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The Latter-day Saints Complex

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The Angel Moroni atop the Latter-Day Saints Temple with the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul in the background.

Between 2016 and 2018 three buildings took the place of surface parking lots that had been there for almost four decades. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in October of 2008 announced plans to build a temple in Philadelphia. The first site purchased was on the northeast corner of Broad and Noble Streets (in 2024 made the site of the Toll Brothers’ Broad + Noble Apartments), but site contamination necessitated a change to the northeast corner of 18th and Vine Streets. After purchase of the site in 2010, ground was broken in 2011 and the temple and the meeting house across Franklin Town Boulevard were opened for public tours before the formal dedication in 2016. The Alexander Apartments, named for sculptor Alexander Stirling Calder (the middle Calder), opened at 1601 Vine Street in 2018, with a 34-story tower containing 264 apartments over an underground garage for 300 cars, all surrounded by 13 townhomes. The Alexander is owned by a subsidiary of the Church and is open to renters of all or no faiths. The timeline and building materials can be found at the outside article here

 

 

Brief History of the LDS Church

I will use the official name of the church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and not “Mormon Church” or “Mormon Temple” as an acknowledgement of the preferences of members of the Church. I will refer to the buildings as the temple, meeting house, and apartments, and to members of the Church as “Church members” for shorthand. This is official Church policy as of 2018, as discussed in this 15-minute outside video here.

 

First a quick recap on the founding and beliefs of the Church and the significance of the angel Moroni atop the Temple.

Most people know a few things about what they call Mormons. The religion is approaching its bicentennial as a recent American-made faith that was started by Joseph Smith. Popular culture has associated the religion with polygamy (banned since 1890), Brigham Young, Salt Lake City, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, avoidance of caffeine, and young adults on recruiting missions. 

 

According to the Book of Mormon, Moroni was a Native American. According to Church beliefs as written by founder Joseph Smith, like all Native Americans, Moroni was also a descendant of the ten Lost Tribes of Israel. After the first destruction of the temple in Jerusalem and the diaspora of the Israelites, some found their way to North America. This unusual migration idea had been put forth in the mid-1600s, and William Penn himself, in a 1683 booklet here, lists the reasons why the Lenni-Lenape are probably descendants of the ten lost tribes of Israel: appearance, customs, calendar, and some Biblical justifications.

24-year-old Joseph Smith, when he published the Book of Mormon in 1830, took the story further. Moroni was the son of Mormon, a leader of the Nephites who battled against the Lamanites, both groups being Native Americans who had descended from one of the ten lost tribes. Moroni was the last known survivor of the Nephite nation. Mormon wrote the record of the Nephite people on golden tablets. Moroni then added to them and buried them in western New York in the early fifth century, and later, as the resurrected Angel Moroni, revealed the existence of the plates to 17-year-old Joseph Smith in 1823. After translating the plates, Smith returned them to Moroni, the plates never to be seen again. Smith translated the script on the tablets, doing much of the work in western Pennsylvania, and published the work as the Book of Mormon in 1830. A new religion was launched. Smith sold himself as a prophet who had written down the revealed words of God and the new religion as a restoration of the one true Christian faith that had been corrupted in the early years after Christ. He called his followers Latter-day saints, to recognize the approaching end of days that would herald the second coming of Christ. 

 

The source material for Smith’s story is much discussed. Perhaps in a naming coincidence, the Spanish missionaries in California in the early 1800s called the mission Indians "neophytes," a fact generally known. The last of the Nephites compares to James Fennimore Cooper's The Last of the Mohicans published contemporaneously in 1826 (by the way, Tamenend, the sachem who made peace with William Penn and whose memorial statue is at Front and Market Streets, and the turtle clan of the Delaware, figure prominently in the conclusion of that book). Joseph Smith started his early career as a professional treasure hunter, with a keen interest in the alleged buried treasure of the pirate Edward Teach, known as Blackbeard. The Comoros Islands off the east coast of Africa and its capitol Moroni, were pirate ports. There is speculation that the name of the last Nephite and the hill on which the golden plates were found, Cumorah, derive from the well-known pirate stories involving the Comoros.

