THERE ARE striking surprises inside the renovated Baptist Temple, on Broad Street at Temple University's North Philadelphia campus.
The 119-year-old former church, designed by architect Thomas P. Lonsdale as an example of the Victorian Romanesque-revival style, was originally known as simply "The Temple" when it opened in 1891.
In fact, the university took its name from the church, which had been built to accommodate the large crowds who literally had to wait in shifts to hear the speeches and lectures of Temple's founder, the Rev. Russell H. Conwell.
Conwell taught night classes at The Temple between 1891 and 1894, said James W. Hilty, a Temple professor of history and community and regional planning.
But the congregation pulled up stakes in the early 1970s and built a larger facility in Montgomery County, leaving the the Baptist Temple, as it later became known, to sit empty, deteriorating for more than 30 years.
Now, after a two-year, $29 million renovation, the university is ready to reopen the Baptist Temple on April 14 as a cultural center to anchor the northern section of the city's Avenue of the Arts.
"It's going to be much more than a performing arts center," said Charles Henry Bethea, executive director of the Baptist Temple.
It is planned as a multipurpose cultural and performing-arts center. (The first concert, by Patti LuPone, is scheduled for April 17.)
The new Baptist Temple will be a gathering place for film screenings, lectures, symposia, commencement ceremonies and a space for private events, from corporate meetings to weddings and other events.
The university is restoring the Baptist Temple's role as a cultural landmark that Conwell predicted 119 years ago, said Hilty.
Originally, the Temple could seat as many as 4,600 people, Hilty said. His new book, Temple University: 125 Years of Service to Philadelphia, the Nation and the World, is expected soon in bookstores.
But critics warned Conwell that the building would never succeed "as a religious and educational institution," Hilty wrote.
To that, Conwell replied: "If we don't make it a success as a Temple, we'll turn it into a theater."
Hilty wrote that Conwell intended "The Temple to be a multipurpose spiritual, educational, and community facility where 'entertainments' could be held for the 'mutual and spiritual advantage' of the people of Philadelphia."
The newly renovated Baptist Temple, restored by the architectural firm RMJM in Philadelphia, now includes 36,000 square feet and has several unique venues within its walls.
Lew Klein Hall, the main-stage space, is in what had been the church sanctuary. It features a thrust stage with seating for about 2,000 on three sides. Most of the building's 140 stained-glass windows can be seen from the theater.
The historic Chapel of the Four Chaplains has a new street entrance and has space for up to 130 guests. It was named for four chaplains who perished at sea when a military transport ship was torpedoed during World War II. The four chaplains, two Protestants, one Catholic and one Jewish, had given their life jackets to other men.
Among the architectural surprises is a "porch area" inside the building's front wooden doors that will become a box office. From that space, visitors will walk through original red-leather, metal-studded doors that lead into an airy, modern lobby with three turquoise walls.
"We call it a marriage between the old and the new," Bethea said during a recent tour of the building.
One of the Baptist Temple's most impressive elements, the iconic, large stained-glass window at front of the church, known as the Rose Window, filters colored light throughout the lobby.
But visitors who take the stairs up to the balcony area are in for another treat, one that Bethea said surprised even the architects who restored the building.