The University of Michigan, an encyclopedic survey ... Wilfred B. Shaw, editor.
University of Michigan.
Horace H. Rackham Educational Memorial

Unique among University buildings is the Horace H. Rackham Educational Memorial in Detroit, thirty-eight miles from the University campus. Situated in the city's famed Art Center, close to the Detroit Institute of Arts, this beautiful structure is the center for extension classes and other University activities in the metropolitan area.

The building is unique, also, in that it is owned and occupied jointly by the University of Michigan and the Engineering Society of Detroit, which grew out of the Detroit Association of Graduate Engineers of the University of Michigan, founded in the 1890's.

Ownership of such a building in Detroit makes it possible for the University to be host at conferences, meetings, and other educational activities in the metropolitan area as it is for similar affairs in Ann Arbor.

The chain of circumstances that led to this unprecedented arrangement began in the middle 1930's. The Detroit Engineering Society had for some time, through a representative committee, discussed conditions under which it would be possible for the group to receive aid from the Horace H. and Mary A. Rackham Fund under the will of Horace H. Rackham. A delineation of the aims of the Detroit Engineering Society and a review of its past activities indicated that its purposes coincided with many of those for which the Rackham Fund had been established.

After discussion with trustees of the Rackham Fund, the Detroit Engineering Society reincorporated itself in April, 1936, as the Engineering Society of Detroit. Among the objectives outlined by the reorganized Society were those of providing a meeting place that would enable it to implement its educational aims, and "to co-operate with educational institutions by investigating candidates for scholarships and fellowships in engineering and applied science, and by supporting scholarships, special instruction, or research."

The Horace H. and Mary A. Rackham Fund created a $500,000 trust for the benefit of the Engineering Society, and a trustee organization was incorporated as the Rackham Engineering Foundation.

Within three months after its reorganization, the Society's membership had reached 1,000, and it became apparent that an adequate headquarters building would require additional funds. Early in 1937 the Rackham Fund presented the Society with a second grant of $500,000 for the purpose of erecting and furnishing such a building. Late in 1937, Mrs. Mary A. Rackham made a personal gift of $500,000 as an addition to the original trust fund. Further studies were then Page  1644undertaken as to building plans, but the project moved slowly.

At about this time a proposal was made to the Engineering Society that the University and the Society co-operate in planning and building a memorial structure to Horace H. Rackham, to house both the facilities of the Engineering Society and those needed by the University for the administration and execution of its graduate and extension program in Detroit.

The suggestion of co-operation with the University was accepted in principle by the Engineering Society, whose membership was now more than 3,000, and a period of joint planning began. After further study to determine the best possible arrangements for both parties to the proposed partnership, the Engineering Society held a special meeting in December, 1938, to explain the building plan. About 93 per cent of those voting in the letter ballot which followed favored the idea and indicated support of the project. Early in 1939 the Foundation appointed a committee to talk with the University. At the same time negotiations were begun with a view to purchasing the half block on Farnsworth Avenue between Woodward Avenue and John R Street, a piece of property which President A. G. Ruthven hoped that D. M. Ferry, Jr., an alumnus of the University, might sell to the University at a moderate figure.

In March, 1939, the Regents accepted an anonymous gift of $500,000 (from Mrs. Rackham) "to purchase land and to construct, equip and furnish a building in the City of Detroit … to serve as a headquarters for and to house the activities of the University of Michigan in said City of Detroit, including classroom work under the direction of its Extension Service and also of the Horace H. Rackham School of Graduate Studies" (R P., 1936-39, pp. 878-80). This building was to be adjacent to or adjoining the building to be constructed by the Rackham Engineering Foundation for the Engineering Society of Detroit.

The donor further specified that "instruction shall be given in said building … (1) For students who cannot or may not wish to attend the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor for the full period needed for the completion of a required course; (2) For younger professional men who may wish to improve themselves in their chosen line of work; (3) For adults who desire to continue their general education." The University was to "maintain said building in first class condition at all times." It was stipulated also that the gift of $500,000 would be withdrawn unless the trustees of the Rackham Fund added at least another $200,000 from the Fund by June 30, 1939. A gift of $500,000 was made to the University by the trustees of the Fund in May of that year and accepted by the University Regents at their second May meeting.

