Ralph Adams Cram

The Man, His Work, and His Legacy at Princeton University

Stephen Warneck, ART 409, January 10, 1995


Out of all its architectural contributors, it is Ralph Adams Cram who has left Princeton the greatest legacy (Ill. 1). Consulting Architect from 1907 to 1929, he was responsible for the first real master plan that the University followed for future development. He oversaw the erection of some 25 buildings, and his firm was specifically responsible for the design and construction of four buildings: Campbell Hall, the Graduate College, McCormick Hall, and the chapel. There is also debate over whether or not Cram's office was responsible for the design of the Rothschild Arch, although it is clear that his office was involved to a large extent. As important, if not more important, than the buildings he designed and the master plan he advanced was Cram's endorsement of the exclusive use of the Collegiate Gothic style for all future building at Princeton. The Collegiate Gothic, to Cram, was the only appropriate architectural form with which to express the educational ideals that Princeton and other universities had inherited from Medieval England and expressed in such places as Oxford and Cambridge. To truly understand Ralph Adams Cram, it is necessary to look at the man's philosophy and how it influenced his early work. Then we may turn to Princeton to see how Cram's philosophy fit with the ideals that Princeton was trying to portray and how influential Cram was as the first Consulting Architect of Princeton University.



Ralph Adams Cram was born in 1863 in Hamton Falls, New Hampshire.[1] Eighteen years later he left his father to study architecture. What he saw in architecture appalled him. In his own opinion, nothing really bad had been done before 1830. But after that, architecture fell to a low level for the next 50 years. The Gothic revival work was terrible. One example was what Cram called "Carpenter's Gothic,"[2] jig-saw ornament in wood. To Cram, the 19th century Gothic buildings were "fraudulent" because they were too "archaeological."[3] The buildings were merely imitating the Gothic forms of the 16th century. This need to avoid being "archaeological" was an issue with which Cram would be perpetually concerned.


Henry Hobson Richardson came on the scene to save American architecture for a time. Trinity Church in Boston is an example of his revolutionary work (Ill. 2). Cram saw value in this work because it was more than a reproduction; it was a re-creation, a development. Because it was something new it was at least partially valuable in the history of American architecture. However, it could not survive, and, in the words of Douglass Shand-Tucci, "the angel of destruction in this affair...was Ralph Adams Cram."[4] Richardson's work would not last, according to Cram, because it was not refined enough: "Here was the masculine element, potentially generative, but, that architectural life must go on, another element was wanting. This work was bold, dominating, adventurous, and quite without refinement or subtlety, but there was power, and power was not enough."[5] Trinity Church, with its references to Romanesque architecture, is bold, massive, and dominating, but it lacks the grace and refinement of Gothic architecture. It is that grace and refinement that Cram wanted so much to put into the new American architecture.



Cram wanted to take up the Gothic tradition as it was in England when it was interrupted by the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century. He discerned "murder, not exhaustion"[6] of Gothic motifs in the 16th century, and he believed that the style still had force and promise in the 19th century. The Gothic that Cram called for, however, was a different, adaptive style. Contemporary Gothic buildings were "archaeology, not architecture."[7] Cram believed that the new Gothic should conform to and express modern necessities. In the words of Shand-Tucci: "Cram's thesis had to do with originality through logical development and creative scholarship"(emphasis his).[8] Cram wanted to pick up 16th-century trends and develop them.


Evidence of this thesis of "logical development and creative scholarship" is in three letters of 1925 from Cram. The first discussed the need for an architectural sculptor who can do work that makes "a logical continuation of the great Christian culture of the past, but also a vital contribution to modern life."[9] Another to John Angel, one of Cram's chief artist-collaborators, outlined his wish for sculptural work in one of his churches to be modern figures. Cram states that the sculptures should not fool the public into thinking that they came from Europe at the same time that they continue the Catholic tradition.[10] Finally, in a letter regarding the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, Cram corrected a news report, saying that his work was "developed French Gothic" rather than "true French Gothic," as the news correspondent had described it.[11]


In his autobiography, Cram outlined his reasoning for the use of Gothic as an architectural style and the need for it to reflect modern necessities: "After all, Gothic is no isolated style with its own individual laws wrought out of nothing for its own original ends. The forms of beauty vary from age to age; the creative and controlling laws are ever the same."[12] An example of this premise is the use of the steel frame, a new method of construction in Cram's day. He wanted to realize the steel frame as a new force and be honest about its use rather than conceal it. To Cram, the essence of Gothic lay not in its forms but in the acceptance of ideas like pure beauty, pure logic, and pure significance. For inspiration of this kind, Cram turned mostly to Gothic England, but he broadened this scope to include work from France, Spain, and other European countries.


