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VALLEY FORGE HISTORICAL SOCIETY v. WASHINGTON MEMORIAL CHAPEL AND RECTOR (03/13/81)

decided: March 13, 1981.

THE VALLEY FORGE HISTORICAL SOCIETY, AND THE VALLEY FORGE HISTORICAL SOCIETY ON BEHALF OF THE WASHINGTON MEMORIAL, APPELLEES,
v.
WASHINGTON MEMORIAL CHAPEL AND THE RECTOR, CHURCH WARDENS AND VESTRYMEN OF THE WASHINGTON MEMORIAL CHAPEL AT VALLEY FORGE, PENNSYLVANIA, APPELLANTS



No. 80-3-382, Appeal from the Decree dated January 10, 1980 of the Court of Common Pleas, Orphans' Court Division for the County of Montgomery at No. 81174.

COUNSEL

John J. O'Brien, Jr., Philadelphia, for appellant.

J. Brooke Aker, Norristown, for appellee.

O'Brien, C. J., and Roberts, Nix, Larsen, Flaherty and Kauffman, JJ. Larsen, J., dissents.

Author: Nix

[ 493 Pa. Page 493]

OPINION

The instant appeal resulted from a decree of the Orphans' Court Division of the Court of Common Pleas of Montgomery County, continuing the preliminary injunction granted on November 8, 1979. The decree of January 10, 1980 continued the preliminary injunction restraining The Washington Memorial Chapel and The Rector, Church Wardens and Vestrymen of The Washington Memorial Chapel at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania ("Chapel") from proceeding in any manner to evict The Valley Forge Historical Society ("Society") from its present quarters in the Washington

[ 493 Pa. Page 494]

Memorial until the petition for declaratory judgment filed by the Society is finally determined, and in any way interfering with the Society's free access to its quarters or that of the public at such reasonable times as the Society determines it should be open to the public.

The Chapel has appealed from this decree, challenging the subject matter jurisdiction of the Orphans' Court, the standing of the Society to petition for declaratory and injunctive relief, and the propriety of granting a preliminary injunction. For the reasons that follow, we affirm the grant of the preliminary injunction.

The Valley Forge Historical Society and the Washington Memorial Chapel have occupied the same buildings at The Washington Memorial since the early part of this century when both the Society and the Chapel were founded by an Episcopal Churchman, Dr. W. Herbert Burk. Since the creation of the Society in 1918, it has maintained its offices and its collection of historical artifacts dating from the colonial and revolutionary periods in the same buildings occupied by the Chapel. The artifacts are displayed in an area of the premises open to the public. The Society also operates a souvenir shop upon the premises.

There is no dispute that title to the entire property is held by the Chapel. The Society, however, claims a right to remain in its present premises based on a trust relationship it contends exists between itself and the Chapel. The Chapel, on the contrary, contends the Society is merely a tenant whose leasehold interest in the premises has expired. It wishes to dispossess the Society so that it may demolish that part of the structure occupied by the Society and engage upon a building project for its own purposes.

In the last two decades, there have been extended negotiations between these parties concerning the relocation of the Society, so that the Chapel's expansion would not be impeded. The negotiations proved unsuccessful. In 1973, the parties entered into a written lease. This lease characterized the parties as landlord (the ...


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