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Book pays homage to Detroit’s sacred spaces

October 9, 2012

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This interior image of First Congregational Church in Detroit — which was dedicated Dec. 13, 1891 — shows its original cruciform chandelier and its large ribbed vaults.

Even with neighborhoods crumbling in ruin around them, Detroit’s glorious historic churches can be seen rising from the rubble like a saint ascending to heaven.

These marvels of art, architecture and spirituality are chronicled in word and image in “Detroit’s Historic Places of Worship,” a new book from Wayne State University’s Painted Turtle division. Color photographs by Dirk Bakker capture interior and exterior details from 37 significant houses of worship built between the 1850s and 1930s and covering eight religious denominations, including Saint Anne in Corktown, Mariners’ Church on the Detroit River and the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament in the Boston-Edison area, along with places like the former Temple Beth-El — now home to Wayne State University’s undergraduate Bonstelle Theatre.

The book was compiled and edited by Marla O. Collum, former historic review officer for Detroit and now a grants manager for the National Trust for Historic Preservation in Washington, D.C.; Barbara E. Krueger, a folk arts research associate for Michigan State University Museum’s Michigan Stained Glass Census and a founder of the American Glass Guild; and the late Dorothy Kostuch.

Krueger, a stained glass artist who lives in Hartland, will discuss the book and stained glass windows in local churches during a free program at 7 p.m. Oct. 17 at the Woods Branch of the Grosse Pointe Public Library. Entitled “The Art and Architecture of Stained Glass,” Krueger said by email that her presentation would include images from Europe and Michigan, as well as from the book.

The book itself has a long history, having been in the works for nearly 20 years and having gotten recent backing from a crowd-sourcing campaign on www.kickstarter. com. The project was launched by Kostuch, a former cloistered nun who became a professor of art history at what is now the College for Creative Studies in Detroit. Her specialization in medieval architecture led her to teach a class on historic Detroit churches. Kostuch began working on the book with Lucy Hamilton, co-author of “Discovering Stained Glass in Detroit,” and she continued her research after Hamilton’s death in 1996.

Kostuch was joined by Collum and Krueger in 2000 after the latter pair graduated from Eastern Michigan University’s historic preservation program. When Kostuch herself died in 2005 after a long battle with cancer, Collum and Krueger, as the preface says, “intensified our efforts … so that this book would be available to the thousands of Detroiters who lived for and loved their churches.” They dedicated the book to Kostuch.

“Churches and synagogues have played a crucial role in Detroit for generations, providing vital community services that hold together entire neighborhoods in stability and relative peace, despite the challenges of an economically and racially divided urban environment,” Michigan Historic Preservation Network Executive Director Nancy Finegood wrote in a blurb for the book. “Many of these sacred places are of unique architectural and historic significance.”

As the city undergoes new development, especially along Woodward, Finegood continued that this is “an ideal time to heighten awareness of the magnificence of these sacred places.”

In an email interview, Krueger said she grew up in California, near Fresno, “in the Sierra Nevadas, halfway between Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks.” She wasn’t a churchgoer as a youngster — she said there were no churches nearby — but she got involved in this project because of her interest in and knowledge of stained glass.

“Every building had many talented people work on them, from the architects to the stonemasons, the wood-carvers, the muralists, the stained glass people,” Krueger said. “If you stand in one of the churches and look at the enormity of them and close your eyes and try to visualize (them) being built, it will boggle the mind.”

As someone who wasn’t raised in metro Detroit, Krueger said she found it interesting to realize that Detroit’s demographic changes didn’t start in the late 1960s as popularly believed, but as early as World War I, before current zoning regulations were instituted.

“People wanted open spaces and to be away from all the noise and hubbub of the growing industrial activities,” she said. As a result, early congregations built new churches further up Woodward, or along Gratiot, Jefferson or Grand River, Krueger said.

Detroit’s factories lured a variety of ethnic groups, who all erected their own houses of worship.

“Now, for the most part, the third and fourth generations of these congregations have moved to the suburbs and the lovely Detroit churches are struggling,” Krueger said.

“Detroit’s Historic Places of Worship” will, fittingly, help to preserve the past. Krueger said profits from sales of the book would be donated to the nonprofit Detroit Historical Society and their monthly historic church tours. The seven boxes of research for the book — which includes material on some churches the authors considered but didn’t include — will be given to the archives at Historic Trinity Lutheran Church in Detroit, she said.

The Woods Branch of the Grosse Pointe Public Library is located at Mack and Vernier, next to Parcells Middle School. For more about the book, visit books/1036/Detroits-Historic-Places-of-Worship.

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