Penn alumni been more forthcoming with their financial support 110
years ago, the central destination on campus for todays alumni
might be the Furness building. No, not the one now known as the
Fisher Fine Arts Library; the other oneAlumni Hall, which
Frank Furness proposed around the time he designed his bold, industry-inspired
library. It would have been built just north of that library, on
the site now occupied by Meyerson Hall, and would have served as
Penns principal auditoriumobviating the need for the future Irvine.
To anyone entering the campus from the east, the two Furness buildings
would have made quite a statement.
across from the library, the alumni hall would have made the entrance
to the campus a collection of sculptural hulks, a modern Greek agora
in fiery red, writes Michael J. Lewis G85 Gr89, author of Frank
Furness: Architecture and the Violent Mind. The proposed hall
was low-slung and compact and, in character, hinted more at religion
than at theater, he notes, and Furnesss sketch of the two buildings
may well have startled his clients. At any rate, the expected alumni
support never materialized.
Hall is not the only architectural exclamation point that might
have transfigured Penns campus. With the right kind of eyes (and
the illustration on page 37), for example, you can stand on the
steps of the Law School and, looking across 34th Street at Hill
Field, see a great geodesic dome designed by the late R. Buckminster
Fuller Hon74 for the Institute of Contemporary Art. While it would
have been a coup of sorts to have the ICA in a Bucky Ballthe signature
design of the only architect to have a molecule named after himFullers
proposal was never under serious consideration.
was around at the time, and teaching for us, recalls G. Holmes
Perkins Hon72, former dean of the School of Fine Arts. We were
talking about the ICA, but he wasnt commissioned to do it; he was
just having some fun.
Paul Philippe Cret wasnt just having fun when he designed a sumptuous
Italian Renaissance villa for the School of Architecture in 1906,
to be built on the south side of Spruce Street at 33rd. The school
desperately needed new quarters, as a front-page article in a 1910
Old Penn (the Gazettes predecessor) pointed out.
The schools training in architecture is the best now within reach
of American youth, the anonymous author noted, but its present
quarters, expanded to the utmost capacity of overcrowded university
buildings, are so filled as to create imperative need of a new building.
The University Tower would have housed Penns administration.
Upper left: Frank Furnesss Alumni Hall would have been
Penns main auditorium.
reason Crets vision remained on the drawing board can undoubtedly
be traced to a remark buried in the same paragraph: the school
has grown without aid of endowment
Today, the triangular plot
of land that might have held Crets mansion is a parking lot,
and Penns architecture department is housed in
Cret had another vision for Penn that never came to pass: College
Avenue, an open vista more than a thousand feet long, which
would have extended north from College Hall along the old 35th
Street to at least Chestnut Street. Cret, along with Warren Laird
and the Olmsted brothers, proposed the Mall or College Avenue
100 feet wide, facing which could be placed a number of University
buildings, in a 1913 campus plan. If built, it would have changed
the campus flow from east-west to north-south.
Thirty-five years later, another trustees committeethis one
chaired by architect Sydney E. Martin Ar07saw the main axis
of campus as running east-west along Locust Street. Yet right
in the middle of that axis, at the intersection of 36th and
Locust, the committee saw a limestone-clad skyscrapera University
Tower. Intended as a Cathedral of Learning like the University
of Pittsburghs 1920s skyscraper, notes George E. Thomas Gr75
in his Building Americas First University, it was to
be a visual sign of Penns renewed vigor.
Should future generations decide that College Hall had outlived
its usefulness, Martins committee suggested, the multiple story
tower office building could house Penns administration and become
the focal point of campus as well. There were other advantages,
too: Penn could demolish Logan Hall and the Hare Laboratory and
acquire another splendid area for academic expansionand, of
course, tear down Furnesss then-despised library to make room
for a fully extended Locust Walk.