 

Articles in Philadelphia newspapers from the latter half 19th century were generally unfavorable to the LDS Church. Utah became a territory of the United States in 1850, and Brigham Young was made governor. He saw himself as head of state and head of the state’s church. His wish for a theocracy made for a testy relationship with the federal government. He declared “any president who lifts his finger against this people shall die an untimely death and go to hell.” Local Utah officials declared that they would not obey any federal statute with which they disagreed. These personal and governmental threats did not dissuade President Buchanan from declaring the Church in rebellion and sending in federal troops in 1857. The Mountain Meadow Massacre, committed by Church members in 1857, occurred at a time when the US military was sent to suppress the Utah militia in the one-year-long Utah War. All of these issues made for good press in the East (see short outside article hereand distrust of the Church festered among the “Gentile," or non-LDS, populace. Some outsiders still consider that Utah is a de facto if not de jure theocracy. Though as of 2021 Church members make up 55% of the state’s population, 86% of state legislators and 100% of state-wide elected federal officials are Church members.

Polygamy, which was not officially abolished within the sect until 1890, was another obvious target for Gentile religious conservatives. On US naturalization paperwork after 1891, the only attestations required of the applicant were that they were neither an anarchist nor a polygamist, the latter a response to the Utah situation.

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Sketch from an article in the May 20, 1894 edition of The Philadelphia Inquirer.

The article itself was very favorable to the Church, but this particular sketch is ironic in that it shows the Salt Lake City residences of the children and widows (plural) of Brigham Young, who had 56 wives, 23 of whom survived him (see chart at outside link here).

In the neighborhood you may encounter earnest young men (the 18-year-old “elders”) and women (“sisters”) who are serving their two-year mission in Philadelphia. There have been Church missionaries in Philadelphia since the first Church proselytizers arrived here in 1837, seven years after the publication of the Book of Mormon. Joseph Smith himself, the founder of the religion, preached in Philadelphia in late 1839. The first LDS meeting house was built at 316 South 46th Street (now the Good Shepherd Community Church) in 1938. Currently there is an LDS meeting house at 3913 Chestnut Street. The meeting house is where Sunday worship services are held. The LDS complex in our neighborhood has the first temple built in Pennsylvania, the temple being where sacred ordinances are performed and only open to members of the Church in good standing. Prior to our temple opening in 2016, the 40,000 Church members in the Philadelphia region had to travel to New York City or Washington DC for the sacraments.

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View of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints complex in 2023 with north at top. Vine Street runs horizontally at the bottom; 18th Street is on the left; 16th Street is on the right; Franklin Town Boulevard cuts diagonally through the middle. The white-granite-clad temple, with a two-story Temple Distribution Center building to its north, is on the left; the meeting hall is the red brick structure in the lower center; and the 375-foot-tall Alexander Apartments building is on the right with the townhomes forming its pedestal.

The History of the Site of the LDS Complex

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Portion of a 1901 Bromley map from here. North is towards the top. 18th Street runs vertically on the left; 16th on the right; and Vine Street horizontally at the bottom. Pearl Street is just north of Vine Street and no longer exists in our neighborhood. Wood Street is north of Pearl.

Pink color represents a brick or masonry building; yellow a wood frame structure (outhouses at the rear of houses); and an “X” represents a stable. The houses on the 1600 block of Vine Street had private stables across Pearl Street and fewer outhouses, suggesting nicer homes and probably single-family. Most of the houses on the 1700 block were probably boarding houses in 1901. There would be a live-in manager who owned or leased the building, and a dozen local workers would live in each narrow rowhouse. Meals and laundry cost extra.

The Charity Hospital at 1731 Vine Street had moved into a boarding house there in 1893 from another rowhouse at 1832 Hamilton Street, where it had been for twenty-three years. 1832 Hamilton Street would have been in the north side of the future Baldwin Park.

1713 Vine Street was the maternity department of nearby Hahnemann Hospital. Maternity hospitals were often in larger rowhouses, as discussed in our article on the Garretson Hospital.

1739 Vine Street is on the corner of 18th and Vine and is today the official address for the Temple.

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Front and reverse of a business trade card from Fitch Druggists, at 1739 Vine Street in 1901. A good shop for all your child-deworming needs.

Many rowhomes had a business occupying the first floor, but especially corner buildings with their exposure on two streets.

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Charity Hospital provided free medical care and prescriptions, seeing about 1,000 patients a month on a part-time schedule. It was later replaced by the Childrens’ Bureau of the City Department of Public Welfare. Abandoned children were dropped off there until the parents could be found or other living arrangements made. There were hundreds of Philadelphia Inquirer photos like this one, published in the 1930s and 1940s, seeking tips on the parents’ whereabouts. 1731 Vine Street was a rooming house again by 1947.

1737 Vine Street was a boarding house. It is interesting to look at want ads from the time of the 1901 Bromley map shown above. I suspect the demographic specifications for applicants were not based on affirmative action, but rather an attempt to hire someone who would be willing to take lower pay.

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The 1700 block of Vine Street looking west. The photo is undated but is probably from just after 1893 since there is a trolley visible in the background. Photo from here.

