Monday, January 24, 2011

A Greek Revival temple Girard College Philadelphia, PA

Founder’s Hall at Girard College (1833–1847) is one of the finest example of American Greek-Revival architecture.

During my two week stay in the lovely city of Philadelphia in August of 2008 one of the first sights I wanted to see was the little known Stephen Girard Collection. The Stephen Girard Collection is America's and Philadelphia’s great intact single-owner collection from the early national period. These original items dateing from (1780 – 1830), including custom made furniture, silver, paintings, ceramics,textiles and even clothing down to wigs, socks and underwear! were owned and used by Stephen Girard in his Philadelphia townhouse at 23 North Water Street.




The rare survival of both Girard’s artifacts and archives means that for many objects we know original maker, year of manufacture and purchase price. Most of the furnishings were made in Philadelphia, France or China. The extensive silver collection represents products of Philadelphia, England and France. I will cover the collection in a up and coming post.


School founder Girard specified in his will the dimensions and plan of the building.

The Stephen Girard Collection is house in Founder's Hall a large Greek Revival building that was the original classroom building for Girard College. Before we get into Founder's Hall let me tell you a little bit about The life of Stephen Girard (1750–1831) It is a great American immigrant success story. Born in Bordeaux, France, Girard was the eldest of 14 children. His mother died when he was 11, and he left home at the age of 14 to spend the next 12 years sailing the seas and learning the international mercantile and shipping business.




 Financed by its founder's massive endowment, Girard College was one of the most architecturally impressive American schools of the early 1800s. Covering more than forty acres, the campus contained over twenty buildings, including the imposing Greek Revival Founder's Hall, completed for the 1848 opening. In accordance with Girard's will, it was surrounding by an imposing stone wall, ten feet high, capped in marble that walled the campus from the outside world.

Girard arrived in Philadelphia in June 1776 and remained there for the rest of his life. During his 55 years there, he became the richest American of his time.


Girard was married to Mary Lum from 1777 until her death in 1815. They had no children. Girard’s first fortune was in international shipping and merchant activities. He sent his ships, crews, and captains around the world and deposited his growing wealth in the First Bank of the United States in Philadelphia. When the First Bank lost its charter in 1811, he bought the bank's building, left his money there, and reopened as the Bank of Stephen Girard. This made him America’s first private banker. He made his second fortune in banking and helped raise the $16 million required for the U.S. government to fight the War of 1812. Forklore has it incorrectly that he saved the government from bankruptcy. By the time of his death, his fortune totaled approximately $7.5 million, billions in today's money.








The grand Neoclassical Hall of Founder's Hall

The Stephen Girard Collection

The grand Neoclassical Hall of Founder's Hall


A Greek Revival doorway

1817 Rents house to Joseph Bonaparte and becomes his business advisor and financial agent. Joseph presents SG with bust of Napoleon. ~ Receives letter (on display in Founders Hall) from Thomas Jefferson at Monticello, regarding payment of books and wine from France.

1822 President James Monroe asks and receives a personal loan of $40,000, payable in five-years at normal 6% interest rates.


 
The basement

The elderly Girard started to think about what he would do with his fortune. With the assistance of attorney William J. Duane in the 1820s, he wrote a long will outlining every detail of how his fortune would be used. In addition to extensive personal and institutional bequests, he left the bulk of his fortune to the City of Philadelphia to build and operate a residential school for needy children from single-parent households. This innovative social vision was considered extremely unusual both then and now: to use the Girard fortune not to endow another Ivy League university but to assist children in need. In 1831, the bequest was the largest single act of philanthropy in American history.




Girard’s will eventually became famous for his restriction that students must be “poor, white, male, orphans.” The school remained for needy white boys for over a century. From 1954, with the U. S. Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education, there was increasing interest in integrating Girard College by race. After a long, bitter 14-year civil-rights struggle (including Martin Luther King's speaking at Girard’s front gates in August 1965), the first four black boys entered the school in September 1968 and the first black girls in 1984. Current enrollment is about evenly divided between boys and girls and about 80% African-American.



The Girard Estate remains open in perpetuity and provides much of the operating budget for the school and awards a full scholarship with a yearly value of approximately $42,000 to every child admitted to the school. The scholarship covers most of the costs of attending Girard, including tuition, room and board, books, and school uniforms.


Founder’s Hall was the school’s original classroom building. It has three main floors, each measuring 14,000 square feet (1,300 m2). The plan for each floor, according to Stephen Girard's specifications, consists of a 100 x 20 ft. front hall, four 50 ft. square rooms with 25 ft. ceilings arranged two-by-two, and a back hall that is the same size as the front hall. The scale of the spaces was impressively large when the building first opened.





