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Hub of the University
historic heart is beating again, stronger than ever.
By Judith Rodin
Like so many alumni
who wax nostalgic about their years at Penn, I often return in my minds
eye to a grand, old building with an impressive faÁade of limestone and
Wissahickon schist. Houston Hall stirs in me a deep, personal affection
for a special place scored with impressions of people and experiences
that would shape and inspire me the rest of my life.
an undergraduate at Penn in the 1960s, I joined the throng of students
who adopted Houston Hall as our living room. Who could blame us? Houston
Hall offered a cornucopia of features, resources and attractions.
of us flocked to the inviting common areas or made use of the spacious
meeting rooms. Some were drawn to the aesthetic and decorative bounty
that included mauve-colored walls, antique fixtures, fireplaces, majestic
staircases, fabulous paintings and the Class of 1899 Clock. Some liked
to gather around the grand piano in Room 101, take in a cabaret or play
in the Class of 1949 Auditorium or shoot pool in the basement game room.
Many students enjoyed just hanging out in the lounge or soaking in the
buildings history as the nations first student union.
everybody sooner or later made it to the great bell that originally clanged
out class times from atop College Hall before its relocation to the main
floor of Houston Hall. All over campus, you would hear classmates make
plans to meet at the bell, which for generations was the spot
for friends and sweethearts and student leaders to rendezvous at Penn.
the mid-1960s, I would meet a classmate of mine named Tom Lang W66 WG68
at the bell and repair for a cup of joe in a Houston Hall coffee shop
that the Office of Student Life would later occupy. Tom and I were presidents
of the mens and womens student governments, respectively. In that great
meeting place, over many cups of coffee, Tom and I laid the groundwork
to merge the two governments.
that the University administration, which we simply called the establishment,
preferred to keep the mens and womens governments separated, Tom and
I took it slow. We would arrange for committees from the womens student
government to join the mens contingent for its meetings in Houston Hall.
our assemblies remained separate until our graduation from Penn, we had
succeeded by our senior year in merging all of the committees of the formerly
divided governments. Much like the Founders who delivered the United States
from the ineffectual Articles of Confederation unto a new Constitution,
we feltwith perhaps a pinch of hubristhat we had helped to give birth
to a new Penn.
Founders had Independence Hall.
had Houston Hall, the heart and hearth of the University.
had much more. With Houston Hall and neighboring College Hall, Logan Hall
and Irvine Auditorium, we had a vibrant center around which the Universitys
academic, social and cultural lives all happily converged.
as age caught up with these buildings toward the end of the 20th century,
Penns historic heart began to wear down under the strain of serving a
larger, more demanding student population. These buildings, and the common
area around which they stood, no longer formed a distinct student hub
of Penns strong desire to preserve its historic heart grew the vision
of creating a 21st-century town square on campus and gateway to the University.
Ronald O. Perelman W64 WG66 supported and amplified that vision with
a $20 million gift. Thanks to his extraordinary generosity, that vision
has become reality with the opening this month of the new Perelman Quad.
Perelman Quad, Penns historic heart has not only regained its grandeur,
it has begun to pump new life and excitement into the University. Designed
by Robert Venturi Hon80 and Graduate School of Fine Arts alumna Denise
Scott Brown GCP60 GAr65 Hon94, the Perelman Quad radiates the genius
of two internationally acclaimed architects who have developed a vision
to create a seamlessly integrated precinct of student life.
buildings have been treated to the three Rs: restoration, renovation and
rejuvenation. The commonsonce a pleasant, nondescript outdoor venue for
lunch breakshas been redesigned into a central plaza that provides a
dynamic and unifying sense of community and purpose.
Hall, for example, has regained its dÈcor, a second majestic staircase,
and spacious common areas, which will be enriched with a browsing library
on one end and a cafÈ on the other. But now, there will be more dining
options for students, faculty and staff, a dance studio, more meeting
rooms, more recreational offerings, and a perfectly restored Class of
Auditorium has also received a loving and intelligent makeover. Always
cherished for its dazzling murals and Curtis Organ, Irvine also took its
drubbing as an acoustic black hole where sounds went to die. Now, besides
the welcome addition of a cafÈ and a small recital hall, Irvine dazzles
anew with the Curtis Organ refurbished, the murals restored, and the acoustic
black holes filled.
design of the open-air plaza Wynn Commons, supported by a $7.5 million
gift from Stephen A. Wynn C63, presents another striking change.
its sinuous ramps, its dramatic diagonal vista and promenade across the
front of the Silfen Study Center, its amphitheater in front of Logan Hall,
and its rostrum in front of Irvine, Wynn Commons unites the colorful buildings
of Perelman Quad aesthetically and strategically. Splashed with brilliant
natural light on sunny days, it will become the premier outdoor hub for
concerts, ceremonies, debates, celebrations and spontaneous fun at Penn.
the meantime, I look forward to seeing all of you in Perelman Quadat
the bell, whose home, the Class of 1966 Reading Room (my class!), has
never looked better.
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