Plans for the new building were approved in November, 1939, the University and the Engineering Society having agreed to adopt President Ruthven's suggestion of a central auditorium and banquet hall flanked by two equal wings. It was decided that the Society would have one wing and the University would have the other wing and the central part. This meant that the University would own two-thirds of the property and building and the Engineering Society one-third, the money to be invested by each in about the same proportion. The University and the Society worked out an agreement concerning the joint use of the banquet hall and the auditorium in the University's section of the building.

Harley and Ellington, Detroit architects, were selected to design the memorial structure. Plans were submitted that harmoniously reconciled the diverse requirements Page  1645of the two rather complex organizations that were to occupy it.

After seeing the design and viewing the site, Mrs. Rackham felt, however, that more land was needed to afford the building a proper setting. Consequently in January, 1940, she advised the University and the Engineering Society that she was giving them, jointly, $750,000 for the purchase of the southern half of the block and for landscaping. The design of the building was then adjusted to the enlarged site, which consisted of the entire block bounded by Woodward, Farnsworth, and East Warren avenues and John R Street. This gift was accepted by the University and the Rackham Engineering Foundation in a joint agreement that provided for the relocation of the dividing line and reaffirmed the operating agreement originally approved a year and a half earlier.

In April, 1940, though it was still not possible to let contracts for the building itself, the University and the Foundation reached an agreement to raze the buildings already on the site. Another two and a half months elapsed before the construction bid of the W. E. Wood Company, of Detroit, was accepted by both parties. This proposal called for erection of the building on a cost plus fixed fee basis.

Ground was broken on July 1, 1940, and the cornerstone was laid on December 20 of the same year. The completed building was presented to its joint owners on January 28, 1942, by the trustees of the Rackham Fund at a formal dedication ceremony held in the main auditorium of the new building. Dr. Bryson D. Horton, chairman of the trustees of the Rackham Fund, presented the memorial building to its joint owners. President Alexander G. Ruthven accepted the building for the University of Michigan, and Dr. Harvey M. Merker, president of the Engineering Society of Detroit, accepted on behalf of the Society.

The total construction bill from the W. E. Wood Company was $1,297,246.66, approximately $17,500 below the estimate. Of this, the University's cost was $750,057.55, the Engineering Society's $547,189. The building and land together cost the University $1,244,000 and the Engineering Society $710,000. The University put the balance of its $1,500,000 into a reserve fund for equipment.

Architecturally, the Rackham Memorial was designed to harmonize with other structures in the Detroit Art Center: the Detroit Public Library and the Detroit Institute of Arts. The Rackham Memorial combines classical conceptions of architecture with modern influences, and the result is a pleasing blend of traditional and modern lines.

Structurally, the building is of reinforced concrete, with the exterior of three basic materials. The facings and the ornamental sculptures which enhance it are of white Georgia marble. Dark granite forms the spandrels between the windows. Cast bronze ornaments enrich these spandrels, and the same metal is used for window frames and grilles, doors, and incidental trim throughout.

The building is 404 feet long on its northern exposure, which faces on Farnsworth Avenue, and extends 65 feet in depth on the ends to 150 feet in the center. The center section presents a curving façade, with two ornamental pylons flanking the main portal, which is approached by a wide flight of steps. To the right, facing the building from the street, is the University wing, with that of the Engineering Society on the left. Each wing is entered through a subordinate portal.

Sculptures by Marshall Fredericks, then of the Cranbrook Academy, add to the impressiveness of the exterior of the building. Surmounting the four piers of Page  1646the main portal are four sculptured reliefs symbolizing the purposes of the Horace H. Rackham Educational Memorial. Other reliefs about the building further illustrate its purpose.

The main auditorium, which is in almost constant use for University lectures, concerts, and other programs, for meetings and functions of the Engineering Society, and for community and civic programs of an educational nature, is situated in the center section of the building. It is reached through the Memorial Lobby, a large foyer directly within the main portals of the building.

Facing the doors as one enters is the bronze Horace H. Rackman memorial plaque, centered on the inner wall of the lobby. It is mounted on a background of creamy polished marble, on which is a tribute to the humanitarian life of Mr. Rackham.

The Main Auditorium has a seating capacity of 1,000 and is so constructed that all have an equal opportunity to see and hear perfectly. The public address system is of unusual flexibility, and the stage is large and excellently designed. Although not intended for theatrical productions, it has been used for that purpose. Screening facilities and a completely equipped projection room are provided. The stage is fully equipped for scientific demonstrations.

