Council of Independent Colleges Historic Campus Architecture Project


Barbelin Hall

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Institution Name: Saint Joseph's University
Original/Historic Place Name: Barbelin Hall
Location on Campus:
Date(s) of Construction and Designer(s):
1927original construction Durang, F. Ferdinand
Type of Place: Individual building
Style(s): (Glossary)
Foundation: none specified
Walls: Wissahickon schist; limestone
Roof: none specified
ca. 1927old main

Significance: education, history, religion
Landmark designation:
Narrative: see below
References: see below

Saint Joseph's could either claim to be in the last neighborhood on the western edge of the city or at the very entrance to the prestigious Philadelphia Main Line. The first building on the site, and the University's signature structure to this day, was built in the Collegiate Gothic style. Barbelin Hall was designed by architect Francis Ferdinand Durang (1884-1966), son of Edwin F. Durang, the architect of the Gesu and the college buildings in North Philadelphia. The building, sited on a hill, forms an open quadrangle and features a 165 foot high tower. Barbelin Tower was thought to be the highest point in the city due to its elevation and the height of the structure. Constructed of Wissahickon schist (a local stone) and limestone, the facade features gargoyles, heads of early presidents of the college, and an array of other limestone carvings.

The builder, John McShain, was a former student at St. Joseph's who had learned his trade in his father's construction business. The New Saint Joseph's College was his first major project. After Barbelin Hall, McShain went on to become one of the nation's most successful contractors. Among his most important contracts were the Pentagon, the Jefferson Memorial, the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, and the complete restructuring of the White House during the Truman administration. He came to be known as "the man who built Washington."

I. Bibliographic sources:

Catholic Herald. [n.d.].

Contosta, David R. Saint Joseph's: Philadelphia's Jesuit University, 150 years. Philadelphia, PA: Saint Joseph's University Press, 2001.

Donnelly, Eleanor C. A Memoir of Father Felix Joseph Barbelin, S. J. Philadelphia, PA: Frank A. Fasy, 1866.

Kathrens, Michael C. American Splendor, The Residential Architecture of Horace Trumbauer. New York: Acanthus Press, 2002.

Noll, Ray Robert. "A History of St. Joseph's College, Philadelphia, Pa. Before the Civil War." Manuscript. Archives, Saint Joseph's University, Philadelphia, PA.

Philadelphia Catholic Standard and Times. [n.d.].

Public Ledger. [n.d.]

Talbot, Francis X. Jesuit Education in Philadelphia: St. Joseph's College. 1851-1926. Philadelphia, PA: Saint Joseph's University Press, 1927.

Thomas, George E. William L. Price Arts and Crafts to Modern Design. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2000.

II. Location of other data:
University: Special Collections, Unknown
—details: Archives: insurance surveys and policies (1834, 1839, 1850), Saint Joseph's University.
Other: Archives, Old Saint Joseph’s Church; Archives, Maryland Provence of the Society of Jesus, Georgetown University Library; Philadelphia Archdiocesan Historical Research Center (PAHRC)

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