Horace H. Rackham School of Graduate Studies

Rackham Graduate School

One of the most beautiful and impressive of the University buildings is the Horace H. Rackham School of Graduate Studies. This building, designed to be a center for the general activities of the Graduate School, was given to the University in 1935 by the trustees of the Horace H. Rackham and Mary A. Rackham Fund, together with a generous endowment.

Sketch of the Horace H. Rackham Building

Horace H. Rackham
Mary Rackham

The site chosen for the Graduate School comprised the two city blocks bounded by East Huron, Fletcher (formerly Twelfth), East Washington, and Thayer streets. It was necessary to remove thirty buildings before actual construction could begin. Ground was broken in May, 1936. The cornerstone was laid on October 30 of the same year, and two years later, in June, 1938, the building was formally dedicated to the two great branches of learning, the sciences and the humanities. Smith, Hinchman and Grylls were the architects; the W. E. Wood Company held the construction contract; and Pitkin and Mott, landscape architects, laid out the grounds. The total cost of the building, including equipment, amounted to $2,500,000.

Horace H. Rackham Building under construction

The building was constructed of Indiana limestone with a granite base course; the window and door frames were of bronze, and the roof copper. The main entrance, on the south side of the building, was approached by a broad terrace of granite steps with flagstone paving, and planted areas at either side.

Horace H. Rackham Building Entrance

Horace H. Rackham Building Fireze

Three pairs of bronze and glass doors gave access to an entrance hall with a floor of green and purple-gray slate laid in a rectangular pattern. The plaster walls were painted a Pompeii red, with a black marble base and trim, and the beamed ceiling was blue-green with stenciled decorations in polychrome and gold to harmonize with the gold and bronze lighting fixtures. Tables and benches of ebonized wood with blue-green leather cushions harmonized with three pairs of blue-green bronze-studded leather doors which opened into a second lobby and from there into the main lecture hall.

Rackham Graduate School Entrance

Rackham Graduate School Second Lobby

The lecture hall was a semicircular room 100 feet deep and 29 feet high, with a lecture platform on the north and an arcade opening into the lobby on the south, giving access to six aisles which radiated toward the platform. Approximately 1,200 seats, upholstered in terra-cotta velour, were so arranged that one could take a place without requiring the occupants of other seats to rise. The floor was carpeted in dark blue, with terra-cotta walls and ebonized wood trim, while the flat ceiling was of a lighter blue with a pattern of overlapping radiating circular bands in gold leaf and polychrome. The unique lighting system was affected through a series of small openings in the ceiling which permitted cones of light to spread over the room.

The elevated stage provided a speaker’s stand, seats for eighteen, stairways to a robing room below, and a control pit for the public address system. Above the stage was a motion-picture screen covered with draperies, and, completing the facilities, a projection booth with equipment for electrical amplification of lectures, reception and transmission of radio broadcasts, sound on film, record reproduction, and television and microscopic projection.

Rackham Lecture Hall

On the east side of the building, on the main floor, were the administrative offices of the Graduate School, including a large waiting room, the business office, record room, and staff rooms. On the west were offices and conference rooms, the Graduate School Board Room, and offices for the Institute of Public Administration, the English Language Institute, and the Institute for Human Adjustment. These rooms had painted plaster walls, wood trim, and linoleum covered floors. Two of the offices had walnut-paneled walls, and eight were carpeted. At each end of the entrance hall were checkrooms, retiring rooms, and stairways leading to the ground-floor corridors.

Rackham Graduate School Dean’s Office


At either side of the doors to the lecture hall were monumental stairways of travertine leading to the second floor. Entrances to the elevators were on the landings of these staircases.

Desk in Lobby on First Floor
Stairway leading to second floor

The northern part, or rear, of the second floor was taken up by the upper part of the lecture hall, while on the south front of the building there was a high-ceilinged study hall 31 by 105 feet, with alcoves 22 by 40 feet at either end for books and periodicals. The study hall had twelve-foot wainscot of Appalachian oak, continued in a lighter shade of brown to the ceiling. The ceiling was divided by five great coffers in polychrome and gold, and from three were suspended chandeliers in antique green and gilt. These were supplemented by lamps on the study tables. The large study tables and chairs of oak harmonized with the wood wainscot. An abundance of natural light was afforded by five large windows which opened toward the Mall.

