Hundreds of houses of worship in Philadelphia, owned by major denominations, are vacant and in need of repair and restoration.
But the religious community received a ray of sunlight last weekend, when the simple, modest and dignified Arch Street Meeting House, 330 Arch St., became the city’s newest National Historic Landmark.
At an eloquent ceremony Oct. 13 attended by dozens of current congregants and members of the Religious Society of Friends, the plaque honoring the historic building was unveiled.
Catherine Lavoie, a historian with the Historic American Buildings Survey and co-author of the 40-page nomination for the structure, praised the meeting house for the “Quaker values implicit in its design.”
The Arch Street Meeting House is the only extant work by Quaker master builder Owen Biddle. It was built on land given to the Society of Friends by William Penn in 1693. Biddle began the design and construction in 1803 and completed it in 1805. He died the following year, but he is remembered also for his influential writings, “The Young Carpenter’s Assistant,” one of the earliest handbooks for architects published in the U.S.
Biddle’s meeting house is the largest in the city and the second oldest. He used Flemish-bond brick, marble steps, wood shutters and columned porticos throughout the building. It is “elegantly understated, in keeping with Quaker plainness,” Lavoie wrote in her nomination.
The building was renovated and somewhat modernized in 1968 by the firm of Cope and Lippincott, but it retains the simple design and harmony that must have welcomed the earliest gathering of Friends.
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