The grand Neoclassical Hall of Founder's Hall

The grand Neoclassical Hall of Founder's Hall


Founder's Hall Architecture




Founder’s Hall at Girard College (1833 – 1847) is often considered the finest example of Greek revival architecture in America. I have been in many Greek Revival buildings and Girard College is the grandest and finest! Founder's Hall, the columned, Greek Revival centerpiece of the campus - it's bigger than the Parthenon! Girard wanted no "needless ornament," in the structure, but Founder's Hall was both grandly designed and the most expensive building project in America pre-Civil War. The dead client for the building was Stephen Girard (1750 - 1831), the school’s founder, who specified in his will the dimensions and plan of the building. The live client was Nicholas Biddle (1786 -1844), Chairman of the school’s Building Committee and President of the Second Bank of the United States in Philadelphia.



Girard’s will specified that there would be an architectural competition to win the job of designing his school. His two million dollar construction budget ensured that the 1832 competition was the first American architectural competition to have truly national participation. The winning architect was Thomas Ustick Walter (1804 – 1887). After the long, difficult job at Girard, Walter went on to design the dome of the United State Capitol in Washington, D.C. He later returned to Philadelphia, was an assistant architect on City Hall and a founding member of the American Institute of Architects (AIA). Some Girard College visitors come only because they want to see a great, early T.U. Walter building.



Founder’s Hall was the school’s original classroom building. It has three main floors, each measuring 14,000 square feet. The plan for each floor, as specified in Girard’s will, consists of a 100’ x 20’front hall, then four 50’ square rooms with 25’ ceilings arranged two-by-two, and a back hall the same size as the front. The scale of the spaces was dazzlingly large when the building first opened and Founder’s Hall was one of Philadelphia’s great 19th century tourist destinations.



Two final points: 1) Nicholas Biddle was so happy with T. U. Walter’s work at Girard that in 1834 he hired Walter to convert the Biddle country seat, “Andalusia” in Bucks County, PA, from a large Pennsylvania farmhouse in what is often considered the finest example of domestic Greek revival architecture in America. 2) When Founder’s Hall was finally completed in 1847, it was the second most expensive building in America, second only to the United States Capitol!







The building is made up of beautiful Pennsylvania King of Prussia Marble

The building is made up of beautiful Pennsylvania King of Prussia Marble

1831 Died December 26, aged 81 years, 7 months. ~ His Will, containing over 10,000 words, was read the following day.


December 28: Councils pass resolutions of respect and regret upon the death of Mr. Girard. December 30: The funeral procession of 3,000 mourners, pass 20,000 citizens lined along the one-mile route. SG interred without service or priest at Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Church, 6th & Spruce Streets. Net worth of estate at time of death was said to be $7.5 million, Final figure placed at $7,670,000.

1851 Girard's remains were disinterred from grave on January 6 or 7. ~ Taken to Founders Hall on January 9, and placed in locked third floor room. ~ Remains entombed in completed sarcophagus, September 30, with Masonic Rites attended by City officials, dignitaries and others numbering 1,500. Entire student body filed past the sarcophagus at the close of the ceremony.


 A life-size marble statue of Girard stands before the sarcophagus giving the students and visitors who can view it from the roadway below an impression of dignity, authority, and a peaceful aura of simplicity, competence, and durability.


Founder's Hall, the columned, Greek Revival centerpiece of the campus - it's bigger than the Parthenon! look at how small











Girard’s will demanded an architectural competition for the school's design. Endowed with his $2-million contribution, the 1832 competition was the first American architectural competition to have truly national participation. The winning architect was Thomas Ustick Walter (1804–1887). After the Girard commission, Walter went on to design the dome of the United State Capitol in Washington, D.C. He later returned to Philadelphia and became an assistant architect on the City Hall and, in 1957, a founding member of the American Institute of Architects (AIA).




 
Harmoniously proportioned, it is designed as a great peripteral temple with 34 large fluted marble Corinthian columns.







4 comments:

  1. I wish I could buy it for $1.00 and live there. I don't know how I would ever pay the heating bill. My house is bad enough. We are having such a long cold winter in Missouri. This is a beautiful building. You have such insight. Richard at www.myoldhistorichouse.blogspot.com

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  2. This is a history book! Fantastic post, photos, story.
    Yet the civil rights bit just sends shivers down my spine. To think I was already born when finally black boys were allowed in. It's something I still find hard to believe.

    Another shiver down my spine: Bordeaux, the second biggest slave port of France. :-(

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  3. Hi Richard the school moved out in 1916 because it was hard to heat. My house is under 2,000 sf and I only heat or cool the room I'm in. Thanks cieldequimper most people don't know that the North also had problems with integration.

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  4. More about Stephen Girard and his school - Girard College!

    http://www.stephengirardsgirardcollege.com

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