Historic Structures

Bay City City Hall, Bay City Michigan

Date added: April 29, 2011 Categories: Michigan City Hall Romanesque Revival

In 1889, during a booming period of growth and expansion, the citizens of Bay City found that their City facilities were antiquated, cramped and insufficient to serve the needs of a then very quickly growing community. In 1860, the population of Bay City had been only 800. By 1889, the population was over 35,000, Thus the new city needed new facilities. It was planned to build a new building which would serve a combination of purposes. It would be a city hall, a police station and a public library.

On April the 1st of 1889, a public vote approved the selling of $40,000 in City Bonds to cover construction of the new facility. Originally there was a squabble over the site to be selected. In addition to the site which finally won out, other sites under consideration included the corner of Center and Jefferson, which is now Battery Park, and the block of Washington between Fourth and Fifth Streets. There were bitter fights over this, including at least one veto by one of Bay City's mayors. However, the site was finally selected and purchased for $8,500.00.

In January of 1892, plans submitted by the architectural firm of Pratt & Koeppe were approved. They called for the structure to be of red or brown limestone with a black slate roof. Later economy moves changed that to the famous red tile roof and buff Amherst sandstone.

The boom period of 1889 turned into a recession in the early 90's, and as costs escalated, it was necessary to go back for three further votes of the public and for authorization from the State Legislature for authority to sell bonds. Because of the depressed economy of the times, the project won public support by providing substantial employment in the community. The City Council required that all workers for contractors be from Bay City, and that all materials, so far as possible, be purchased from local firms.

On May 30, 1894, the cornerstone of the building was laid with much public pomp and ceremony. The 180-foot bell tower was substantially constructed during 1894. At that time, the City had a 6,000-lb. bell cast by a Baltimore firm for the tower. The bell cost approximately $1,000.00 at a time when copper sold for 15 cents a pound. Final cost of the entire building was $164,385.89.

Credit for the building was given at the time to Alderman Kroencke, who was the first to champion the cause of a new building and formulate measures for construction. He also led the public fights for approval of the various bonding issues.

On March 22, 1897, the Common Council held its first meeting in the new structure.

The building faces east onto Washington Avenue and measures approximately one hundred twenty by two hundred feet. The basic construction material used in both the interior and exterior is Michigan Sandstone with granite and limestone used frequently in the arches and window lintels. There is a tiled gable roof with prominent central gables on each side. The building contains four floors, A tower, also built of sandstone, is attached to the southeast corner and is approximately one hundred eighty feet high. It contains a clock with separate dial faces visible from each direction. Both the clock tower and the building are readily visible to people coming into Bay City from any direction.

The exterior is characterized by the use of rounded arches over windows and doors and the use of windows in groups. The overall effect gives the structure form and unity. The main entrance is framed by a double Romanesque arch at the base of a large central gable and is decorated with an elaborate bas-relief worked in stucco. Directly above the main entrance is a porch framed by four smaller Romanesque colunms. Single Romanesque arches are used over the doors on the sides of the building.

The building has four main floors; the layout of each is for municipal office use. The first floor at one time contained a police lock-up. This space has been remodeled to house the City's computer and data processing equipment. The second floor is the location of the Commission Chambers. This is a magnificent, three story tall meeting room. Fresco work has been repaired and reglazed, and decorative painting restored. A large tapestry hangs in the restored area. Third floor contains several office rooms, many have refinished fireplaces, all have oak woodwork. When the building was designed, space on the fourth floor was left unfinished. This floor was not used until 1980 - after the building was completely renovated.

There is an attic or fifth floor - this space contains ductwork, fire protection lines, electrical equipment and large amounts of insulation. A crawl space beneath the first floor received new plumbing lines, ductwork, fire protection systems and electrical wiring.

A highlight of the building is a central stairwell stretching from the first floor to the fourth floor. The stairway has two flights with one landing between each floor and features elaborate cast iron baluster topped with a brass handrail.

The central skylight over the main stairway has been rehabilitated, and the glass is now an insulating reflective glass to conserve energy.

The oak paneling all through the corridors has been stripped and refinished. Paint colors were selected to duplicate the original colors.

The original boiler was replaced with two new efficient boilers; and the boiler room, on the first floor, is packed full of fire pumps, air conditioning equipment and electrical switch gear. Two new mechanical rooms on the fourth floor house huge air handling units.

There are additional floors in the clock tower. The public is allowed on Floors 6 and 7 to view the City. The inoperative original clock was replaced with a new clock and carillon system with funds collected from a fund raising campaign in 1976.

During a day long "open house" held on May 18, 1980 approximately 10,000 people toured City Hall to see this successfully revitalized monument.