Eisenlohr Hall has been the official home for Penn’s president for nearly 30 years, but before it was restored to its original purpose as a residence, the elegant mansion housed classrooms and offices.
The building’s rich history goes back to 1907, when construction began on the 25-room home for Otto and Josephine Eisenlohr, the owners of Cinco and Henrietta cigars.
The limestone Beaux Arts style mansion, designed by architect Horace Trumbauer, took three years to complete. Trumbauer also designed Irvine Auditorium.
Many of the features of the home were inspired by Mrs. Eisenlohr’s interest in the Italian Renaissance style, which she studied in Italy. At the entrance to the home, the floor is made of inlaid mosaic marble. On the first floor, there are four Italian marble fireplaces. The walls inside the mansion are mahogany. Behind Eisenlohr, there’s a lush garden, which, even now, looks similar to how it did in this 1949 photo.
When Josephine Eisenlohr died at the age of 83, she left the property to Penn. The University acquired it in 1939.
The School of Education, now known as the Graduate School of Education, was housed in Eisenlohr Hall from 1940 to 1966, until its new building was completed at its current location, 37th and Walnut streets.
From the late 1960s through the 1970s, Eisenlohr served as home to The Center for Urban Ethnography; a linguistics project; Student Counseling Services; and the General Alumni Society and Alumni Relations Office.
A campus development plan in the early 1960s envisioned Eisenlohr Hall as the residence for the University’s president, but that didn’t happen until it was restored and renovated for Sheldon Hackney, when he became president in 1981. At the time, the mansion was already slated to become the new Alumni Center, but those plans changed when the Trustees agreed with Hackney that the president should live on campus.
The Philadelphia architectural firm, Dagit-Saylor, had been commissioned by the University to draw up plans to renovate the mansion into the Alumni Center. The firm had to quickly change directions and rework the design to turn Eisenlohr back into a residence and restore the mansion to its original grandeur. The Alumni Center later moved into a renovated building on Locust Walk that was a former fraternity house.
For more information on this and other historical events at Penn, visit the University Archives at www.archives.upenn.edu.
Originally published on September 30, 2010