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Ralph Adams Cram

Ralph Adams Cram: An Architect's Four Quests

Douglass Shand-Tucci
Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 592
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  • Book Info
    Ralph Adams Cram
    Book Description:

    Following in the footsteps of Boston Bohemia, 1881–1900, Douglass ShandTucci's widely praised portrait of Ralph Adams Cram's early years, this volume tells the story of Cram's later career as one of America's leading cultural figures and most accomplished architects. With his partner Bertram Goodhue, Cram won a number of important commissions, beginning with the West Point competition in 1903. Although an increasingly bitter rivalry with Goodhue would lead to the dissolution of their partnership in 1912, Cram had already begun to strike out on his own. Supervising architect at Princeton, consulting architect at Wellesley, and head of the MIT School of Architecture, he would also design most of New York's Cathedral of St. John the Divine and the campus of Rice University, as well as important church and collegiate structures throughout the country. By the 1920s Cram had become a household name, even appearing on the cover of Time magazine. A complex man, Cram was a leading figure in what ShandTucci calls "a fullfledged homosexual monastery" in England, while at the same time married to Elizabeth Read. Their relationship was a complicated one, the effect of which on his children and his career is explored fully in this book. So too is his work as a religious leader and social theorist. ShandTucci traces the influence on Cram of such disparate figures as Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Phillips Brooks, Henry Adams, and Ayn Rand. He divides Cram's career into four lifelong "quests": medieval, modernist, American, and ecumenical. Some quests may have failed, but in each he left a considerable legacy, ultimately transforming the visual image of American Christianity in the twentieth century. Handsomely illustrated with over 130 photographs and drawings and eight pages of color plates, Ralph Adams Cram can be read on its own or in conjunction with Boston Bohemia, 1881–1900. Together, the two volumes complete what the Christian Century has described as a "superbly researched and captivating biography."

    eISBN: 978-1-61376-162-5
    Subjects: History, Architecture and Architectural History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
    (pp. ix-2)
    (pp. 3-22)

    The courage and resourcefulness in the face of demands the mind must find hard, sometimes terrifying, that is required of the serious thinker, the intellectual, in his daily struggle with ideas, ideas which if they are any good, or he or she any good, will often challenge and scare, a struggle it is possible to lose—that is my reading—as co-creator—of Gerard Manley Hopkin’s words; words my literary betters tell me indicate that Hopkins came near to losing his struggle, but which I use of Ralph Adams Cram because in his case I have concluded he won his...

    (pp. 23-64)

    Think Ralph Adams Cram as knight-errant. Then think again—which we will do time and time again here, for he was far from the one-dimensional romantic Goth and zealot posterity has famously cast him as. But his medieval quest was real enough, if more complex than is usually put forward; and because it was in many ways the foundation of all his work it is the first quest of four of Ralph Adams Cram’s we will take up here. Yet to rescue meaning from the medieval past was, I sometimes think, an easier task for him than is ours to...

    (pp. 65-100)

    In that long Edwardian decade before World War I, during which we have followed Cram closely here through one stage after another of what seem to me the most formative aspects of his medieval quest, Bertram Goodhue had been about his own peregrination of heart and mind—and a very different one from Cram’s.

    Goodhue had taken to New York—where in 1903 he had established the office required there by the terms of the West Point competition—with all the enthusiasm of the New Yorker he fundamentally was by both background and temperament, displaying characteristically in this respect quite...

    (pp. 101-172)

    In his history of the Gothic Revival, historian Michael J. Lewis dwells pertinently for us on those two New York landmarks by Ralph Adams Cram I also have focused on here, St. Thomas’s Church, Fifth Avenue (in the last chapter) and the nave of St. John the Divine (in the next chapter). In Lewis’s case, however, he does so in the largest possible contexts, in terms both of history and geography: encompassing as he does the eighteenth and nineteenth as well as the twentieth centuries and not only America and Britain but in Europe so far east as Hungary as...

