The Cranbrook Community
Cranbrook Educational Community includes Cranbrook Schools; Art Academy and Museum; Institute of Science; and other affiliated cultural and educational programs. CEC is located in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan; twenty miles north of Detroit. The grounds were acquired in 1904; the boys’ school buildings were started in 1925…
Kingswood School and Lake; across the lake is Booth House and gardens.
George Gough and Ellen Scripps Booth were the founders of Cranbrook; Eliel Saarinen was its architect. George Booth was born in 1864 and was a designer for an ornamental ironworks in Ontario. His marriage in 1887 to Ellen, the daughter of James Scripps, the founder of the Detroit Evening News, eventually led to them becoming millionaires and patrons of the Arts and Crafts.
In 1904, George and Ellen Scripps Booth purchased farmland in rural Bloomfield Hills, twenty miles north of Detroit. The property, 175 acres, was named after the birthplace of his father in England, a village in Kent: Cranbrook. The Booths moved into their home, designed by Albert Kahn; an English manor house in appearance, resplendent with Arts and Crafts. Gottlieb Eliel Saarinen was born in 1873 in Finland; he was educated in Helsinki. His first major work, with his partners, was the Finnish Pavilion at the 1900 World Fair. Hvittrask, his home and studio, was designed in 1902 and Helsinki Central Railway station in 1904. As a city planner, architect and designer he developed an international reputation; furthered when his entry won second place in the competition for the Tribune Tower in Chicago in 1923. Eliel, his wife Loja and two children moved there that year. In 1925 George Booth invited him to design the Cranbrook campus; Eliel Saarinen became the first president of the Academy of art in 1932.
On a personal note, I must say that to visit Helsinki is critical in gaining an understanding of Saarinen and Cranbrook. As I wandered through his home and the grounds of Hvistrakk, I began to appreciate Cranbrook even more; precedents and beginnings were apparent, particularly in the interiors. Furnishings and fabrics, decoration and details, were to be seen that would appear in his later work. The railway station is a magnificent building; its interiors restored, reminiscent of Kingswood. I realized that, in that era, the railway station was the point of arrival in a nation’s capitol; Finland was proud of its newly won independence and wanted to impress. Eliel Saarinen does that with Helsinki Central; his son Eero did the same with Dulles Airport. His design for the terminal building makes for a grand modernistic arrival at our nation’s capitol. Father and son were acclaimed architects; each distinctive and in his own time.
Recent publications on the Booth family, the Saarinens and the founding of Cranbrook include “Design in America: The Cranbrook Vision 1925-50” (1983) and “A History of Cranbrook: A life without beauty is only half lived” (1999). Another insightful history of the museum by Gregory Wittkopp is his essay in “Cranbrook Academy of Art: 100 Treasures” (2004). I will tell the rest of the story in my own words, a mixture of facts and feelings: “George and Ellen Scripps Booth were patrons of the Arts and Crafts; amongst the early buildings were an amphitheatre and a Meeting House that became a day school for young children. The Booths were religious; Christ Church Cranbrook, built in 1925, was Episcopalian and in the English Gothic style. Personally, I felt that I was back in the old country! The story goes that the church, situated out in the country, had problems getting choir boys; so Cranbrook Boys School was built?! Actually, we do know that the Booths had visited the American Academy in Rome and wanted to create a similar academy. Henry Booth was studying architecture at the University of Michigan; his father, George, asked him to design the boys’ school. Henry’s teacher was Eliel Saarinen; the great architect had left his native Finland, coming to America, the land of opportunity. Initially, he went to Chicago as his wife, Loja, dreamt that she lost her earrings and found them in the windy city! Henry introduced his teacher to his father; George asked Eliel to design a master plan for Cranbrook. Eliel Saarinen became the architect for the community; the first buildings being those for the Cranbrook School for Boys, 1925. Ellen Booth felt there should be a school for young ladies; Kingswood School for Girls was built in 1927. Jokingly, I say that the lake was created to keep the boys away from the girls?! In all this building, craftsmen from Europe were used for ornamental ironwork and decorative brickwork. In 1932, the Cranbrook Academy of Art was formally opened with Eliel Saarinen as the first President. Later, he designed the Institute of Science; started in 1936. I was always surprised that the buildings were completed in the Great Depression but the workers trusted the Booths; rightly so! Ellen Scripps Booth died in 1948 and, a year later, George Booth died. Eliel Saarinen died in his house at Cranbrook in 1950. How fortunate that these enlightened patrons had met with the visionary architect; brought together by happenstance. The dream of lost earrings; the studies of a son; the passion for the Arts and Crafts; all intersected to create Cranbrook. The relationship of Booth and Saarinen was unique; committed to the finest of art and architecture. Rarely has there been such patronage and creativity; with their deaths came the end of an era”.
