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Entering the Castle Building in 1898

The fact that we can celebrate the 125th anniversary of the Castle Building is a testament to a vigorous, grassroots effort to save the Saginaw landmark - one that divided families into opposing sides. When the Federal government agreed to keep the building, the victory came with the full understanding that the building would be greatly expanded and altered, and the work be undertaken in a manner conforming with the preservation philosophy of that period – the idea that additions and alterations should attempt to seamlessly blend with the original building. When the building was rededicated in 1937 with fanfare, ceremony and justly deserved public acceptance, it was both clearly recognizable and familiar yet vastly altered.

Photograph of Castle Building during the summer of 1936. While most of the Federal Avenue façade remained intact, less than half of the building dates to 1898.

Originally there were two public entrances, one was in the center of the Federal Avenue façade and the other faced South Jefferson Avenue. Both entrances were fitted with elaborate doors with linen fold patterned panels and flanked with ornate gas fixtures. The expansion of the building resulted in the construction of two new public entrances, both facing Federal Avenue.

Details from 1898 blueprints of Jefferson Avenue and Federal Avenue Entrances.

Detail of plan for 1937 remodeling indicating the removal of 1898 Federal Avenue entrance.

During the remodeling, the entire west wall of the building was removed – this included the vestibule that served the Jefferson Avenue entrance. (Some vestiges of the foundation walls for this vestibule are still visible in and around the lower-level men’s restroom.)

The 1898. Federal Avenue entrance was centered in this façade. The stairs, doors and light fixtures were removed. The opening was reworked, and a window was installed. The work was nearly seamless; however, marks on the pilasters hint at the original placement of the gaslights.

In relocating the public entrances, the architect for the expansion, Carl Macomber, was able to preserve the character-defining towers and rooflines, yet create a circulation plan that made the building easily accessible to the entire business district. (Today, building preservation standards focus on the retention of original materials and the idea that additions should respect the original design but reflect the time in which they were constructed.)

The careful reader of this article may have detected a clue to our next 125th-anniversary post in one of our photographs: What was the Castle Building originally called?


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