    (pp. 173-210)

    Cram no more than anyone else foresaw World War I. But he saw it at once for the catastrophe it was, joining forces with such disparate notables as Morton Smith, a pioneer American psychologist, and H. Langford Warren, the founder and first dean (in 1914) of Harvard’s School of Architecture, in a group called the American Rights League, members of which pledged to work to bring the United States into the war on the side of the British and French.¹ In aid of this cause, Cram—a forceful speaker—went so far as to embark on an extensive national speaking...

    (pp. 211-244)

    In 1922 Ralph Adams Cram stepped down as head of MIT’s School of Architecture; at the start of his sixties he shook off most of the angst the war had engendered and plunged into the Roaring Twenties in every sense. Fresh from some of his best architecture—above all Princeton and St. Thomas, Fifth Avenue—it is true that, being long-lived for those days, yet more triumphs would await him in his seventies, in the 1930s. But as World War I had altered the course of his fifties, so would the Great Depression have a decisive influence on his seventies....

    (pp. 245-268)

    “Once upon a time,” Gore Vidal once wrote, “the highest American distinction that could befall fifty-two men and women in a given year was to have one’s face on the cover ofTimemagazine.” On 13 December 1926, this fate befell Ralph Adams Cram, who as Vidal observed thereby became “a permanent, for good or ill, member of the world’s grandest vanity fair.”¹ Assuredly, Cram’s time had come, though doubtless, to some of his admirers, confusedly. Angelica Gerry, for instance, to whom in connection with the design of the reredos for St. James, Lake Delaware, Cram wrote in 1923, “These...

    (pp. 269-308)

    The usual attitude of a client approaching Ralph Adams Cram and his characteristic response cannot be better illustrated than by reproducing the salient parts of the opening exchange between Cram and the Reverend A. W. Palmer, pastor of the Central Congregational Church in Honolulu, who had sought an introduction from mutual friends in 1920 and followed up with this letter of 5 October about his project:

    I trust that you have not entirely forgotten a brief conference with me in Boston . . . about the possibility of adapting colonial church architecture to our equable out-door climate here in Honolulu...

  12. Color plates
    (pp. None)
    (pp. 309-340)

    Franklin d. roosevelt did not call Ralph Adams Cram “a towering figure” in America’s cultural life, nor theBaltimore Suninsist that Cram’s “genius was beyond the reach of ordinary powers of analysis,” nor, certainly, didTimemagazine put him on the front cover primarily because of his architecture. The United States was not then any more than it is now that interested in architecture or in art or intellect generally. The reason Cram received such high marks was explained by theBoston Globe: “after every truthful, qualifying clause has been entered, the fact remains that no architect in America...

    (pp. 341-452)

    Though a soloist—who truly did dance, ideologically, with F.D.R.—Ralph Adams Cram was still just in the national chorus, so to speak, as a social and political thinker. As a religious leader, however, his was a unique and remarkably ecumenical influence, comparable in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in the United States only perhaps to that of Phillips Brooks, Episcopal bishop of Massachusetts in the 1890s and before that, in Cram’s youth, rector of Boston’s Trinity Church. In our own era a similar ecumenical influence was felt in America—though, of course, at a much greater distance...

    (pp. 453-523)

    Between the American quest and the ecumenical quest, both of which reached their climax in the last decade of Cram’s life and work—each in some sense a revisiting if not a revisal of the medieval and the modernist quests that peaked earlier in his life—there was, early and late, all the time, the architectural quest, which for Cram in the 1930s was a Moderne denouement. And in this respect as in the others, Cram’s last chapter was in many ways best of all.

    I recall how startled I was to come across his personal stationery of the 1930s...

  16. NOTES
    (pp. 524-574)
    (pp. 575-587)
    Ann Miner Daniel
    (pp. 588-588)
  19. INDEX
    (pp. 589-600)
  20. Back Matter
    (pp. 601-602)