The Village Formerly Known as Superblock, and How to Find All Twelve Penn College Houses

With the redesign of Penn's College House system have come new names for some familiar buildings, and new relationships among the parts of a residential system that has been through many changes as it evolved since 1895. Leaving out the reconfigurations involving the Graduate Towers (which will be the subject of a later story in Almanac) this is a brief guide to the twelve College Houses that make up the undergraduate living/learning program. There is more at the College Houses website,

Six in Hamilton Village...

Six of the twelve College Houses are in what used to be called Superblock, but is now called Hamilton Village (see sidebar). The block has three high rises and three low rises built for undergraduates in the mid-sixties, plus a residence called Mayer Hall that began as married students' housing for Wharton students.

All of the undergraduate low-rises were given names early in their histories (Van Pelt, Du Bois, Class of '25), but only two of the high rises were named. With "High Rise North" standing tall and unchristened at the center of the block, it was not uncommon to find Harnwell House more often called "High Rise East" and Harrison House "High Rise South" to help locate them.

Now "High Rise North" has a name also: It is Hamilton College House, in honor of William Hamilton, whose family once owned the land on which Penn built its present campus when it moved from the Ninth and Chestnut location that Provost Stillé called "a vile neighborhood growing viler every day," as Cheyney reported in his 1940 History of the University of Pennsylvania, 1740-1940.

Harnwell College House is named for the late President Gaylord P. Harnwell, and Harrison College House for an alumnus of the Class of 1904, W. Welsh Harrison.

(To place the "three H" names in relation to their positions without reverting to points of the compass, note that clockwise on a map, Hamilton, Harnwell and Harrison are alphabetical.)

One of the three skyscraper College Houses is also the headquarters of the College House System-the Office of College Houses and Academic Services (formerly known as Academic programs in Residence), located on the first floor of one of them: Suite 112 Hamilton College House/6180.

The other three in Hamilton Village are:

Gregory College House, a new name is the name given to the two adjacent low-rise buildings (leftmost on the map above) that form a small quadrangle along 40th Street at the southwest corner of Hamilton Village. The larger of the two is Van Pelt Manor House (formerly Van Pelt College House), and the smaller is the Class of '25 residence, known also as Modern Languages House. Gregory House is named for the botanist Dr. Emily L. Gregory, who in 1888-89 became the first woman ever to teach at Penn.

W.E.B. Du Bois College House, which runs along the Walnut Street boundary of Hamilton Village, is named for the famous sociologist and civil rights pioneer whose research at Penn in 1896-97 resulted in the landmark sociological study, The Philadelphia Negro.

Stouffer College House (the low-rise triangle on the corner of 38th and Spruce adjacent to the Quad) now encompasses not only the original complex named for the 1923 Wharton alumnus Vernon J. Stouffer, but includes Mayer Hall across the street in Hamilton Village.

Four in The Quad...

Four of the College Houses are in the Quad, Penn's much-admired Queen Anne style complex begun in 1895. Generally the Quad is thought of in two parts: the Upper Quad-the western section is literally on higher ground, starting from 38th Street and moving east to 37th. A newer section (1904-1910) is known as the Lower Quad, with McClelland Hall as a visual divider. The individual houses of the Quad have always had separate names, carved in stone above the doorways. Penn began drawing some of the small houses into clusters in the 1970s when Ware College House was created, anchored by the four-turreted Tudor Memorial Tower at 37th and Spruce Streets.

Now all of the residences in the Quad have been incorporated into the College House design-two in the Upper and two in the Lower Quad. Looking from west to east, the Houses and the historic names of the units incorporated into them are:

Wendy and Leonard Goldberg College House, named for the 1955 Wharton alumnus and his wife, is made up of Brooks, Leidy, Franklin, Foerderer, McKean, Baldwin, Class of 1887, Craig, Baird, Fitler, and Hopkinson.

Ware College House, named for the late Congressman John H. Ware III, a 1930 alumnus of the Wharton School, runs north and south through the center portion of the Quad and takes in Provost Smith, Lippincott, Carruth, New York Alumni, Morgan, Wilson, Bodine, Morris, Class of 1928, and Speakman, plus the Tudor Memorial Tower.

Spruce College House includes the buildings that overlook Spruce Street between 37th and 36th Streets; it meets Community House near the 36th Street entrance to the Lower Quad. Spruce's eight units are named E. F. Smith, Coxe, Rodney, Bishop White, Birthday, Mask & Wig, Provosts' Tower, and Graduate.

Community House (the only House that does not have the word "College" in its name) follows the southern boundary of the Lower Quad and includes an inner courtyard on its southeastern end. The historic names of its units are Thomas Penn, Cleeman, Magee, Ashhurst, McIlhenny, Warwick, Ward, Chestnut and Butcher.

...and Two Makes Twelve

Neither Hill College House nor the double-barrelled King's Court/English College House has changed its name in the restructuring that created the new College House system.

Hill College House, at 3333 Walnut, is an Eero Saarinen design built in 1958, originally as the residential center of the College for Women. In 1965 it was named for Robert C. Hill, of Wharton's Class of 1889, and has since become both coed and a College House.

Kings Court/English College House combines a 1915 apartment building, Kings Court, with the modern (1958-59) English House designed by Carl Erikson of the Class of 1910.


More Things Called Hamilton

One of the oldest of campus byways is Hamilton Walk, running between Old Med and the Quad. About a year ago the name Hamilton Village Shops was added to the campus, designating the spruced-up retail stores along 40th Street between Walnut and Locust. Hamilton Village itself, it has now been announced, is what used to be the Superblock.

And in the press conference where Robert Redford and President Judith Rodin revealed plans to build a Sundance Cinema complex, the term "Hamilton Square" appeared-- attached to the parking-and-retail area to be developed across Walnut Street from the new cinema (which will run north and south through the block behind and in part above the Hamilton Village Shops).

All of these names have the same root: the Hamilton family who once owned the land that much of Penn stands on. William Hamilton had been one of the young men enrolled in the Academy that became the College of Philadelphia that became the University of Pennsylvania, and he later became the owner of "Woodlands," the Colonial mansion that still stands overlooking the cemetery of that name, at 4000 Woodland Avenue. In the 1830s, the Hamiltons sold to the city (at $275/acre) a tract of some 200 acres known as "Blockley Farm" or "Almshouse Farm." Forty years later when Penn bought ten of those acres to begin developing its third and present home, the city's price was $8000/acre.

  • Historical information above is from Edward Potts Cheyney's History of the University of Pennsylvania, 1740-1940.

Almanac, Vol. 45, No. 7, October 13, 1998