Cranbrook Educational Community
Without the vision and money of the founders, the community drifted. The Cranbrook Foundation continued to supply funds but escalating costs and financial crisis led to the need for a restructuring of Cranbrook and greater centralization. In 1973, Cranbrook Educational Community was formed. Cranbrook, Kingswood and Brookside schools were merged with the Art Academy and Science Institute into one non profit institution with a Board of Trustees; five autonomous and disparate institutions became known as CEC. Three Boards of Governors for the schools; art; and science continued to be involved with the advancement and development of their respective institutions or, what became known as, ‘divisions’. From the beginning, confusion and contradiction seemed to exist; evident in my appointment.
During the interview process, I met with the Board of Governors; faculty; students; staff; and alumni. Arthur Kiendel was the President of CEC; a paid appointee who reported to the Trustees. He negotiated my contract and salary and offered me the position of President of the Academy. That same day in April 1977, I met with Chairman Ernie Jones and the executive committee of the Academy Governors; as far as I was concerned I reported to them?! At my first Academy Board meeting, Ernie told the governors that I was now in charge; they were to listen to me; and, if I made a mistake, “my head was on the block”. He was great as chair; as were his successors Pat Hartmann and Les Rose. I was fortunate to have the best of governors, supportive and generous.
I never did like centralization in any form. At Cranbrook, the original purpose was to share services and support the educational institutions. Almost immediately, the purpose of support became intent to control; “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. Services were not shared but centralized; absolutely wrong for institutions with different constituents, disciplines and missions. I will not go into detail; suffice to say that I made my views known to the CEC Trustees. At a Trustees Board meeting, I made a written statement, a matter of record and in the minutes. I was against centralization; particularly the loss of autonomy and independence for the three separate divisions. I shared my concerns, objectively and openly, but assured the Trustees that I would continue to work within the system and under their ultimate authority. Lillian Bauder, appointed the fourth President of CEC in 1984, strongly advocated the centralization of authority and power. Indeed, she was to be described in celebatory remarks by a colleague, at a community party in her honor, as a “control freak”. Over the years, my relationship with Lillian was complex and convoluted; we agreed to disagree! I had established myself within the community and, by press and public, seemed highly regarded. Lillian was a newcomer but, to all intents and purposes, she was ‘my boss’. We met and had an open and honest ‘face to face’ confrontation in which I voiced my concerns. Lillian and I agreed; I would publically support her and, in return, she would leave me alone. In regard to centralization, in her words, “there was a circle drawn around the Academy”. With that understanding, we worked fairly well together for the benefit and advancement of the community. We shared a common commitment to Cranbrook and, fortunately, a sense of humor that served us well. One of the issues that we discussed was public access to the community; jokingly, we referrred to "the public and private parts" of Cranbrook! We worked, met, travelled and talked together on many matters common to the community. Through exhibitions and publications, I brought further recognition and acclaim to Cranbrook; in 1986, Lillian presented a community planning document for new buildings and future programs; appropriately named “The Cranbrook Vision”.
Renowned architects were chosen for buildings throughout the community. On Woodward Avenue, Dan Hoffman designed a new and contemporary entrance for the community; Peter Rose renovated and added to Brookside School in 1996; Stephen Holl designed the 1998 addition to the Institute of Science; Tod Williams and Billie Tsien were responsible for the 1999 Natatorium at the Cranbrook Schools; and, in 2002, the Academy’s New Studios, designed by Rafael Moneo, were dedicated. The architects were aware of the architectural heritage of the community and respectful of the achievement and genius of the original architect, Eliel Saarinen.
On my last day at Cranbrook, in late November 1994, I went to see the Personnel Officer about mailing my future salary checks. He knew nothing about this; I asked Lillian Bauder to join us at our meeting. Lillian confirmed that my tenure was through the following June. I said that I was looking forward to my sabbatical. Immediately, Lillian corrected me, “No, you are on vacation; this is not a sabbatical. As of tomorrow, you are no longer President of the Academy. I will be the only President of Cranbrook!” From that day onward, there was only one President at Cranbrook. I left in a time of turmoil with lawsuits, accusations, rumors, recriminations and lies swirling around the community. My successor, named ‘director’ of the Academy, was a woman architect from Argentina and lasted less than a year; she left with a generous settlement. I had nothing to do with that appointment; the choice and decision was made by Lillian Bauder who resigned in 1996. Two years earlier, I was awarded the Founders Medal; Lillian and I made statements, published under ‘Legacy’. Her kind words of my years at Cranbrook will suffice, as will my reply; no more needs to be said. Cranbrook Educational Community continues to flourish with successful Capital Campaigns, evidence of ongoing commitment and support.
Cranbrook: an early aerial view with Art Museum in the foreground; Kingswood Lake and Girls School above.