Cram's Gothic thesis is complemented by his strong opinions regarding modernism. He disagreed with the concept of modernism intensely because it was built on the premise that the expressive spirit of fundamental principles had to be changed in every case. Modernism assumed that the only valuable ideas were new ideas. By such premises, the Gothic had no place in the modern world. For Cram, nothing could be further from the truth. He realized that he couldn't make every modern structure Gothic. For example, he believed that a Gothic skyscraper was only a "clumsy fad."[13] However, certain modern institutions, specifically the Church and the College, retained ties to the Middle Ages, and their expression in Gothic architecture was appropriate, if not obligatory: "Only those elements in modern civilization which still retain something of the spirit that informed their immediate forebears in the Middle Ages have any right to the forms that spirit created for its own self-expression."[14] Furthermore, Cram believed that it was inappropriate for these institutions, the Church especially, to embrace modernist art. Because modernist art was an expression of materialistic society, Cram believed that the "Church embraced it at great peril."[15] But Gothic was a still-living, progressive style with a history. Because it had ties to the Middle Ages, it was an appropriate expression for modern churches and educational institutions.



Cram opened his first office with Charles Francis Wentworth in 1890 at Number 1 Park Square in Boston in a studio that was little more than a closet.[16] Their first commission was for the remodeling of a tenement house in Brighton. This project completed, the two decided that, to amount to anything, the new firm needed to enter a "virgin"[17] field, the building of churches. In such a venture, the two decided that they wanted to waken Gothic to life again, and Cram subsequently developed his theory that the development of the Gothic style was merely interrupted during the reign of Henry VIII. In that same year, the firm procured commissions for four churches. The first was All Saints' Church in Ashmont, a building that "in a way struck a new note in the cacophony of a disintigrating Romanesque and an arid Victorianism."[18] The other three churches were Christ Church in Hyde Park, Swedenborgian Church in Newtonville, and St. Paul's Church in Brockton. These commissions led to the firm's commissions for St. Thomas Church and the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine.

At about this time, a man named Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue had won a contest for the design of a church in Dallas, and he was on the lookout for an up-and-coming young firm to build it for him. He chose Cram and Wentworth, and this decision marked the beginning of a long working relationship. Goodhue joined Cram and Wentworth as a partner and as Cram's alter-ego. While Wentworth took care of the more business-oriented work of the firm, a role that Cram professed was not his calling, Cram and Goodhue played off each other in the designs of the firm's new churches. Cram was very good at planning buildings and at blocking in general forms, while Goodhue had an excellent eye for decorative detail. Because of these different abilities, the two decided to divide the work between them. Each worked on separate buildings subject to the advice and approval of the other. At the same time, they worked together on some projects, each working on the segment at which he was the expert. St. Thomas church is the best church that they worked on together (Ill. 3). It is characterized by a high main arcade, an open triforium, and a clerestory, and it is done in a French flamboyant style. The harmony of the masses is characterized as the work of Cram, and the elegance of the stone tracery may be attributed to Goodhue's eye for decorative detail.

The Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in New York (Ills. 4-6) is perhaps one of the most stunning examples of Cram's church-building prowess, and it may be its varied building history that allowed for such a feat of design. In 1873 Bishop Horatio Potter obtained a charter from the diocese of New York for the building of a cathedral, and an open competition was held for the design of the cathedral when its new site was acquired by Henry Potter in 1887. Cram was not the original designer of the cathedral. He submitted two plans in the competition, one Richardsonian and one Gothic, but a Romanesque plan won. However, the cathedral authorities changed their minds in 1912, revoked their contract with the original builders, and hired Cram, Goodhue, and Ferguson to finish the cathedral in a Gothic style.


What could have been an architectural nightmare was admirably overcome by Cram and his firm. Romanesque features had already been built, the most troublesome of which was the typically-large Romanesque nave. Cram designed sexpartite vaulting with columns added between the already-built Romanesque piers. This solved the problem of covering the nave in a Gothic style. What remained was the immense crossing that was four times as large as any other Gothic cathedral, Medieval or modern. Cram spanned this space by running enormous (100 foot) arches east to west and north to south along the lines of the main arcade. These four arches crossed at four points, creating an open space 60 feet square in the middle (Ill. 6). Cram put a Gothic-scale tower on this space. Thus the problem of the enormous crossing was solved in a manner that would not be out of keeping with the Gothic in the rest of the church.


The stained glass cycles in the Cathedral of St. John the Divine are excellent examples of Cram's insistence on forward-thinking and the idea that the new Gothic should express modern ideas and necessities. Five windows exhibit this idea: portraits of Louis Pasteur and John Marshall, Samuel Morse sending his first coded message, Washington at Valley Forge, and the sinking of the Titanic.



In 1900 Cram got married and went on a wedding trip to Italy. While shuffling through his mail upon his return, he nearly threw out an envelope that appeared to be an advertisement.[19] Fortunately, he opened the envelope that offered him the first real chance at national recognition. In the envelope was an invitation to compete for the job of a new building campaign at the United States Military Academy at West Point.


At the time, there was a sharp division in the style of the buildings at West Point. Many of the existing buildings were a pseudo-military Gothic, but the new Officers' Mess had been built in a Renaissance style by McKim, Mead, and White. Now the authorities at West Point needed to decide with which of these two styles the expansion of West Point should be accomplished. Cram's firm was chosen because of its previous Gothic work and was expected to submit a Gothic plan. Ultimately, Cram's firm was chosen to design the buildings at West Point. In the work we see the pictorial romanticism of an academy set into the mountains balanced with the hard utilitarianism so expressive of the purpose of a military academy (Ills. 7-10). The result of this balance is a collection of buildings characterized by simple, balanced masses and a particular lack of ornament.


