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Eastern Michigan University
Ypsilanti, MI, USA 48197
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Historic Tour > Virtual Tour >Rackham Building

Rackham Building

Historic Name(s): Horace H. and Mary A. Rackham Building

Rackham Building

Rackham Building
Date constructed: Built 1938. Dedicated June 27, 1940

Architect: R. S. Gerganoff of Ypsilanti

Style of Architecture: PWA Moderne / Streamline

Original Use: Housed Special Education classes for EMU students, a teaching school, and dormitories for students attending the teaching school.

Dates of renovation: 1986: renovated Rackham and Snow Health Center to house an expanding Children’s Center.

Current Use: Houses classrooms, Administrative offices and the Children’s Center.

History: Normal had opened the first Special Education Departments in 1919. It had been housed in Welch, but in 1938, it got a building of its own. Rackham was built to house the growing Special Education program as part of the building program under President John M. Munson. The Horace H. and Mary A. Rackham fund made a $350,000 donation to commemorate the work of Charles M. Elliot in the area of Special Education. Mr. Rackham, the lawyer who drew up the contract that incorporated Ford, had died leaving a fortune of $12 million dollars from Ford stock. Following his death in 1933, his will directed that the trustees of his fortune use the money to “promote the health welfare, happiness, education, training, and development of men, women, and children, particularly the sick, aged, young, erring, poor, crippled, helpless, handicapped, unfortunate, and underprivileged regardless of race, color, religion or station…”

The new building met the criteria set by Rackham’s will since it aided the disabled. The facility contained impressive facilities for the study and practice of special education. Rackham was the first facility in the nation built specifically for teacher training in special education. The new building not only housed the Special Education Dept, but also a Laboratory School where teachers learned techniques for educating students with special needs. A dormitory connected to the Laboratory School housed these students during the week while they took classes. Student teachers taught classes for the deaf and hard of hearing, blind and partially-sighted, mentally retarded, and physically handicapped. The building also contained a speech and hearing clinic.

When it was built, visitors felt that Rackham was one of the most beautiful

Rackham Building - Architecture

Rackham's PWA Moderne/Streamline Architecture
buildings on campus. Its streamlined moderne architecture seemed to flow smoothly around curved corners. Architects selected the bricks to match McKenny Union in an effort to created a sense of visual unity on campus. Placed near what was then the outer edge of campus, the building stood in a natural setting overlooking an area known as “Sleepy Hollow,” now the location of Bowen Field House and the Parking structure. To the south, Rackham overlooked the science gardens that were once planted behind Sherzer. Architects sited the building so that all the entrances to the building were made from ground level, relieving children, especially the disabled, from climbing steps to enter the building. The ground slopes downwards to the north allowing both the ground floor and the first floor to be completely open in the back with a view out over the countryside.

Rackham Building - Franklin Tiles decorating the interior of the building Rackham Building - Franklin Tiles decorating the interior of the building Rackham Building - Franklin Tiles decorating the interior of the building

Franklin Tiles decorating the interior of the building

Inside, Franklin Tiles decorate the areas around water fountains and along walls. Designs include fish, frog, crabs, cougar, cranes, and leaves. Some of the tile designs are listed in the Franklin design sheets as early as the 1920s.

The school could accommodate more than two hundred children. A dormitory attached to the building could house 24 four students as well as a housemother. The dormitory was open to children requiring special education who lived too far for the daily commute. The ground floor contained six classrooms as well as a gymnasium and auditorium. Separate recreation rooms for boys and girls, laundry room and incinerator were also located on the ground floor. The first floor housed classrooms for the deaf, physiotherapy and orthopedic therapy rooms, office space, and a clinic. The building also included a lunchroom that could house all two hundred pupils.

The laboratory school closed in June 1982 because of Michigan’s mandatory special education act that delegated administrative responsibilities for special education programs to local school districts. The Special Education department, however, continued to use the building for classroom space.

Rackham Building - Children's Center Rackham Building - Children's Center Rackham Building - Children's Center

Children's Center at the Rackam Building

Today, most of the Special Education classes are housed in the Porter College of Education and Rackham is the home of the Children’s Center.

Location - Rackham Building


Location of Rackham Building (Click on the image for a bigger view)