A Final Reflection (2002-2018)

The “bananas went a-missing” and Kingswood School’s Chiquita Banana Scholarship. The thief who stole the (attributed to) Rembrant Peale portrait of George Washington and the mysterious return of Perseus on the porch of the Thornlea Studio Archives. Gates and andirons and architectural details like the lead conductors at Cranbrook House designed by New York metalsmith Oscar Bach. Cranbrook’s mid-century modern Edison House, the House of the Poet (never realized thank goodness!), Chanticleer Cottage (which used to be the chicken house), Walnut Cottage, Tower Cottage, and Brookside Cottage (also known as the Honeymoon Cottage or Stonybrook) which evolved from the original pump house.

Unidentified man on bridge (no, it is NOT George Booth) with the pump house in the background, ca 1915

And the people! The Italians who literally moved mountains of dirt and rocks, graded the roads, and built the stone walls and beautiful rock gardens that lined the campus.

Landscape architect Edward Eichstaedt, who designed the original planting plan around Jonah Pools and later worked on landscape design for Eero Saarinen’s General Motors Technical Center. The women who left their mark at Christ Church Cranbrook – Kathryn McEwen, Hildreth Meière, and silversmith Elizabeth Copeland. Cranbrook School’s art teacher John Cunningham and his mosaics (which can still be seen today) Kingswood School’s French teacher, Marthe Le Loupp, and Brookside’s dietician Flora Leslie.

Eichstaedt’s 1934 Planting Plan for the Lower basins

Notable national celebrities connected to Cranbrook: Leonard Bernstein, Dave Brubeck, Amelia Earhart, Henry Ford, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Anne Morrow Lindbergh to name just a few. But perhaps most interesting to me was learning the stories of those not so well known: Ebba Wicks Brown – the first registered female architect in the state of Oregon who came to Cranbrook to study architecture with Eliel Saarinen. Colonel Edwin S. George, a Detroit businessman and philanthropist who was affiliated with Cranbrook in a variety of ways – most notably for his contributions to the Institute of Science. Myrtle Hall – the first African American model at the Cranbrook Academy of Art and Cleo Dorman – another model who was infamous for collecting paintings of her done by famous artists. And so many, many more names still swirling around in my brain.

Curatorial scholars at work

Perhaps my greatest joy here has been to help researchers find the answer to their questions, and to guide them towards collections that they might not have thought of – which has often led to a change in the course of their research. I am very proud of the fact that Cranbrook Archives has an international reputation for exemplary service and for being so organized and easy to use. I will miss working with the many students, faculty, staff, researchers, and scholars as you have taught me as much, if not more, than I have taught you. Thank you for that.

And, thank you to the Cranbrook Kingswood Senior May students and the many archival graduate students who have worked on projects over the years, and a special thanks to the most amazing volunteers! We couldn’t have accomplished all that we have without you.

Graduate student (left) and dedicated volunteers at Thornlea Studio Archives

I will close my final Cranbrook blog post by doing what I have tried to do my entire 16 year career here – promote Cranbrook Archives. In the archival profession, one constant issue many of us face is how to demonstrate to our institutions and constituents the importance of an archives – why archives matter. I could wax on, but instead I leave you with this article in the hopes that all who read it will have a new appreciation for the work that archivists do every day to preserve institutional memory. History matters. Archives matter. I am proud that I played a small role in preserving Cranbrook’s rich history.

And on that note, I bid adieu.

Leslie S. Edwards, Head Archivist (2002-2018)

Edison House: A Modern Icon

Approaching the Cranbrook Institute of Science (CIS), one easily overlooks the low-set modern structure built into the eastern hillside. Shaded by trees and obscured by a brick courtyard wall, Edison House assumes a low profile much like its Modernist predecessors.

The 1960’s was a decade where modern conveniences flourished. Electric appliances began appearing in households across the country which made the lives of working families easier and more efficient. Backed by CIS’s Chairman of the Board of Directors, James Beresford, Director Robert T. Hatt and Detroit Edison’s Edwin O. George began plans for an innovative, all-electric residence that would suit their needs equally. Cranbrook would house scientists as part of the Distinguished Scholar Program, while Detroit Edison would have a showcase for their newest and greatest electrical equipment. The architect, William P. Smith Jr., was commissioned by Detroit Edison, and construction began in 1965. National and local firms contributed products, services, time, and funding to complete the house. Once construction was completed Detroit Edison turned Edison House over to CIS in a dedication ceremony held on June 1, 1966.

