Architect’s extravagant 1905 Stevens School is a lesson in forecasting the future
With the arrival of a new century in 1900, C. Emlen Urban continued to rise in popularity and notoriety in all circles of engagement, public, private and social. The recent completions of the Stehli Silk Mill, the Wharton School, Stager Hall at Franklin & Marshall College and the Quarryville School set the stage for a commission that would test the mettle of this young rising star.
In 1902, the School Board of Lancaster commissioned 39-year-old Urban to design the girls high school. After visits to recently completed commissions by other architects in York, Reading, Chester County and Atlantic City, Urban returned to Lancaster to design what would be considered the most extravagant, controversial and expensive high school between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.
The center-city site at Chestnut and Charlotte streets, with tree-lined streets, rolling topography and generous sidewalks, was the perfect setting for his three-story all-masonry structure. He employed three architectural styles: beaux-arts, Italian Renaissance and Greek Classical. Urban’s four-year apprenticeship 20 years earlier with Philadelphia’s avant-garde architect, Willis G. Hale, gave him the confidence and skills necessary to effectively mix and match these diverse styles. The purple brownstone foundation blocks, golden bricks, elaborate terra cotta ornamentation, green copper cresting and hand-carved chestnut entrance led to severe public criticism for the significant cost overruns that occurred during construction.