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.
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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.

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