Thomas Edison's son, Charles Edison, visits Edison House Courtesy Detroit News, June 1966

Thomas Edison’s son, Charles Edison, visits Edison House
Courtesy Detroit News, June 1966

The finished product was a functionally efficient piece of art and an “outstanding demonstration of the application of science to everyday living.” Not only did it have the best and most innovative appliances, it was aesthetically advanced as well. The architectural style melds aspects of late Modernism and Art & Crafts. The broad eaves and natural material selection are reminiscent of the American Craftsman style home, while the clean-lines and mechanical innovations evolved from the Modernist International Style.

Also referred to as “Cranbrook’s New Idea Home,” a 1965 Detroit Free Press article described it as “organic contemporary in design.” Expansive windows run floor to ceiling which opened up the back face of the house to the surrounding natural landscape. Constructed of laminated redwood, extruded brick, and masonry, the home blends with its neighbors – the trees, grass and rocks. Broad overhanging eaves provide a feeling of shelter and enclosure. The natural backdrop contrasted with the interior’s modernist chrome and leather furnishings, and in true modernist style, linen drapes graced the windows in order to soften the hard surfaces. In addition to traditional living space, the open floor plan also accommodated conference rooms for faculty needs.

Dr. Robert Hatt in Edison House  living room, August 1966. Harvey Croze, photographer  Courtesy Cranbrook Archives

Dr. Robert Hatt in Edison House living room, August 1966. Harvey Croze, photographer. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Every aspect of the 3,500 square foot house was intended to promote electronic living. Snow melting heating coils were laid under the pavement and built into the eaves and gutter system which trace the perimeter of the copper roof. Snow sensors were installed to automatically switch on the melting equipment. Electronically heated windows, state of the art at the time, line the lower-level family room. An invisible metallic coating spans the interior glass surface and is warmed by an electric current in order to remit just enough heat to reduce the cold.

The garage boasted automatic radio-operated door openers. In the master bedroom dressing room a sun lamp was mounted in the ceiling with a timer for automatic shut-off. A built-in toaster was installed adjacent to the breakfast table for easy access. The kitchen also held the control panel for the intercom system that reached every room in the house as well as the front door and terrace. Speakers on the terrace doubled as microphones so the residents could “pick up sounds of birds and other wildlife.”

After a summer as a demonstration house open to the public, Edison House was occupied by notable botanist and geneticist Karl Sax, the first Distinguished Scholar. Farrington Daniels, Denis L. Fox, and V. Elliott Smith followed. The last Edison House resident was mineralogist and CIS Director, Daniel E. Appleman, who was instrumental in the Earth Exhibit housed in the Institute’s 1996 addition designed by Steven Holl.

Over the past twenty years, Edison House has been used for a variety of purposes including office space for Events Planning and a staging area for IT infrastructure technicians. And although the once innovative electrical equipment is outdated and certainly not modern by contemporary standards, Edison House remains an icon of Michigan Modernist architecture. Edison House will celebrate its 60th anniversary in June 2016.

Originally authored by Stephanie White (2011); updated in July 2015

Photo Friday: Modern, Inside and Out

Image

Edwin O. George (left) of the Detroit Edison Company and others study a model of the Edison House. Harvey Croze/Cranbrook Archives.

Nestled into a hillside across from the Cranbrook Institute of Science is the Edison House, a low-profile modernist structure that blends in with its surroundings.  In 1965, however, that structure was a pretty big deal.  Conceived of as a partnership between the Institute of Science and the power company Detroit Edison, Edison House served as a spacious and elegant residence for visiting scientists and luminaries while also showcasing the cutting edge in electrical appliances at the time.   Detroit Edison’s influence was felt throughout the house, from heaters in the garage to help drivers warm up their cars on a cold winter’s day to an intercom system that could double as a microphone to pick up the sounds of wildlife outside.  Used primarily as temporary housing for scholars visiting CIS, Edison House became home to CIS director Daniel E. Appleman in the 1990s.  Appleman and his family left the house in 1998, and CIS has since used it for various administrative purposes.

-Shoshana Resnikoff, Collections Fellow

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: