Since 1891, the Baptist Temple has graced the grounds of Temple University and brought to it a historical presence that cannot be found on other college campuses. The University is trying to preserve that gift through a $2.5 million renovation.
“It is an intricate part of the University,” said Bill Bergeman, vice president of administration. “The idea first came down from President [David] Adamany because it was such a historical signature for Temple.”
Adamany made a commitment in 2001 to the renovation of the Baptist Temple in a report titled “Self Study and Agenda.” He said the Baptist Temple, located on at the corner of Broad Street and Berks Mall, was “a historically important and aesthetically fine building.”
Constructed in 1891 by Baptist pastor and university founder Russell Conwell, the Baptist Temple is said to be the birthplace of the school. It is also where Conwell gave his famous “Acres of Diamonds” speech.
It housed the famous Chapel of the Four Chaplains, which was dedicated in 1951 by President Harry S. Truman in honor of four chaplains who gave their life jackets to others on a sinking World War II ship.
Icons of American history like Franklin Roosevelt and Helen Keller gave speeches at the Baptist Temple.
In 1984, the Baptist Temple was certified as a historical building by the Philadelphia Historical Commission. The building fell into disrepair from neglect after the building ceased to be used.
Construction workers from J.J. Cornell have endured freezing temperatures and sweltering heat to restore the 112-year-old building.
Work on the building’s rotting roof had to be completed before other renovations could be completed.
Workers had to remove trusses that held the roof together, which were worn down after years of bad weather, and install new ones.
After the roof was refurbished, the entire internal structure was renovated. Currently, workers are renovating the building’s exterior.
Bergeman said that President Adamany wanted to make the Baptist Temple more “fundamentally sound.” They plan to restore the historical look to the building’s exterior so environmental factors, such as rain, would not tarnish its appearance.So far, the renovation project is on schedule.
“I am extremely happy about the project,” Bergeman said. “We got a lot of positive feedback from people who have visited the site.”
Bergeman said the Baptist Temple will be open to the public in two weeks for one day so the university community can see the renovations. The project should be completed within six months.
No definite plans for the building have been set, although converting the temple into a performing arts venue for the university’s art, theater, music and dance programs has been suggested.
Jonathan Vann can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.