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Staff Box

An Open Letter to the Penn Community

The Christian Association and its Building

Two large signs of eight feet in length have been installed on the sides of the Christian Association building at 3601 Locust Walk, proclaiming "Sale or Lease." Because this action attracts a lot of attention and stirs up questions in the community, I want to note the signs simply reflect what is already public knowledge: the Board of Directors of the Christian Association is actively seeking to use the resource of the building to achieve the long-range goals for the organizations. Since the future use of this site at the heart of the campus will effect life at Penn, we wish to inform the community of our intentions.

From our beginnings, against this rich academic and intellectual backdrop the Christian Association has focused on student religious life and the pragmatic application of Christian gospel principles to various social concerns. As each successive generation in our society has wrestled with ever-changing social problems, and our culture has continued to be molded and shaped by an increasingly complex world, the Christian Association has been at the forefront to raise the ethical issues, to pose the religious questions, and to organize and support a variety of Christian responses to maintain a just and compassionate society. Organized in 1891, we have continued to challenge Penn students to think and act on ethical principles as they prepare to assume significant leadership positions throughout the world.

Though first located in Houston Hall, the Christian Association laid the cornerstone at the current site of 3601 Locust Walk in 1927. The building, which is reported to be modeled architecturally on a palace in England, is privately owned and governed by the Christian Association Board. Perhaps influenced by our partnership with the YMCA movement during its early years, our building was built as a student center. Designed to house the Protestant groups and their many activities, at one time the current restaurant area opening onto Locust Walk was a student lounge where ping pong tables were available, the various offices housed local ministers and activist groups, the basement served as "The Catacombs" and later "The Eatery" where healthy, vegetarian, and inexpensive food was provided along with plays, book discussions, music and poetry readings. In the days when women could not attend classes with men this building was one of the few integrated places on campus where men and women could socialize. Along with the Newman Center and Hillel, this was where faith and reason could be in dialogue, where moral questions could be addressed, and where political and social involvement was encouraged.

The cultural issues pressing both this campus and our society today include the increased complexity due to the racial, ethnic, and religious diversity of our society and the variety of life experiences this creates. This lack of a common homogeneous religious or community experience contributes to alienation and estrangement in our culture. Today's students tell us that Penn is a microcosm of this larger societal phenomena.

Our ministry tasks are now shaped by this cultural reality. Though the Christian Association building stands in a prominent place on this campus, neither Penn nor our culture is now dominated by Christianity. Thus, our goal is to carve out a Christian ministry that is ecumenical and interfaith in order to train Penn students to lead the global conversations for greater understanding and compassion for our neighbors. Our plans include: providing a diverse ministerial team to assist in this training, offering student stipends to those seeking training, reinstituting regular interdisciplinary lectures to focus on the ethical and moral questions of the day. We are prepared to use the resource of our building to accomplish these goals.

Our long-term efforts to develop the building are coming to fruition. We anticipate that our goals of ensuring the financial viability of our ministry into the next century while at the same time disentangling ourselves from the cumbersome work of building management will be realized and thus strengthen our ministry.

We support the administration's vision for the 21st Century to create "a greater seamlessness" across the Penn experience (Almanac October 25, 1994) and share the current interest to enhance student life by creating a unique Penn experience. Living visibly in the midst of campus life with overlapping interests and concerns for student life and well being, the Christian Association has maintained a collegial relationship with the University to facilitate the best academic environment possible.

Thus, it is our preference that our building will have a compatible use to continue to serve the students and the community as the original builders had planned and as it has been used these last seventy years. We cannot at this time guarantee it, however.

-- The Rev. Beverly Dale, Director, The Christian Association


Not for Sale: Palladium and Gold Standard

In response to numerous calls regarding the "For Sale" signs on the Christian Association building where we are located, we would like to make clear that The Palladium and The Gold Standard are continuing operations as usual at 3601 Locust Walk. Our business is not for sale. Any sale of this building will have no effect on the terms of our lease, which is in effect for at least another five years.

-- Roger Harman, Co-owner, Palladium and Gold Standard

Return to:Almanac, University of Pennsylvania, October 21, 1997, Volume 44, No. 9