Laurie Williams Sowby
The Philadelphia Pennsylvania Temple is rising and changing the city’s skyline nearly three years after ground was broken in the historic downtown area.
The edifice is framed to its full height, and windows and a temporary roof are being installed. Block encases it all, and a granite veneer will be bolted on starting in late fall. Once the building is enclosed, work will move forward on the interior.
Project manager Tom Stepanko of L. F. Driscoll, the Philadelphia company teaming with Big D Construction from Utah in the joint venture, is enjoying the work, his first time on this type of project.
“It’s a rare treat to build something this beautiful,” said Mr. Stepanko. Comparing the temple’s thick block core — four feet thick at the base — with the usual standard of building for 15-20 years, he said, “This is built to last a lifetime.”
The 53,000-square-foot temple of neoclassical architecture has two towers reminiscent of the clock tower on Independence Hall a mile away; a statue of Angel Moroni will stand at the peak of one, overlooking the adjacent Vine Street Expressway and Benjamin Franklin Parkway. A low-profile mechanical services building is under construction on the same 1.6-acre site. Underground parking will be provided on two levels, and garden landscaping will enhance the grounds.
Brian Hatch, who is construction manager for Big D, said interior design will be patterned after Independence Hall and other buildings of the late 1700s, with architecture and period furnishings “appropriate to the history of this area.” The temple will contain two 60-seat ordinance rooms and four sealing rooms.
When the temple construction was first proposed, Mr. Stepanko was working elsewhere. “I knew this was the project I wanted to do,” he said, and is happy Driscoll was selected.
Neither he nor the union crews who work on the temple site are Latter-day Saints, yet “the workers are very respectful, and they’ve gained an appreciation for the LDS Church. I’d describe it as almost reverent,” he said.
Neighbors who have watched the construction’s progress are also appreciative. Jennifer Tapner, executive director of the Watermark at Logan Square, the retirement living high-rise near the temple site, praised the project, mentioning how the Watermark’s feedback has been welcome from the beginning.
“Everyone who has represented the LDS Church has truly been a pleasure to deal with,” she said. “They have gone out of their way to build a strong relationship with the community and minimize any and all disturbances one might think of when dealing with a construction project so large.” She added, “We look forward to the beautiful enhancement to our cityscape.”
President Henry B. Eyring, presiding at the groundbreaking ceremony on Sept. 17, 2011, noted significant Church history events in Pennsylvania, including organization of the Philadelphia Branch on Joseph Smith’s birthday, Dec. 23, 1839, with the Prophet presiding. “I am sure he is rejoicing today to see us break ground and dedicate it for a temple of God where he began his work of preparation,” he told the audience.
The Philadelphia Pennsylvania Temple will serve 35,000 members in 10 stakes in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware. The Washington D.C. Temple and Manhattan New York Temple have been the nearest for members in this part of the United States for many years. Those members include Richard Burr of the Sewell Ward, Cherry Hill New Jersey Stake, whose health has limited his opportunities to bring family history research to fruition with temple ordinances. “I’m thrilled,” he said while visiting a temporary information trailer at the site.
Likewise, the proximity of a temple closer to home will bless people like Annie Beckstead of the Souderton Ward, Philadelphia Pennsylvania Stake, who was visiting the site with two young daughters in tow. She must trade babysitting or arrange a long weekend away to attend the Washington D.C. Temple. Having the Philadelphia temple only 40 minutes away, she said, “will make it much more manageable for a day.”
The downtown location is more than historic, as it will also allow members in the city to access the temple easily via public transportation.
Corinne Dougherty, public affairs director for the Philadelphia Region, explained the benefits of an urban temple: “The ‘natives’ like me thought the temple would be built in the suburbs, perhaps near Valley Forge. But we are so thrilled that the temple is in the city. Our city members are a diverse group, and it would have been difficult for many of them to get to the suburbs, but it’s easy for us in the suburbs to get to the city.”
Georgia Waite, a member of the Logan Ward, Philadelphia Pennsylvania Stake, was baptized in Jamaica 27 years ago and has lived in Philadelphia for 15 years. She called it “wonderful and very economical” to have a temple near. The site is within walking distance for her. She doesn’t drive and has had to depend on others for a ride to the Washington D.C. Temple. When the new temple opens, “I won’t have to wait for a ride and nobody will have to wait for me,” she said.
The Philadelphia temple, the first in Pennsylvania, is one of 14 Latter-day Saint temples currently under construction. There are 143 operating temples around the world. Another 13 have been announced, but construction has not yet begun.