HENRY H. TURNER, AIA, GRAND RAPIDS SCHOOL ARCHITECT 1909-1919
Text and photographs unless otherwise noted by Pam VanderPloeg, copyright 2017
In all areas of the urban core, you will find the beautiful historic style schools of Henry H. Turner. Turner was responsible for an unprecedented wave of school construction in Grand Rapids. Some of the Grand Rapids Schools designed by Turner include, Fountain School, Lafayette School, Stocking School, Congress School, Lexington School, and Burton School. Turner's influence extended beyond as well. He designed Breton School in East Grand Rapids on Boston at Breton, in the area known then as Paris Township, and he designed schools in Kalamazoo and Muskegon as well.
Henry Turner was born in 1881 in Auburn, New York to a Swedish father turned English sea captain and to a German mother who died when he was age seven. Turner grew up in Brooklyn with his uncle, a well-known minister who was known to look like a twin of Theodore Roosevelt, and who expected Henry to follow in his ministerial footsteps. Henry had already at a young age determined he would be a minister, and without his uncle's support, had to strike out on his own for his education. After completing his training at Harvard in 1907, Turner worked for a year with the progressive St. Louis school architect, William B. Ittner, and then moved to Cleveland to work with another school architect F.B. Barnum. He was recruited in 1909 to become the Grand Rapids Schools Architect and thus began a wave of classically styled school buildings he designed through the 1920's, even after he went into his own practice in 1919 with architect Victor Thebaud and engineer W. W. Bradfield.
Not all of the schools designed by Turner have survived. For example, beautiful Renaissance style Ottawa Hills High School is gone and on the same site Grand Rapids Christian Elementary was built. And just the arch remains of the amazing Dickinson School. The school was originally a gothic design in three stories in "vitreous red brick and ornated with gray Indiana limestone." The interior featured battleship linoleum on all the floors and terrazzo finish for all of the toilet rooms, stairways and vestibules. The teachers were outfitted with "an attractive restroom." It was proclaimed as "fire-proof construction with all kinds of modern amenities including an industrial arts shop room and a combined social center and gymnasium with a built-in stage. The school even contained a branch of the public library! This seems to me to be an extraordinarily forward thinking idea in efficiency and community service! The library was an exciting feature because it was open to the community evenings and Saturdays
The fact that so many of the schools of Henry H. Turner (who by the way, added the H. as a middle initial himself to distinguish himself from a school mate with the same name) have survived and are vital in the community today speaks to the solid and pleasing design of these buildings of Henry H. Turner, AIA.
AIA Historical Directory of American Architects,: A Resource Guide to Information about past architects.
Architectonics, “News from the Offices,” edited by Chris Steketee, April 1928, p.6
“Who’s Who in Grand Rapids—XXI. Henry H.. Turner,” Grand Rapids Spectator, August 11, 1928.
“School Architect Turner Resigns Job,” Grand Rapids Herald, Sunday Morning, October 12, 1919.