University of Pennsylvania Walking Tour, Philadelphia

University of Pennsylvania Walking Tour (Self Guided), Philadelphia

As America's first university, The University of Pennsylvania (aka Penn or Upenn, for short) has a history stretching back to 1740, closely bound with the city's colonial past and the birth of the United States. Initially, this Ivy League institution emerged as the College of Philadelphia, being one of the nine colonial colleges chartered prior to the U.S. Declaration of Independence, and founded by none other than Benjamin Franklin himself.

The bustling heart of West Philadelphia and academic epicenter of the entire region, the University's 299-acre campus incorporates 12 schools, complete with expansive college greens, recreational spaces, and heritage architecture. In total, there are more than 180 buildings and many notable landmarks, including the nation’s first "student union" (Houston Hall, 1896) and first double-decker college football stadium (Franklin Field, 1924). Much of Penn's architecture, like “The Quad” (Quadrangle Dormitories, completed between 1894 and 1912), was designed by the Cope and Stewardson firm.

Other prominent locations on the campus include:

Perelman Quadrangle – integral part of the Upenn Campus Historic District since 1978;

College Hall – the oldest building on the University's present site, constructed in 1873;

Fisher Fine Arts Library – the primary library of the University from 1891 to 1962;

Fisher-Bennett Hall – the first facility built for women at the University, in 1925;

The Button sculpture – a piece of modern art installed at the center of the campus in front of the Van Pelt Library (the University's primary library since 1962) on June 18, 1981;

Provosts Tower – a tribute to Penn's provosts since 1912; and more.

For a closer acquaintance with the University of Pennsylvania's attractions, take this self-guided walking tour.
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University of Pennsylvania Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: University of Pennsylvania Walking Tour
Guide Location: USA » Philadelphia (See other walking tours in Philadelphia)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 12
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.2 Km or 1.4 Miles
Author: leticia
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Perelman Quadrangle
  • College Hall
  • Fisher Fine Arts Library
  • Fisher-Bennett Hall
  • The Button (sculpture)
  • Van Pelt Library
  • Quadrangle Dormitories
  • Provosts Tower
  • Irvine Auditorium
  • Penn Museum. University Museum of Archaeology & Anthropology
  • Franklin Field
  • The Palestra
Perelman Quadrangle

1) Perelman Quadrangle

Perelman Quadrangle, also known as Perelman Quad, is an area of the University of Pennsylvania's campus. The name was changed to Penn Commons in February 2018 amid sexual misconduct allegations. Perelman Quadrangle is centered around a plaza between Houston and College halls, but event spaces are located farther throughout Penn's campus.

Houston Hall (1895) is Penn's student union building, and by some definitions the first in the United States. Houston Hall was listed as a National Register of Historic Places contributing property in the University of Pennsylvania Campus Historic District in 1978. Houston Hall now contains a cafeteria and other eating establishments, study rooms, auditoriums, and numerous meeting rooms and offices.

Across the plaza is College Hall (1871), Penn's first building on its West Philadelphia and home to most classrooms and administrative space.

Also opening onto plaza are Claudia Cohen Hall (1874) and Irvine Auditorium (1932). Originally Logan Hall, Cohen Hall now houses administrative offices, meeting rooms, and several academic departments. It was built for the University's medical school and later was home to the dental school and later the Wharton School. The Irvine building contains a grand auditorium with a substantial pipe organ given by Cyrus Curtis, and also includes several smaller performance and rehearsal spaces. Williams Hall (1972), which houses offices and classrooms for humanities and language departments, also overlooks the plaza.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
College Hall

2) College Hall

College Hall is the oldest building on the West Philadelphia campus of the University of Pennsylvania. Prior to its construction, the university was located on Ninth Street in Center City, Philadelphia. The building was designed by Thomas Webb Richards and completed in 1873. The characteristic green color of the building is due to its composition of green serpentine stone.

College Hall was placed on the National Register of Historic Places February 14, 1978. It is also a contributing property of the University of Pennsylvania Campus Historic District.

