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G. W. Kramer times two

May 24, 2017

When George Washington Kramer died in 1938 he was ninety and had been retired from active practice for several years. Obituary notices are notoriously inaccurate — information often comes during the throes of grieving, provided by family members or friends not fully informed about the life of the deceased — and should be taken with that proverbial grain of salt. I call it “Recalling the best and forgetting the rest.” Kramer’s obit in the New York Times claims that he designed more than 2,200 churches during a fifty-year career. I’ve stated before my doubts about the veracity of that report. Regardless, I will admit that Kramer probably designed more churches than any other American architect of the 19th or 20th centuries.

It probably goes without saying that even half the number of designs claimed for (or by) him certainly includes multiple iterations of the same plan — with minor variants. As Frank Lloyd Wright famously said: “Pull down #53 and put a bay window in it for the lady.” So, when looking at a Kramer design, squint just a little, limit your perception of details, reduce the building to it basic massing and I suspect you’ll see more similarities and differences in any group of Kramer churches.

I was looking this evening at the UMC church in Derby, Connecticut, for two reasons: I find it an exceptionally well composed and substantially intact design, beautifully sited and admirably maintained. In addition, I had a call from our friend Richard Kenyon (an architect in Connecticut) who’s made arrangements to see the interior before an upcoming service. The congregation has both aged and shrunk which may put this on the state’s “endangered” list; it is certainly worthy of preservation and reuse, even for secular purposes.

Admiring its picturesque massing and profile, I was struck how similar it is to another Kramer church, also in Connecticut: the UMC in Watertown. The rhythm of elements in each is practically the same; it is only the size and materials that differ (masonry versus wood). I’m anxious to have Richard’s report on the state of the Derby interior and the intactness of its A-A features.

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