Charles Klauder’s Boy Scout Palazzo on the Parkway

Purchase Photo View Nearby Photos Boy Scout Building – 22nd and Benjamin Franklin Parkway.
William A. Gee, Photographer, February 13, 1931.

What exactly is this little building that’s being treated like a child in a long and contentious custody battle? While would-be parents (the City of Philadelphia and the Boy Scouts of America) quibble over the question of child support, no one seems to be paying much attention to the personality the battle is about. And, as it turns out, there’s quite a little character here at 22nd and Winter Streets.

Behind the statue of the heroic (and stoic?) Boy Scout looking out at the Parkway is a gem of a building from the brink of the Great Depression. The Boy Scout Headquarters is one of many, many buildings imagined for Philadelphia’s grand civic boulevard, and among the relatively few that actually got built. (A chronology of the Parkway is found here.) It’s across from Paul Cret’s Rodin Museum, which it gently echoes, but where Cret’s taut lines suggest modern times ahead, the Boy Scout building holds onto, and indulges in, ideas about the past. According to David Brownlee, who wrote about the place in his Building the City Beautiful, here’s “a compact building of Italian Renaissance pedigree…delighting in the rich textures of Florentine architecture…”

Who was responsible for this?  That would be Charles Z. Klauder, the son of German immigrants who rose through the ranks from apprentice draughtsman, which he became at a tender Scouting age, to work with the Wilson Brothers, Cope & Stewardson and Horace Trumbauer before becoming chief draughtsman for Frank Miles Day, the firm that would eventually be his own. Klauder impressed colleagues as “a modest, almost shy man…who enjoyed the artisanship of masonry.” Shy in the studio, maybe, but Klauder wasn’t too shy to climb scaffolding when he needed to show his masons, first hand, the effect he was after.

Interior, Charles Z. Klauder’s Boy Scout Building, (The Architectural Archives, University of Pennsylvania.)

Those effects in stone are seen here in a Renaissance Italian-style palazzo, and they are as elegant as they are antiquarian. What does it remind us of? The Drexel & Company Building at 15th and Walnut Streets, which Klauder also designed. But Klauder is best known for his work at colleges and universities. Visit any campus, from Princeton to Yale to Cornell to the University of Pittsburgh, for samplings of his work and evidence of his influence. One Klauder masterpiece is Pitt’s Cathedral of Learning—a campus in a skyscraper, but all of it, no matter how soaring, was done in the Collegiate Gothic style.

“Students may come and go, classes enter and graduate,” wrote Klauder, but “venerable walls and carved chimney-pieces, picturesque gables and vaulted archways endure forever.” He worked with college administrators to help them avoid being “helpless bystanders… at the invasion…of indifferent, if not atrocious, design.” As “sources of knowledge,” Klauder believed, colleges “should be the sources of good architecture.” And in his mind, good architecture would look medieval – something like those European universities that preserved classical learning for so long.

The compact Italian palazzo at 22nd and Winter doesn’t try to be Gothic, but then again, it isn’t setting out to evoke collegiate airs, either. It is, however, committed to historicism, and that goes for the interior as well as the exterior. Klauder’s treatments inside, never seen by the public, are even more expressive than those of his exterior. The architect deployed stone, tile, iron and light to create a courtyard “in the Italian fashion…roofed in glass to serve as a reception hall,” according to Brownlee. The place is “full of charming details.”

This charm should be sufficient to get our imaginations going.  What will this building become someday, when the custody battle is over and it’s finally allowed to grow up?