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Ralph Adams Cram

An Architect's Four Quests- Medieval, Modernists, American, Ecumenical

Douglass Shand-Tucci

Publication Year: 1995

Following in the footsteps of Boston Bohemia, 1881–1900, Douglass Shand-Tucci'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 Shand-Tucci calls "a full-fledged 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. Shand-Tucci 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."

Published by: University of Massachusetts Press

Front Matter

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii

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Preface and Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-xxiii

How many, I wonder, would entirely agree with Cram today? Not many I think. On reflection, however, some of us might subscribe to more of his view than we realize. So long, that is, as we can suit Cram's belief to our own experience. Inspired as I've always been, for example, by architecture, my first love—by form in space, really—and so too by (especially modern) sculpture—it is nonetheless music that ...

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1. Knight's Move

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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 ...

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2. The Medieval Quest

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pp. 23-63

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 ...

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3. A House Divided

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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.

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4. The Modernist Quest

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pp. 101-171

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 ...

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5. Churches Built in Time of War

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pp. 173-209

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 ...

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6. Merlin in Bloomsbury

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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 ...

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7. Mediterranean Inspirations

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pp. 245-294

"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 of Time magazine." 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, ...

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8. Design Process

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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 ...

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9. The American Quest

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pp. 309-340

Franklin D. Roosevelt did not call Ralph Adams Cram "a towering figure" in America's cultural life, nor the Baltimore Sun insist that Cram's "genius was beyond the reach of ordinary powers of analysis," nor, certainly, did Time magazine 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 ...

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10. The Ecumenical Quest

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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 ...

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11. Moderne Denouement

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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 19305 was a Moderne denouement. And in this respect as in the others, Cram's last chapter was in many ways best of all.


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pp. 524-574

Checklist of Ralph Adams Cram's Job Books

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pp. 575-587

Illustration Credits

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pp. 589-600

E-ISBN-13: 9781613761625
E-ISBN-10: 1613761627
Print-ISBN-13: 9781558494893
Print-ISBN-10: 1558494898

Page Count: 352
Publication Year: 1995

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Subject Headings

  • Cram, Ralph Adams, 1863-1942.
  • Architects -- United States -- Biography.
  • Avant-garde (Aesthetics) -- Massachusetts -- Boston -- History -- 20th century.
  • Avant-garde (Aesthetics) -- Massachusetts -- Boston -- History -- 19th century.
  • Gothic revival (Architecture) -- United States.
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