How did that trolley car get there?

Dear Benny,
Crossing campus the other day I was surprised to see what looks like a vintage trolley at the entrance to the SEPTA station at 37th and Spruce streets. What’s up with that? Did SEPTA actually pay to beautify one of its stations? Seems highly unlikely if you don’t mind me saying.
—Impressed but Skeptical

Dear Skeptic:
Well, you’re right to be doubtful about SEPTA’s munificence in this case. The trolley—or, more accurately, the half trolley—you spotted is a replica of a 1956 Philadelphia subway/surface car, and it was an alumni gift from the Class of 1956.

One end of the trolley shell shelters the stairwell serving the station platform and the other is fitted out with all the bells and whistles of a period trolley interior. Three slatted wood and wrought iron benches offer a pleasant, sheltered spot to eat lunch or read a book. Since the trolley entrance opened last month, every seat has been taken most every noon hour.

For many years, trolleys such as this one (known as a Peter Witt trolley car) were an integral part of the Penn experience. The Philadelphia Rapid Transit Company, a precursor to SEPTA, operated streetcars on Woodland Avenue through the heart of campus, directly to 30th Street Station.

In 1956, the tracks were submerged at the edge of campus to make way for a comprehensive campus plan that created a core campus between 34th and 38th streets and Walnut and Spruce streets, uniting buildings and pathways and making for a better pedestrian experience.


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Originally published on November 16, 2006