Does Penn own and operate The Rotunda?

Dear Benny:
I’ve been to a couple of music and dance performances at The Rotunda, that beautiful old building at 40th and Walnut, which I thought was a community center. Somebody told me it is actually owned and operated by Penn. Is this true?
—Jazzed by Art

Dear Jazzed:
This summer, the West Philadelphia landmark known as The Rotunda turned 100, and over the past decade, Penn has played an important role in rejuvenating the grand old building.

Located at 4014 Walnut St., The Rotunda began its long life in 1911 as the First Church of Christ Scientist, designed by the New York architectural firm of Carrère and Hastings, known for bringing the Beaux Arts style of architecture to the United States.

The building was eye-catching even then  and was praised for its dramatic interior sanctuary, topped by a soaring and light-filled dome patterned after the Pantheon in Rome.

The building closed in the 1980s when the church congregation dwindled. Penn bought the property in 1996, and in 1998, students in urban studies seminars led by Ira Harkavy, founding director of the Netter Center for Community Partnerships, and Emeritus Professor Lee Benson, suggested something else. They envisioned The Rotunda serving as a cultural anchor for the neighborhood around Penn. The first community event, held in 1999, was a free jazz concert.

Today, The Rotunda is part of the Facilities and Real Estate Services Arts Portfolio and its back room is used for about 300 programs each year, including live music, dance, spoken word, youth programs and films. A focus is put on presenting local talent.

“All over the country you hear about local music movements and we are part of that,” says Gina Renzi, executive director of The Rotunda. “Not because it’s trendy, but because we grew into it over the years, organically.”

To learn more about The Rotunda, visit www.therotunda.org.

Originally published on September 15, 2011