The building currently houses the undergraduate admissions office, the university president's offices, the Department of History, and classrooms. The top floor of College Hall is also home to the Philomathean Society, a literary society founded in 1813.

Although College Hall and the now-demolished Blanchard Hall were rumored to be the model for the Victorian Gothic mansion in The Addams Family cartoons, the cartoonist Charles Addams repeatedly denied the claims.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Fisher Fine Arts Library

3) Fisher Fine Arts Library

The Fisher Fine Arts Library was the primary library of the University of Pennsylvania from 1891 to 1962. The red sandstone, brick-and-terra-cotta Venetian Gothic giant—part fortress and part cathedral—was designed by the acclaimed Philadelphia architect Frank Furness (1839–1912). The cornerstone was laid in October 1888, construction was completed in late 1890, and the building was dedicated in February 1891.

The library's plan is exceptionally innovative: circulation to the building's five stories is through the tower's staircase, separated from the reading rooms and stacks. The Main Reading Room is a soaring four-story brick-and-terra-cotta-enclosed space, divided by an arcade from the two-story Rotunda Reading Room. Above the Rotunda Reading Room is a two-story lecture hall, now an architecture studio. The Main Reading Room, with its enormous skylight and wall of south-facing windows, acts as a lightwell, illuminating the surrounding inner rooms through leaded glass windows.

Throughout the building are windows inscribed with quotations from Shakespeare, chosen by Horace Howard Furness (Frank's older brother), a University lecturer and a preeminent American Shakespearean scholar of the 19th century. The architect collaborated with Melvil Dewey, creator of the Dewey Decimal System, and others to make this the most modern American library building of its time.

Following completion of the Van Pelt Library in 1962, it was renamed the Furness Building (after its architect), and housed the university's art and architecture collections. The building was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1985.

The Furness Building was renamed the Anne and Jerome Fisher Fine Arts Library following a 6-year, $16.5-million restoration, completed in 1991. It is located on the east side of College Green.

The Henry Charles Lea Library, a two-story addition to the building's east side, was designed by Furness, Evans & Company and completed in 1905.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Fisher-Bennett Hall

4) Fisher-Bennett Hall

Situated at a somewhat unusual site – the juncture of three streets (Walnut, 34th, and the diagonal of the former Woodland Avenue), Bennett Hall has just as unusual plan, determined by the location, with its main façade being on the beveled corner. Because of the slope of the site, the actual height of the building varies from four to six stories.

The symmetrical principal façade is dominated by a central tower over the main entrance, with articulated decorative buttresses crowned by corner spires. The tower is flanked by two-story windows below a battlement at the roof line.

Still, it is not so much the architecture that distinguishes this building, but the fact that it was the first facility at the University built specifically for women. Originally known as Bennett College, the edifice was erected in 1925, designed by architects Stewardson & Page. Inside, other than classrooms, it had a library, a gymnasium and a student union. An important landmark for the campus, the building was generously renovated and upgraded in 2005. Upon re-opening in 2006, it was renamed Fisher-Bennett Hall. Presently, the facility houses the English Department, English Language Programs, Music Department and Cinema Studies among other occupants.
The Button (sculpture)

5) The Button (sculpture)

The Button (officially, Split Button) is a modern art sculpture found at the center of the University of Pennsylvania campus. It was designed by Swedish sculptor Claes Oldenburg, who specializes in creating oversize sculptures of everyday objects.

When The Button was installed in front of the Van Pelt Library on June 18, 1981, it was met with much controversy. Some students found the structure intrusive, and a poor addition to College Green. Controversy surrounding the piece has subsided in the years since 1981, but either way, it is now a central landmark and focal point of campus.

A legend exists, mainly circulated by students at the University of Pennsylvania, that attributes The Button to the university's founder, Benjamin Franklin. A monument of a seated Franklin stands near the sculpture; legend has it that when this man of considerable girth sat down, his vest button popped off and rolled across the University's Locust Walk. It eventually came to a stop and split into two—hence becoming today's sculpture.

Oldenburg, however, presents an alternative view. He once said "The Split represents the Schuylkill. It divides the button into four parts—for William Penn's original Philadelphia squares."