At West Point, the division of labor between Cram and Goodhue is clear. Cram worked on the Post Headquarters, the Riding Hall, and the Power Plant (Ills. 7, 8). Goodhue did the chapel and two of the cadet barracks (Ills. 9, 10). The differences in their approaches and abilities can be seen here. Cram's work is characterized by the simple coherence of masses, while in the chapel we can see the tracery in the windows that is so typical of Goodhue's work. The rest of the work was done jointly.



The story behind Cram's appointment as Consulting Architect at Princeton University is an elusive one. Careful scrutiny of material in the archives and of the Trustees' Minutes from the years preceding his appointment have failed to yield any answers. However, theories abound as to how Cram became well-known enough to be offered such a novel and prestigious position. One such theory belongs to Mr. Ethan Anthony, the Vice-President of Cram's successor firm in Boston: Hoyle, Doran, & Berry.[20] According to Mr. Anthony, Cram likely got his appointment because of various connections. The first was his set of connections in Boston. He was highly-promoted by the Episcopal Fathers in Boston for all of his work on churches. One example is the Brothers of St. John the Evangelist in Cambridge, for whom he built a church. It is likely that these connections and this work brought Cram his West Point invitation which brought him national attention in 1904.


In addition to his connections in Boston, Cram had connections in Virginia, and Mr. Anthony theorizes that it is these connections that really landed Cram the job at Princeton. In 1902, Cram was working at Sweetbriar College just outside of Virginia. He also designed a church in Richmond, Virginia for the parish of St. James, a prominent congregation in the area. Much later, the Virginia legislature commissioned him to design a carillon to memorialize the veterans of World War I. Finally, Cram's wife was from a wealthy Virginian family. All of this attention in Virginia must certainly have brought Cram to the attention of Woodrow Wilson, the future president of Princeton University and the man who would ultimately suggest Cram's appointment. Wilson may have become aware of Cram in Virginia rather than in the Northeast.


In his autobiography, Cram mentions that he received an honorary degree from Princeton at the same time that he was doing his work at West Point.[21] His autobiography does not exactly state when he received the degree, just that he received it at the same time that another prominent officer at West Point was receiving an honorary degree at Princeton. Cram clearly states as well that President Woodrow Wilson was conferring these degrees. Whether or not this degree was conferred before or after Cram's appointment is unclear. Cram only says that the event was "later." If he was granted his degree before his appointment, it would suggest that Wilson already knew Cram's work from many different sources, and this knowledge is what prompted him to suggest Cram's appointment as Consulting Architect.


The actual recommendation of a Consulting Architect was made by the Committee on Grounds and Buildings to the Trustees on March 14, 1907:

CONSULTING ARCHITECT: At the last meeting of the Committee on motion of President Wilson, it was voted to recommend to the board that, in order to secure at every point of development, well-considered plans for the placing, and architecture of buildings, the University secure the services of a Consulting Architect, who should be consulted with regard to each site selected, and with regard to the development of a general plan for the development of the campus; and that the Committee on Grounds and Buildings be authorized to select the architect for this function. The purpose of the Committee in this action was not to put into the hands of such an architect the actual preparation of plans for buildings but to have his constant supervision and advice regarding the work of the architects actively employed, and regarding the physical relation of the buildings to each other in the general material development of the University. This was thought the best way to secure artistic unity, and harmony, and to avoid haphazard, unsystematic action.[22]

This was to be the University's first Consulting Architect. It was a very large step, for the Trustees were deciding the path that the University's architecture would take for a very long time. And the path that it would take would be Collegiate Gothic.


In the June 10, 1907 entry in the Trustees' Minutes, Cram's salary was set at $5,000 for the first year and between $1,200 and $1,500 for each succeeding year.[23] However, no mention was made of the selection of Cram as Consulting Architect in the minutes. Perhaps mention is made in the minutes for the Committee on Grounds and Buildings. Excerpts from Woodrow Wilson's Papers suggest that the decision as to who would be Consulting Architect was already made, either completely or in principle, before any recommendation was made to the Trustees. In a letter from Cram to Wilson dated March 28, 1907, Cram says that he has just received notice of his appointment and would like to "meet" Wilson.[24] Wilson replied the next day, March 29: "I am sincerely delighted that you are willing to give us the benefit of your advice in the physical development of the University."[25] This correspondence just two weeks after the recommendation was made to the Trustees certainly suggests that Wilson already had Cram in mind when he made his own motion before the Committee on Grounds and Buildings.



Along with his promotion of the Collegiate Gothic, the most important contribution for which Cram was hired was the creation of a master plan for the present and future construction of the University. Cram himself discussed his master plan in an address to the Princeton Club of New York entitled "The Architectural Development of the University," attended by about 200 members. This address was abstracted by an article in the December 9, 1908 issue of the Princeton Alumni Weekly. [26] In his address Cram showed drawings of a general plan of development for the University along with views of Oxford and Cambridge, from which came most of his inspiration.


