Detroit sues owner of intentionally burned historic church over cleanup

Remains of the First Unitarian Church.
Remains of the First Unitarian Church.

Salim Kemenko wasted no time demolishing the charred remains of the First Unitarian Church in Detroit after it was intentionally set ablaze last month.

First UnitarianSoon after the fire gutted the vacant, 124-year-old Romanesque Revival building along Woodward near downtown, Kemenko ordered his demolition crew to topple the final stone walls even as darkness settled in.

But since then, the pile of crumbled red bricks and stones has laid untouched, creating an eyesore along Woodward.

Photo Gallery: Suspicious blaze guts historic church

Tired of the mess and the danger it poses to the public, the city of Detroit filed a lawsuit against the property speculator this week, ordering him to clean up the debris and cordon off the area near Brush Park.

First unitarianArson investigators believe the fire was intentionally set because of how quickly the blaze spread. Less than two minutes after smoke was spotted, flames were bursting through every window of the red rock-faced church when the first fire engine arrived.
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Video: Watch the church blaze as firefighters arrive

The building, which was largely protected from demolition because it was on the National Register of Historic Places, is adjacent to the future site of the Red Wings arena and adjoining entertainment district. Kemenko also owns property just south of the church.

We couldn’t reach Kemenko for comment.

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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