FACILITIES/The historic mansion that WXPN vacated last summer will soon be home to Penn Press.
It’s musical chairs time on campus. And when the music stops—or rather, when the dust settles—several Penn staffers will be reporting to work at a new address and a stately old mansion on Pine Street will reopen its doors as a luxury condo.
When WXPN moved into its new space in the Hajoca Building on Walnut Street, the station left its old home—the red brick mansion at 3905 Spruce Street called Wayne Hall—empty. Right around that time, the University started talking about renovating the magnificent Horace Trumbauer-designed mansion at 4200 Pine Street that houses the offices for Penn Press and Creative Communications.
The plan called for the mansion to be turned into up-market condos, conveniently located in the Penn Alexander School District. But where, in this scenario, would the Penn offices be relocated? The obvious answer, for Penn Press at least, was Wayne Hall.
The ornate 19th-century mansion had been home to WXPN for 30 years, and though the deejays and visiting musicians had adapted over the years to the rabbit warren of tiny rooms spread out over three floors, it was never a natural fit.
For a staff of editors and publishing people, though, the building made perfect sense. The University’s official publisher began life just a few years after Wayne Hall was built in 1876 and the lavish wood moldings, stained glass and elaborate fireplaces in every office all made the idea of moving from 4200 Pine less painful to contemplate.
"We like the idea of continuing to be in a place with a lot of character," says Penn Press Publicity Manager Jessica Pigza, who will soon occupy David Dye’s former studio on the second floor. "And we’re thrilled that we’ll be closer to campus." To ready the building for its new occupants, Penn’s facilities staff have been putting in long hours and encountering a few surprises along the way. Early in the renovation, says Project Manager David Pancoe, workers found remnants of stencils and murals hidden under layers of paint. Typical of the Victorian period, the wall decorations feature stylized plants and flowers in rich shades of green, red and gold.
Since saving them all wasn’t in the budget, Pascoe hired Noble Preservation Services to conserve small areas of the decorations in each of the first floor rooms to retain a sense of the building’s history. The paint colors for the walls pick up on shades used in the wall decorations—sage green for one space, lavender gray for another.
Another find, an elegant transom window concealed behind wood paneling above the main entrance, will be uncovered as the doorway is restored to near-original splendor. The entire project, says Pancoe, required approval by the Historical Commission, which was particularly concerned about keeping the windows intact and not compromising the fine carved woodwork that lends the house so much of its period character. Instead of building new interior walls to subdivide spaces, Pancoe and his team have opted for modular office furniture units in some of the grand rooms in order to preserve their historic nature and retain as much light as possible.
On the top floor, where bands used to squeeze into 6 by 8-foot studios to record live sessions for WXPN—after lugging their equipment up three flights of stairs—most of the interior walls are gone, leaving a light-filled open space with a charming pink and blue fireplace and, built into one wall and exposed for the first time in three decades, the home’s original safe.
Penn Press will hold an open house in their new home at 3905 Spruce Street on Saturday, May 14, from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Everyone in the Penn community is invited. Look for more on the new condo construction at 4200 Pine St. in the April 14 issue of The Current.
Originally published on March 31, 2005