Near Boston-Edison, a modest brick church with a long history has been brought back to life. On Thursday, March 5, the building on Rosa Parks Boulevard will reopen as the Congregation, a coffee shop, bar, and community event space.
The redevelopment seeks to bring a useful amenity to the community as well as revive a place that had been vacant since 2014. The current owners, who all live within walking distance of the building, bought it in 2016.
An important part of the redevelopment is paying homage to the church’s history. First opening in 1920, it’s housed several congregations over the last 100 years. It was also just a block away from the infamous intersection of 12th and Clairmount where Detroit police officers raided a blind pig which is said to have started the 1967 Uprising.
The area around Boston-Edison in particular experienced a great deal of unrest—a photo taken at the time shows National Guardsmen being unloaded from a troop transport just outside the church. Despite some destruction around it, the church suffered little damage, according to co-owner Betsy Murdoch, who has been researching information about its past.
“A lot of what we learned was from immediate neighbors who attended church here until the very last service,” she says.
Murdoch says they’re currently collecting past photos for a potential montage or display at some point.
As part of the redesign, architect David Iannuzzi of Iannuzzi Studio tried to retain as much of the building’s church-like elements and historic features as possible. In the main 2,500-square-foot space, originally the nave, a number of components were retouched or restored, including the vaulted ceilings, stained-glass windows, wood paneling, light fixtures, and pipe organ near the raised altar. Several items were also repurposed, like the pews converted to bar countertops, the window lintels that are now around the doors, and other sections of stained glass that will become transoms.
But of course the space also had to be inviting. “We wanted it to feel like an extension of your living room,” says co-owner Betsy Murdoch.
The cafe has an open feel with no wall barrier between the cafe and beverage prep area, and comfortable sofas and wood tables. The large and central arched window was uncovered with double-pane glass installed—the space now fills with light during the day. There’s also a large wood deck with stairs and a ramp that will have outdoor seating and programming in the warmer months.
For a building so grounded in place, it’s a good sign that the response has been positive to the reopening. “People are excited that the space is no longer empty,” Murdoch says.