Cram began with a few very complementary remarks regarding the University's educational tradition and ideals. Calling Princeton "the most distinguished University in America" certainly aims right for the hearts (and wallets) of very proud alumnus. But he did not finish there. Cram truly believed in what he was saying, that Princeton really was the best educational institution in America and the one most in-tune with the educational ideals of the past:

I have no degree from Princeton, it is true, but even before I was taken into its employ I had come to realize that there was in America one university that stood for high ideals of civilization, unblurred by the breath of passing fads and prejudices; one institution of the higher learning that wasn't messed up with dental schools and veterinary departments and correspondence schools of business administration, and that my son would go to that university if he lived to grow up and the dons would let him in.

Cram characterized Princeton as the second of two types of education. The first is merely a cross between an institute of technology and department store. The second is based on the unchangeable laws of the education of scholars and gentlemen. The first type, because it cares only for numbers (of enrolled students and the like), is descendent. According to Cram, "the second cares nothing for numbers, but much for ideals, and is ascendant."


The Collegiate Gothic, Cram conceded, was already alive and growing at Princeton upon his arrival with the building of the library and of Blair and Little Halls (Cope & Stewardson). Princeton had already showed commitment to the Collegiate Gothic as expressive of the civilization held in common with England and the ideals of liberal education. What Cram added to this idea was his own idea of the university plan of development as opposed to the pleasure park plan. Up to this point, the donors really had the say in where buildings were to be placed and what style they would be built in. After all, it was their money. Cram would have none of this. This kind of planning resulted in a pleasure park, a random collection of buildings of varied architectural style with absolutely no cohesiveness or homogeneity. Cram wanted a plan that would make the University a homogenous whole, both in architecture and in layout, and on this point he could not compromise:

It is manifest to you that I must stand or fall on this question of university vs. park planning. The former has received the endorsement of the Trustees. If it is overthrown, then there is nothing more for me to do but to withdraw as gracefully as possible and leave the work in the hands of a landscape gardener, since I cannot conscientiously have any part or parcel in what would seem to me a fatal falling back to a discredited and outworn idea.

The plan itself (Ill. 11) is a great composition forming a homogenous whole that concentrates around the central space of Cannon Green. Cram believed that the students needed to feel surrounded, controlled, and protected. At the same time there needed to be a way out into the "highest freedom." He wanted to close off the road in front of Whig and Clio to vehicular traffic, and his "way out" would be the vista between Whig and Clio down campus that would extend all the way down the hill. He also wanted to move Dod hall back 40 feet and drop it one story to get it out of the way of that vista. Thus the old campus would be at the center and the campus would have a north-south axis between Whig and Clio and an east-west cross axis behind Whig and Clio, outside of that sacred central campus. That cross axis exists today as McCosh walk. Cram wanted to tie together the remaining buildings with a variety of views and unexpected openings out of quadrangles to create vistas in various directions.


After explaining the master plan in his presentation, Cram showed pictures of Oxford and Cambridge and made conclusions about what had to be done to the campus. While showing these pictures of Oxford and Cambridge, Cram stressed the sheer beauty and the cultural influence of the Gothic on the cultural development of the student. This was the tradition that Princeton was to continue. One example would be the 140 foot tower that Cram had planned for Nassau Street that would echo the entrance tower at Oxford.


Cram's projections were relatively simple and in keeping with the master plan that he wished to follow. He wanted to first develop that main (north-south) axis of campus. He wanted to extend the dormitories (Little and Blair). In addition, Cram proposed the building of a great new chapel, one that would be big enough to hold the entire student body at one time, "second only to the King's College chapel in Cambridge in magnitude and in beauty." On the master plan, the chapel was to be situated just north of the existing Art Building: "This is the proper place for the great outward manifestation of the religious idea that has always been at the basis of the educational idea of the most distinguished University in America." Obviously for Cram, religion and education were inseparable, as they were for the Trustees of Princeton University.


An article that Cram wrote for The American Architect in 1909 expressed just how appropriate his ideas of the master plan and the collegiate Gothic were for Princeton. In the article, Cram discusses these two ideas as already in the minds of Princetonians. They merely had to be articulated:

The material development of Princeton during the last twenty years has been only less fundamental and significant than the scholastic and educational evolution with which it has steadily kept pace. On the one hand has been the making of a small college into a great university, on the other the creation of an architectural expression that only should not show outwardly the new and very exalted quality of the institution itself, but also should become the great cultural influence good art must always be.[27]

Here Cram reconciled the ideals of the University and the architectural expression that reflected those ideals. In this quotation we also see Cram's firm belief in the cultural influence of good art that he discussed in his master plan presentation. Cram noted that the use of the collegiate Gothic had already begun with the placement of Pyne Library designed by Mr. Potter in a modified collegiate Gothic and with the placement of Little and Blair (as mentioned in his address). The desire for the Collegiate Gothic and for unity was already in place before Cram's arrival; all that was lacking was a master plan to "tie the anarchy of the past into the order of the present."[28]


Cram's plan was, for the most part, very well-received by the alumni. His open spaces and university plan sat well with most donors. In fact, some alumni wanted even more. Thomas Shields Clarke, class of 1882 wrote a response letter in the same issue, saying that things should be bigger: "Mr. Cram is a clever and an eloquent architect and the big lines of his plan are excellent, but I protest the plan should be bigger " (emphasis his).[29] Clark wanted the campus to extend beyond Washington Road or Nassau Street so that students would have even more room to breathe and to be active on their campus. This editorial of Clarke's is but a small indicator of the popularity of Cram's cohesive and balanced, yet spacious plan for the future development of the University.



