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Finding Purpose Amidst Tragedy

S. Davis and Company Advertisement: “It’s An Ill Wind that Blows No Good.”

Inset Wyckoff, Ewen & Co. Advertisement

In the days and weeks following the May 20, 1893 fire, the papers were filled with advertising directed towards those who would need to replace homes, furnishings, clothing, and countless other objects. For some people, it was an appropriate time to start a new business – especially those who could help with the rebuilding efforts. Both Spence Brothers, a Saginaw-based contractor, and Clarence Cowles, a local architect, trace their roots back to the days following the fire.

Clarence Cowles moved to Saginaw in 1893. The first advertising for his services appears in Saginaw papers in the days following the fire of May 20, 1893. He practiced independently, until 1908, when he joined with George Mutscheller to form the firm of Cowles and Mutscheller.  In the first decade of the 20th century, Clarence Cowles produced designs for a number of substantial private and public buildings. Although he employed many different historically inspired styles, his work is characterized by structural innovation and imaginative manipulation of space.

A 1915 article declared, “This firm has designed 1,600 buildings since its inception. They are unquestionably the leading architects in this part of the country and have been remarkably successful.” 

In the teens, Cowles and Mutscheller designed some of their finest buildings.  They progressively moved away from historical revival styles and developed a personal style based on the American Arts and Crafts Movement. In the late 1920s, the office produced designs for major buildings in the Art Deco style. After the death of George Mutscheller in 1936, the office closed.

A few examples of the firm’s work:

St. Mary's Cathedral, 1901 601 Hoyt Street
  • Residence, 732 S. Warren Ave. Saginaw, MI 48607

  • Schust Bakery [Art Sample Furniture], 1740 N. Michigan Ave. Saginaw, MI 48602

  • Comfort Station at Forest Lawn Cemetery

Mershon Wittier Natatorium (Westside of Johnson Street Bridge, Demolished)


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