Save the "most architecturally significant building" of Alma, Michigan


Michele Racioppi


Docomomo US staff


Threatened, Advocacy, Frank Lloyd Wright, Michigan
Image details


The original church building, then known as Saint Mary of the Immaculate Conception, was completed on the site in 1906. A school was built in 1950 and by 1967 the clergy decided a new church was needed. Long-time Frank Lloyd Wright associate William Wesley Peters, who had recently designed a private residence for church member John Hiemenz, was commissioned for the job. As noted in a recent newspaper article, "design of the church incorporated the Wright belief in human dignity and respect between humans and nature," and the church was "built on an angle into the earth to symbolize how humans are rooted to the earth."

The church is notable for its curved walls and sweeping cone-shaped roofs. The plan of the church is made up of a series of interlocking circular modules, while the rectory is contained within an L-shaped wing that extends from the rear of the building. The exterior walls of the church are made of concrete block that has been painted pale yellow. The overlapping edges of the concrete blocks give the walls a patterned or textured appearance. The rear wall of the church is punctured by a series of small square windows that contain multi-colored panels of stained glass. A patterned copper fascia extends around the perimeter of the sanctuary and rectory creating continuity between the various functional spaces. (Building description courtesy of Michigan Modern)


In 2017 the church ceased use of the building citing concerns about the condition and the cost of repairs. At that time, the Saginaw Diocese called for a feasibility study to determine whether to preserve the building and at what cost or to raze it. In 2021, moldy carpet and rotted wood were removed, and since then the custom pews, part of the original design, have also been removed. The church leadership is now seeking to demolish the building. Local groups including Docomomo US/Michigan are advocating to save it. Docomomo US/Michigan, the Michigan Historic Preservation Network  and Brian Conway, former Michigan State Historic Preservation Officer, have all issued letters to the Diocese and Parish making arguments for its preservation and potential for adaptive reuse. Currently, the building is not listed on the National Register, and Alma does not have a protective ordinance established under the State’s Enabling legislation, Public Act 169 of 1970, as amended. Thus, there is no local historic district commission or any designated local districts, which could be used as a basis to ask the city to delay demolition. 


Docomomo US/Michigan letter

Michigan Historic Preservation Network letter

Brian Conway letter

What you can do 

  • To get updates on the latest preservation efforts, like and follow the Facebook page "Save Alma, Michigan's Frank Lloyd Wright based Church." 
  • If you want to help by expressing your opinion on this, please do so by writing to the people listed below:
    Deacon Rick Warner/Director Parish Life (*Key Decision Maker)
    St. Mary’s Church
    220 W. Downie St.
    Alma, MI. 48801 

    Most Reverend Bishop Robert Gruss
    Bishop of Saginaw
    Diocese of Saginaw
    5600 Weiss St.
    Saginaw, MI 48603-2762

    Jim Grace/Financial Council Chair
    St. Mary’s Church
    7214 N. Luce Rd.
    Alma, MI 48801

    Zack Durocher/Parish Council Chair
    St. Mary’s Church
    220 W. Downie St.
    Alma, MI. 48801

    For cc’s, consider the following:
    The Morning Sun (local newspaper)
    311 East Superior Street
    Alma, Michigan 48801
    Rick Mills, Local News Editor
    Or use the portal: 

    Alma College:
    President Jeff Abernathy
    Alma College
    614 West Superior Street
    Alma, Michigan 48801
  • Reach out to or consider joining the local Docomomo US/Michigan chapter to see how you can help with preserving the state's significant Modern architecture.


"Praying for Preservation: Supporters of Iconic Church Hope to Save Landmark," Gratiot County Herald, July 20, 2023.

"There Is So Much Worth Saving: Architect Holds Out Hope after Reviewing Condition of Former Alma Catholic Church," Gratiot County Herald, August 3, 2023.

"Fate of historic Alma church still undecided," Morning Sun, January 21, 2020.

Church of Saint Mary listing on Michigan Modern website

Docomomo US will continue to follow this issue and share any updates.