The ARCH building’s historic arc

The Arts, Research and Culture House, or ARCH building, has long been a campus landmark. Located at the heart of campus at 36th Street and Locust Walk, the building today houses three cultural resource centers: La Casa Latina; Makuu: The Black Cultural Center; and the Pan-Asian American Community House; as well as the Center for Undergraduate Research and Fellowships.

ARCH building

Steve Minicola

A recently announced $15 million gift from an anonymous donor will renovate the Arts, Research and Culture House, or ARCH building, which has long been a campus landmark.

A recently announced $15 million gift from an anonymous donor will renovate the space, preserving its historic bones while adding modern flourishes.

Despite the building’s central location, Penn didn’t own the building until its long-time tenant, the Christian Association, sold it in 1999 for $3.9 million.

The building is what David Brownlee, the Shapiro-Weitzenhoffer Professor in the Department of the History of Art, and the author of “Building America’s First University: An Historical and Architectural Guide to the University of Pennsylvania,” calls an especially “lush and lavish Gothic revival building.”

Constructed from 1927-29, and listed on the Pennsylvania Register of Historic Places, the ARCH building took the place of four rowhouses along Locust Street (which was not yet Locust Walk) and was designed by Thomas, Martin, and Kirkpatrick, a firm comprised of three Penn architecture alums. The Martin of the firm was Sydney Martin, a 1908 Penn graduate and a University Trustee from 1937 to 1970, who had an enormous influence on the modern landscape of the University. According to Mark Frazier Lloyd, director of the University Archives and Records Center, Martin and G. Holmes Perkins, dean of the School of Design from 1951 to 1971, formed a two-person committee that weighed in on all new University buildings. Martin was also the principal author of the 1948 long-range campus plan that was the blueprint for development that Penn followed for the next three decades. Martin’s vision advocated turning Locust Street into Locust Walk, described in the document as, “a wooded walk closed to vehicular traffic, [that] will become the backbone of the proposed plan.”

By the 1960s, Lloyd says, the Christian Association structure proved to be more building than the organization could support. The Association began to rent parts of the building to restaurants and University offices, until it moved out in 1999.

The ARCH renovation, scheduled to be completed by the spring of 2014, includes an outdoor terrace, indoor café and an open plan for the first floor that reflects the building’s historic provenance.

Originally published on June 9, 2011