The Button lends its name to a Penn satire blog, Under the Button.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Van Pelt Library

6) Van Pelt Library

The Charles Patterson Van Pelt Library (also known as the Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center, and simply Van Pelt) is the primary library at the University of Pennsylvania.

The building was designed by architects Harbeson, Hough, Livingston & Larson, and built in 1962. It has a gross area of 201,215 square feet (18,693 m2). In addition to being the primary library on campus for social sciences and humanities, it also houses the Lippincott Library of The Wharton School, the Ormandy Music Library, and the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts. Van Pelt houses strong Area Studies collections in African, Japanese, Latin American, Chinese, Middle East, South Asia, and Judaica & Ancient Near East Studies. The Henry Charles Lea Library is located on the 6th floor of Van Pelt Library. The library holds the Weigle Information Commons, located on the west side of the 1st floor.

Vaguely Grecian with a massive colonnade, but screened by brick panels with small windows that resemble an old French library, the Van Pelt Library is a major presence on the campus. A large modern art sculpture, called The Button, sits at its southern entrance.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Quadrangle Dormitories

7) Quadrangle Dormitories

Quadrangle Dormitories – "The Quad" – are a complex of 39 conjoined residence houses at the University of Pennsylvania The architectural firm of Cope and Stewardson designed the houses in an exuberant Neo-Jacobean version of the Collegiate Gothic style, and completed most of them between 1894 and 1912. The dormitories stretch from 36th to 38th Streets and from Spruce Street to Hamilton Walk (Pine Street). West of the Memorial Tower at 37th Street, the houses on the north side follow the diagonal of Woodland Avenue (now Woodland Walk) and form a long triangle with the houses on the south side. From 1895 to 1971, the dormitories housed only male students.

The Quadrangle Dormitories were listed as a contributing property in the University of Pennsylvania Campus Historic District in 1978.

The Quad is now grouped into 3 college houses: Fisher Hassenfeld College House (west), Ware College House (center), and Riepe College House (east). As "first-year communities," they currently (2017) house approximately 1,445 students.

Fisher Hassenfeld College House encompasses the western section of the Quad. It encloses two sides of the triangular Upper Quad, and includes the westernmost Little Quad. It is named for Jerome and Anne Fisher and Alan G. Hassenfeld, all alumni and trustees of the university, who funded its creation. Ware College House encompasses the central section of the Quad. The H-shaped complex straddles the Upper and Lower Quads, and includes the Memorial Tower and buildings east of 37th Street. It is named for Congressman John H. Ware III, Wharton Class of 1930. Riepe College House encompasses the eastern section of the Quad. It is named for James and Gail Petty Riepe, who pledged $10 million in 2004 to fund its creation
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Provosts Tower

8) Provosts Tower

Located at 36th Street, just south of Spruce Street, the seven-story Provosts Tower marks the gateway to the Lower Quad. This dorm was built in 1912 and, according to some accounts, was named after William Smith who served as the university's first provost from 1755-79 and 1789-91. During his long tenure, Smith had a significant impact on the early formation of the college which would later be known as the University of Pennsylvania.

The building itself was a gift of the family and friends of Provost Charles Custis Harrison, thus commemorating his retirement from the position in 1910. The seated figure of Provost Harrison, gazing proudly over the property, is found outside.

In essence, this building honors all the provosts of the University of Pennsylvania. The carved limestone ornament, made by the sculptor Edward Maene, features plaques honoring each of the first 12 provosts, and twin "headboards" with the Coat of Arms of Pennsylvania at the parapet. The fifth floor of the building houses a two-story library and lounge.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Irvine Auditorium

9) Irvine Auditorium

Irvine Auditorium is a performance venue at 3401 Spruce Street on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia. It was designed by the firm of prominent Philadelphia area architect Horace Trumbauer and built 1926–1932. Irvine Auditorium is notable for its nearly 11,000-pipe Curtis Organ, the world's 22nd-largest pipe organ (by ranks), originally built for the Sesquicentennial Exposition of 1926 and donated to the university in 1928. The building was opened in May, 1929.

