Today, Williams Hall stands on the northeast corner of 36th and Spruce streets, but from the late 1800s until 1969, the Robert Hare Medical and Dental Laboratory occupied the site.
Named for a renowned Penn professor of chemistry, the four-story building was the first Penn facility designed for medical and dental research. It housed the operating room of what was then called the Dental Department on its first floor. Chemical labs were located on the second and third floors. On the fourth floor, there was a dissecting room created by Medical School anatomy professor Joseph Leidy. His anatomy textbook was the standard anatomical textbook for medical students for decades. In an 1880-1881 Penn catalog, the room was touted as the largest and best appointed dissecting room in the world.
The building was constructed in 1878 to meet the needs of the expanding University. The Medical School outgrew its space in Medical Hall, and needed more room and equipment to conduct research. Also, Penn was creating its own dental school after unsuccessfully trying to acquire the Pennsylvania College of Dental Surgery. The additional space was needed to accommodate the dental faculty and students.
Architect Thomas Webb Richards, a Penn professor who was instrumental in creating the University’s School of Architecture, designed the Hare Laboratory. Richards was also the architect for several other campus buildings, including College Hall and Claudia Cohen Hall.
The Medical and Dental schools eventually moved out of the building into newer facilities. Years later, when it was known as the Hare Building, it was home to the Music Department and the Psychology Department. The building was demolished in 1969 and replaced by Williams Hall.
For more information on this and other historical events at Penn, visit the University Archives at www.archives.upenn.edu.
Originally published on November 11, 2010