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Woods Opera House
Early History of Bay County Public Library by Isabele A. Ballou (about 1946)
  • Contributed by Tom Birch who transcribed the document into digital format. (July 2003)

  • Woods Opera House - Washington & 6th

    The Library stayed in the Eickemeyer Building for about ten years, about twice as long as Mr. Eickemeyer, the owner, had agreed to lease it. The Library prospered, gaining in public appreciation daily as was shown by the increasing circulation. Everything went smoothly. The location, just south of the Washington façade of the National Bank Building, pleased everyone. It could not have been better. Therefore it was a shock when the owner served notice on the Board to vacate the building within a year. Mr. Eickemeyer wanted to erect a business block that would be far more remunerative than the rental that the Library could pay. In order to make them energetic about finding new quarters, he notified them of a tremendous increase in the monthly rent should they stay beyond the time he had decided upon. A building committee was straightaway appointed. They searched the city, and likewise interviewed people who were known to have money to invest, to see if they could interest anyone in building for them as Mr. Eickemeyer had done ten years before. They found nothing, no one to help. They were at their wits end.

    Suddenly help came from an unexpected quarter. The Fraser Opera House (should be Westover Opera House) had burned to the ground about six months before. Woods Opera House Company had formed to build a new opera house. The site of the new building was to be Washington Avenue at Sixth Street. Herschel H. Hatch was attorney for this company, and it will be remembered he was an early president of the old library association. He invited the board to confer with the directors of the Woods Opera House Company, to see if something of mutual advantage could not be worked out. Judge Hatch’s plans also took in the city government, at that time about as badly off for a place of residence as the Library Board. The old City Hall on Saginaw Street was outgrown, and almost ready for condemnation. The common council had to make provision for the various offices. The result of the conference of all the interested parties was that the Woods Opera House Company kept for itself the eastern half of the building, leaving the western half to the Library and to the City government to divide as their interests dictated. This part of the building consisted of a basement story and two complete upper stories. The City government took the basement floor for the mayor’s office and necessary committee rooms, the Library took the two upper stories, though it needed but one. The trustees were to be responsible for renting the parts they could not use themselves and for the heating of the whole building aside from the Opera House part. Arrangements were made. The Trustees appointed a moving committee, which had all the books out by August. They thus had to pay the increased rent demanded by Mr. Eickemeyer for failure to be out in six months for only two months. However, they moved in before the building was ready for them and could not unpack their boxes for months. Some of these boxes were not unpacked until the Library started on its next pilgrimage to the City Hall. The lease made in August 1887 was to run for ten years, until 1897 when it was expected the City Hall, also being built, would be ready for occupancy.

    The patrons found the general library room, fronting on Sixth Street, with large windows only on one side, but lighted to their liking. There was little privacy however, for people working at tables, but reasonable people made no complaints. The uncomfortable things about the Woods Opera House Building had nothing to do with the library administration. There were other tenants in the building. The young men who had the rooms in the Library corner of the building that the library did not use were tenants of the library. Rent had to be collected from them and this the board had to attend to themselves. Each trustee took his turn at this business, and sometimes the record shows that they had themselves to advance money to make up the total of the Library rent. The rent business was further complicated by the fact that always some of the young men wanted to work for the library by firing the furnace so as to reduce the amount of money they had to pay for rent. The rent was payable to the Woods Opera House Company, the fuel bills were payable to the coal company which yearly had the contract for heating the southwest corner of the building. The Trustees had to collect money for both rental and heat from the tenants. There were complaints from tenants who were too cold and from others who were too hot. From the records it appears that the dues for the two purposes were paid to the Librarian and that she kept a special ledger for the purpose of recording the payments and also had to indicate on the library ledgers which trustees had paid the library rent and show whether a trustee had forgotten it when it was their month to be responsible. Every year there was a new arrangement with the tenants on the third floor about firing the furnace. Often, the trustees and the librarian must have wished for the competent Henry Sims who had managed successively the slab burning stove and then the baseburner coal stove and kept the library warm without having to consider the comfort of other people.

    The Bay City Club was a tenant in the front of the building and there was an attractive hall for dancing parties also in the same section of the building. There was no trouble for the Library from these tenants of the Woods Opera House, except sometimes having so many young men around just naturally caused congestion at the stage door entrance on Sixth Street. These were the days in which stock companies came to town, bringing their personnel and paraphernalia for several nights stay. Young men and boys congregated around the stage door to see the stars as they came and went. Generally, these youths were not from the Bay City Club, nor were they strays from the dancing parties frequently held in the hall. They were ordinary loafers. In cold weather, they congregated in the reading room and entrance of the Library to keep warm while they waited for the appearance of the star they desired to see. They were noisy and unmannerly and really interfered with the right use of the Library. The Board of Trustees appealed for police protection during certain hours of the day. The police acted with decision and thereafter the stage struck youths had to wait in the cold, sometimes bitter, to see the latest favorites.

    Page 5: Eickemeyer Building Page 7: City Hall

    Bay City Library Association Menu
    1. Introduction, The Beginning
    2. Sheriff's Office
    3. Averill Building
    4. Bay City Public Library
    5. Eickemeyer Building
    6. Woods Opera House
    7. City Hall
    8. The Permanent Building
    9. Extension of Library Services
    {View Map/Directory}
    Names Referenced
    Hatch, Herschel H.
    Simms, Henry
    Subjects Referenced
    Bay City Club
    Board of Trustees
    City Government
    City Hall
    Eickemeyer Building
    Hatch, Hershel H.
    Fraser Opera House
    Library Board
    Mayor's office
    National Bank Building
    Old City Hall
    Westover Opera House
    Woods Opera House Co.

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