Cram was born on December 16, 1863 at Hampton Falls, New Hampshire to the Rev. William Augustine and Sarah Elizabth Cram. He received his education at Augusta, Hampton Falls, Westford and Exeter. While his father was a Unitarian minister, he called himself an agnostic in his youth.
Cram moved to Boston in 1881, at age 18, and spent five years in the architectural office of Rotch & Tilden, after which he left for Rome. During an 1887 Christmas Eve mass in Rome, he had a dramatic conversion experience. For the rest of his life, he remained a fervent Anglo-Catholic who self-identified as High Church Anglican.
Cram began his career as an architect in 1889.
His work is represented on a number of campuses, including Cornell University, The University of Notre Dame, Sweet Briar College, The University of Richmond, Williams College, Wheaton College in Massachusetts, the United States Military Academy, St. George's School, Phillips Exeter Academy, and The University of Southern California. Cram designed the original master plan of Rice University in Houston and its original 1912 suite of six major buildings, serving as consulting architect for the remainder of his active career.
He is most closely associated with Princeton, where he was awarded a Doctor of Letters and served as Supervising Architect from 1907 to 1929. For seven years he headed the Architectural Department at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and was lecturer on archetectural design at Harvard University for several years from 1908.
Cram designed a masque and pageant to celebrate MIT's move from Boston to Cambridge in 1916. He conceived the idea of ferrying Technology officials across the river in an elaborately decorated ceremonial barge, like the Bucentaur used by the doges of Venice. The Technology Bucentaur was long, in beam, and drew only of water. As described by the Boston Globe, it was "sumptuous and complicated" with "a massive figure of Technology holding a T-square in her left hand and a torch of enlightenment in her right". Other decorations included mermaids, cupids, and a beaver.
As an author, lecturer, and architect, Cram propounded the view that the Renaissance had been, at least in part, an unfortunate detour for western culture. Cram argued that authentic development could come only by returning to Gothic sources for inspiration, as his "Collegiate Gothic" architecture did, with considerable success. He was not altogether inflexible on this point, however, rejecting Gothic for his Rice University buildings in favor of a medieval north Italian Romanesque style more in keeping with Houston's hot, humid climate.
He was a public figure, frequently mentioned in the press. The New York Times called him "one of the most prominent Episcopalian laymen in the country". He made news with his defense of Al Smith, saying "I... express my disgust at the ignorance and superstition now rampant and in order that I may go on record as another of those who, though not Roman Catholics, are nevertheless Americans and are outraged by this recrudescence of blatant bigotry, operating through the most cowardly and contemptible methods.
Cram's buildings include:
Cram authored numerous publications and books on issues in architecture and religious devotion. Titles include:
Cram was also a writer of fiction. A number of his stories, notably "The Dead Valley", were published in 1895 in a collection entitled Black Spirits and White. The collection has been called "one of the undeniable classics of weird fiction. H. P. Lovecraft wrote that "In The Dead Valley the eminent architect and mediævalist Ralph Adams Cram achieves a memorably potent degree of vague regional horror through subtleties of atmosphere and description.
Cram was a -
Till we have built Jerusalem.( The Architecture of Ralph Adams Cram and His Office The Architecture of Ralph Adams Cram and His Office)(Book review)
Feb 01, 2008; THE ARCHITECTURE OF RALPH ADAMS CRAM AND HIS OFFICE by ETHAN ANTHONY W. W. Norton, 176 pages, $60 RALPH ADAMS CRAM--the...