founded on June 4, 1882 by 51 men from the parent church. They were immigrants from West Prussia, then part of Poland, who moved into this section of the growing city of Detroit. Because of their limited resources, they erected a frame church on this site, which was dedicated on July 8, 1883 and served as their place of worship until 1928. The West Prussian population of this section of Detroit grew very rapidly in the 1880s and 1890s. At its peak size in the 1890s, Zion Evangelical Lutheran's congregation numbered 3,200. At least six other Lutheran congregations in this area of Detroit counted Zion as their mother church. Services were conducted exclusively in German until 1925. This implies that this congregation resisted the rather strong efforts to minimize the use of German in the United States at the time of World War I. With greater prosperity, they contracted to build the church you see, but the Depression slowed construction. Finally, the attractive church was completed in 1933, with services conducted in both German and English. The final service conducted in German was October 6, 1974, so the German language survived for more than 90 years in this part of Detroit. Interestingly, as Mexicans moved to this area, Zion Lutheran experimented with a Spanish language Mass beginning in 1997, but there were not enough congregants to effect the change from German to Spanish.

This is a Gothic Revival church in the cross-gabled style. Typical of many Gothic churches, there is a tall gabled nave with lower side walls extending to a cross-gabled transept away from the Military Street front. There is an arched entrance flanked by the supports. You will see two tracery classical Gothic windows—one in the arch and another at the cross gable. This beige-colored cut limestone was previously used in the Detroit post office and federal building that was demolished in the 1920s. Brick was used for trim.

The parochial school was founded in 1877 and was the oldest non-Catholic parochial school operating in Detroit when it was closed in 1989. You can see the old school building set well back from Military. In 1964 a new school building was built at the intersection of Buchanan and Military. It has been sold to a private academy that operates an elementary school there.

Many religious congregations in Detroit faced a challenge when the white population moved to the suburbs after World War II. Most Jewish synagogues and Protestant churches moved to the suburbs with their congregants. Quite a few Lutheran, Episcopalian and some Catholic parishes remained in the city, although the populations in their catchment areas came to including a primarily African American and large Baptist population. This Lutheran congregation accepted its first black member in 1962. It now serves an largely African American clientele, but will likely seek to fill the spiritual needs of Mexicans if they continue to enter this now depressed area of southwest Detroit.

Architects: Maul and Lenz
Date of Dedication: Mary 27, 1933
Architectural Style: Late Gothic Revival—a classical example of this style
Use in 2003: Lutheran church
National Register of Historic Sites: Not listed
State of Michigan Register of Historic Sites: P4548, Listed February 16, 1989
State of Michigan Historical Marker: Erected March 5, 1990. This is clearly visible on the Military front of this church.
City of Detroit Local Historical District: Listed January 18, 1995
Photo: Ren Farley November, 2003
Website: www.ZionDetroit.org

Return to Religious Sites

Return to City of Detroit Historic Designations

Return to Homepage