Friday, March 10, 2006

Architecture Friday: Arch Street United Methodist Church

Since I work in downtown Philadelphia and I like some of the buildings, I’d like to research them and write about them here on occasional Fridays.


Architecture Friday: Arch Street United Methodist Church.
Location: 55 North Broad Street, Philadelphia PA
Architect: Addison Hutton
Construction: May 1864-Nov 1870 in two phases.
Style: Gothic Revival

This structure was the result of an argument over the “devil’s music”.

This church was built in the “western suburbs” of 19th century Philadelphia by an off-shoot of the Union Methodist Church on Fourth Street. The younger members of the Fourth street church believed that a violin was acceptable accompaniment to the choir and the older congregational members believed that only a tuning fork was to be used to get the choir on the right pitch.
The violin wild men, James R. White, Charles W. Higgins, and George Cookman, proposed a new church out in the western countryside of the city. This spot later became the bustling center of the city and this became the oldest standing building on center square.



After renting a hall across the street, the congregation first built a chapel. This chapel was constructed perpendicular to Broad Street in middle of the block between center square and Arch Street and is currently incorporated into the main structure of the church. This portion of the building houses a small prayer chapel and offices. Later the main section of the building was constructed. This section housed the main spire, main sanctuary, balconies and the choir and organ lofts. This section was constructed perpendicular to the first section and therefore parallel to Broad.


The building itself is perhaps the finest example of Gothic Revival architecture in Pennsylvania and is unusual in its asymmetrical single spire design. The main entrance is located beneath the spire in the northwest corner of the plan. Parishioners enter here and travel beneath the choir and organ loft into the main sanctuary. The main sanctuary is large open space free of any support buttresses and houses cantilevered balconies running on the left and right side.

The sanctuary is richly appointed in wood and dark colors.


The ceiling also hides a unique gravity feed cooling mechanism. There are operable openings to a void in between the exterior roof and the interior ceiling. Opening these allows for a natural cooling of the sanctuary. This mechanism has since been replaced by a modern HVAC system.


The organ loft houses a massive pipe organ that has 2300 pipes.

Today the church houses an active congregation and is very active in the community acting as the body of Christ.

As an aside, the massive open space inside is very impressive, even when empty. The floors are also wood and creak like an old house. It's quite an old building.

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