NOTICE: On Sunday, April 2nd, from 6:00 AM to 5:00 PM, Lovell Street will be closed to traffic due to an upcoming crane project by our neighbors at the AT&T building across the street. Library guests can access the Central Library parking lot on the corner of Rose and Lovell via the Rose St. entrance which will also serve as the exit during this time. 

Interurban Building

AKA Traction Building

Located on the east side of Portage Street (169-171), just north of E. South Street, the Interurban Building stands today, a survivor of time, fire, weather and urban redevelopment. The building, unique for its squared out opening (used to load and unload travelers into and out of train cars), remains today as a reminder of Kalamazoo’s history of the interurban train industry, and its role as a form of commercial transportation that bridged the decline of the buggy/carriage industry in the late 19th century with that of the primacy of the automobile.

The Interurban Building. Photo by Ryan Gage, December 2022

Built in 1905 as a depot and office facilities for the Michigan Traction Company, the building served to house the electric train cars which traveled back and forth along its East/West line between Kalamazoo and Battle Creek. Then, in 1914, the depot was abandoned for the terminal next to the Lawrence and Chapin Iron Works Building (225 North Rose Street). These were high-speed trains that were capable of connecting city dwellers with other urban centers in southwest Michigan during the first two decades of the 20th century. For those with the means, riding the interurban lines was ideal for planning daytrips or visiting friends and families in surrounding communities. The rise in the popularity of the automobile, rate hikes, poor service, financial mismanagement, corporate mergers, and disputes with the railroad industry (interurban lines were not allowed to cross over railroad company tracks) ultimately led to the decline of the interurban train network, which ceased operation in Kalamazoo in 1929.

Michigan Traction Company, interurban, c.1905-1915, WMU-P-608

But as with most buildings that have lasted more than a century, there have been several businesses that have called the red brick and stone building home. It has served as a tavern (Trophy Room Beer Garden), offices for an engineering firm (Wilkins & Wheaton Engineering Co.), headquarters for Kalamazoo Downtown Development, and a dance studio for a Ballet Company.

The Tornado of 1980 and Restoration

Unlike the A.U.V. Hall, its neighbor to the north, The Interurban Building was able to avoid a direct hit from the destructive tornado that rolled through downtown Kalamazoo on 13 May 1980. The portion of Portage Street south from the Humphrey Block (aka The Peninsula Building) to the Interurban were too badly injured to survive, and were demolished shortly after the storm. In the early 2000’s, on the verge of being demolished, the building was saved with the assistance of city loans. The old depot received a restorative makeover with the hope that a revitalized downtown would help to lure new tenants to the building, which was slated to be converted into lofts. In 2013, the city and the developers involved with the condo project had a falling out, leaving the city to write off $75k.

Interurban terminal, c.1905. Postcard view published by Kalamazoo Gazette, 23 December 2002

Article written by Ryan Gage, Kalamazoo Public Library staff, December 2022


“Interurban link stays intact”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 28 September 1980, page D1, column 1

“Developers revive interUrban”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 13 September 2004, page B1, column 1

“City writes off $72K loaned to developer”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 7 August, 2013, page A3, column 5

“How Taxpayers Were Left to Pay the Bill”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 9 September 2013

Local History Room Files

Subject File: Interurban Railroads


The Station

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