Chicago & Saginaw Comparison- Contributed by Courtney Quackenbush

Potter Street Station at night

Many people don’t think of downtown Saginaw to be home to many things other than abandoned homes and a not so great safe place to live. Historic architecture would be the last thing people would imagine. Last semester I was given the choice between a couple of projects in the History of Michigan at Delta. My final choice was exploring seven Michigan landmarks; the best part was that I got see places in my hometown that I never knew even existed.  Flint & Pere Marquette Union Station otherwise known as Potter Street Station became my obsession and my favorite place that I got to visit. Even though you are not able to get inside due to the condition of the building, you are still able to view the amazing building’s architecture. This building is late Victorian Style done in all rich red color bricks which is still very bright today along with the terra cotta tile and limestone trim. When going to first see this building I never would have imagined it to be so grand and as large as it was. Two and half stories tall and around 285 feet by about 40 feet, this building is the show stopper on this street. In 1881, when the station was built the building had maple hardwood floors along with fireplaces in the waiting rooms. The first floor of the building was the waiting rooms for the passengers of the trains, while the second floor was used for offices and also homed four vaults. The extra space above that was used to house the janitorial items.  The reason that this building was built was so that there was a railway from Pere Marquette to Flint. During the time that this building was built it was past the civil war time and towns and establishments wanted a look of wealth so buildings were being built to be grand over the top to show that they were better than everyone else. When the train would make stops at the station it was supposed to be a vocal point and make people want to make a stop in town to see what else the town had to offer. Sadly however as time went on using a train as method of transportation became a thing of the past. The station closed in 1986 and then was bought by the Saginaw Depot Preservation Corporation in 1989. In 1991 the city of Saginaw proposed that building be torn down soon after the building became a landmark, this meant that it could not be torn down. After an arson fire that same year, the roof of the building was considered a complete loss and had to wait until 1998 to be completely fixed, all thanks to grant money. This building may not be known to many residents of Saginaw but is a great building to have as a way of showing the town’s history.


The Rookery


In Chicago this is the place to have your wedding reception or huge event. The Building that I chose in Chicago was the Rookery. Built in 1888, the Rookery was built after the great Chicago fire and was meant to house the Central Safety Deposit Company.  This building took three years to build and was known as one of the grandest buildings of its time. In 1972 the city of Chicago deems the Rookery an official Chicago landmark. After a hundred years the building is bought up and is in the hands of an owner who promises to preserve the historical building have it adapted to current times. This building now features lights all around the building to show off the historical architecture. This building was built to be grand and huge to show that the city was coming back for the fire and was coming back stronger than ever. Not only did the building look great but it was also build to continue to be great, with steel frame and iron rails so that way the building would be sound for years to come. The building is based on a Romanesque architecture style, with all of the winding staircases and marble on the main floor. The building was a sign of wealth and the height alone would make you think that. The building has so many little details that show the craftsman shift at the time and how much effort it was to make this building as grand as it is. From the shapes of the windows to the columns on the sides of the buildings it shows so much of the Romanesque style. The building is open to view but only on the first floor but the views when you look up are amazing (or unless you sneak in the elevator when no one is looking.) From the pictures that I have seen I can only image what it must be like to see what the building actually looks like in person on the other floors.

Inside the Rookery

While both building are both beautiful pieces of architecture in my mind, they both share some similarities along with some differences. The first and most obvious is location. Chicago is more know city than Saginaw is and I think this has something to do with the type of buildings that I chose. I know that Chicago has a train station but it’s nothing compared to the way Potter Street looks. Saginaw also has nice buildings but they are hard to compete with the Rookery. Both building were built in the 1880’s and had some similar architectural points. Both buildings were tall and were meant to be a place for people gathering. While the Rookery was considered a sky scrapper at the time and was meant for a business purpose and the Station meant for train goers and wasn’t nearly as tall as the Rookery. Both buildings were done in deep rich colors, one in red and one in brown along with both using Terracotta tiles in their designs. The Rookery had beautiful columns while Potter Street had chimneys. The Rookery stands in a city that does pretty well for its self and is still in use by the people of the city. Potter Street station is in a town that has seen better days (and will see them again) and is now longer much of an asset to a whole lot of people in it community. All and all both buildings are great pieces of history and architecture.

Potter Street Station

Work Cited



6 thoughts on “Chicago & Saginaw Comparison- Contributed by Courtney Quackenbush

  1. Hi Courtney,

    It is amazing to see buildings like the Potter Street Station and the Castle Museum (Tommy’s post) because it is easy to forget that Saginaw was a flourishing city with some serious money to flaunt. It is sad that these architectural remnants can be easy to overlook. I love train stations because they are literally the gateway to a city. People came from outside and the scene they saw while exiting the train was their first impression of a city. That train station would have been a powerful first impression. As beautiful as it is, it still imparts a powerful impression but the neglect sends an equally loud message. I believe that this building would have been as arresting as the Rookery in its youth.

    Do you remember making a paper heart as a kid? You fold the paper in half and cut a curve that comes to point, open the paper up and have a heart? I love that both buildings are so symmetrical. You could draw a line down the center of each and fold them in half. Their halves mirror each other. Maybe that is the draw for me.


  2. Hello Courtney,

    I love old train stations they can be so grand. It is heartbreaking to think about all that beauty that is just disappearing. The station must have been so grand at one time. It is gorgeous now, of course, but in it’s prime it was probable breathtaking. I always like to think about all the emotion a building has “seen” as well.

    The Rookery was beautiful too. I liked the inside and the outside of the Rookery. I wasn’t expecting it to be so bright inside of the building. The inside was a very nice surprise. I also like the rooks in the stone, very funny.


  3. Hey Courtney, I agree that finding a nice architectural site in saginaw is sorta like finding a diamond in the rough. Your post made me question if the saginaw township is involved in arsons in the city, because as you said they did want to tear the station down. I did not know that the rookery was the place to go for receptions and parties. I definitely thought it was a more secluded place after our encounter with it on the trip.

    1. The Potter Street Station is truly heartbreaking to me. A beautiful building abandoned years ago. Compared to the Rookery I can see a lot of people overlooking the station. I’m glad you used it to compare the two. They’re both amazing looking buildings with so much history to them. It’s nice to remember that Saginaw really has a rich history.

  4. Great comparison Courtney. The Potter Street Station looks super grand like the Rookery. It is amazing that some of these old beautiful buildings are left abandoned. It is interesting that the Rookery was considered a skyscraper back in the day, now it’s just a big beautiful building.

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