The history of campus’ oldest buildings

When parent alumni visit Temple with their prospective student children, they must notice how much the campus has changed over the years. While Temple has changed physically with contemporary buildings such as the IBC Student

When parent alumni visit Temple with their prospective student children, they must notice how much the campus has changed over the years.

While Temple has changed physically with contemporary buildings such as the IBC Student Recreation Center, Tuttleman Learning Center and the shops on Liacouras Walk, the character of Temple has changed little since its foundation.

The three oldest buildings, the Baptist Temple, Barrack Hall and 1810 Liacouras Walk, reflect Temple at the turn of the 19th century and today. They represent the closeness of academia and community, and the relationship on which Temple was founded that continues to thrive. Although these buildings have been renovated and modernized, their character remains.

“We’ve made a great effort to maintain the buildings that were falling apart in order to preserve their historic value,” said Tom McCreesh, director of Facilities Management.

At the center of the surrounding community stands an architectural masterpiece, the Baptist Temple, constructed in 1878. By the time it held its first service in 1891, it had the greatest seating capacity of all Protestant churches in the United States with 4,600 seats, according to University Communications.

The Baptist Temple was the heart of the surrounding working-class community. Workers spent nine to 10 hours in a shop or office. Saloons, heavy suppers, dust and poor lighting were characteristics of the nightlife.

However, in the temple, members and visitors could see electric lights and vivid stained-glass, sit in a brilliant auditorium, feel indoor heat in wintertime, savor a chorus of 150 voices and hear one of America’s greatest orators, the Rev. Russell Conwell, rev up the crowd.

“In the temple, the 1,000 members were intermingled with 2,000 additional visitors, many at first moved with idle curiosity,” wrote Edward Elliot in Tent to Temple, a book that documented the history of the Baptist Temple. “Even after the next four years, when the membership had gradually grown to 3,000, it was a physical impossibility for one to become closely acquainted with hundreds of the newer members.”

Though the Baptist Temple is no longer a center of worship, its personality has not changed. This month, work will begin on a major renovation to create a performance facility for music, debates, lectures and other major events.

It is also part of the City of Philadelphia Historic District.

In contrast to the celebratory and community purposes of the Baptist Temple, Barrack Hall was built for the first students who attended night school.

Then called College Hall, it opened in 1894 with 35 classrooms and a large lecture hall known as the “forum.” In 1936, a passageway above the street was added to connect the building to the Baptist Temple. This was intended to reflect the close relationship between the college and the temple, thus linking academia and community.

In 1998, the Pennsylvania Commonwealth added a new slate roof, conducted masonry repair and restored windows and doors to the historically certified building.

In 2002, the commonwealth provided additional space for Beasley School of Law students and staff, including a lecture hall, student affairs suite, faculty offices, classrooms, student organization offices, seminar rooms and a student lounge.

The row homes at 1810 Liacouras Walk, across from the Alter Hall construction site, were built in 1900 as homes for members of the surrounding community and were later bought by the university.

“I remember in the 1970s, the homes were used as women’s dormitories – Williams Hall,” said Michael McCann, assistant director of Facilities Management.

The row buildings were vacant for many years and fell into disrepair. The university needed more space, which could have been filled by putting the buildings back to use. However, their current state was not efficient for these uses.

Because Philadelphia listed the row homes as part of the City of Philadelphia Historic District, the university and the city had to reach an agreement. The university agreed to retain the facades and demolish the back to allow space for a modern, state-of-the-art building.

The Academic Resource Center, Student Health Services, the Math and Science Resource Center and Tuttleman Counseling Services occupy the former row homes today.

McCreesh explained his challenge is to incorporate modern conveniences, such as wheel chair accessibility, air-conditioning and life and fire safety, into the three oldest buildings, while preserving their historical value to Temple and Philadelphia.

The renovation of the Baptist Temple will cost nearly $26.5 million, McCann said. Renovations on Barrack Hall cost $10.9 million and 1810 Liacouras Walk cost $18.6 million.

“All three buildings will be used for a long, long time,” McCann said. “1810 and The Baptist Temple are certified by the city as historic, and Temple cannot tear them down even if we wanted to do so. I think they will be used for the foreseeable future and beyond.”

Charlotte Levins can be reached at

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.