The money for Campbell Hall (Ills. 12, 13) was pledged in one night by the class of 1877 at their 30th Reunion. At one dinner party, $100,000 was pledged. The Princeton Alumni Weekly of February 26, 1908 reported that the plans were completed by Cram, Goodhue, and Ferguson.[30] The building was to be placed between Alexander Hall and the Halsted Observatory, and the plan provided housing for more than 70 students. There would be 25 studies with two bedrooms each and 20 studies with one bedroom each. The building material would be Germantown Stone with trimmings of Indiana Limestone, the same material as Blair Hall. Floors of reinforced concrete and stairways of iron and slate would make the building fireproof. Campbell would also be like Blair in its entryway plan. This interior design was consistent with the idea of the Trustees and of President Wilson that the students should have more ready access to the outside world from their dormitories rather than being isolated in their rooms within long hallways. The building was also given an air of domesticity by the leaded windows and the carved woodwork inside.


Building was set to begin in May of 1908,[31] and a year later the exterior had been finished and the interior begun.[32] The building was dedicated at Commencement in 1909[33] and by the next fall it was being occupied.[34] Finally, in 1930, a plaque was placed to commemorate the names of men in the Class of 1877 who had served on the faculty or on the Board of Trustees.[35]



The Graduate College (Ills. 14-17) is a good example of the kind of controversy that can develop when clashing opinions get mixed up with the question of donors and money. The main controversy regarded its site, and all involved agreed that graduate students should in some way be separate from undergraduates but should also be near enough to have some formative influence on the educational lives of those same undergraduates. The question remained as to just how separation and community could be accomplished at the same time. As many as six sites were under consideration. One was the Merwick site, a residence to the north of the campus where the first graduate students had been admitted and housed. Dean West, in a letter dated May 13, 1907 to the Standing Committee of the Board of Trustees on the Graduate School, espoused the separation of the Graduate School from the undergraduate campus as necessary for its proper development: "It is near the campus and yet sufficiently retired to ensure the residential separation of the graduate from the undergraduate students. Without this much separation - but no more - the proper life of the Graduate College cannot be succesfully developed."[36] This plan, however, was at odds with President Wilson's belief that the Graduate School should be set in the midst of the undergraduate campus to serve as a scholarly example. Cram himself was inclined to agree with Wilson, saying that it seemed to him necessary to have the Graduate College on campus if it was to be a part of the University community. In a report dated March 30, 1908, Cram discussed the problems of two possible sites on Washington Road, and he went on to propose the Prospect Site as the most appropriate (Ill. 16).[37] He believed that this site would tie the school into the one consistent whole of the University and that it would make use of existing buildings as it evolved. 1879 Hall could ultimately be used as a residence hall. The Committee on the Graduate School ultimately recommended the Prospect site in its report on April 9, 1908,[38] and on June 8, 1908,[39] Cram's firm was appointed as the designer.


The debate was presumed finished, and during the next year Cram drew up detailed plans for the Graduate College. However, the issue of site was reopened with a conditional gift of $500,000 from William Cooper Procter on May 8, 1909. In the letter accompanying his gift, Procter expressed his conviction that the Merwick site was the most appropriate: "I feel that the question of the site means practically the determination of the future character of the Graduate College and I know of no location other than Merwick, which is suitable for the development of the college, as outlined in the report of the Trustees."[40] Such a large gift certainly could not be refused, and all the debate of the preceding years was wiped away by two resolutions by the Board of Trustees on October 21, 1909.[41] The first was that Procter's offer should be accepted. The second resolution stated that the selection of the Prospect site was to be rescinded and the building was to be constructed in the area known as the Golf Links. It is unclear as to how Procter allowed the construction of the Graduate College on the Golf Links rather than on the Merwick site. Perhaps it was only crucial to him that the College be set away from the undergraduate campus. Whatever the answer may be, this episode highlights the fact that Cram did not have as much say as he might have liked or as much as we would like to think. He was still subject to the opinions of the alumni, the men paying the bills, and he was fortunate that, for the most part, they agreed with his educational and architectural ideals.


Once the site was decided, new plans had to be drawn and the entire project begun again. Progress in construction was slow, and there was animosity all around. Hibben was to be inaugurated as president of the University in May of 1912, and Dean West wanted walls to be up for that day. However, by October of 1912 the walls of Cleveland Tower were only 20 feet high.[42] The University thought that Cram was going too slowly, and Cram countered by saying that the University took too much time making crucial decisions and then expected him to have plans available immediately. Finally, the building was dedicated on October 22, 1913,[43] 17 years after the decision had been made for Princeton to become a University and open a graduate school.


