History of the LCA
The Life Center Association (LCA) was founded in 1971 along with Movement for a New Society (MNS). MNS grew out of A Quaker Action Group, a national organization of Friends (Quakers) who staged non-violent direct actions in protest of the Vietnam War and other injustices. The main focus of MNS was to train activists in nonviolent direct action and MNS members were responsible for turning these ideals into a model to be taught and practiced.
At its height in the late 1970s, MNS had 300 members in groups around the country. But Philadelphia was the origin where ongoing training for nonviolent struggle was established. Furthermore, a publishing collective (now New Society Publishers), a food co-op (now the Mariposa Food Co-op), and a network of communal houses emerged which would form the precursor to today’s LCA.Early MNSers recognized the need for a strong support network for activists.
The Life Center was their answer to this need. MNS affiliates formed group houses or lived in apartments all within close proximity to each other. These communities provided an outlet to not only express their political views in their personal lives and in personal growth but to live the values of the future in the present. The Life Center sought to break down the language of ‘isms’ which imposed limits on the understanding of a multitude of relationships (classism, racism, sexism, heterosexism, etc.). At one time there were over 20 communal households in the Life Center although ownership was spread among individual members of MNS and the Life Center Association.
The formal founding of the LCA began with the purchase of a huge house called Stone House in 1971 by MNSers who envisioned community ownership of property as an integral part of a new society. For many years Stone House (on 46th St. between Springfield and Chester) was MNS’s community and training center as well as a communal household for five to ten people. The next building acquired by the LCA was the office building at 4722 Baltimore Ave 1973.By the late 1970s there was interest in acquiring more community owned property. In 1975, a group of MNSers who owned the 906 S. 49th St. (The Crossing) 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, leaving the LCA with only one house and the partnership with 4811 Springfield Ave. The money from the sale was used to renovate the Crossing, into MNS’s new hospitality/training
In 1982 the LCA experienced tremendous growth due to the acquisition of three more residential properties. 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. The owners of 1014 S. 47th St. (now InSoFar and 4709 Windsor Ave. (now Vortex), also moving out of town, sold their respective house to the LCA. All three of these communal households were able to remain intact 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 the LCA experienced a dramatic expansion of communal property ownership, yet this move also spelled 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 that continued until the summer of 1988 when thnational organization folded. (The Philadelphia chapter of MNS had already stopped operating 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 followed through on this goal with the purchase of 4819 Springfield Ave (now Percolator), and in 2010 purchased 635 S. 49th Street (The Lap). Another goal of the LCA is to diversify our resident base. Although the MNS legacy of providing stable and inexpensive housing for social change activists is still an important role for the LCA, we have begun to provide housing for other low to moderate income individuals. In 1992, The Crossing was leased to Project Home as a transitional community for formerly homeless people. 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 its mission within the organization and, more broadly, the community.