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Inquirer Showcases Transformation of Historic Bank Housing the Kline Institute of Trial Advocacy

Ceremonial courtroom inside Kline Institute of Trial Advocacy

June 04, 2018

Philadelphia Inquirer architecture critic Inga Saffron gave a glowing review of the transformation of the 100-year-old neoclassical building at 12th and Chestnut streets that now houses the Thomas R. Kline Institute of Trial Advocacy on June 3.

Every aspect of the renovation of the former Beneficial Saving Fund Society has been “meticulously executed,” Saffron wrote, describing the transformation of the one-time bank into a “lavish” building where students learn courtroom skills.

Saffron credits law school benefactor Tom Kline, the architects from Tackett & Co. and preservation consultant Powers & Co. with transforming the bank that had been vacant for 12 years into a “forceful” presence that features courtrooms and a restored boardroom where students can practice advocacy skills. Kline gifted the building to the law school as part of a $50 million donation he announced in 2014.

The article comes as the institute is poised to receive a Grand Jury Award from the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia at its 25th Annual Preservation Achievement Awards on June 6.

Saffron notes that “the 40-foot-high banking floor, which once housed a large, circular tellers’ desk, had become quite dingy over the years, but the renovation has restored its dazzling brightness. The architects extended an existing mezzanine to make room for an 80-seat courtroom.”

Designed by prominent Philadelphia architect Horace Trumbauer, the building “has always stood out among Chestnut Street’s more retail-focused buildings,” the article notes, observing that the architect was able to “extract drama” from the façade on Chestnut Street, despite its narrowness and the presence of just two columns flanking the entry.

The restoration serves as “a shrine to one of democracy’s bedrock values, trial by jury – and to Kline’s career,” the article said, alluding to a life-size sculpture of the attorney at the entry and a small museum that is being developed to highlight some of his path-breaking cases.  

“Solid, neoclassical banks like Trumbauer’s are often seen as architectural expressions of America’s democratic values,” the article concludes. “In its new life as a law school, the renovated bank has become more than a symbol of those beliefs. It now plays a role in defending them.”