Thomas P. Lonsdale, prolific designer of churches, public buildings, and institutions, was born in Norristown, PA, and entered Girard College in Philadelphia at the age of nine. Following graduation in 1871 he sought architectural training in the office of another Girard College graduate, James H. Windrim, with whom he remained for over ten years before establishing his own firm in 1885. Until his death at age 46, Lonsdale worked independently; and although his career was cut short by early death, he ran a most successful practice. His Pennsylvania Building for the World's Columbian Exposition (Chicago, 1893) adapted Philadelphia's Independence Hall and provided a hallmark in the development of the popular Colonial Revival style. (Published in Harpers Weekly, this building is described as a "reproduction of the more salient features embodied in the historic State-house in Philadelphia. The addition of wide verandas, broad staircases, a roof garden, reception-rooms, and lobbies was absolutely essential.")
Many of his designs, however, were more flamboyant, including the American Life Building (also known as the Manhattan Building) at 4th and Walnut streets, where the form of the building was broken by towers and pavilions of varying heights, the columns articulated so that what might be called "barrels" actually resembled large, puffy pancakes, and a giant sculptural face (usually identified as a Native American) appeared over the corner column. Although Lonsdale was not singled out for treatment in the "Architectural Aberrations" series which ran in the Architectural Record at the turn of the century, certainly another architect who shared his more individual approach to style, Willis G. Hale, was. Perhaps surprisingly, given his occasionally eccentric approach to design, Lonsdale also produced many designs for churches or other buildings related to Methodist organizations.
Lonsdale had joined the T-Square Club in 1885, but resigned in 1899, probably due to illness. He was also a member of the Philadelphia Chapter of the AIA, and he taught architectural design at the Spring Garden Institute from 1880 to 1884 and served as a Director for the Institute from 1894 to 1897. Devoted, however, to Girard College, he served it in many ways, but chiefly as the president of its very active Alumni Association.
Sandra L. Tatman.
Clubs and Membership Organizations
- American Institute of Architects (AIA)
- Philadelphia Chapter, AIA
- T-Square Club
- Girard College
- Spring Garden Institute
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