Martha Cook Residence Hall

Martha Cook Residence Hall

The Martha Cook Building was erected as a residence for women in 1915 as the result of a gift from William Wilson Cook (1880, 1882l ) in honor of his mother, Martha Walford Cook. As early as 1911 Mr. Cook had already made the University a gift of $10,000 toward a proposed residence for undergraduate women (Regent's Proceedings, 1910-14, p. 96). In his letter of presentation to the Regents, on February 10, 1914, Mr. Cook wrote:

“In memory of my mother, Martha Cook, I will build a Women's Dormitory Building for the use of women exclusively … on land now owned by you, on condition that the occupants shall have sole and exclusive charge of its income, expenses and management (subject to the approval of a board of women appointed by the Regents); and, on the further condition that the University shall at times hereafter furnish heat, light and power for the building free of charge, and shall not derive any income from such building; and on the further condition that so much of the surplus income or profit from the building shall be used by the occupants for furniture, furnishings, works of art and improvements in or to the building as they deem best, and the remainder, if any, at the end of each year shall be set aside as a fund to be used in the following year to give lower or free rates in the building to such under-graduates or post-graduates as the President of the University and the Dean of Women may designate from time to time.”

William Wilson Cook
Martha Walford Cook

Architecture's Sketch of Martha Cook Residence Hall

Martha Cook Residence Hall


Martha Cook Residence Hall Garden

Martha Cook Residents “Cookies” 1919

The deed of gift was signed in February, 1914, and the building was occupied with the opening of the school year in the fall of 1915. In selecting residents emphasis has always been on scholarship and campus leadership.

The land, occupying almost a block between Tappan and South University Avenues, was purchased by the Unversity, in March, 1913, but the beautiful garden on the east was further evidence of Mr. Cookʼs foresight and generosity. The Condon home, facing on South University Avenue, formerly occupied this site, and the family had an attractive and extensive garden thoroughly enjoyed by the residents of the Martha Cook Building. Mr. Cook obtained the deed to the property in 1917 and presented it as a gift to the University in 1918 with the understanding that the University would maintain it for the use of Martha Cook students and their friends. When the house was vacated in 1921, it was removed, and, under the supervision of Mr. Samuel Parsons, of New York City, the entire property was replanted as a garden. The magnolia trees and the rare Japanese locust (Cladrastis Lutea) were left where they stood in the Condon garden. The cement terrace which extended along the east side of the building overlooked the garden. The natural teakwood tables, chairs, and benches were a special gift from Mr. Cook in the spring of 1916. To the south of the building was the tennis court, completed in June, 1918. It was laid out on property purchased by Mr. Cook for this purpose in 1917.

York and Sawyer, architects, of New York City, designed the dormitory, and the Fuller Construction Company, also of New York, was in charge of its construction. The building cost $260,000 and had a floor area of 63,234 square feet. The informal dedication of the building took place in November, 1915.

Architecturally, the Martha Cook Building was reminiscent of late English Gothic and early Renaissance periods. The exterior with its pointed arches, tracery windows, deep buttresses, and battlemented roof of slate and copper was pure English domestic Gothic, inspired by the best work at Cambridge and Oxford. The red brick with its special cross bond, and the limestone window facings were admirably suited to the architectural design. The Gothic entrance with the niche as a central feature was particularly beautiful. The statue of Portia was an added gift in June, 1918.

Martha Cook Residence Hall


The style of the interior varied from Tudor Gothic to Early Renaissance, and the details of the furnishings extended to Jacobean or later periods. The variety was blended into an effective whole.

Upon entering the vestibule, one saw first a beautiful Tudor Gothic pierced screen. The entrance lobby, with its oak panels and molded ceiling of the Elizabethan period, opened into a long, cloistered corridor, with floor of marble and red flagged paving, high oak paneled walls of the Tudor period, and majestic Gothic ceiling — white ribs against blue vaulting. At the far end of this gallery was the statue of the Venus de Milo, a replica of the original.

Martha Cook Residence Hall Gallery - Venus de Milo stands at the end of the gallery.

To the right of the entrance was the offices, and to the left an apartment for the Director, and a guest room. Beyond was the reception room known as the Red Room, furnished in crimson and gold. This room, which measured 18 by 39 feet, had a vaulted ceiling and plaster frieze reproduced from a sixteenth-century English manor house. The ceiling design was an interesting combination of the English rose and French fleur-de-lis, known as “wagon head ceiling.” The woodwork was in butternut, and the moldings and general details were reproduced from measured drawings of antique woodwork. The hangings were of red damask and the furniture of the Jacobean period. The room had an open fireplace of Botticino marble. The portrait of Martha Cook was hung in this room.

Beyond the reception room was the living room, called the Blue Room because the University colors of blue and gold predominate. It measured 30 by 56 feet and had elaborately carved paneling of Burma teak wood and a plaster ceiling, a replica of one in Sir Paul Pindar's House at Bishopgate, which now forms a part of the collection in the Victoria and Albert Museum at South Kensington. At either end of the room was a fireplace with a stone facing in the form of a Gothic arch. The handsomely carved and inlaid arched head panelings of the mantels formed an impressive background for the bust of Mr. Cook, which was placed there as a memorial to the donor, following his death. The furnishings of the room included three blue and gold oriental rugs and upholstered furniture of Jacobean design.

Martha Cook Residence Hall Blue Room

Farther along the main corridor was the dining hall, paneled in oak and with beamed firred ceiling of fifteenth century design. The stone mantel had an arched opening, and the motto of the building was carved in the stone. The small round dining tables were of oak. Beyond the dining room were the serving rooms and quarters for the staff.

Martha Cook Residence Hall Dining Room

A mezzanine floor at either end of the building provided space for seven or eight student rooms. Most of the students, however, were accommodated on the second and third floors, with an additional fifteen on the fourth floor. The student rooms, for the most part, were single and arranged in suites with a few double rooms. Each room was equipped with a full-length mirror, dresser, desk, chair, and a tea table of gum wood. The furniture was finished a light brown. A small guest wing on the fourth floor, in addition to a guest room on the first floor, afforded provision for visitors. Each floor was provided with telephone, shower room, and a kitchenette, and the fourth floor had a storage room for extra clothing.

The building is essentially the same today as when it was built, with the exception of the kitchen, in which equipment has been modernized. The plumbing system has been renovated. Care was taken to see that the bathrooms, with their white tile, marble walls, and original imported china fixtures, were preserved.

Ruth Gjelsness (The University of Michigan: An Encyclopedic Survey, p. 1720)