One enters the Graduate School complex by a large arch by the tower. The plan is irregular for an irregular site and to mirror the irregularity of design at Oxford and at Cambridge. The Great Hall is the largest single area in the school, and the Cleveland Tower is in a position similar to an English gate tower. The Tower (Ill. 17) is a memorial to President Grover Cleveland. It was added to the plans in 1909 and was funded by popular subscription.[44] Its base displays solidity, and its ornament increases as its height increases. Cram used hexagonal turrets for the first time in Cleveland Tower rather than octagonal turrets. He believed the hexagon to be a better form because it was "supple and not only more effective in the resulting light and shade, but blessed with an almost psychic quality in those effects."[45]


Procter Hall is the great dining hall of the Graduate College. It has an entirely wooden hammerbeam ceiling with each beam adorned by carved heads. In the West Wall is a large stained-glass window representing the relation of the liberal arts to the Divine tradition, an idea that we have previously seen in Cram's commentary. Apparently, Dean West wanted an even stronger expression of religion than what Cram recommended, and the motto beneath the window is indicative of West's influence: "Nec Vocemini Magistri Quia Magister Vester Unus est Christus" (And be ye not called masters, for one is your master, even Christ).[46] The common rooms adjacent to Procter Hall are also of Medieval derivation with their chambered beams and major trusses held by stone blocks. Leaded glass windows show seven Medieval coats of arms that were picked out by Dean West in consultation with a heraldic specialist.


In the Graduate School we see expressed quite clearly the idea of the connection of educational and religious ideals to the Middle Ages that was so important to Cram. And because it was designed by one architect, it shows the unity and homogeneity that Cram espoused throughout his term at Princeton. The Graduate College is perhaps the most complete example and embodiment of the ideals that Cram brought to Princeton as Consulting Architect.



In 1884, James McCosh believed that Fine Arts should have a place at Princeton University, and there is the real beginning of the story of McCormick Hall (Ills. 18, 19). In 1887 ground was broken for a new art school,[47] but the building was never finished for lack of funds. The March 9, 1921 Princeton Alumni Weekly announced that a building for the Department of Art and Archaeology would finally be finished.[48]

In 1915 the first steps had been taken to start the School of Architecture at Princeton. Over $100,000 had been raised for its endowment before the First World War forced the University to lay aside its building program. Promises had been made of more money before the war, and when the Endowment Campaign was launched after the war it was decided that those promised gifts would go into the general fund and would help pay for the building of McCormick Hall, named after the family that promised the money. The School of Architecture then developed within the Department of Art. The growth of the enrollment and of materials for the library made a new building absolutely necessary, as was expressed in an article by Howard Crosby Butler 1892 in the November 2, 1921 Princeton Alumni Weekly: "The unusual increase in the enrollment in the Department of Art,...the increasing number of students desiring to study architecture, and large additions to the library, have rendered the old building wholly inadequate and made expansion positively necessary."[49]


The decision regarding style is a good example of Cram's stylistic eclectism. Cram presented three different schemes in three different styles. It was decided that it would be unsuitable to build in a Collegiate Gothic style, so the more neutral version of Italian Gothic was finally chosen. It is characterized by massive wall surfaces, pointed arches, and simple ornament in an attempt to balance well with the nearby buildings. The October 18, 1922 Princeton Alumni Weekly reported that the building was almost finished,[50] and the building was dedicated on June 16, 1923.[51]



When Marquand Chapel burned down in 1920, Princeton was left without a chapel for the first time in 175 years. In a booklet entitled "The New Chapel for Princeton University" (Appendix 1), President Hibben made the importance of the chapel as part of the University's academic tradition quite clear. He also left no doubt as to the necessity of a new chapel: "A new chapel is therefore an immediate necessity, not merely as a matter of comfort and convenience, but for the purpose of preserving the continuity of religious tradition of Princeton, which had its origin in the faith and hope of the early founders of the College one hundred and seventy-five years ago."[52] To Hibben, the chapel was a crucial part of the University's tradition, not surprising if we think back to Cram's earlier comments regarding education and religion at Princeton. Just as Cram had much earlier condemned modernism as materialistic, Hibben stated the need for the chapel to stand against the materialism of the modern age in its architectural and religious tradition: "(the students will) recognize the new Princeton Chapel as the University's protest against the materialistic philosophy and drift of our age, the symbol of the higher aspirations of man, a refuge for quiet thought and contemplation, 'a house of ancient mystery,' the holy place of God." The need for a new chapel was widely accepted, and there was little doubt that it would be constructed in a Gothic style, still the most perfect architectural expression of the Christian religion (Ills. 20-23).


The only question remaining was where to put the chapel. Cram promoted his own view in an article entitled "The Chapel Site" in the June 1, 1921 Princeton Alumni Weekly.[53] He promoted the present site of the chapel, just north of and parallel to McCosh Hall (See Appendix 1 for illustration of plan). He promoted this site over the West College site, the site at the east end of campus on Nassau Street, and the Dickinson Hall site for various reasons. The space north of McCosh would remain vacant for a long time if the chapel wasn't put there. He believed his McCosh site to be sufficiently central to the University because it was already planning to extend east to the other side of Washington Road. He also wanted the new chapel close to the site of the old chapel for sentimental reasons, and he thought it would be a mistake to do away with a perfectly good West College building. All that was necessary to improve that building was to take off its mansard roof. Finally, Cram believed that the great Gothic chapel would be more at home stylistically with McCosh and the Library. Were the chapel to be built on the West College site, its Gothic style would be yet another new style in the already motley mix of buildings that included theVictorian Witherspoon, the Richardsonian Alexander, and Colonial Nassau Hall.


