Portrait of the Vettraino family children. From left: Dominick, Sam, John, Concetta (Connie), Rose, Annette.

Portrait of the Vettraino family children. From left: Dominick, Sam, John, Concetta (Connie), Rose, Annette.

Cranbrook Archives is excited to announce a new online collection of material that highlights the contributions of the Vettraino family at Cranbrook. The collection includes a sampling of photographs and documents of the family, as well as other Italian immigrants who worked on campus clearing the land and building roads and stone walls; maintaining the landscape; and working in the Cranbrook Fire and Police Departments.

Michael (Mike) Vettraino came to Cranbrook in 1905 to work with one of George Booth’s first landscape architects, H.J. Corfield. Mike served Cranbrook for more than 50 years and received the Founders Medal in 1955. For more than 110 years, his children and grandchildren have continued to honor his legacy, serving the Cranbrook community not only as grounds-keepers, but in many other areas of the campus. We are pleased to be able to share their amazing legacy.

Cranbrook Archives Staff

Photo Friday: Ciao Cranbrook!

Italian workers at Cranbrook

Italian laborers at Cranbrook, ca 1906/Cranbrook Archives

For many Americans, Labor Day’s most popular meaning is a “last hurrah to summer,” but its national significance is much greater than that. In 1894, Grover Cleveland designated the first Monday in September as a national holiday paying tribute to the contributions and achievements of the working force in America. The Italian laborers pictured here arrived at Cranbrook in 1905. Hired by George Booth, men with the last names of Angelosanto, DiPonio, Roselli, Soave, and Vettraino built roads and stone walls, dug ponds, contoured the land, planted, and cared for the property. In 1955 the Cranbrook Foundation Board of Trustees dedicated a plaza north of the Brookside School in appreciation of groundskeeper Michael Vettraino’s 50 years of service to the Cranbrook community. In his speech at the “Piazza Vettraino” dedication, Henry S. Booth said, “We acknowledge a debt to his native Italy, his affection for the world of growing things, his quest for beauty, his tireless hands and feet, and the part he has played as one of the many founders of Cranbrook today.”

Click here to listen to a clip from our oral history collection of Dominick Vettraino speaking about the work the Italians did on the grounds of Cranbrook.

Gina Tecos, Archivist

Old Words, New Sounds: Oral Histories from the Cranbrook Archives

For the past nine months I have been working on a project to breathe new life into an oral history initiative at Cranbrook that began as early as 1964 as a collaborative project between Cranbrook School and the Cranbrook Foundation. These oral histories give us an intimate view of life here at Cranbrook over the past half century with interviewees spanning across the entire community. They range from Dr. Lee Dice at the Institute of Science, to Cranbrook Academy of Art painter Zoltan Sepheshy, as well as interviews with members of the Vettraino family, whose time living on the grounds spanned several generations. These interviews give us the kind of glimpse into the past of Cranbrook that is difficult to find anywhere else.

Cranbrook’s oral histories are found in the archives in analogue sound formats, namely on magnetic tapes. In order to preserve these interviews and provide access to a wider audience, the Archives is implementing a plan to digitize all of the content. Each oral history is digitized in real time and then transcribed, with each hour of audio taking anywhere from 8 to 10 hours to transcribe, depending on sound quality.

One of the latest gems to be uncovered is a recording of a conversation with brother and sister James and Doris Smith who worked as model makers and production designers from the mid-1940s for many of the artists and architects associated with Cranbrook. James began working with the firm of Saarinen, Swanson, and Saarinen in 1943, while Doris joined them in 1946. Both had their hands on many of the largest projects, such as creating the models for the General Motors Technical Center, and their insight into the daily work and life in the office is unmatched and cannot be forgotten.

In the following clip you can listen to James Smith discuss events and the atmosphere that surrounded the winning entry from Eero Saarinen & Associates for the Gateway Arch in the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial in St. Louis, Missouri–better known as the St. Louis Arch.


Construction of TWA model at Eero Saarinen & Associates taken by Claude de Forest, 1957.Cranbrook Archives.

Justine Tobiasz– Archives Assistant

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