Reviving the enormous Woods Cathedral in Detroit has been a labour of love for gallerist Paul Johnson. Since buying the abandoned 1919 building two years ago, the founder of the Johnson Trading Gallery has spent roughly $250,000 restoring the former place of worship to turn it into culture hub.
Now, Johnson is hoping a Kickstarter campaign will help take his project over the line. He aims to open a year-long, free exhibition in the space together with LA gallery Moran Bondaroff, starting in June.
‘This building might never be worth the money but it’s more about the events we can have in it,’ says Johnson, who has set up a new company called JTG Detroit Project to spearhead revival works such as this in the city.
His affinity to Detroit is in part down to two artists on the Johnson Trading Gallery stable, Chris Schanck and Jack Craig, who both studied and now live in the city. Drawn to Motor City’s burgeoning arts scene and cache of vacant buildings, Johnson bought the 50,000 sq ft cathedral – designed by architects Carey & Esselstyn – at auction when it didn’t even have a roof.
So far, refurbishment work has focused on making the building (abandoned in 2006) fit for purpose again. There’s now a new roof, as well as a drainage system, to keep the building dry. Some restoration work, including on the cathedral’s ceilings and paint, has also been carried out.
‘It’s a very complicated building due to its dramatic size,’ says Johnson. ‘It’s from the early 1900s and it was built to be extremely strong. That’s why it’s even able to be in this condition.’
Looking down the line, the gallerist wants to put on more year-long shows in the cathedral. Johnson also bought a former car parts workshop at the same auction and one idea is to transform the building into a studio for his gallery’s artists.
A lot of work lies ahead but for now, Johnson is focused on getting the cathedral hall ready for the opening exhibition with Moran Bondaroff. Further refurbishment will happen as the JTG Detroit Project grows.
Adds Johnson: ‘This building is going to last forever, if someone takes care of it.’