There were many, many articles chronicling the construction of the chapel in the New York Times. This was to be the largest university chapel in the United States, and it was based on and only slightly smaller than Kings' College Chapel in England. The plans were released November 12, 1921, and ground was broken on Baccalaureate Sunday in 1924 by President Hibben.[54] On June 13, 1925 the cornerstone was laid.[55] The cornerstone itself contained a Bible, a July 30, 1926 copy of the New York Times, a 1920 penny, a 1913 nickel, a 1923 dime, a 1900 quarter, a Princeton University catalogue for 1925-1926, and a copy of the building contract.[56] The chapel was dedicated on May 30, 1928.[57]


The chapel is characterized by a long, continuous space with shallow transepts to create a large open area in front of the pulpit (Ills 21, 22). Cram designed the choir with steps and longitudinal benches for use in daily services. This would offer a more intimate setting for smaller services, and the entire nave could be used in ceremonies involving the entire student body. The north transept was also made into Marquand chapel, and it could be used for daily services. Most Gothic cathedrals had a series of chapels in the choir for priests to perform many masses during the day. Cram, rather than trying to completely reproduce a Gothic cathedral, adapted the style to modern necessities, practicing what he preached so often in his early writings regarding church-building.


Stylistically, the chapel is more or less based on 14th-century English Gothic, but it doesn't parallel or copy any existing work. It really combines Engish, French, and Spanish motifs. For example, the tracery, buttresses, and fenestration are middle English Gothic, while the triforium gallery is an early French Gothic idea. The arcade, triforium, and clerestory are vaulted in masonry in simple quadripartite form, and the exterior is distinguished more by forms and massing than by ornament (Ill. 20).


The beauty of a Gothic cathedral lay in its stained glass as well as in its architecture and sculptural ornament. Cram's chapel is no exception. Windows were added as money was donated for years after the chapel was dedicated. The window in the west façade portrays "The Second Coming of Christ" and was done by Nicola d'Ascenzo. In the east window is "The Love of Christ." Four other windows in the choir are by Charles Connick, an artist-collaborator with whom Cram worked closely and often, and portray Christian epics: Dante's Divine Comedy, Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, Milton's Paradise Lost, and Malory's La Morte d'Arthur. In the north transept window is "Christ the Martyr" and in the south transept window is "Christ the Teacher." Each bay of the nave had one large clerestory window and one smaller aisle window. Cram worked with a number of artist collaborators on these windows, including Henry Lee Willett, Wilbur Herbert Burnham, Oliver Smith, Frank Ellsworth Weeder, and H. W. Goodhue.


Many other windows were added as they were donated by various parties. But the most famous one is a piece of glass that came from an old French Gothic cathedral. Now hanging in the Art Museum, its acquisition was reported by the May 14, 1931 issue of The Daily Princetonian: "The chapel now possesses the only authenticated Chartres window outside of the cathedral itself and the 13th-century Chartres glass is considered the finest in the world."[58]



The last project that Cram worked on at Princeton, and the one that finally provoked his resignation, was the Rothschild Memorial Arch (Ills. 24, 25). The son of Simon F. Rothschild commissioned the arch in his memory, and Cram decided that it should be placed between Dickinson Hall and the Chapel to connect religion and academics. There was a lot of correspondence regarding who should build the arch and the subject of who actually designed it is still under debate. However, from the correspondence we can theorize that the arch was designed for the most part by Cram (Appendix 2).


In a letter dated March 25, 1929 to President Hibben, Cram said that Mr. Hoyle (of Cram's firm) had just met with Hibben and Klauder and gathered from Klauder's attitude that he assumed that he was to design the arch. According to Cram, "This is not Mr. Rothschild's wish."[59] Cram went on to say that in conversation and in writing Rothschild had expressed his wish that Cram and Ferguson should design the arch and that Cram himself should approve of the plan before he left on a cruise to Europe. Cram also said that his office was preparing some rough studies to show how the archway and the steps could be made to harmonize with both buildings. Hibben replied to Cram on the same day that he would rather have Klauder design the arch because Cram would be in Europe:

Will you also before you leave write to Mr. Rothschild, telling him of my wishes in this matter and of an arrangement by with your own ideas will be used in the memorial arch, but that I feel as you are to be away and cannot give it your personal supervision, I would wish to have Mr. Klauder responsible for the supervision and construction.[60]

Here Hibben wanted to make the decision as to the designer. Cram subsequently resigned on March 26, 1929.

