Luther Place Memorial Church is a neo-Gothic church built in Washington, DC in 1873 as a memorial to peace and reconciliation following the American Civil War. Its original name was Memorial Evangelical Lutheran Church and it was designed by architects Judson York, J.C. Harkness, and Henry Davis. It is located in Thomas Circle near its namesake, a statue of Martin Luther. The statue is a replica of one in Worms, Germany, which was given to the church in 1884 by the German emperor William I.
Luther Place was built in 1873 by architects Judson York, J.C. Harkness, and Henry Davis. The church, like many others, resembles the shape of a ship, symbolizing a vessel for God's work, and it is well known for its stained glass windows picturing twelve reformers: Gustavus Adolphus, John Huss, John Wycliffe, Philipp Melanchthon, Martin Luther, Martin Luther King, Jr., Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Harriet Tubman, John Knox, John Calvin, Huldrych Zwingli, and John Wesley. The church's exterior is covered with red sandstone from the Seneca Quarry, the same quarry that provided the stone for the Smithsonian Castle.
The church was dedicated as a symbol of healing after the Civil War. In 1904, Luther Place suffered damage from a fire, leading to restoration of the church and a renewed energy and celebration of its mission. President Theodore Roosevelt spoke at the restoration ceremony, saying, "The Lutheran Church is destined to become one of the two or three greatest churches, most distinctly American."
In 2007 the interior of the sanctuary was extensively restored.
In the years after the fiery devastation along 14th street following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King in April 1968, Luther Place began to consider its property and location as an opportunity to help minister to the wounded of the city. In 1970, the church called a new pastor, John Steinbruck, who had served an intercity neighborhood in Easton, Pa. Spurred by his leadership, the congregation began transforming dilapidated row houses on N Street into what became a smorgasbord of faith inspired programs (Bread for the City, Deborah’s Place, Zacchaeus Medical Clinic, Sarah House, Bethany Women’s Center, Dietrich Bonheoffer House, Abraham Welcome House, the DC Hotline, etc.) to help bring healing in the community. A multidenominational religious community led by Luther Place, with a Protestant, Jewish, and Catholic coalition (ProJeCt), gradually created what was to become known as N Street Village. A critical step along the way was Luther Place’s opening of its church doors to the homeless in the cold winter of 1976. Critical self-understanding of the early Luther Place and N Street ministries grew out of the rich traditions of Judaism and the New Testament tradition of welcoming the stranger, the outcast, the excluded of society. The diverse interreligious and secular base of supporters continues to this day, as people of many faiths and no faith come together in service to provide hospitality and shalom (peace with justice) to homeless women at N Street Village. All who believe that it is our responsibility to “act justly and with love and compassion” (as taught by the prophet Micah) can find common ground in service to N Street Village.
John and Erna Steinbruck, together with Luther Place congregation, founded N Street Village and created a vision and a challenge to the wider community that stirred wide volunteer and financial support. In the late 1980s, Luther Place and its partners initiated a capital campaign to both add a permanent night shelter at Luther Place and to build a new complex across N Street to house the scattered continuum of programs for homeless women that had evolved on and near the block. The multi-year effort raised $19.5 million in capital gifts and government grants, loans, and low income tax credits. Luther Place made its land available for the construction of the new N Street Village and a complex public private partnership was formed to meet the requirements of the government’s low income tax credit program. Through dedicated and persistent leadership, numerous development obstacles were overcome and in December 1996 we celebrated the opening of a grand new facility that included Promise Place housing the continuum of programs for homeless women and Eden House, 51 apartments serving low and moderate income individuals and families. This facility along with the Luther Place Night Shelter formed the core of N Street Village until the recent year when two additional programs were brought into the Village; Miriam’s House for women with HIV/AIDS and Erna’s House, permanent supportive housing for homeless women. This comprehensive set of programs now serves approximately 1000 women per year, estimated to encompass 63 percent of the adult homeless women population in the city.
In 1979, Luther Place founded the Lutheran Volunteer Corps - an organization that places young adults as volunteers with social justice oriented non-profit organizations. It is now a national program which places nearly 150 volunteers in 16 cities. More than 2000 young adults have served in LVC and have gone on to become pastors, doctors, leaders in social justice programs, and similar callings.
In 2001, the Steinbruck Center for Urban Studies was created as a means of educating others about the work of Luther Place and N Street Village. It is named for John and Erna Steinbruck.