During the first decade of the twentieth century, the Pere Marquette Railroad Company built several new passenger and freight depots. One of those was the Bay City Depot. Designed by Saginaw architect William T. Cooper and constructed by local contractors, the Bay City Depot incorporated many of the typical features of contemporary depots in a style also characteristic of the time period. Not as resplendently high-style as other depots of an earlier time period, the Depot's exterior evidently did not impress the city aldermen or the local press when it opened in March of 1904. The Bay City Evening Times was faintly scornful, writing that "The exterior, with its tile roof, and odd surroundings, presents a quaint appearance and many will probably say upon looking at it from the street, that it is not good enough for this city.."
While the exterior design was not impressive to the locals at the time, the interior drew praise for its "comfort, convenience, and accommodation." On the first floor, a two-story waiting room (now the 1904 Room) dominated the south half of the building. Mosaic marble tile covered the floor, while the walls were wainscoted with Italian white marble with contracting deep-red painted frescoing above. An elongated octagonal ticket office constructed of quarter sawn oak was set into the bay window on the west side. Adjacent to the waiting room were a gentlemen's smoking room, a ladies' lounge, and adjacent toilet rooms, all "luxuriously furnished." Beyond theses was the staircase, centered in the tower, and undecorated baggage room at the northern end of the building. The second floor provided offices and a vault for the Pere Marquette Railroad and the Detroit and Mackinac Railroad, and featured wood wainscoting and painted plaster walls. The building was heated with steam heat and wired for electric. The Bay City Evening Times believed it to be "the finest equipped, in these features, of any passenger depot in the state."
The Pere Marquette Railroad Company continued to operate the Bay City Depot until 1937, when the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad Company acquired all of the Pere Marquette properties in Bay City. The C&O and Pere Marquette formally merged in 1947, but by this time rail travel was sharply declining with the post World War II boom in road transportation. By 1951, the Bay City Depot was boarded up and unused, and in August of 1951, the second story and attic were damaged by a fire accidentally set by children exploring the abandoned building.
In 1953, the Depot was "renovated" for use by the Greyhound Bus Company as a "modern" terminal. The tower above the roofline, the canopy, and the porte cochere were removed, the clay tiles replaced with asphalt shingles, and the rails and sidings removed to make way for a concrete parking lot. Several windows were converted to door openings and vice versa. A second floor was inserted into the two-story waiting room, damaging the decorative frieze.
After the Greyhound Bus Company vacated the building in 1969, the former Depot remained empty and unused for 38 years, victimized by vandalism and a fire that further damaged the original waiting room. Periodically, private and public entities proposed adaptively reusing the Depot, but none of the options were implemented. Proposals to demolish the Depot, listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982, met with resistance from local residents, who wanted to see Bay City's last remaining passenger train station rescued.
In 2003, the Great Lakes Center Foundation purchased the Depot with the intention of restoring it to house local non-profit tenants. Restoration of the Depot was designed to adhere to the Secretary of the Interior's Standards for Rehabilitating Historic Structures, and began in the spring of 2007. The tower, canopy, and porte cochere were recreated, door and window opening returned to their original configuration, and the two-story waiting room restored, complete with recreated ticket office. The remainder of the interior was rehabilitated to provide office and support space.
In June 2008, the Pere Marquette Depot had new tenants move in for the first time since 1969. The Bay Area Community Foundation is located on the second floor and the Bay Commitment College Resource Center is located on the north end of the first floor. The beautifully-restored Waiting Room area is available for event rentals.
*History and explanation of the Pere Marquette Depot prepared by Quinn Evan Architects, Ilene Tyler, FAIA, and updated by the Bay Area Community Foundation, June 2008.