Visitation Catholic Church, founded in 1919 on 12th Avenue was part of the northward expansion of Detroit in the early 20th century. Like nearby St. Agnes Catholic Church, Visitation used several temporary locations while a large school on Webb was built in 1920-21, and a permanent place of worship designed by Carey and Esslestyn was finished in 1925. A parish house was built across the street from the church, and a large sister’s home for the nuns was built along 14th street.
Visitation church and school, known affectionately as “Visy” by its members, was a fairly progressive church for its time. Long before the reforms of Vatican II, Visitation was taking a slightly more liberal and multicultural approach to its services. At its peak in the 1940’s and 50’s, Visitation served more than 3,500 families. In 1951, the parish built a large recreation center just south of the sister’s home on 14th. The center had a full gymnasium, a six-lane Olympic swimming pool, bowling alley, and handball courts. It was the only parish recreation center of its kind when it opened.
Like St. Agnes, Visitation began a downward spiral in membership in the 1960’s as white flight took hold. During the riots of 1967, Visitation nuns set up a food depot for displaced residents. The parish school closed in 1967, but the school building became home to a consolidated school with St. Theresa called St. Martin de Porres High School. While St. Martin de Porres would become one of the better-known Catholic High Schools in Detroit, it moved out of Visitation in 1980 as the neighborhood around the church continued to decline.
With declining membership and a large, underused facility, Visitation spent many years under the fiscal microscope, staying open only by the strenuous efforts of its leaders and dwindling congregation. In 1983 the Detroit Archdiocese announced that it was closing the Visitation church building, demolishing the vacant school, and moving services into the small chapel of the sister’s house on 14th Street. The last service in the original church took place on July 31st, 1983, with 500 past and present members in attendance. The next day, the church was sold to a new congregation – Woods Cathedral Church of God in Christ.
Woods Cathedral was founded in 1942 by George Piccard in a small church on the corner of Dequindre and Caniff Streets on the east side of Detroit. Originally named Dequindre Church of God in Christ, it was part of a larger black Pentecostal movement that had originated in the south and moved north in the 1920’s and 30’s. In 1959, church leadership shifted to Dr. Amos L. Woods, a native of Tulsa, Oklahoma who would guide the church until its closure.
In 1965, the church was forced to move by the construction of Interstate 75, spending a few years on 12th Street just south of Visitation before buying a storefront on Harper Avenue in 1970. Those years on 12th Street must have made an impression on Pastor Woods, as when word spread that Visitation would be closing, he immediately began efforts to buy the church, though his congregation numbered around 100 members. Letters were sent out to prospective members, businesses, and local organizations, outlining ambitious plans to use the church as a base for job training programs, substance abuse treatment, and helping the poor. After extensive fundraising, Dequindre Church of God in Christ bought Visitation in 1983. It took a further three years to bring the church into working order, opening on July 27th, 1986. Prior to the opening the congregation voted to change the name from Dequindre to Woods Cathedral, reflecting the investment of Dr. Woods into his church.
Visitation Catholic Church continued on in the chapel of the sister’s house, holding services and maintaining the recreation center until 1989, when the parish was formally disbanded. It’s unclear when the recreation center closed, but it was demolished between 1999 and 2002.
By the mid 2000’s, Woods Cathedral was struggling as well. The church closed sometime between 2006 and 2008, the last year that the church submitted an annual report to the state of Michigan. During that time, the copper roof was stripped off, leading to heavy water damage in the sanctuary. The church later became the site of rave dance parties in 2008 and 2010, leading to even more damage. Most of the materials inside the church were broken or dismantled in 2012 by two California artists who used them as part of an art installation project.