“The anchorÓ floats

Walking down Sansom Street the other afternoon, our progress was halted by a white-gloved waiter offering a glass of champagne on a tray. That’s when we noticed the lovely beribboned modesty skirt strung up in front of the clubby new Inn at Penn. Hidden behind this skirt were President Judith Rodin, Executive Vice President John Fry, federal Judge and University Trustee Marjorie O. Rendell (hubby Mayor Ed was out of town) and Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell, among others, seated on a podium. The occasion, as it turns out, was the celebration of the Inn’s debut.

Behind the skirt, an affair to remember

Photo by Marc Barag

Conceived of as the anchor for the $120 million Sansom Common retail development project, the Inn officially flung open its doors on Sept. 1 with great fanfare, expense and some attendant protest. Business-suited attendees looked on as members of the Penn band played “The Red and the Blue” while dignitaries cut the ceremonial ribbon on the 238-room, six-story site.

However, as Rendell orated about how the Inn helped “improve the quality of life for citizens” and the Inn’s general manager, David Newhart, spoke about how the hotel was being “a good neighbor through our hiring practices,” some former staff of the Faculty Club and members of its union loudly disagreed, blowing whistles and shouting, “Shame on U. of P.” Their beef: Some workers at the old Faculty Club were not rehired at its new location at the Inn.

After the speeches the 200-some community leaders and other invited guests tucked into a hot and cold buffet lunch, including caviar, lobster, raw shellfish and roast beef served in the well-appointed Woodlands ballroom. After lunch, guests were invited to take tours of the Inn.

The $73 million hotel presides as the centerpiece of the University-owned retail shopping area that stretches from 34th to 38th streets and from Walnut to Chestnut streets. The Inn’s double rooms, which range from $149 to $199 a night (the Louis I. Kahn presidential suite goes for $1,500 a night), offer guests Seattle coffee, high-speed Internet access and triple-sheeted beds. The book-lined Living Room, open to the public, is equipped with a bar and soon will have two blazing gas fireplaces. Accessible from the hotel’s Walnut Street entrance is the bistro-style Ivy Grille, with an open kitchen and bar, to open Sept. 18.

Dizzied by this display of luxury, not to mention our taste of champagne, we wondered about the availability of rooms. But, alas, we were disappointed: The Inn was booked solid through the weekend.

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Originally published on September 16, 1999