When Thomas May Peirce founded Union Business College in 1865, classes were held on the second floor of Handel and Haydn Hall, a small concert hall at 9th and Spring Garden streets. The oldest known photographs of a Peirce classroom were taken in Handel and Haydn in 1866. Peirce quickly outgrew the Hall, and the administration began looking for a space closer to the business community in downtown Philadelphia.
In 1869, the school moved to the Inman Building at 10th and Chestnut streets, where it would remain for over a decade. Chestnut Street was the heart of the business and financial community of the city in the 19th Century, and moving the College there allowed Peirce to build a reputation which helped graduates gain positions with prominent Philadelphia companies. It was at this location where the school became the Peirce College of Business and Shorthand; over the next century the school would go through a series of name changes, but the Peirce name remained a constant.
Demand for Peirce’s business, penmanship, and other programs continued to grow and in 1882 Peirce once again moved to larger facilities. The administration of Peirce jumped at the opportunity to lease the upper floors of the modern Philadelphia Record Building, an ornate office building designed by architect Willis G. Hale and located at 9th and Chestnut. The school’s promotional material at the time asked “Are you going to Peirce this Fall?” with a sketch of the Record Building on this bustling block of Chestnut.
Following a pattern, in the early 20th Century Peirce once again began looking for a larger space to accommodate increased enrollments. School Director Louis B. Moffet (who was also a Peirce alumnus) offered to back a loan in order for the school to purchase a building of its own. In 1914, the school began negotiations to acquire the Delancy School building at 1420 Pine Street in Rittenhouse Square. The sale was completed in early 1915, and the first classes were held at the new location in September of that year.
The Pine Street building was state of the art, with cooled water fountains on every floor, a running track on the 7th Floor, and a rooftop gymnasium, not to mention enough natural light to eliminate the need for electric lighting during day classes. Peirce would eventually expand into the neighboring row homes on Pine Street to provide dorm rooms and administrative office space. Though the administration considered a move to Devon in the 1960’s, the College has remained at the Pine Street location for nearly a century.
At a recent meeting, a conversation about Peirce’s former buildings came up, and it was suggested that we take a tour of the old Peirce locations. Unfortunately, it was a conversation that came 75 years too late. When Handel and Haydn Hall was demolished in 1939, it was the last former location to come down.
Credits for first two photos to: Robert N. Dennis collection of stereoscopic views, New York Public Library