Gordon P. Bugbee10/27:
Gordon P. Bugbee, the dean of Detroit’s architectural historians, died on October 25, 2000 at his home in Detroit’s historic Corktown neighborhood. He was sixty-six years old.
Born in Dayton, Ohio, Bugbee was brought to Detroit at an early age when his father, L. Willis Bugbee, became associated with the well-known patent law firm of Barthel and Bugbee. After elementary education in the Grosse Pointe schools, Bugbee attended Philips Academy, Andover, graduating in 1952. He received a Bachelor’s in Architecture cum laude in architecture from Harvard College in 1956, and received the Masters in Architecture from the Harvard School of Design in 1961. During his college years, Bugbee was one of the last employees of Detroit’s George D. Mason Company, the architectural firm famous in the region for fine design in historical styles ranging from the Richardsonian Romanesque of Detroit’s First Presbyterian to the late Neo-Gothic of Kirk-in-the-Hills. He often commented on the irony of studying the latest “International Style” design at Harvard and then coming home on vacation to design full-scale Gothic details for the Kirk.
Bugbee lived and worked for some years for Louis Kingscott & Associates in Kalamazoo, Michigan, where he met and married Margaret (Peggy) Beloof, who predeceased him. After his return to the Detroit area, Bugbee worked for the firm of O’Dell, Hewlett & Luckenbach, where he participated in the design of the Pontiac Silverdome; and later with the architectural firm of Roger Margerum.
In 1978, Bugbee began to teach part-time at Lawrence Technological University, and in 1983 left the full-time practice of architecture to teach full time; he was associate professor at his death. Largely self-taught in the field of architectural history, he nevertheless made it his specialty. A lively lecturer, his enthusiasm for his topic, his brilliant intellect and his limitless depth of knowledge made him a favorite of many students. He was Lawrence’s “Educator of the Year” in 1993. A scholar and a believer in hard work, he was not an advocate of the modern trend to tolerance for non-achievers.
Outside his profession, Bugbee enjoyed a world-wide reputation as a scholar in the field of maritime history. While still at Harvard he published The Lake Erie Sidewheel Steamers of Frank E. Kirby, a monograph devoted to the magnificent steamers that served the overnight routes from Detroit to Cleveland and Buffalo. Over time, he became the leading scholar of those ships and of Frank E. Kirby, the world-famous marine architect who designed them. During the 1960's, he was an issue editor of Steamboat Bill, the journal of the Steamship Historical Society of America, and editor-in-chief of Telescope, the periodical of the Great Lakes Maritime Institute based at the Dossin Great Lakes Museum on Belle Isle. Throughout his life, he produced articles on the maritime history of the Great Lakes region, some of them distributed as free flyers on excursion boats, but most for publication in scholarly journals.
He was also the author of Domino’s Mansion, published in 1988, which studied the design of the Domino headquarters buildings by the architect Gunnar Birkerts, and the role of those buildings as symbols of the corporation they housed.
An active churchman, Bugbee was Senior Warden of Detroit’s Trinity Episcopal Church at the time of his death, and was also the organizer of the weekly soup kitchen operated at the church; he was also a generous provider of individual assistance to those in need. He was especially devoted to the Trinity Church building, a work commissioned from George D. Mason by James Scripps, which is a nationally important example of the reform of Gothic Revival at the end of the 19th century.
Bugbee was also involved in historic preservation activities in the area and lived in an 1880's house in Detroit’s historic Corktown. From 1985 to 1987 he was the architect of record for the widely-admired renovation of Most Holy Trinity Catholic Church of 1855, not far from his home. For twenty years he has served the City Council as an appointed member of the City of Detroit’s Historic Designation Advisory Board. He also served as President of the Saarinen (Michigan) Chapter of the Society of Architectural Historians.
A true eccentric in manner and dress, Gordon P. Bugbee was nonetheless a most loyal and rewarding friend for those who took the time to delve beyond appearances. He was one of Detroit’s most active and avid advocates, and a true contributor. He cannot be replaced.
He leaves his sister, Lorna Simmons; a niece; three nephews; and a multitude of friends.
A memorial service will be held at Trinity Episcopal Church on Sunday, November 5, 2000, at 2:30 p.m. The church is located at the intersection of Trumbull Avenue, Martin Luther King Boulevard, and Grand River Avenue, on Detroit’s near west side. The family suggests contributions to Trinity Episcopal Church.
Reported by: William Hoey Sr.