First Church Built in Ferndale Set for Demolition
(Crystal A. Proxmire, Dec. 3, 2014)
The church on the corner of E. 9 Mile and Bermuda will be gone before it reaches its 100th birthday. After years of contemplating a feasible use for the deteriorating building, the owners have decided to move forward with plans to demolish it and redevelop the property from scratch. The City of Ferndale approved the demolition permit and the church will likely be gone by the end of the year.
Noah Dorfman of Northstar Properties said that he and his family had been hoping to find a use for the building that incorporated the structure and history, but that “the building is just too far gone.”
What is best known as St. Paul’s United Methodist Church was the first church built in Ferndale, having been completed in 1920. The traditional brick building with the white trim and tower has been a focal point in Downtown Ferndale, serving several congregations over the years but also sitting vacant off and on for several years.
“We’ve taken maybe a hundred people in there over the years to look at it, for clubs or other businesses, but as soon as a structural or electrical engineer comes in they say it’s not worth it,” Dorfman said. “The building is obsolete. It was not taken care of well. When we purchased the property it was in shambles. To bring it up to code would cost much more than its worth.”
Dorfman’s family also owns Lofts on the 9 and Torino, which are right across the street. They purchased the church property in 2008. He said they are not sure yet what they want to build on the property, but they are researching options. “We’re taking this one step at a time,” he said. “Hopefully people will be confident. We’ve developed property that we maintain well and fits with Downtown Ferndale. We want to build something that will draw people to the east side of 9 Mile.”
He understands the feelings of those who will be sad to see the church go. “Like most things in the world, change is hard. But this short term loss is part of a long term plan that will create something beautiful for everyone,” Dorfman said.
The City of Ferndale’s Development and Building Departments worked alongside Dorfman in trying to come up with ideas that might save the building. Ultimately though the City had no reason to deny Northstar the demolition permit, since it is private property.
Joseph Gacioch, Chief Innovation Officer and Acting City Manager of The City of Ferndale released a statement explaining the changes:
“The City recently received a permit application to demolish the former church building located at the corner of Bermuda and E. 9 Mile road. The demolition of the property, which is privately owned by Northstar Properties, is slated to take place by mid-December.
“The permit request was subject to a review and site inspection by the City’s Community and Economic Development Department (CED). While the building may be deemed to be of local historic significance, the City’s code of ordinances does not include a mechanism, such as an historic district provision, that regulates changes to exterior architectural features of buildings or the demolition of buildings by private property owners. Notwithstanding the code, the CED remains a willing partner in working with property owners to find ways to repurpose structures if it fits their vision. The Developers have indicated that the razing of the property is the first phase of site redevelopment, though no plans for the site have been submitted to the CED for review.”
The Ferndale Historical Society will be meeting in the next few days to compose a statement, but they too have no legal authority over the building.
In 2010 the Downtown Development Authority worked on a Wayfinding Project that resulted in the colorful historical markers around the 9 Mile and Woodward area. The marker in front of the church gives a bit of history, but the report compiled for the project goes into even more detail about the building’s past:
“The Evangelical Association was the first church founded in Ferndale. The congregation began meeting in 1916, in a storefront on Woodward Avenue as the “North Woodward Mission” of the Evangelical Association.
In 1917 the state affiliation, the “Church Extension Society of the Michigan Conference of the Evangelical Association of Bay City, Michigan” purchased lots at the corner of Nine Mile Road and Bermuda and constructed a wood frame church, called “The Tabernacle.”
It was used for village meetings and events, including war bond sales drives, Red Cross activities, and the school’s physical education training.
In 1920 the present brick building was constructed. The wood frame building was moved to west on what are now parking lots and used until 1927 by the City of Ferndale police and fire departments.
The congregation continued the tradition of hosting community meetings as well as the congregation’s services and events in the new church. The Ferndale Kiwanis Club met in the building for 50 years.
In 1946 the Evangelical Association merged with the Church of the United Brethren in Christ at a national level. This was followed in 1968 by a national merger with the Methodist Episcopal Church to form the United Methodist Church. The Ferndale church was renamed St. Paul’s United Methodist Church.
In 2003 the congregation was dissolved and the United Methodist Church sold the building to the Jeffries Baptist Church, a Detroit congregation. They subsequently sold the church in 2008 to a private owner.”
Dorfaman and his family are still exploring the possibilities. “We love the feel of Downtown Ferndale and we love the people who work for the city. The lofts have stayed full since we began leasing them in 2009. Torino is getting national attention. And now we can do something more that will be just as exciting.”
First Church Built in Ferndale Set for Demolition