George G. Booth didn’t just commission renowned architects in building Cranbrook, he also engaged well-respected landscape designers. Architecture and nature were equally considered. Booth’s own 1904 topographical map demonstrates his grandiose vision for reshaping what was then farmland. It is not surprising, therefore, that Cranbrook has a connection to the American “father of landscape architecture,” Frederick Law Olmsted.
Leading up to and following the Center’s most recent Bauder lecture, Experiencing Olmsted: The Enduring Legacy of Frederick Law Olmsted’s North American Landscapes, Olmsted-related materials in the Archives were revisited and new associations were made.
It was Frederick Law Olmsted’s successor firm, the Olmsted Brothers, led by his sons, that worked on the landscape of Christ Church Cranbrook from 1926-1928. Simultaneous to the construction of the church by the architecture firm Bertram G. Goodhue Associates, the Olmsteds created plans for the surrounding land between Lone Pine, Cranbrook, and Church Roads.
A few pieces of correspondence in the George Gough Booth Papers shed light on the close relationship between Booth, the chief architect Oscar H. Murray, and the Olmsted Brothers. But there are many more letters from Job 7754 (aka Christ Church Cranbrook) in the Frederick Law Olmsted Papers and Olmsted Associates Records held by the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., all of which can be read online.
The Archives also holds two reproductions of Olmsted Brothers plans: the second and the tenth drawing revisions submitted in 1927 and 1928, respectively. In these, plants are clearly numbered, but the Archives does not hold the accompanying keys. At the suggestion of Bauder lecturer, Charles Birnbaum, President, CEO, and Founder of The Cultural Landscape Foundation in Washington, D.C., I reached out to the Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site in Brookline, Massachusetts. They graciously shared scanned copies of both planting plans, for our reference.
We now know, for example, that the large evergreens that George Booth mentions in a letter to Oscar Murray likely refer to the Austrian Pine (10 and 82), Douglas Fir (83), and White Pine (90) enumerated in a November 4, 1927 plant list for Plan No. 2. And, we can see where on the blueprint those trees were proposed to be planted!
Many more discoveries are sure to come, now that we have a more complete picture of the original landscape design for Christ Church Cranbrook. I know that next time I drive or walk by the church, I will be taking a closer look at the vegetation.
—Deborah Rice, Head Archivist, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research
Editor’s note: To view the five drawings in the Olmsted Archives at Brookline, including originals of the Cranbrook copies, and eight scrapbook pages that include Goodhue Associates renderings, visit their Flickr albums.