Morning fire guts historic Woodward church near downtown Detroit

First Unitarian
All photos by Steve Neavling

A ferocious fire tore through the historic and abandoned First Unitarian Church of Detroit near downtown this morning, gutting the 124-year-old Romanesque Revival building.

When firefighters arrived shortly before 6:30 a.m., flames were bursting through every window of the hulking church, raising suspicions that an accelerant may have been used. Firefighters called for an arson squad, which took more than two hours to arrive.

First UnitarianFirefighters spotted black, billowing smoke coming from the Brush Park area while they were extinguishing a nearby car fire.

Witnesses said homeless people often slept inside the church at night but it was unclear this morning whether anyone was trapped inside.

Firefighters were limited by low water pressure.

The church is a block north of the new Red Wings arena and entertainment district that is being built between Midtown and downtown.

The interior of the red rock-faced church was largely made of wood, which helped feed the fire.

The church is a state-designated historic building with limited protections against demolition.

The church was first used by Unitarians in 1890 before it was passed off to at least two other congregations.

First Unitarian

Steve Neavling

Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.

  • DimestoreLiam

    Obviously nobody commenting here has lived in Detroit long enough to remember that not quite 20 years ago the exact same thing happened to old St. Patrick’s, right around the corner at John R & Adelaide. That church was designated historic also, and the fire was suspicious for several obvious reasons. As far as I know, there was never any investigation, and the lot was quickly utilised for part of the absolutely hideous apartment/town house complex which was built on that block. Downtown Detroit used to be an absolutely wonderful place to live, but between the vicious, carpet-bagging suburbanite Duggan administration and all the hipsters & yuppies & other assorted neo-colonialist scum who benefit from the sickeningly destructive & outrageously racist social engineering carried out by it, my beloved city, the only home I have ever known (Cass Corridor, R.I.P.), is slowly turning into hell on earth, and turning those of us who lived here before it was hip & trendy & safe for white suburbanites (and their oreo-cookie friends) into homeless refugees…

  • ever1seen

    488 W. Willis Apt. 409 gone forever, home man

  • ever1seen

    are there any grocery stores in the corridor? The STATE owns everything now

    • Dust Buster

      when the majority of the locals get their handouts from the state/government they dont get as much say

  • ever1seen

    This breaks my heart, I love detroit, that Church, and I plan to come
    back when my mission is accomplished (taking care of elder Dad) I think
    I’ll arrive really pissed off I don’t get it what is going on man?

  • John T. Feret

    How can you say this fire at a vacant church that is practically across the street from the shiny new arena about to be built is suspicious? There’s nothing to see here, folks!

    In other news, once the city pays to clear the land, get ready for a gravel parking lot. Or perhaps a pizza joint that makes pies that taste like gravel parking lots.

  • Nya

    Sounds like foul play to me….

  • rick

    Look at google maps and it’s not hard to figure out why this happened. Someone wanted to get around the historic designation. Which developer wants to take advantage of the new hockey arena? Mike Illitch/Olympia? Someone on the DDA board? Who owns the land next to the church? If Detroit owns the land, the city council should not approve its sale…ever! Instead, it should be made into a park. Don’t let the arsonists win!

    • pikkdogs

      I work in the building next to it, it is a seminary. While we probably won’t miss an abandoned building next to us, I can tell ya that whoever did it it wasn’t us.

  • Sizz

    This “entertainment district” just keeps getting bigger and bigger.