Shaping Saginaw: The Career(s) of William T. Cooper

“During this period of his life Mr. Cooper was, to the public, a successful and rapidly developing business man who made a place for himself in the lumbering industry. But throughout this period another side of his life was developing as well and gradually becoming the primary interest of his career.”


[Saginaw Daily News?] May 12, 1933


Saginaw City Hall

Born in Detroit 1851, William T. Cooper’s training for his career – or more accurately we should say two careers – foreshadowed the dual work paths he would follow. According to his obituary, after attending public schools, he continued his education at Bryant & Stratton Business College and studied architecture under Detroit architects J.V. Smith and Malcolmson. He moved to Saginaw to take a position as a bookkeeper with Eddy & Avery. He would hold similar positions in the Tittabawassee Boom Company and with two or three other lumber companies before he became a partner in Cooper & Avery. (His business partner, Waldo Avery, was a Detroit businessman.)


His obituary noted:


“[A]fter coming to Saginaw, he retained his interest in this profession [architecture] and devoted much of his time to it, maintaining an office in his mill. As his successful career was developing, he was taking the utmost advantage of the opportunities it offered him for contacts with the architectural profession and it was not long before he was being consulted in many of the principal building projects in the city.”

Gradually architecture, claimed his interest to the exclusion of other phases of his career and he devoted more and more time to this profession until it became his principal activity.”



L to R - Hotel Vincent and Masonic Temple


While we are unable to identify his first architectural projects, we know that by the early 1890s, he was able to obtain several major commissions and his listing in the 1893 Saginaw City Directory noted that he was an architect. His early buildings included the Saginaw Club dedicated in 1890, the Hotel Vincent, the eastside Masonic Temple, Bearinger Building and Saginaw City Hall.


The Cooper family home in the 1000 block of South Jefferson Avenue was destroyed in the fire of May 20, 1893. He designed a new home for his family and several of the other homes that still define the streetscape of the 1000 block of South Jefferson.



Wiechmann Building, Saginaw Club, Vincent Hotel, Manuel Training School, Armory and Auditorium


His son Harry R. Cooper joined the firm after studying architecture at the University of Pennsylvania. The firm he formed with his son continued to design major buildings in Saginaw and other cities. These buildings included the Municipal Auditorium, the Armory, the Court Street office of the Bank of Saginaw, the Burt Manual Training School, the Pere Marquette Depot in Bay City and many more. After his son’s death in 1914, W.T. Cooper formed a partnership with Frederick Beckbissinger (we featured a Facebook post about Beckbessinger work earlier this summer). Cooper retired in the 1920s and passed away in May 1933.

Many of his distinctive designs still help shape Saginaw. Over the next couple of weeks, we will have some short videos looking at some of his buildings.

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The Castle Museum and History on the Move are supported in part by awards from the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs and the National Endowment for the Arts.

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