On the ground floor level, directly below the Memorial Lobby, is the foyer to the banquet hall, which is also used by both occupants of the building. Although this banquet hall is on University property, it is managed by the Engineering Society, since the University has no facilities in the building for handling and serving food. The room, with a banquet capacity of 650 persons, is serviced from a completely equipped kitchen at the rear; it is also used for classes, lectures, and meetings and as an exhibition hall as well as for luncheons and dinners. It serves, too, as a supplementary auditorium for meetings which tax the capacity of the main auditorium, since it has built-in connections to the public address system on the first floor.

The University's wing of the building is devoted to offices and classrooms. The offices occupy approximately half of the main floor, with classrooms and a lounge occupying the remainder. The ground floor of the University wing houses three large classrooms, one furnished with drawing tables, a lecture room, a science classroom with tiered seats so that all students may have a view of the demonstration platform, a studio classroom used for radio and television technique classes, and a seminar room. On the second floor are nine classrooms, a seminar room, and the library. As need has arisen through the years, some of the classrooms on all three floors have done double duty, serving as offices by day and as classrooms during the evening.

The Detroit Branch of the University of Michigan Library is a spacious, highceilinged room with a mezzanine providing additional study space. Tall windows line the gently curving front of the room (part of the curving façade of the central section of the building), offering a view of the Detroit Institute of Arts and Woodward Avenue.

All classrooms are furnished with specially constructed walnut desks or with tablet armchairs. The radio studio is equipped with broadcasting facilities (though it has no transmitter), and is isolated from the rest of the building. All the necessary aids to visual education, including projectors of various types, maps, and charts, are furnished for the use of classes.

The Rackham Educational Memorial was dedicated and opened in a war-time atmosphere. The programs of the University Extension Service immediately reflected this. When the building was Page  1647designed it was believed that ample room had been provided in the University's section for the expansion of programs. Within a year after the building was in use, however, demands for classes in war training programs were so great that space had to be rented from the Engineering Society. Many classes were offered in the Engineering, Science, and Management War Training Program sponsored by the United States Office of Education, as well as others in languages, including Chinese and Japanese.

The demand for instruction did not slacken after the war emergency was over, but was diverted into new channels. More than a hundred courses are offered each semester, and usually it is necessary to arrange for at least one of the larger classes to be held in the Engineering Society's section of the building. Enrollments have increased steadily and average between three and four thousand each semester.

The University offers various types of courses at the Rackham Memorial. Among the most important programs are those for students in engineering, education, and business administration. Classes in education and other subjects of interest to teachers were the first to be given in Detroit when a group of educators petitioned the University in 1913 for courses that would enable them to accumulate credits toward degrees without coming to the campus for the entire program. This service for teachers grew rapidly, but it entered a new period of expansion when the Rackham Memorial was opened and the University had its own classroom and library facilities. A qualified graduate student may elect courses for residence credit, Detroit having been designated as a Residence Center for Graduate Study by the University's Graduate School in 1935. In order to meet the requirements for a master's degree, however, the student is required to spend at least one summer session in full-time residence on the campus. In 1950 a program leading to a master's degree in engineering mechanics was established in Detroit in response to requests from engineers who could not attend classes on the campus.

An extensive program of graduate-level courses in business administration is offered each semester. Much of the work for an advanced degree in this field may be done in Detroit. Credit courses are also offered on the undergraduate level, although no complete programs in any one field or for any one year are available. Many courses are elected by persons who are more interested in course content than in academic credit.

Classes in still another category are those designed for persons who are interested primarily in work that will lead to increased effectiveness and advancement in professional or business fields, but who do not wish academic credit. Extensive programs are offered each year in insurance, business subjects, and real estate, often with the sponsorship of groups interested in establishing standards in businesses that approach the professional attitude.

The Rackham Educational Memorial has served as a center for educational and civic meetings from the time it was opened. The Detroit staff of the Extension Service has made every effort to see that activities at the building fit into the cultural pattern of Detroit.

In addition to offering a varied program of courses, arranged in so far as possible to meet the needs of the area, the University sponsors many projects and conferences at the building. Many more programs are held each year with the cooperation of such groups as the Detroit public schools, the Detroit Public Library, and Wayne University, all located in Detroit's Art Center. Building facilities are sometimes available also to Page  1648other institutions and organizations.

From time to time University concerts and other programs are presented in the main auditorium. The building is also used occasionally by the University of Michigan Club of Detroit and by the Detroit Association of University of Michigan Women.