I walk past College Hall just about every day—and I can’t help wondering how old that building is. So tell me, how long has College Hall been around?
Dear Campus Walker,
The short answer to your question is this: College Hall has been sitting in West Philly as long as Penn has been sitting in West Philly.
The building was completed in 1872, and was the first to be completed when Penn began its new “suburban” campus across the Schuykill from Center City. Prior to the move across town, the campus had been located in downtown Philly for more than a century.
The building was designed by Thomas Webb Richards, a professor of drawing and architecture at the University. It is built largely of serpentine stone from nearby Chester County—and it is that stone that gives the building its greenish tint. Serpentine was a popular building material in the late 19th century, but eventually fell out of favor with builders because it proved to be less than durable, according to Bill Whitaker, collections manager of Penn’s Architectural Archives.
When first completed, College Hall was home to every department, every function, every everything at the University. Now, because campus has grown a bit since then, College Hall isn’t quite as crowded—it hosts, among a handful of offices, President Amy Gutmann, the Department of History, the School of Arts & Sciences and the Undergraduate Admissions Office.
Not surprisingly, College Hall is considered a historic landmark. The U.S. Department of the Interior has placed it on the National Register of Historic Places.
Got a question for Benny? You can ask Benny about benefits, worklife issues, University history or trivia, or other matters pertaining to life at Penn. Send it via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or via regular mail to the Current, 200 Sansom Place East, 3600 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6106. A Current coffee mug goes to those whose questions we publish.
Originally published on November 4, 2004