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Photo looking west down Vine Street along the 1700 block in 1933. The houses on the left would be removed by 1951 as part of the Vine Street widening project.

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1952 aerial photo of the 1600 and 1700 blocks of Vine Street. North is to the left. Vine Street is running vertically on the right. The Family Court building is at lower center. Pearl Street bisects both blocks in the east-west direction. There is a 10,000-gallon wooden water tank atop the five-story luggage factory at 1701 Vine Street.

There are a few rowhomes left, especially between 16th and 17th and Pearl and Wood Streets, but most of the blocks are given over to four to six story light manufacturing buildings. High resolution image here.

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Portion of a 1950 Sanborn map.

Vine Street is on the bottom and 18th Street runs vertically on the left.

The letter “S” on a building denotes a store. The one-story shop at 323 North 18th Street (formerly a Triangle Grocery Store) and the adjoining three-story house at 325 were purchased by Libby Scott in 1933 and 323 was the site of her candy store. She is mentioned as an opponent of the Franklin Town development in our article here. A candy store across from Hallahan High School – that’s prime real estate!

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Another portion of a 1950 Sanborn map one block wets of the above map. 17th Street runs vertically on the left and Vine Street runs horizontally on the bottom.

Light industry has taken over half the real estate on these two blocks

The LDS complex was built across what used to be Pearl Street. Probably a coincidence, but the Standard Works of the LDS faith include a book called the Pearl of Great Price, a compilation of some writings of Joseph Smith first published in 1851. The other books in the Standard Works of the faith are the King James Bible, the Book of Mormon (1830), and the Doctrines and Covenants (1835).

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Quadruple Combination format of the Standard Works of the LDS faith.

After World War II residents of the city began an exodus to the suburbs. To the west, the Schuylkill Expressway was built from 1949 to 1959. Along the Delaware River to the east, Interstate 95 through Philadelphia was approved in 1945 and mostly built by 1979. In anticipation of the increased traffic connecting the Schuylkill Expressway and I-95, Vine Street was widened to ten lanes in 1951 and was placed below grade in increments starting in 1959. The initial widening at grade level required demolition of many of the buildings along the south side of Vine Street. Although the Vine Street Expressway was a major incursion, an interstate highway marking the south edge of our neighborhood, at least no buildings were demolished on the north side of Vine Street to accommodate its path.

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Photo from 1988 looking west from 15th Street at the ramp construction for the Vine Street Expressway/676. The tall towers of the Fountains at Logan Square senior apartments and One Franklin Town apartments are on the right, just west of the two empty surface parking lots extending from 1601 to 1739 Vine Street.

As noted in other history articles on this website, when the City’s Department of Records starts photographing your block, it might mean the end of your block. The following photos were taken in 1971 after the Franklin Town project was announced. The private development, using the powers of the City government and the Redevelopment Authority to threaten neighbors out of their homes and businesses using eminent domain, was announced in June of 1971 as a “city-within-a-city” to be completed within a decade. Once approved, demolition of most of the neighborhood was accomplished quickly. Part of the proposed project was realized in the 1970s and early 1980s, but then inflation stalled further building plans. Undeveloped surface parking lots dotted our neighborhood for decades, including the two blocks along the 1600 and 1700 blocks of Vine Street which stood barren for four decades.

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From The Philadelphia Inquirer in June 1971.

The blocks between 16th and 18th Streets and Wood and Vine Streets were slated for demolition to be redeveloped by the Franklin Town Development Corporation (FTDC).

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Photo from 1971 of 1624-1636 Wood Street: typical Philadelphia brick rowhomes with marble steps.

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Photo from 1971 looking west at the four-story furniture factory on the southwest corner of 17th and Wood Street. It looks very much like the current Lofts at Logan View Apartments (the former Harrington Hoist Works at 17th and Callowhill Street).

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Portion of 1962 land use map

16th Street is on the right; 18th on the left; Wood Street runs horizontally at the top. The Vine Street Expressway is built as far as 18th Street, to be extended east by 1991. Pearl Street no longer exists in our neighborhood.

1701 Vine Street was a five-story office building, with a large space devoted to Smith-Corona-Marchant typewriter sales and repairs (for our younger readers, see the SCM Typetronic 7816 brochure circa 1965 here.)

The building also had businesses dealing with phonographs, hand weaving, leather goods and luggage.

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1601 Vine Street is the taller building, where today’s Alexander Apartments building towers over the neighborhood. This photo is from 1971, when it was Royston’s Auto Supply, shortly before demolition. In the far background on the left is the water tank atop the former Baldwin munitions factory built in 1916. In 1971 it was part of I-T-E.

