The Monuments Men

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Ralph Warner Hammett ( 1896-1984 )

Architect and professor, Ralph Warner Hammett was born on June 26, 1896 in Mankato, Minnesota. He earned degrees in architecture from the University of Minnesota in 1919 and Harvard University in 1923. At Harvard, he was awarded the prestigious “Rome Prize” and, from 1924 to 1926, he studied at the American Academy of Rome and traveled extensively throughout Europe. In 1927 he published the book, The Romanesque Architecture of Western Europe, which included photography and writings from his European travels.

Hammett returned to the United States in 1927 and became the chief designer at Eric E. Hall and Co. and an associate professor of architecture at The Armour Institute, both in Chicago. The following year he married Gladys Brouillard; they had two daughters. In 1931 he moved his family to Ann Arbor, Michigan, where he became a Professor of Architecture at the University of Michigan.

In 1943 Hammett entered U.S. Army Civil Affairs Training School at Harvard University. He enlisted in the U.S. Army in late August 1943 and was assigned to the European Civil Affairs Division. By 1944 he was stationed in Paris as a Monuments Officer with the Communications Zone (“Com Z”). There, he helped establish a valuable card catalog of important European monuments arranged by location, which was merged with the field reports of Monuments Men in the field as well as eighteen official lists of monuments and fine arts distributed by SHAEF. This comprehensive catalog served as a centralized location for up-to-date information on monuments and fine arts during the war and was central to the success of the MFAA. At Com Z, he worked alongside Monuments Men Maj. Stratton Hammon, Lt. Daniel J. Kern, Lt. James J. Rorimer, and Maj. Lord Methuen.

Hammett received his discharge in May 1945 and returned home to the United States. He resumed his position as Professor at the University of Michigan, and remained there until 1965. In addition to his lectures, he continued to design public buildings, many of which remain in use today. His commissions included the interior of the Abraham Lincoln Memorial in Springfield, Illinois and the Cook County Criminal Court Building in Chicago. In Ann Arbor, he designed the St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church parish hall and chapel, the Lloyd Douglas Memorial Chapel, the Lutheran Student Center, and an addition to the Women’s City Club.

Hammett wrote about his experiences as a Monuments Man in College Art Journal (January 1946) and the Michigan Alumnus Quarterly Review (February 1946). He was a member of the American Institute of Architects and held offices in the Michigan Society of Architecture, including the title of “Architect of the Year” in 1957. He wrote Architecture in the United States, a survey of architectural styles in the U.S., in 1976.

Ralph Hammett died in 1984.