A Brief History of The Life Center Association
The history of The Life Center Association (LCA) begins with our founding and that of Movement for a New Society (MNS) in 1971. MNS grew out of A Quaker Action Group, a national organization of Friends (Quakers) who were nonviolently protesting the Vietnam War and other injustices. From the beginning, the focus of MNS was to train activists. Members of MNS put the elements of a nonviolent direct action campaign into a model to be taught and practiced. MNS had its greatest influence on the organization and strategy of the anti-nuclear power movement. It played a major role in training the activists at the occupation of the Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant. At its height in the late 1970s, MNS had 300 members in groups around the country. But Philadelphia was where its ongoing training center for nonviolent struggle was established, a publishing collective formed (now New Society Publishers), a food coop was organized (which later merged with another coop to form Mariposa Food Coop), and a network of communal houses emerged.
Early MNSers recognized the need for a strong support network for activists. They wanted to express their political views in their personal lives and in personal growth. They challenged themselves to live the values of the future in the present, breaking down the 'isms' which affected relationships (classism, racism, sexism, heterosexism, etc.) People formed group houses or lived in apartments all within close proximity to each other. This community of MNS affiliated people living and working together was called the Life Center. At one time there were over 20 communal households in the Life Center although only a few of them were owned by the Life Center Association.
Some MNSers who had envisioned that community ownership of property would be an integral part of the new society, formed a non-profit corporation, the Life Center Association and bought a huge house called Stone House in 1971. For many years Stone House (on 46th St. between Springfield and Chester) was MNS's community center and training center as well as a communal household for five to ten people. The next building which was bought was the office building at 4722 Baltimore Ave.
By the late 1970s there was interest in acquiring more community owned property. A group of MNSers who had bought 906 S. 49th St. (The Crossing) in 1975 and were living as a communal household, decided to sell their house to the LCA for $1 plus the balance on the mortgage. Also in that year, the community at 4811 Springfield Ave. (now Ailanthus), which was owned by a group of MNS affiliated people no longer living in Philadelphia (Springfield Support Community), started to function as if the house were an LCA property and sent a representative to Board meetings. In 1981, the LCA decided to sell Stone House because it was too expensive to maintain, and used the money from the sale to renovate the Crossing into MNS's new hospitality/training center. In 1982 three more resident properties became part of the LCA. The owner of 5023 Cedar Ave., Kent Larabee, who was moving away from Philadelphia agreed to deed over the property to the LCA in exchange for a life-time annuity for himself. The owner of 1014 S. 47th St. (now Jubilee), also moving out of town, sold her house to the LCA, as did the owner of 4709 Windsor Ave. (now Vortex). All three of these communal households were able to continue after their owners left town because the LCA provided a structure for holding property in common. The official transfer of 4811 Springfield Ave. from the Springfield Support Community to the LCA occurred also in 1982.
When MNSers moved away from Philadelphia it resulted in a dramatic expansion of communal property ownership for the LCA, yet it also resulted in the end of MNS's activist training program. Many of the MNS members who were moving away from Philadelphia were primary trainers. MNS was on a decline which continued until the summer of 1988 when the national organization laid itself down. (The Philadelphia chapter of MNS had already laid itself down in December 1986.)
The Life Center Association which had been firmly linked to MNS from the beginning (MNS membership was a prerequisite to membership in the LCA) was suddenly on its own. Membership has since opened up to anyone in the Delaware Valley who agrees with the purpose of the LCA and who is committed to supporting and furthering the LCA. All residents who sign a lease with the LCA are automatically LCA members.
Since the late 1980s the LCA has been attempting to redefine its mission. Through various organizational restructurings, think tank committees and by applying for and receiving tax-exempt status, the LCA has advanced in this quest. One of our goals is to purchase additional properties so as to permanently remove them from the speculative real estate market and keep them in trust for the benefit of the community. In 1994, the LCA decided to purchase 4819 Springfield Ave. which had been a communal property and part of the informal Life Center network for over two decades. Another goal of the LCA is to diversify our resident base. Although providing stable and inexpensive housing for social change activists, a legacy from MNS days, is still an important role for the LCA, we have begun to provide housing for other low to moderate income people. In 1992, The Crossing was leased to Project Home as a transitional community for formerly homeless people. We negotiated a five year lease with them in 1994. Also, we attempted to support the creation of a single-mothers' communal house at 5023 Cedar Ave. by providing a subsidy to lower monthly living expenses. Unfortunately, the community did not succeed and disbanded within a year.
In the next few years the LCA will be challenged to continue to clarify and implement our mission as we approach our quarter-century anniversary.