Building Page 3 | Presbyterian Historical Society

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The PHS Building: 50 Years at 425

In 1962, John S. McQuade and Alexander Mackie persuaded the board to hire architect G. Edwin Brumbaugh to draw up plans. Under the denomination’s polity, the use of money from a sale of church land (the Mariners’ property) and a property purchase (the lot on which the Society would build) had to be approved by the local presbytery (the Presbytery of Philadelphia).

Map of Society Hill neighborhood of Philadelphia, ca. 1967. [Pearl ID: 82854]

 Because of delays the projected cost had risen from $.5 million to $1.1 million, an amount far beyond the capacity of the Society, the Friends of Old Pine, the Presbytery of Philadelphia, or even the national church’s per capita budget. When momentum for the new building stalled, the Rev. Dr. Theophilus Taylor came to the rescue.

Portrait of Theophilus Taylor by C.L. Way, 1968.

Taylor had been a gift to the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. from its smaller partner in the 1958 denominational merger, the United Presbyterian Church in North America. A former missionary to India and pastor in Vermont, Taylor was elected the first Moderator of the merged church, named General Secretary of the General Council of the national church, and transferred from the UPCNA’s Committee on Historical Records to the UPCUSA’s Historical Society. All those positions meant he had connections. Taylor used those ties to remind UPCUSA boards of the services PHS provided to their records—such as taking 75 five-drawer filing cabinets with pre-1900 foreign mission materials off the hands of the Commission on Ecumenical Mission and Relations. Under Taylor’s persuasive arm-twisting, the Church boards extended to PHS loans of $300,000 and the national Fifty Million Capital Campaign extended $350,000 in grants.

Speakers at the Presbyterian Historical Society dedication ceremony, September 1967. [Pearl ID: 82445]

The last obstacles to the new building rose out of local politics. As the City of Philadelphia announced its economic redevelopment plans, investors bought up condemned properties—often occupied by impoverished tenants—in the hopes of profiting from government treasuries. The Department of Transportation considered a South Street connector between Interstate 95 and the Schuylkill Expressway, with an on-ramp planned for Fifth Street. Labor unions prepared to negotiate contracts with higher wages.

Signitures of dignitaries present at the opening ceromny of 425 Lombard Street including architect G. Edwin Brumbaugh. [Pearl ID: 81729]

It was time for slow church processes to make way for action. After the city’s Redevelopment Authority cleared title of the property to the presbytery, and the presbytery passed ownership to the Historical Society, McQuade’s construction crews moved in.

Portrait of former PHS Director Bill Milller, 1971. [Pearl ID: 82847]

Ground was broken in August 1966, and by the midsummer of 1967 Nora Robinson, Ed Starzi, Director Bill Miller, and Research Historian Gerry Gillette were busily creating special crates and cartons to move the collections across town.

PHS dedication ceremony, September 1967.

In September 1967, the same month 425 opened, the PHS board began strategizing to acquire land for an addition.