A persistent but untrue campus legend holds that the building was a Penn architecture student's design project that received a failing grade. He was forced to give up architecture to go into business, where he amassed a fortune. Years later, he made a major bequest to the university in his will, but only on the condition that his project be built.

Seating capacity is 1,260. (Prior to renovation the seating capacity was 1,976.) The octagonal auditorium featured side balconies that faced each other, at right angles to the stage. The building was restored and renovated in 1997–2000 by Venturi, Scott Brown & Associates, Inc, who removed the side balconies to improve the acoustic quality, as well as to create more intimate performance spaces.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Penn Museum. University Museum of Archaeology & Anthropology

10) Penn Museum. University Museum of Archaeology & Anthropology

Since the Penn Museum was founded in 1887, it has taken part in 400 research projects worldwide. The museum's first project was an excavation of Nippur, a location in current day Iraq.

Penn Museum is home to the largest authentic sphinx in North America at about seven feet high, four feet wide, 13 feet long, and 12.9 tons (made of solid red granite). The sphinx was discovered in 1912 by the British archeologist, Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie, during an excavation of the ancient Egyptian city of Memphis, Egypt, where the sphinx had guarded a temple to ward off evil. Since Petri's expedition was partially financed by Penn Petrie offered it to Penn, which arranged for it to be moved to museum in 1913. The sphinx was moved in 2019 to a more prominent spot intended to attract visitors.

The museum has three gallery floors with artifacts from Egypt, the Middle East, Mesoamerica, Asia, the Mediterranean, Africa and indigenous artifacts of the Americas. Its most famous object is the goat rearing into the branches of a rosette-leafed plant, from the royal tombs of Ur.

The Penn Museum's excavations and collections foster a strong research base for graduate students in the Graduate Group in the Art and Archaeology of the Mediterranean World. Features of the Beaux-Arts building include a rotunda and gardens that include Egyptian papyrus.

Hours: Tuesday-Sunday 10:00 am – 5:00 pm
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Franklin Field

11) Franklin Field

Franklin Field is an American sports stadium located in Philadelphia at the eastern edge of the University of Pennsylvania's campus. It is the home stadium for the Penn Relays, and is the University of Pennsylvania's stadium for football, track and field, lacrosse and formerly for soccer, field hockey and baseball. It is also used by Penn students for recreation, and for intramural and club sports, including touch football and cricket, and is the site of Penn's graduation exercises, weather permitting.

According to the NCAA, Franklin Field is the oldest stadium still operating for football. It was the first stadium in the United States with a scoreboard or an upper deck of seats. In 1922, it was the site of the first radio broadcast of a football game in 1922 on WIP, as well as of the first television broadcast of a football game by Philco.

From 1958 until 1970, the stadium was the home field of the Philadelphia Eagles of the National Football League.

The stadium was the site of the speech by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in which he accepted the 1936 Democratic Party's nomination for a second term as president. It is estimated that a crowd of 100,000 sat through intermittent rain at Franklin Field to hear FDR's speech.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
The Palestra

12) The Palestra

The Palestra, often called the Cathedral of College Basketball, is a historic arena and the home gym of the Penn Quakers men's and women's basketball teams, volleyball teams, wrestling team, and Philadelphia Big 5 basketball. Located at 235 South 33rd St. in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania, near Franklin Field in the University City section of Philadelphia, it opened on January 1, 1927. The Palestra has been called "the most important building in the history of college basketball" and "changed the entire history of the sport for which it was built."

The arena originally seated about 10,000, but now seats 8,725 for basketball. The Palestra is famed for its close-to-the-court seating with the bleachers ending at the floor with no barrier to separate the fans from the game.

At the time of its construction, the Palestra was one of the world's largest arenas. It was one of the first steel-and-concrete arenas in the United States and also one of the first to be constructed without interior pillars blocking the view.

Since its inception, the Palestra has hosted more games, more visiting teams, and more NCAA tournaments than any other facility in college basketball.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.

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