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1707-1709 Vine Street in 1971, shortly before demolition for the Franklin Town project.

An electronics shop and a typesetting business were on the left at 1711-1713 Vine Street, and a partial view of Dewey’s Coffee Shop at 1715 Vine Street is at the left edge of the photo.

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Dewey’s Coffee Shop at 1715-19 Vine Street in 1971. (from the Philadelphia Department of Records Archive).

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The Park & Vine Luncheonette at 1739 Vine Street in 1971, then on that corner for at least two decades. 1739 Vine Street is now the official address for the LDS Temple.

The building next door to the east is 1737 Vine Street, a boarding house and the source of the want ads listed above.

The “S” on the building at 1735 Vine Street on the right edge of the photo is the first letter of Sid & Joe’s Luncheonette signage. With the Municipal Court, Parkway Library, and I-T-E in the neighborhood, the lunch crowd was apparently good business. There was also George’s Restaurant at 1748 Callowhill Street (now the Fountain View senior apartments) and Connie’s at 1806 Callowhill Street (now law offices), both just one block north. Just around the corner on 16th Street were two more, now replaced by the 676 on-ramp: Sam’s Luncheonette at 339 North 16th Street and Malin’s Luncheonette at 323 N 16th.

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Portion of an aerial map from 1980. The Family Court is at the lower left and Vine Street is only below grade as far east as 16th Street.

In this photo the future Church site is stripped of buildings and construction has started on Franklin Town Boulevard and the Fountains at Logan Square senior-living apartments (what was to become the Watermark and now the Fountain View at Logan Square). The stripped land was all part of the Franklin Town Development project as discussed in our article here. The land at lower right east of 16th Street was leveled in 1980 to make room for the Vine Street Expressway on-ramps and off-ramps at 16th Street.

Since no further development was forthcoming from the FTDC, the Redevelopment Authority in 1986 sold the acreage fronting Vine Street between 17th and 18th to Logan Place Associates for $3.7 million. As part of the development deal made by the Redevelopment Authority, the land had to be developed within five years or the deal would be forfeited. Multiple developments fell through, including the one pictured below, until the land was sold to the Church in 2010 for $7.5 million. Mayor Nutter wanted to append penalties to the sale of land that had sat undeveloped for 24 years, but after discussions about the benefits to the City of a beautiful building near the Parkway, and possibly helped along by an unsolicited contribution by the Church of $300,000 to the Mayor’s Reintegration Services for Ex-Offenders prisoner reentry program, all zoning (see below) and other issues were resolved. While the Temple issues were under debate, the Church bought the 1601 Vine Street block in 2011 for an undisclosed sum. The Franklin Town Corporation had sold the apartment and meeting house site to 1601 Vine Street Associates LP in 2005 for $7.5 million.

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Circa 2002 rendering of proposed 50-story, 890-foot-tall building at the Temple site. This would have made it the second-tallest building in Philadelphia at the time, only superseded by One Liberty Place built in 1986. See outside article here.

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Sorry, no tower!

City of Philadelphia Pictometry photo from 2003. The surface parking lots are already two decades old.

I will close with an observation: the top of the Angel Moroni on the Temple’s eastern spire appears to be higher than the cross atop the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul down 18th Street.

 

The Cathedral was built in 1866 before there was a Ben Franklin Parkway. Today, however, zoning restrictions place a maximum height of 125 feet on new construction within the special Parkway zone, which includes the Temple site (see outside link here). An exemption for non-occupied building parts like spires was obtained per LDS request, so that “such monuments, belfries, cupolas, minarets, pinnacles, gables, spires, or ornamental towers not intended for human occupancy shall not exceed a maximum height of two-hundred and nine (209) feet” from street level. This 209-foot height happens to be the height of the cross atop the Cathedral, which would have been grandfathered in to any zoning changes made after 1860. The LDS development representative, in a pre-construction 2015 remark to neighbors and the City Planning Commission, said that the steeples would not reach the top of the cross atop the Cathedral out of respect for the seniority of the Cathedral. The top of Moroni is 208 feet from street level. The top of the cross on the Cathedral is 209 feet above street level. Street level is higher at the Temple, which probably explains the paradox of an apparent taller-than-cross Moroni.

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Look up!

The 27-foot-tall gold-leafed fiberglass Moroni statue atop the Temple sits near the end of a rainbow.

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Look down!

One of many medallions embedded in the sidewalk along Franklin Town Boulevard and nearby Vine Street. These apparently delineate the consecrated ground on which the temple is constructed.

unfinished draft article

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