The work of Stearns & Castor reflected Stearns's abilities in structural engineering and Castor's strong ties to the Frankford neighborhood in Philadelphia. Commissions included a number of industrial projects, as well as hospitals, churches, and residences. Chief among the works of the office were the residence for John B. Stetson, Jr., in Melrose, PA, buildings for Methodist Hospital in Philadelphia, and the Philadelphia Consistory for the Masons at Broad and Race streets in Philadelphia, replaced in 1925 by Castor's Scottish Rite Temple. However, aside from these large commissions, Stearns & Castor were involved with a number of residential development projects, including a row of cottages for the Frankford Improvement Company (1895 and 1896) and 10 cottages in Atlantic City for W. Allen (1896). After 1896, however, this reliance on development enterprises lessened, and the office began to draw larger projects, including the Covenant Presbyterian Church in Williamsport, PA (1897). This does not mean, of course, that the firm totally divorced itself from development, and a look at the works reported by the Philadelphia Real Estate Record and Builders Guide will reveal that in one of their most prolific years (1901) the partners provided designs for 12 residences for E. S. Radley in the Oak Lane section of Philadelphia, 12 residences for the Disston Estate in Philadelphia, and residences for William Overington.
Although a signature architectural style for the firm's domestic work would be the colonial revival so popular at the turn of the century, Stearns & Castor were equally adept at many other styles, changing the face of the building to suit its use.
From 1905 to 1907 the Minute Books of the Philadelphia Chapter of the AIA report difficulties with Stearns & Castor regarding the right to advertise. This issue was brought to Chapter attention by the publication of a monograph of the office's works, no doubt intended indeed to advertise by demonstrating the designs which they had already successfully completed. Following the stern admonition of the Chapter's committee on ethics, Stearns & Castor withdrew the publication from circulation, and the matter was thus ended. However, in 1916 the Judiciary Committee of the national AIA brought charges of unprofessional conduct against the firm due to their participation in the competition for the design of the Masonic Home at Elizabethtown, PA, a competition which had not been authorized by the AIA. In the wake of this controversy, Stearns & Castor dissolved; and Castor, by then operating independently, resigned from the AIA. It appears from the notes of the issue in the Archives of the American Institute of Architects that Stearns was not involved in the Masonic Home competition difficulty. (For other examples of ethical questions and the AIA, see Andrew Borzner and Emile G. Perrot).
Sandra L. Tatman.
Links to Other Resources
Stearns & Castor Monograph
- This site features scans of the important Stearns & Castor monograph, the publication which provoked the wrath of the Philadelphia Chapter, AIA.
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