However, this was not the end of the Rothschild Arch story. A letter from Klauder to Mr. Wintringer, the controller at Princeton, expresses his uncertainty about who should design the arch:

A copy of Mr. Cram's letter of March 25th to Dr. Hibben, relative to this matter, has reached us and this, together with Mr. Klauder's telephone conversation with you yesterday and Mr. MacMillan's letter, leaves us uncertain as to the course you wish us to take.[61]

It is clear at this point that there is uncertainty regarding the donor's wishes, and the possibility is open that Klauder is not the only designer. Mr. Klauder followed this letter with a letter to Cram, described in another letter from Hoyle to Wintringer dated April 5, 1929. Mr. Klauder had called and said that the fact that there was an individual donor changed everything, and that he would continue building Dickinson and the arch could be put in by whomever might be decided upon in the end.


In a letter from Klauder to Hoyle dated May 31, 1929, the "final" decision is indicated. Dr. Hibben had asked Klauder to decide the matter with Hoyle, and Klauder suggested that Cram's firm should do the work:

Therefore, I think that in the best interests of everyone, and now that we have been able in my judgment, and I think in yours, to design our building in such a way as to make the arch successful in design whether you or we do it, it is now properly the work of your office. I have expressed this idea to Dr. Hibben and Mr. Wintringer and they concur. It take it for granted, then, that your office will prepare drawings for the archway, and in order that you may know the exact conditions, I am sending you drawings showing that part of Dickinson Hall against which the archway should be built.[62]

This is the most compelling evidence thus far found that supports the suggestion that it was actually Cram and not Klauder who designed the Rothschild Arch. However, a letter to Hoyle from Klauder shows that Klauder certainly had input.[63] In the letter, Klauder made extensive suggestions regarding materials and placement of stones. This would explain why the arch looks more like something Klauder would have designed than something that Cram would have designed. However, the correspondence ultimately presents a strong case that it was Cram and not Klauder who oversaw the project.



At the Trustees' Meeting on April 11, 1929, the Board of Trustees accepted Cram's letter of resignation dated March 26, 1929 (Ill. 26). In a letter to Hibben dated March 29, 1929, Cram discussed his resignation, saying that he had not resigned because of Hibben's decision regarding the Rothschild Arch, that incident had been another in a long list of events "that had convinced me that it was time the University had a change in its supervising architect."[64] Many things bothered Cram, although it is not really clear exactly what or how many incidents there were. Some bitter points are clear, however. The first was Dickinson Hall. He said in that same March 29 letter that he had gone against his better judgment in allowing the McCosh extension to be built so far to the north. He was also bitter about Dod Hall: "I should have liked to stay on until Dod was moved back or demolished, but anyway the danger of blocking the long axis by the new library had been removed, so I can wait patiently for the abolition of Dod, so freeing the long view in all its beauty." Dod was an issue that Cram had addressed in his first master plan, but although it was an issue, it appears not to have been the sort of thing that made Cram leave. Perhaps he was disgruntled by the ups and downs of donor/University politics and the difficult position in which he was always placed. Cram was always trusted for his opinion, but he never had the final say. To someone as idealistic and stubborn as Cram, these may have been telling years on his stamina and his ability to cater to the needs and wishes of others while trying to carry out his own high-minded ideals.


The thing to remember as we look back on Cram, however, is the fact that he never conceded those ideals and that he was absolutely crucial to the development of the University. His legacy is tremendous. We need only to look at the list of buildings that were constructed or started during his term as Consulting Architect (Appendix 3). But more than that we need to see the ideals that he advanced, his Master Plan if you will. Cram had a clear idea as to what he thought was "right" for Princeton, and the Collegiate Gothic and the University Plan of development will be with us forever as the expression of sound education. They are tied to the Medieval past, and they hold hope for the future, just as Cram always insisted: "There is nothing diffuse, casual or individualistic in the Princeton idea, but all is highly coordinated, controlled by sound law, infused with the impulse of an indestructible tradition that transcends the limits of continents and of centuries."[65]


Cram, Ralph Adams. American Church Building of To-day. New York: Architectural

Book Publishing Co., Inc., 1929.


Cram, Ralph Adams. My Life in Architecture. Boston: Little Brown & Co., 1936.


Cram, Ralph Adams. "Princeton Architecture." The American Architect 21 July 1909:



Maginnis, Charles D., Ed. The Work of Cram & Ferguson, Architects. New York: The

Pencil Points Press, Inc., 1929.


North, Arthur Tappan. Ralph Adams Cram. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1931.


O'Gorman, James F. H.H. Richardson: Architectural Forms for an American Society.

Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987.


Shand-Tucci, Douglass. Church Building in Boston: 1720-1970. Concord: The

Rumford Press, 1974.


Woodrow Wilson's Papers. Vol. 17. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1974.


Historical Subject Files, Architectural Drawings, Drawer 9, Folder 8 (1908 Master Plan);

Princeton University Archives; Dept. of Rare Books and Special Collections;

Princeton University Libraries.


HSF, Graduate School, Boxes 6, 14; Princeton University Archives.


HSF, Grounds & Buildings, Box 2, Folder 1 (Campbell Hall); Princeton University



HSF, Grounds & Buildings, Box 2, Folder 11 (Chapel); Princeton University Archives.


HSF, Grounds & Buildings, Box 6, Folder 17 (McCormick Hall); Princeton University



HSF, Grounds & Buildings, Box 11, Folder 10 (Cram); Princeton University Archives.


HSF, Trustees' Minutes, Vols. 10, 27; Princeton University Archives.