Rackham Study Hall


Rackham Study Hall Alcove


The lounges, at either end of the second floor, measure 26 by 69 feet and had two alcoves, each 17 by 28 feet, for writing and music. The men’s lounge was furnished in rather heavy Chippendale and Queen Anne mahogany and walnut, with modified Georgian lighting fixtures of brass and pewter. In the women’s lounge the lighting fixtures were gray-green and gilt, while the furniture was lighter Chippendale and Duncan Phyfe. Near the entrance to each lounge there was a small kitchen and serving room. Completing the rooms on this floor two council or committee rooms, approximately 15 by 20 feet, adjacent to the lounges, provided for student and faculty group meetings.

Rackham Lounges

The University Main Building


The second floor had a circular foyer twenty-six feet in diameter, lighted from above. The color scheme of the foyer, dark terra-cotta red and travertine, was continued throughout the corridors which lead to the men’s lounge on the east and the women’s on the west. On the north wall of the foyer there was a portrait plaque in bronze, modeled by Carleton Angell of the University Museums. The following inscription on the plaque was written by Professor John G. Winter:

Horace H. Rackham 1858-1933
* Poverty did not embitter him nor wealth affect the simplicity of his life and the even tenor of his way.
* His mind moved always on a high plane, serene and noble, and his vision extended to the problems of human suffering and happiness everywhere.
* His broad humanitarianism and his pervading wisdom remain a living force, his memory a refreshing inspiration.

The east, south, and west parts of the mezzanine floor were taken up by the upper part of the high rooms on the second floor, while the north part was devoted to eight workrooms. In addition, there were two small but perfectly appointed lecture rooms, each accommodating fifty persons. The lecture rooms were carpeted and contained theater-type chairs, light-proof shades, and projection facilities. Trusses over the lecture hall pass through the mezzanine floor, and the inside spaces between these trusses were adapted as exhibition rooms, the two central ones of approximately 30 by 52 feet and the end ones 25 by 47 feet. The former were connected by two doors in the separating wall. Twelve-foot-wide corridors, which lead to the end rooms, provide additional space for exhibits. The exhibition rooms and corridors had linoleum-covered floors and were painted a neutral gray; the walls were of wood covered with fabric to permit the hanging of pictures.

The third floor was much smaller, with an area only about half as large as that of the lower part of the building, the south part being occupied by the upper part of the great second-floor study hall. In the center there was a small circular amphitheater, sixty feet in diameter, which seated 250 persons. A laboratory table fully equipped for demonstrations could easily be seen from all parts of the room because of the steep inclination of the seats. Behind this table was a motion-picture screen with sound equipment, controlled from a booth on the north side. The walls of the room were of an acoustical material in medium brown, banded horizontally with bronze molding. The ceiling consisted of a series of concentric steps which lead to an illuminated dome.

The University Main Building


Also on the third floor there was an assembly room 63 by 26 feet, which could be extended by pushing back the folding cloth doors of the alcoves at either end. Decorations and furnishings of all three rooms were in a Pompeii style, with yellow and gray the predominating colors.

Rackham Assembly Rooms

The University Main Building


At the east and west sides of this floor were conference rooms 28 by 36 feet, carpeted in mottled gray, and with pin-grained oak paneling. The connecting corridors between had rubber-tile floors and plaster walls painted in a neutral color. These were furnished with settees and chairs and from them doors open to a large tiled roof terrace with deck-style furnishings. Facilities for serving tea or light refreshments were available on this floor.

Rackham Terrace

A basement floor extended underneath the entire building. Two inclined ramps led down to this floor from East Huron Street on the north, joining in a driveway under the lecture hall. This provided a sheltered automobile approach for guests at social and other functions and parking space for the administrative staff. This part of the building has insulated walls and ceiling.

From the driveway metal doors on the south opened into a U-shaped corridor, and on the north wall a small passageway led to the robing room under the lecture hall stage. Rooms for heating, ventilation, and for other mechanical equipment as well as workrooms and storage rooms opened from the corridor. The ground floor housed the Michigan Historical Collections, with stacks and administrative offices. The Collections occupied six rooms. Various other laboratories and offices also were housed on this floor.

Rackham (rear) on Huron Street

Rackham Underground Driveway


The Rackham Fund gift amounted to more than $10,000,000, which was used for a site, a building known as the Horace H. Rackham School of Graduate Studies, and a substantial endowment for carrying on graduate work and research. Administration of the funds and of the building was in the charge of a Board of Governors, of which the president of the University is chair.

The endowment fund amounted to more than $7,000,000, the income of which was used for research projects, publications, and fellowships.

The Rackham Graduate School was on a direct line with the University Library, and the area between the two has been developed as a landscaped parkway known as the Mall.

Wilfred B. Shaw (The University of Michigan: An Encyclopedic Survey, p.1649)

Rackham Graduate School
on the North End of Ingalls Mall